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Welcome to the Music Together Experts Blog! We are excited to bring you this interactive feature, where once a month, the staff and teachers at Music Together’s Princeton NJ headquarters will be sharing news and observations on a variety of topics from the field of early childhood music education.

Music Together is actively involved in ongoing research as well as curriculum and program development, including programs for preschool, outreach, and special-needs settings. In addition to hearing from our experts, we’ll also respond to your questions and comments about early childhood music development, the Music Together songs and curriculum, or any other related subject that grabs your interest. We hope our topics spark a wide array of comments, and we welcome you to respond to the blog entries at any time.

 

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What have the Music Together experts been up to?
By Music Together LLC on June 29, 2012

The Music Together experts have been busy researching, interviewing, conference-presenting, teaching, and writing! Check out a few of the articles they’ve published in the past few months.

  • The Benefits of Music Education
    Ken Guilmartin, Music Together LLC Founder/Director and coauthor of Music Together® was interviewed for a story about the value of music to young children that was published on the PBS Parents website.
     
  • Supporting Your Child’s Music Capabilities at Home 
    by Dr. Lili Levinowitz, Director of Research and Coauthor of Music Together® and Michelle Jamail, Music Together Certification Level II Teacher (Austin TX)
    Published in Tomorrow’s Child, a magazine for Montessori educators.
     
  • What Music Should My Children Listen To?
    Dr. Levinowitz was asked for her recommendations on the best music for young children for this story published on PBS Parents.

And here are a couple of other project we’ve been hard at work on:

  • If you haven’t seen the Music Together Education Moments video series, check out the first two videos in the series. 
     
  • We’ve been working with thought leaders in Elkhart County, Indiana, on an educational initiative to bring the Music Together program to every child in the county. Check out this moving video for a summary of the program.


 

Check back soon for an update from our resident grandmother, retired Director of Program Development Dr. Lyn Ransom. And, as always, if you have any ideas or questions for a Music Together expert, please email it to: news@musictogether.com.
                                                                                                         

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Jackson, the Music Maker
By Lyn Ransom, D.M.A. on May 27, 2011

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.

My children, now 25 and 29, had music around them growing up. I sang and played guitar and their father played his favorite ’60s songs on the piano. We had a music area in their playroom and they played ukulele, drums, and shakers with us whenever. My son’s son, Jackson, now over a year old, also has music around him. His father Coray plays bass guitar, a little piano, and the video game Rock Band. His mother loves to sing Disney tunes, sings in a chorus from time to time, and sings the songs Jackson especially likes. Jackson has several musical toys and instruments. He goes to Music Together on Saturday with both parents, and Coray often bounces him and sings "Fly Eagles Fly" (the Philadelphia Eagles Fight Song). Coray swears that this quiets any potential tantrum. This is ideal: he sees both parents pursue music they like, and he experiences them singing and moving with him—and enjoying it. 

Recently, Coray was home alone with Jackson feeding him supper. He couldn’t get him to eat so he began singing about their suppers. Jackson squealed, giggled, and eventually ate his food! Coray says the song goes like this:

Chorus (while stomping loudly back and forth across the kitchen):

BEER AND MANWICHES!
BEEEEEEER AND MANWICHES!
BEER AND MANWICHES!
WE LOVE TO EAT THEM UP, YUM!

Verse (while jumping at Jack with arms in the air on the “YUM”s):

BEER! YYYYYUM!
MANWICHES! YYYYYYUM!
JUICE! YYYYYUM!
...WE LOVE IT!!!

. . . and back into the chorus until Daddy gets tired!

My grandson has a few instruments, and his mother keeps them in the music corner with the piano and Coray’s electric guitars. When I visit, I used to improvise wildly on the piano for Jackson, then play a tune or two, then wait to see what he would do. When he was 6–9 months old he would often sit very still and play one key repeatedly with his index finger, bending it at the knuckle. I was fascinated. I expected him to pound the keys to see what happens. He did that, too, and would alternate between playing with one finger and playing lots of notes.

