Would it surprise you to learn that our family doesn't really listen to a lot of music? It's true! When we do listen to music, it is most often in the car. When we listen at home, it is usually during independent work time. But oftentimes, we just listen to the sounds around us - the windchimes on the patio, the many songbirds around our home, the wind in the trees, one of the 34 freight trains that travel through our town daily, the barking of our dogs every time a squirrel darts across the yard. So, why aren't we listening to more music? And when we do, what are we listening to?
Music is so very powerful. It deeply affects our emotions, our concentration, even our physical responses. These statements are all backed up by decades of scientific research - but I don't need research to tell me what I have experienced! Upbeat music can be very energizing, slow music very soothing. Songs in minor keys can have a depressive effect on our moods. Melodies that move in predictable patterns help us think in an orderly way - whereas those with many leaps and plunges at odd intervals can be agitating. Songs with many unexpected harmonic changes or even just fast-changing harmonies can be very unsettling. Add in words - words that our brains are processing even when we are not consciously aware that it is happening - and music's power can be more than we can handle as we go about our daily activities. Wind chimes, birdsong, and train whistles are often our best bet.
When we do listen, I am intentional in what I choose. I do actually think about tempo, modality, melody, and harmony. Yes, I'm a professional musician and a giant nerd. But you don't have to be either of those things to choose music for your family. Anyone can think about how certain music makes you feel . You don't have to use musical jargon to explain it!
Many of these things, you know intuitively. Do your kiddos need energizing music? Pick something fast. Calm-down music? Pick something slow. Deeper questions you might not already think to ask likely have to do with melody and harmony. Is a particular piece unsettling? Does it keep you on edge? It's likely got some strange melodic or harmonic twists - and it might not the best choice for quiet reading time. Have you thought about using just instrumental music during times your kids need to focus? I highly recommend it. Brains can only process so much at once. Asking your child to work on times tables or grammar or reading about Cicero AND music with words is likely too much. Do you think about the lyrics to songs and whether they are age-appropriate? Many parents don't! I think it is extremely important to choose music for family listening that is wholesome. Consider adding some historic music, folk music, and spiritual songs. It's hard to go wrong with (carefully chosen) madrigals, a song about mountains, or a song about heaven, right? One of my touchstones is asking, "Would great-grandma Sadie get the vapors listening to this?" If she would, it's just not one we listen to as a family. I save that for time on the treadmill, earbuds in!
Another thing to consider: have your kids heard a variety of styles of music? If we want to help our children grow to be accepting, curious world citizens, they need to hear many types of music. Just like with food - if you offer only a limited number of choices, you might end up with very selective pallets! In our house, we skew heavily toward classical and folk, but we also listen to (curated) pop, jazz, world music, and more. Some of their favorites surprise me and are certainly different than mine, but giving them a varied musical diet is part of allowing them to develop their own preferences and autonomy.
And last, but certainly not least, I choose music that is high quality. Parents I work with long for music that gives their kids great models to emulate, but they don't know exactly what they are listening for or where to find it. For us, I am really listening hard for well-rounded musicians who model healthy, tuneful, age-appropriate singing. Children imitate what they hear and I want them to imitate great singing. I am listening for singers with a mostly clear and even tone. Singers who are in-tune (without a lot of post-production wizardry). I am listening for singers in their proper register - not always scraping the ground in the lowest part of their voice. Child singers should be singing in a higher register, in a flute-like, clear, unforced way. I am especially fond of male singers who are using their entire range. Boys need to hear basses, baritones, tenors - and men who have found and use their highest register (falsetto).
Most importantly, kids need to hear other children singing well! Did you know that much of the music that is supposedly kid singers is really women singing in a "child-like" voice? It's true! I know because I've done it! They use women because we can sing more accurately, more quickly, more consistently - and time is money in the studio. But that is not a healthy (or honest) model for our kids. I want to find artists that are actual children singing well. This month you will hear from the Treblemakers (NOT the punk group - the children's ensemble!) and the All-American Boys Chorus. You will NEVER hear highly produced pop music marketed for kids on one of my playlists - cross my heart!
So, that's a lot to think about. You probably don't have bandwidth for all of that. That's why I'm putting together a playlist every month. Each playlist will feature a variety of artists and styles and songs that we enjoy listening to - kids and adults. I'm trying out Spotify in hopes that more people can access it and because I haven't heard anything negative about their business practices or environmental impact. (Fingers crossed!)
Next week on the blog: What's the deal with Waldorf saints in Grade 2? Are you Catholic, Kimberly? No, I'm not Catholic (though I have cantored in the Catholic church and loved it), but I do enjoy the saint stories that are often part of the Waldorf Class 2 year - and I'll tell you exactly why.
Just click for the playlist. I hope you like it! It includes some artists that really might surprise you. Hints: gems and tie-dye.