Tune Into Listening

Musical Skills

We explored...

· The impact recorded music has on children’s musical play both inside and outside.

· If and how we could use music to support composition.

We found...

· That children sang more whilst playing with instruments when there was no music playing.

· That children played with instruments more rhythmically when music was played, particularly with upbeat electro dance music.

· That we were able to identify the musical skills of some children by observing their ability to play or move in time with music.

· That listening to music can be a starting point to encourage children to compose their own pieces of music.

Watch the young girl in the following clip and observe carefully how she is able to keep in time with the music. The young girl clearly feels the beat (the pulse) in the music and coordinates her movements to move in time with the music.

Rhythm and pulse are often misunderstood. It is easy to listen to and observe children’s music making and not really understand if they are creating rhythms or playing a pulse.

Pulse is essentially the heartbeat of the music and is also referred to as steady beat - the beat which steadily sits underneath the sounds in a piece of music. Pulse is typically what people tap their foot to or dance along to whilst listening to music.

For example sing the first verse of What shall we do with a drunken sailor? Tap your knee on every underlined syllable below. This beat that you are tapping is the pulse.

What shall we do with a drunken sailor? (4 taps on your knee)

Rhythm is the pattern of sounds on top of the pulse.

Sing the first verse of What shall we do with a drunken sailor? again, but this time tap every syllable of each word: The syllables that you are tapping is the rhythm.

What shall we do with a drun-ken sai-lor? (10 taps on your knee)

Children are on occasion asked to keep a steady beat whilst either listening to music or singing. Playing instruments along to recorded music and singing whilst playing instruments involve different skills. Children may be incorrectly labelled as not being able to keep a steady beat as this can be affected by many factors such as:

· Singing a song and tapping knees or clapping hands to the pulse is very different to singing a song and tapping a drum with a beater. Playing with a drum and beater requires more hand-eye coordination.

· Walking or marching to the pulse requires gross motor control and is trickier than sitting down and clapping along.

· Listening to a piece of music and joining in with the pulse whether this be clapping, tapping or using instruments is again a different skill to singing and joining in with the pulse as this requires careful listening.

It depends on the particular activity - what music is being used (whether this is a song sung live or recorded music) and the physical requirements.

The example of the girl in the clip above demonstrates that children often do have the ability to feel and keep a steady beat, often from a very young age – we need to observe children carefully throughout a range of musical activities.

Watch the children in the following clip. Although it may not appear that what the children are doing is particularly skilful it simply demonstrates how children are able to listen and respond.

Children are on occasion asked if they can play fast or slow. This is not to suggest that this is wrong but perhaps we can experiment with this more. Here the children were offered musical instruments to play whilst there was music playing. The children naturally played slow and then fast without the need of an adult to lead them.

The same piece of music is used in the following clip and involves a young boy playing the drums sophisticatedly.

Using recorded music as a starting point to encourage children to compose their own pieces of music

Amie worked and played regularly with a group of seven children aged three to four and experimented with a wide range of styles of music. During one session, she played Somewhere over the Rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole to the children.

You can listen to this here below.

Amie asked the children what they could hear, the children identified a guitar (ukulele), drums and a person singing. During her next session with the children she offered them drums to play along with to this song and a ukulele to play and explore. Following this, she then played Flesh by Jan Johnston. You can listen to this below:

The difference in the styles of music provoked questions and thoughts from the children. They had a clear concept of Somewhere over the Rainbow being a piece of music as it involved instruments and a person singing. The children could connect the instruments they had played with the instruments in the song. When they listened to the dance music they were initially confused as they could not hear instruments in the music. The children asked how music could be created without the use of instruments.

Amie followed the children’s enquiry by showing them elements of a Youtube clip which demonstrated how electronic dance music can be created. You can watch the clip here.

Amie explained how dance music can be created by layering different sounds. She explored this with the children by inviting some children to create sounds with their hands, some with their feet and some with their voice. The following session Amie revisited the children’s interest and invited them to create their own piece of music using Garageband on the iPad. Here is a screenshot of the composition that the children created:

Click here to listen to the children's piece of music. The children’s music was included within the music playlist at Hillfields. When the children heard the music some of them recognised the music that they had created and some did not.

In the digital era that children are growing up in today can we encompass many ways of making music with children? Early Childhood music education and often music education tends to focus on learning to play instruments and developing musical skills via this route. This is not to suggest that we should replace that with digital music – is there room for both to follow the interest of children growing up in today’s world?

mac makes music works with young people creatively to make music by drawing upon a range of both digital and acoustic resources. You can find out more about the projects that mac makes music delivers here.