Robinblog
Zimbabwe proverb
By Robin Robinson on September 03, 2010

I recently wrote an article for a local paper:  "Livingston Moms".  In it I talk about some basic Music Together® principles as related to a saying from the Zimbabwe culture, which could have been written by the MT marketing department!  With everything in me, I believe these principles:  everyone is musical, and everyone can benefit from making music.  Enjoy!

 

“If you can walk you can dance, and if you can talk you can sing.”  (Zimbabwe proverb). 
Add to that, “If you can crawl you can bop, and if you can coo you can croon,” and you
have the basic philosophy of Music Together.  Music Together is a research based
music program for young children and their parents.  Though much early childhood data
went into the development of this program, the basic concept is simple:  everyone is
musical.  All children can learn basic music competence - to sing in tune with accurate
rhythm.  And who is to lead your child in these musical endeavors?  Why, you, of
course!  Another basic tenet of the Music Together philosophy is that the parents'
participation is essential to a child's musical growth, regardless of their musical ability.
“Not me,” you might say, “I can't carry a tune in a bucket!”  But you probably sing in the
shower.  And would you refuse to teach your child to swim because you're not an
Olympic caliber swimmer?  Of course not!  When you quiet your inner critic and
participate in active music making with your child, you are modeling the idea that music
is joyful and everyone can do it.  And in Music Together class, the non-performance-
oriented approach helps promote that idea.  Never mind that the varied rhythms,
multiple tonalities and instrument play are stimulating their little brains on multiple levels; 
they are having fun.  And what do you know?  You are having fun!  Making “Music
Together” is very rewarding;  not only that, it's as easy as walking and talking.

Soothing grandson with music
By Robin Robinson on June 25, 2010

      I am, once again, featuring the Music Together Experts blog as a guest blogger!  This is no slumming;  it's written by Lynn Ransom, who is the recently retired Director of Program Development at Music Together LLC.  She helped to develop the MT Babies program, and in this blog post, relates using some of those techniques with her new grandson!  It's amazing stuff, and a reminder of how powerful music can be for even our tiniest students!  And, once again, let me brag by pointing out her statement that echoes mine in my previous post:  "I can almost see his neural pathways being formed!" : )  Enjoy!

 Jackson’s Song, or the Left-handed Lullaby
By Lyn Ransom, D.M.A. on May 28, 2010
Lyn Ransom, D.M.A., is the recently-retired Director of Program Development at Music Together LLC and coauthor of Music Together Preschool. She helped to develop Music Together’s Babies Program in 1999 and was a curriculum writer for all of the Music Together song collections. In addition to 25 years’ experience teaching adults and young people to sing, Dr. Ransom developed the music program for High/Scope Foundation and served as a teacher trainer for Head Start and Follow Through. Author of Children as Music-makers, she has served on the music faculties at several universities, including Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Iowa State University, and Westminster Conservatory of Music at Rider University.

Four months ago, I became a grandmother and I was so thrilled that I offered to babysit Jackson Daniel one day a week. The first day, I got up early, drove an hour, and felt a little uneasy, but happy. It all went well until around 2:00; he still hadn’t fallen asleep and now he was crying—well, actually, howling. I tried feeding him, dancing with him, and rocking him, but he still howled. Finally, I decided to try out the Music Together precept of “accept and include,” so I went to the piano and found his crying pitch—the E above middle C. I tried singing with my mouth in the shape of his—making an “aaaaauugh” sound. Holding him in my right arm, I started playing some chords with my left hand and sang “aaugh.” In 30 seconds he was asleep. And he slept for two hours!

The next week when he squirmed and fussed, I tried the “Left-handed Lullaby” again for his afternoon nap, this time without the piano. I just rocked him and sang the “aaugh” tune with some simple words and he fell fast asleep:

Jackson will sleep, Jackson now sleep,
Jackson, Jackson, Oh Jackson go to sleep—
So Mommy can sleep, and Daddy can sleep . . . Jackson, go to sleep.

It was great fun visiting every week, because every week Jackson was different. At three months, he began looking in my direction when I sang, and glimmers of smiles began to break out on his face. When I sang peppy songs to him, his legs would flail up and down! When I stopped singing, his legs dropped down limply. I sang again and his feet beat the air! We had a half-hour singing conversation on “aaugh,” punctuated by happy legs.

Now at four months, Jackson’s legs still kick, and he has a full repertoire of facial expressions. He knits his eyebrows when I change songs—for example, from “Ride-O” to “Betty Martin.” One of his favorites is the “Green and Blue” chant: his eyes almost always brighten on “smells so green and skies so blue,” and he smiles on the “boing, boing” part, especially when I bounce my hand up and down on his body.

Jackson also seems to want to sing with me and talk to me. He imitates the shape of my mouth, he tenses up his body, he takes a big breath in, he screws up his face, and he acts like he’s going to make a sound—but nothing comes out. Then he gathers more energy, moves his mouth and face around, and suddenly—a sound comes out, then a string of sounds, and we have another song conversation! This trial-and-error approach is amazing to observe. Jackson’s motivation is so high, and his development is clearly in process. I can almost see his neural pathways being formed!