Now that Jackson is one year old, I don’t play first. When he walks to the piano, I lift him up and put him on the bench and sit behind him. He takes the lead, reaching far to the right to play the high, ringing notes, then far to the left for the low notes, then in the middle, then hitting a lot and stopping, then playing with one finger. He has this piano routine and he plays a version of it every week when I babysit. This past week, however, he did something completely different. He played a lot of notes with both hands very fast, then froze—his hands off the keys. I think he also held his breath and looked at me dramatically out of the corner of his eye. Again, he played furiously then froze and looked at his audience. This went on for a few minutes. I finally joined in playing along with him, following the conductor. He was so clearly communicating—he’s not talking much yet, but he sure can control the flow of energy!

Jackson especially likes the mini-maracas, and the drums come in second. We can play through a whole Music Together CD trading around on different instruments or dancing. Even without the CD, I’ve noticed that Jackson plays with his instruments for long periods of time. Why not? He, like every other child, loves music—and the music that he makes is no doubt inspired by “Beer and Manwiches,” his mother’s singing, and his grandma’s piano experiments. He has many opportunities to make real music with real instruments and people who love him.

What you can do with your baby or toddler:

  • Sing about whatever needs doing, especially if the child is fussy.
     
  • Make up a rhythmic chant with your child’s name in it to accompany any activity.
     
  • Find, make, or buy some instruments and play along with CDs.
     
  • Sing, chant, or play without a CD, following your child’s lead. Imitate whatever your child does.
     
  • Invite other important adults or young people to share their songs and instrumental skills with your child—there can never be too much music! (Don’t forget the sixth-grader learning a new instrument, or the babysitter who sings pop songs, or the cousin who just made it into the marching band, or the middle-schooler practicing for a talent show. All of these older people will be important music-making models for your child.)
     
  • Sing, chant, and play with freedom. At this age your child is an adoring audience and partner!
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Infant Learning and Music
By Lyn Ransom, D.M.A. on January 25, 2011

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.

As a new faculty member at Iowa State University in the ‘80s, Sister Lorna Zemke was an important influence for me. Sister taught at Silver Lake College and was a pioneer in prenatal music development. I was fascinated by her program, which involved singing to babies in utero. She observed that newborns recognized their parents’ voices, as well as the lullabies that had been sung to them prior to birth. I was fascinated but doubtful. How could babies hear or remember anything from before they were born?

Yet, three years later, as an expectant mother myself, I was sure my six-month embryo kicked more around cello and bass guitar than anything else. We went to a jazz concert where the speakers were turned up and the baby kicked hard—and it seemed as if he kicked when they were playing and stopped between songs. I went to my OB/GYN the next week and said, “Dr. B., I am sure he kicks more when there are low sounds than when there are not. Would you be interested in doing some research with me? We could watch the baby on ultrasound while different musicians play. We could see if he responds to music and we could see if he responds more to low sounds.” He told me that the kicking was probably random and that I perhaps had a vivid imagination.

Now, of course, we know prenatal babies hear from the fourth month in utero, and we know they tend to respond more to low-pitched sounds than to high ones. We are rapidly finding out the level of discernment and memory that babies posses when they’re born, and we’re beginning to understand more about the stimulation they need for development.

One recent study by Nakata and Trehub (2003) compared babies’ responsiveness to their mothers’ singing and mothers’ speech. Babies six months old showed greater interest when mothers sang to them than when they spoke to them, as indicated by increased visual focus and reduced movement. We see this at home and in Music Together classes as babies “stare and study” when people sing to them. The researchers also noted that the regular pulse of music may also enhance emotional coordination between mother and infant.

