Things to listen for and observe in children's music play with instruments

  • by Anonymous (not verified)

    Wednesday, 16 September, 2015 - 16:02

Listening to children’s music-making is at the heart of this approach. It is very easy as a visiting musician to an early years setting or as an early years practitioner, to deliver music sessions without ever hearing or attempting to understand what children can do and create with musical instruments, or how they vocalise and sing without obvious adult intervention.

This can lead to an underestimation of children's capabilities. It is also very easy to dismiss children’s musical play because it doesn’t fit into our adult conceptions of what music is. We can sometimes look at what skills are missing rather than the immense skill children can show at these times. For example, we can, with the best intentions, construct a session which explores loud and quiet through a series of activities without realising that children are already using loud and soft sounds in their music expressively and communicatively with humour.

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Waypointwaypoint/collections-gesturesCollections of gestures 669.0558.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/movement-or-vocalisationA movement or vocalisation503.0648.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/verbally-describing-soundVerbally describing the sound 181.0418.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/particular-way-using-beatersA particular way of using beaters701.0338.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/new-way-playingA new way of playing561.0207.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/clear-patternA clear pattern308.0232.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/go-back-15Go back2.01.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/how-children-connect-each-otherHow the children connect with each other321.0622.0""#0000002

Listening to children’s music-making is at the heart of this approach. It is very easy as a visiting musician to an early years setting or as an early years practitioner, to deliver music sessions without ever hearing or attempting to understand what children can do and create with musical instruments, or how they vocalise and sing without obvious adult intervention.

This can lead to an underestimation of children's capabilities. It is also very easy to dismiss children’s musical play because it doesn’t fit into our adult conceptions of what music is. We can sometimes look at what skills are missing rather than the immense skill children can show at these times. For example, we can, with the best intentions, construct a session which explores loud and quiet through a series of activities without realising that children are already using loud and soft sounds in their music expressively and communicatively with humour.

Click on the dots for more information

‘Any preconceptions that children cannot make music until taught to do so can be shed at the outset. No teaching strategies, formal or informal, can succeed unless they are based on a understanding of how the children generate their own musical ideas, an understanding that is built only through ongoing listening  to the qualities and features of the music produced.’

‘As an observer of musical play, the first thing to get used to is picking up and following what is essentially a stream of music, rather than a clear-cut piece or event.  Often the child moves between different kinds of musical ‘episodes’ and between music and non-music, all on the wing. A listener waiting for a clear-cut beginning or end may have a long wait. Secondly, making sense of the music will often demand taking into account the whole situation.’ Jo Glover (2000)

One of the problems people have when listening to children’s music is knowing what to listen for. Above are some suggestions of what to listen and look for in children’s spontaneous music play. But remember that part of the fun is discovering for yourself children’s sense of music and the meaning it has for them.


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Collections of gestures

Collections of gestures on one instrument.

‘Over a number of weeks, I notice the enormous variety of gestures it is possible to make with egg shakers: tapping them together; counting one, two, three, and then making one big shake; shaking backwards and forwards; shaking wildly in the air; shaking over the head; dancing and jumping with the shakers; bouncing them on the gathering drum; tapping them on xylo-bars; collecting them in the swirl xylo; twisting them in the air with delicate moves of the hands and wrist; launching them into the air from a drum….’

A movement or vocalisation

A movement or vocalisation that accompanies or is part of the child’s idea. Notice how the shape or arrangement of the instruments changes how the child movements.

In this film, how many different ways does A move the shakers? How does this change the sound?

 

‘The instruments have been set up in a long line consisting of a basket of ‘bits’, a large xylophone and some chime bars. Firstly, Alfie is focused on the chime bars. As he taps the bars he sings ‘da da da da ded a doh’ in time with his taps. Later on he creates an idea using the whole line of instruments tapping each part of the line and jumping from one bit to the other. I copy his idea. Alfie then adds an extra run at one end of the line before doing his first idea. This I copy too. Then he adds a run at the other end of the idea tapping the cupboards at the other side. This idea he repeats many times.’

Verbally describing the sound

A way of verbally describing the sound as an animal, a way of moving (running, hopping, tiptoeing).

‘I am with Mark, aged 4,with lots of rosewood bars between us. The session starts with a musical conversation. Then Mark tells me he is tiptoeing through a forest – the way he plays immediately changes and his whole body is now engaged.’

A particular way of using beaters

In the film below notice all the different ways the children use the sticks and their accompanying movements:

 

‘Beaters seem to have an enormous attraction to even the youngest children.  I have observed children: playing with them backwards and forwards; accompanying their movement with a range of vocal sounds; wheeling them round in a pram; using large numbers to play with; filling the inside of a drum with them; making strange shapes in the air with them; playing them crossed then apart; putting them on top of their heads like an alien; and using them as fishing rods to hook and sound bells.’

‘Poppy (aged 18 months) waits until I am on my own before coming over and sitting opposite me, the large Zimbabwean xylophone in between us. Poppy leads and I follow. The turns are short – sometimes just one note. Poppy puts her arms right up in the air over her head. I do the same. Poppy takes down her arms – so do I – Poppy puts them up – so do I. We continue taking turns at the xylophone but every now and then Poppy punctuates the game by putting her hands in the air, which I always follow. Sometimes there are long gaps between when she puts her hands up.'

A new way of playing

And as you listen to and observe what's going on in this video, notice how S mixes loud and quiet sounds in her ideas:

 

Sometimes children explore a new, interesting, different or unique way of playing a musical instrument or a distinctive musical gesture – stroking the xylo bars (with one stick, with both), one big loud sound, lots of fast sounds, as described in this quote:

‘I’m making music with a group of six 2 year olds. We are sitting either side of a long line of rosewood bars. As we improvise together I notice different ideas emerging from the children. There is a slow steady beat alternate beaters gesture, a quick both hands to together idea, a glissando idea up and down the bars, random as fast as possible and one idea that involves tapping the beaters together like a crocodile.’

A clear pattern

A clear pattern or musical idea on one instrument/sound maker or more – this could be rhythmic, melodic or structural. The pattern might be repeated, developed or varied. It might also be revisited in a future session.

In the video below 'F' creates music moving backwards and forwards between the chime bars and drums. Notice the distinct rhythms that appear later on and how the rhythm is repeated on both the drums and the chimes:

 

‘Alaiba, age 4, is making a pattern of the sounds; she starts at one end of the bars and goes along the bars then taps the bass bar a few times before moving onto the second set of bars.  To finish with she taps the final bar a number of times.  This she repeats over and over.  After a while Alaiba adds a castanet tap to the end of her her pattern on the bars.  She repeats this extended pattern a number of times.  Then she adds a basket shaker after tapping the castanet.  This is repeated a few times before she adds a bell and then an egg shaker.’

How the children connect with each other

In this film, notice how F and A are watching each other and trying to synchronise their actions and sounds. Sometimes they are playing together and at other times explore their own ideas:

 

 

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