I’ve found that music helps me have a truly beautiful day with Jackson. Creating a song-filled day doesn’t take much planning, and it can turn a hectic moment into something special. To see a few more things I do that your baby or grandchild may also enjoy, see “Creating Beautiful Days with Your Baby” in the For Enrolled Families section of our website. And be sure to share your stories and ideas with us, too!

Your brain on music
By Robin Robinson on April 03, 2010

This is your brain (imagine picture of brain:  gray, flat, boring).  This is your brain on music (brain is multi-colored!  pulsating!  expanding!).  Cute, you say, but what qualifies YOU, Robin Robinson, to write about the brain?  True, I did not encounter much neurological research in the pursuit of my BFA in Musical Theater.  (ok, any).  But I am very interested in the brain;  specifically the tiny brains of all of my little students!  And when I see them "tapping tapping, tapping for the Hello Song" or just STARING at me, taking it all in, I SWEAR I can see their little brains expanding!  I just read an article to support my theory;  it's called, "How Music Helps To Heal The Injured Brain".  I know;  the little brains in question aren't injured.  But they are small and still forming, and I think the analogy holds up.  Take this idea:  "The brain areas involved in music are also active in processing language, auditory perception, attention, memory, executive control and motor control.  Music efficiently activates these systems and can drive complex patterns of interactions between them."  Think about all the things that are happening when we sing, say, "Open and Shut Them" in class.  I start dramatically with my hands in fists - they know what song it is and get excited because they love it:  memory and emotion.  The act of opening and shutting their hands in rhythm, and especially the little clap ("give a little clap" - clap!):  motor control.  Then there is the processing of the language, the auditory perception in noting when we speed up the ending ("but...do not let them in!"), and the intense attention dedicated to doing or watching the song.  I don't mean to knock the other methods of stimulation for children:  reading, drawing, movement.  It's just that music class stimulates ALL the brain centers at the same time!!  Just sayin'.

 The article goes on to talk about the specific research results in how music can help with brain injuries related to movement and speech.  It is truly fascinating and, I think, very relevant - you can read the whole article here.

 One last quote from the article:  "Exposure and experience will create new and more efficient connections between neurons in the brain."  I think the word "repeated" is inherent in that sentence:  "repeated exposure".  As in not just one semester of Music Together, but many.  With the spring semester just around the corner, is this my sneaky attempt to get you to reenroll?  Yes, it is.  But it is also just a reminder that class is not just wicked fun;  it's also wicked beneficial.

The "aha!" moment
By Robin Robinson on February 28, 2010

(Oprah, your check is in the mail..)

 

First let me say - I LOVE the aha moment!  I have seen MANY over the years, and just witnessed one in class on Saturday.  A 14 month old boy, who recently started walking (talk about "aha!"), has been coming with his almost-3 year old sister since he was a tiny baby.  And he has watched/not watched, mouthed instruments/shook them a little - in short, done exactly what he should be doing in Music Together class - anything he wants!  But on Saturday.  First the walking, which I hadn't seen yet.  Then the intense focus on me and the class's movements.  Then, as we did "Roll Over", his little fingers were twitching, his hands moving like crazy!  Was he trying to hold up the correct number of fingers?  ("there..were..FIVE in the bed").  Or roll his hands like we were doing on "so they all rolled over and one fell out"?   Whatever he was trying to do, he was REALLY trying to do it - he was participating!!  And it has often happened this way - that after weeks or months of just watching in class, they suddenly spring into action!  The aha moment!  Of course, it doesn't always happen this way.  More often it is a gradual process - a baby mouths his egg shaker, shakes it a little, and then back to mouthing.  Then later the shaking lasts longer than the mouthing.  Then the bopping to a song, or tapping on his legs for the "Hello" song.  And sometimes, as we must remember, a child prefers to just observe in class - even older children - and save his musical experimentation for home.  But those magical "aha" moments are fun to see - a certain class where musicality and participation just come bursting out!  Have you noticed any "aha" moments with your kids?  In class or outside of it?  Musically or otherwise?  Feel free it share it, and don't worry about bragging!  Aha!

Music is...
By Robin Robinson on December 29, 2009

I came across this beautiful description of what music is, and I thought I would share it with you.  Though it was not written by a Music Together teacher, it could have been!  The many, varied aspects of music are so beneficial to children, helping them to grow and develop in so many ways.  But it is also about experiencing art, the thrill of being musical, and bonding with family and community.  A wonderful piece - I hope you enjoy it!