Another study by O’Neill, Trainor, and Trehub (2001) documents infants’ greater visual attention when being sung to by fathers than by mothers. It also articulates the differences in the ways fathers and mothers sing lullabies and play songs when the baby is present and when the baby is absent. Both fathers and mothers were more animated and playful when the babies were present, but fathers didn’t raise the pitch of the songs with baby present as did the mothers. I think this study points out the importance of fathers and mothers both singing to babies: In addition to aiding emotional bonding and musical play, this may help babies develop their focusing skills and memory.

One-year-olds remember and prefer music they heard before they were born, according to a study by Alexandra Lamont from the University of Leicester. The “Child of Our Time” study involved mothers playing a self-chosen piece of music to their babies for the last three months before birth, then not again until the children were twelve months old. Eleven babies tested all showed a significant preference for these pieces compared to very similar pieces of music they had not heard before. The babies’ preferences were based on the amount of time they spent looking towards the source of the music. When they stopped looking at the speaker which played the music, the music stopped. The babies quickly learned the association between their looks toward the speaker and the amount of music they could hear.
Many more studies on early learning and music have been conducted recently, but even just these three indicate how much and how fast babies learn, how strong their differentiation skills are, and how important caregivers’ singing is to the infants. It is also an indication of how complex music-learning is and how much researchers have to study!

Did you sing or play music for your baby in utero? Have you observed your baby’s preferences for different kinds of music?

Lamont, A. (2001.) Birth of musical protégés. University of Leicester Bulletin, 3. For more information on the Child of Our Time study: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0072bk8

Nakata, T., & Trehub, S. E. (2003.) Infants’ responsiveness to maternal speech and singing. Infant Behavior and Development, 27, 455-464.

O’Neill, C., Trainor, L. J., & Trehub, S. E. (2001.) Infants' responsiveness to fathers' singing. Music Perception, 18, 409-425.

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Music Together and Music Therapy in Ghana
By Carol Ann Blank, MMT, MT-BC, Program Developer, MTLLC on December 28, 2010
Over the summer, my colleague Tori Conciello-Emery, MA, MT-BC, was one of several clinicians on a service trip to Ghana, Africa. Tori is a Music Together–trained board-certified music therapist who works at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Tempo! Therapy in West Chester, PA. In Ghana, Tori led music therapy trainings for staff members at Echoing Hills, a center for adults with special needs. Music Together LLC provided her with Family Favorites CDs and copies of the Family Favorites Songbook for Teachers—along with many, MANY shaker eggs to help with her project. Read on to learn more about Tori’s trip in her own words.

In this video, Tori shares more about her experience in Ghana this summer.

What’s happening in Ghana?

At the end of July, I went on a mission trip with my church (Hope Community Church) to the suburbs of Accra, Ghana. My church has partnered with a Ghanaian church that just so happens to be named Hope Community Chapel, which is doing some amazing things for the special needs community, refugees, the homeless, and the blind and deaf communities in Africa. Handi*Vangelism, an American Christian organization that strives to minister to individuals with special needs (such as disabilities and medical and mental health challenges) has also partnered with the Hope Community Chapel of Ghana, making it possible for them to provide housing, education, recreation, vocational training, and spiritual growth for the people they serve.

Why was I (a music therapist) invited to serve this community in Ghana?

This year, a team of special needs clinicians was formed to go to Ghana and serve the people at Echoing Hills. Echoing Hills is the site Hope Community Chapel founder Pastor Larry Lamina acquired for individuals with special needs. There are people there with cerebral palsy, autism, trisomy 21, mental retardation, and several other cognitive and physical challenges. At Echoing Hills, I worked with an occupational therapist, a child-life specialist, a case worker, social workers, a behavioral specialist, and a deaf interpreter. We were all invited to the facility to share our professional experiences and to do what we do best—therapy. We worked really hard to offer the caregivers of Echoing Hills a much-needed break from their daily duties. We taught in-services on sensory integration, activities of daily living, occupational therapy, and behavior modification. We also offered clinical assessment by reviewing charts and, in collaboration with the caregivers, creating care plans for the clients. 

I personally had the opportunity to facilitate music-therapy groups with the clients at Echoing Hills. It was pretty amazing to be able to work in another country and to know that music therapy has an impact no matter where I may be practicing. One of my colleagues from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia donated a carbon-fiber guitar that I was able to leave for the church to use for worship during their services. Music Together LLC also donated 10 sets of teaching materials and 400 egg shakers. I ran a brief Music Together training for the caregivers at Echoing Hills. I think the entire nation of Ghana was shaking by the time I left! 

What happens at Echoing Hills now?

This trip was not a one-time event. In fact, four other teams had traveled there prior to the trip I went on. Our team of volunteers set a standard for how we can continue to support this church and their programs. At Hope Community Church USA, we are setting up a focus group to plan ways in which we can help Hope Community Chapel Ghana meet the needs of the people they serve. 

If you have any questions or are interested in learning more, please feel free to contact me at tori@tempotherapy.com.

Music Together classes are based on the recognition that all children are musical, regardless of developmental trajectory. All children can learn to sing in tune, keep a beat, and participate with confidence in the music of their culture, provided that their early environment supports such learning. However, it is possible that physical, cognitive, neurological, social-emotional, or other developmental challenges may prevent this from occurring in childhood. By emphasizing the model of family music making, Music Together believes that children and adults can rediscover the musical heritage that their human right. For children and adults with special needs, Music Together class experiences provide a safe, enjoyable arena where they can practice and integrate gains made in other therapies and enjoy the community bond that is inherent in the music-making experiences. In short, music and movement are fun for people of all ages and abilities. 

For more information on Music Together’s programs and applications in therapeutic settings, contact licensing@musictogether.com

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Bonding with My Daughter through Music—In honor of National Adoption Month (November)
By Janet Billings, Music Together Certification Level II on November 23, 2010

Janet Billings is the director of Music Together of Blackstone Valley in Milford, MA. Janet holds a BA in Psychology with a minor in Music Education from Hofstra University. Janet is an accomplished classical pianist and experienced music teacher of both children and adults. She has sung in amateur and professional choruses, including competitive a cappella quartets. She is committed to enhancing her teaching skills and has achieved the highest level of certification offered by the Center for Music and Young Children (CMYC)of Princeton, NJ. "Music education supports all learning." says Janet. "Many young children who are exposed to quality music experiences naturally learn to use their creative skills to solve educational challenges in other areas."

Bonding with their new children is a common concern among adoptive parents. Will he love us? Will he attach to us? Will he trust us to take care of him and keep him safe? Adoption professionals define bonding as “the process that a child goes through in developing lasting emotional ties with his or her immediate caregivers.” Sadly, due to the chaos and lack of stability in their very early childhoods, some adopted children suffer from a form of a condition called attachment disorder. And while all parents worry about bonding with their children, the sometimes-long lapse of time from birth to adoption can present a special challenge for adoptive families.

My own adopted daughter, Rosie, was ten months old when our family flew to China to bring her home. I worried about all of the same things as I did when I delivered my biological son: Is she physically healthy? Ten fingers? Ten toes? However, with my son, it never occurred to me to worry about attachment, too. From birth I was able to hold him to my heart, sing to him, and give him unconditional love. With my daughter, it was different: She was born ten months before she met me. I remember that long, miserable wait. What is she doing right this minute? Who is taking care of her? Is she warm, safe, and dry? Is she being well fed? Is anybody playing and singing with her? Does she laugh? It was agonizing. And so I planned. What types of activities should I incorporate into our daily schedule to help us get to know each other? Parents of both domestic and foreign adoptees often wonder what they can do to strengthen bonds with their children. As a musician, I instinctively knew that it was essential to bring music into her life right away.