 

MUSIC IS...
Music is a science.
It is exact, specific, and it demands exact acoustics.  A conductor's full
score is a chart, a graph that indicates frequencies, intensities, volume
changes, melody and harmony all at once and with the most exact control of
time.
Music is mathematical.
It is rhythmically based on the subdivision of time into fractions that must
be done instantaneously, not worked out on paper.
Music is a foreign language.
It is a highly developed kind of shorthand that uses symbols to represent
ideas.  Music is the most complete and universal language.
Music is History.
Music usually reflects the environment and times of its creation.
Music is physical education.
It requires fantastic coordination and control of all muscle groups allowing
the musician to respond instantly to the sound the ear hears and the mind
interprets.
Music is all of these things, but most of all, Music is Art.
It allows a human being to express and evoke emotion.
That is why we teach music.
Not because we expect you to major in music.  But, so you will be able to
play or sing all your life.  So you will recognize beauty.  So you will be
human.
Most of all music is love. 
Love of family, and love of community.  This is why music is "a circle of
friends".

Music Together LLC Experts Blog
By Robin Robinson on November 22, 2009

How exciting that the folks at Music Together LLC have followed my lead into the world of blogging!  A new element of their e-newsletters (which current families should have received, and anyone can sign up for) is the "Experts Blog".  Not that I am not an "expert" on Music Together (!), but the these people have Ph.D.'s - things like that!  The first two blogs are wonderful, and I highly suggest you read them!  They are:

"Music Learning Supports All Learning®" by Lili M. Levinowitz, Ph.D., Director of Research and Co-Founder of MT

"Parents and Caregivers Are the Real Teachers" by Kenneth K. Guilmartin, Founder/Director of MT

Hmmm - Mr. Guilmartin's blog post is very similar to my post, "Parent Participation - Ack!"  Maybe I'm more of an expert than I thought!

 

You can read these blog posts here:  Music Together LLC Experts Blog

Parent participation - ack!
By Robin Robinson on November 10, 2009

Tell the truth - was there a moment of panic when I announced that in Music Together YOUR participation was the most important part?  Did you want to go screaming from the room, or slink out due to a "forgotten" doctor's appointment?  And how many of you were told when you were younger that you had a bad singing voice (to mouth the words in chorus) or were uncoordinated?  The notion that you are the musical model for your child might seem crazy to you - shouldn't that be the teacher's role?  Well, just as you wouldn't hesitate to teach your child to swim even though you're not an Olympic swimmer, so you can teach your child to be a music maker!  The concept of Music Together is that EVERYONE is musical.  Everyone can achieve basic music competence (singing on pitch and keeping rhythm), but most important is that music making is an innate ability that we are all born with, just like walking and talking.  And just as children learn those concepts from you, so will they learn their musical behavior from you.  So when you are singing out and dancing in class, you are demonstrating that music is fun and everyone can do it!  And don't forget - you may not love your singing voice, but it is the sweetest sound in the world to your child.

 

So take the pressure off yourself, write your old choir teacher an imaginary letter telling her you refuse to mouth the words, and "Sing out, Louise"!!!  (ok, that's a musical theater reference you may not have gotten, but you get the point!).

Funny Motherlode blog
By Robin Robinson on November 04, 2009

It's a very busy week, so I'm going to refer you to another blog!  It's a great blog that's in the New York Times called, "Motherlode".  This is a VERY FUNNY piece called, "How (Not) To Calm A Child On A Plane" - written in response to the mother/child who were kicked off an airplane last week.  I GUARANTEE you will laugh - at least once!"How (Not) To Calm A Child On A Plane" - Motherlode, New York Times

Welcome to my blog!
By Robin Robinson on October 26, 2009

Hooray!  I'm so excited to add a blog to my website!  It will be a wonderful way to share information with my families - Music Together concepts, things I notice in class, or other interesting stuff that I come across.  So I'll try and ignore my dog staring at me (no, Lucy, we are not playing ball now!) and plow in!

 

The first topic I'd like to address is child participation.  In my nine years of teaching, I have heard the concerns from parents MANY times.  "My child is running around/sitting passively/trying to escape/clinging to me - is this normal?  To which I respond, a resounding, "YES"!  The single most important thing to remember about Music Together class is that there is NO pressure for a child to perform - to do the movements correctly or even at all!  This program recognizes that every child learns differently and is in a different place developmentally.  So some children will prefer to just observe in class - taking it all in to perhaps experiment with at home.  And the stimulus of class might make some children excited, so they run and jump, but you might be surprised to see what has seeped in while they were so busy!  And you might notice that your child who is outgoing in other situations (preschool, etc.) is shy in class.  Shyness with the teacher is VERY common, and I think that having Mommy or Daddy in class can make some children regress a little, into "clingy" mode.  But my point is:  it's all good!  As long as you continue to sing out/participate/have fun, you are modeling that engaged behavior for your child.  And make sure YOUR expectations don't get in the way, or comparisons to other children.  And don't be too hard on yourself, either!  (hmm - I might have the topic for my next blog).  Repeat after me:  "we are here to make music and have fun!"

 

Keep all of this in mind as you receive your Growth Charts this week.  The growth charts will point out musical behavior that you MIGHT see in your child, not that you SHOULD see.  They will help you to be more adept at noticing musical moments that you might be missing - things I notice in class all the time!

 

Thanks so much for reading my first blog post - woo-hoo!  And thanks for being patient, Lucy - go get your ball!