Since my own childhood, I had been told “music is a universal language.” This statement has been argued by researchers on philosophical, technical, and semantic levels for many years. For me personally, the adage had proven itself true over and over again, and our final connection proved to be no exception. My beautiful little girl had spent her first ten months exposed only to Chinese, while I came into her life speaking English, with sounds and inflections that she couldn’t understand. I smiled at her, she tentatively smiled back. She let me hold her and soothe her but was very hesitant to snuggle. Then I sang to her, and our life together began.

According to research by the National Association for Music Education (MENC), “We know that music is among the first and most important modes of communication experienced by infants. The youngest children lack the gift of speech, but they are deeply responsive to the emotional ethos created by music. The lullabies sung by parents help children to accomplish the fundamental developmental task of learning—to trust their environment as a secure one. Songs communicate adult love and the experiences of joy and delight; they teach children that the world is a pleasurable and exciting place to be. Music is essential to the depth and strength of this early foundation for learning and for connecting to life itself.”

From the moment we entered the room at the Music Together demonstration class, I knew we were in the right place. My daughter lit up. She was still tentative and scared, but she was also smiling. There were many adults and children dancing around the room joyfully and my Rosie was overwhelmed. As I held her, she wrapped her legs around my hips, her arms around my neck—and she wasn’t getting down any time soon. But she was happy. We ran around the room, playing, laughing, singing, experiencing, and I showed her—by my own disposition—that this was what made me tick. I knew that at Music Together, I would be able to share my musical outlet with her and help her learn how to use music for self-expression.

We also met other families who valued music in their lives. After the first few weeks, a dad approached us. Although it is visually obvious that my daughter is Asian and I am not, it wasn’t as evident that Mike and his daughter were just beginning to form their bonds, too. He shared with me that he and his wife adopted Lily from Siberia at about the same time we were adopting. A friendship bloomed between the girls, and it was nice for me to have another parent in class who was sensitive to our situation.

As the semesters rolled by and I opened my own Music Together center, I met many other parents of foreign and domestic adoptees. When asked how Music Together class helped facilitate her bonding experience, another adoptive mother wrote the following: “My daughter was thirteen months old when we adopted and brought her home from China. We got home in February last year and enrolled in the spring Music Together class. Josie immediately took to the music and I strongly felt it was helping her language acquisition. We loved spending our time together as mother and daughter in a fun environment. Singing and dancing are great things for mommy and baby to do together to enhance their bonding relationship.”

This experience with my daughter taught me plenty. I have come to realize that we are not alone. Bonding is not an issue unique to adoptive families. Every family in every class is moving through its own bonding experience. Adoptive families, biological families, and blended families are all alike. There are phases and stages, ups and downs, happiness and sadness. As I raise my own family, I have learned to be sensitive to the needs of others.

We recently celebrated our 10th “Gotcha Day” anniversary. It’s so hard to believe that a decade has now passed since our life-changing trip to China, and that Rosie is now eleven years old! Her musical activities include playing the clarinet in the elementary school band and singing in the girls’ ensemble and chorus. Gymnastics is her sport of choice—and it’s amazing to watch her fly! We still sing Music Together songs in the car, but now we alternate them with the Beatles. Her favorite is “Here Comes the Sun.” She misses her big brother who is off in college now. Our family has a very strong bond and I am so thankful to have left the fear of attachment disorder long in the past.

Historically, the Chinese have many strong beliefs. For me, this author-unknown quote rings the bell of truth:

“An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but never break." —Ancient Chinese Belief

A “red thread” brought our family of four together: husband, wife, son, and daughter. It also brought us to Music Together, which in a sense, is like my children. It brings me work, play, laughter, joy, and the gift of music. Music Together continues to provide our whole family a wealth of daily bonding experiences that will be a legacy for us to pass down to future generations.

November is National Adoption Month, a time set aside to celebrate adoptive families and raise awareness about adoption, which began as a week-long celebration in 1976. Each year, the President of the United States issues a proclamation announcing National Adoption Month. Read this year’s Presidential Proclomation. Along with the month-long celebration, November 20, 2010, is the 11th Annual National Adoption Day.


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