Music for Teaching Children- Kiddliewinks Music

This week I interviewed Heather Monro from Kiddliewinks Music about how she came to write ‘Don’t be Serious’ and ‘Don’t be 2 Serious’. These are two fantastic resources for Early Learning. Make sure you check out their website!

Why did you start making music for children?

I have been teaching music to children since 2001, initially using music from other resources. There had not been any new releases of new music for several years, and I felt that I needed some fresh new music. For about 12 months I’d asked Nathan Glenn, a Melbourne-based composer, if he would be interested in co-producing some music with me. However, he was already busy with other projects. In 2016 I was teaching a pre kinder group of children, and decided to write a new ‘Hello’ song. I asked Nathan if he would record a backing track for my new song on piano. I thought this would take only a few minutes, but after 6.5 hours he had created a full orchestral arrangement that was as good as something produced by Disney. We both enjoyed the process, so this became the beginning of an award-winning teacher manual and CD that we have co-written called ‘Don’t Be Serious’.

How does your music offer a unique experience for children?

Our music is all original, with some pieces containing lyrics, and others purely orchestral. One unique factor of our music is that the music has been composed for a specific activity or purpose. It is also modern orchestral music of many different styles. This is something that is rarely, if at all, seen in today’s music for children.

We have many varying types of activities for children on our albums, and each piece offers them a different experience, game or area of physical, intellectual or social development.

What are your qualifications?

I trained as a kindergarten teacher, majoring in music at the Institute of Early Childhood Development State College of Victoria, completing post-graduate studies in Orff Music at Australian Catholic University, with additional coaching in the USA with Lynn Kleiner, jazz improvisation with Susie Davies-Splitter, and training in New Zealand with Kids Music Company both in teacher workshops and children’s classes.

Nathan Glenn has two major diplomas in piano, receiving his A.Mus.A. at age 14 and L.Mus.A. at age 16. He also has a Bachelor of Software Engineering with Honours. Nathan has also learned the flute, clarinet, violin, oboe and guitar. He has also won awards for his compositions and performances both nationally and internationally.

How much research/groundwork did you do prior to writing your first song/activity?

Prior to publishing our first teacher manual and CD, I tested the music with many different groups of children after each track was completed. I wanted to make sure that the music and songs would be enjoyed by children before making them public. I also asked for thoughts and feedback from teachers about each piece. This actually led to a few changes to make them more user friendly.

The teacher manual was written in such a way that even teachers who felt they weren’t musical would still have the confidence to use the music and each activity with the children in their classroom. I made sure that the teaching notes were very clear and any development outcomes for the children were listed. Before children go to school, there are essential areas that they need to develop, including: imagination, social skills, fine-motor skills, large-motor skills, crossing the midlines, just to name a few. I used this knowledge as a kindergarten teacher of many years to make sure that the music and activities included aspects of these essential learning areas. For example, ‘A Day in the Snow’ has been created to develop a child’s imagination, love of good music, spacial awareness, and the vestibular system.

Where needed, facts were thoroughly researched for our music. An example of this is ‘The Planets Song’. The only planet songs I knew previously included Pluto as a planet. We needed to have a song that was scientifically up to date, given that Pluto is now excluded as a planet.

‘A Bush Lunch’ is another track where research was essential. We started with the idea of having some music about a kookaburra, but after researching on the internet, discovered that kookaburras eat snakes, and snakes eat mice, and decided to incorporate the three animals into the music. Nathan created a beautiful piece of music with section A representing kookaburras, section B representing snakes and section C representing mice.

Did you find there was a hole in the market that you needed to fill?

I believe that there is definitely a hole in the market when it comes to orchestral music. Young children can have an amazing appreciation for orchestral music, and often prefer it to modern pop. Nathan has a unique talent as a brilliant composer. He writes imaginative, exciting and innovative orchestral music. One of our aims is for children to enjoy orchestral music as much as we do. We believe that we have created fun, educational, and very entertaining music for children. I am often asked ‘can we do it again?’ when I am presenting our music to children.

Music for Teaching Children- Julie Wylie MNZM

There is a huge collection of children’s music available now through channels like iTunes, YouTube and Spotify, however, some children’s music is not actually suitable for children in terms of teaching outcomes, sound quality, and complexity. Over the next few weeks, I will be looking at some great artists that make music for children, starting with Julie Wylie MNZM from Christchurch, New Zealand.

Wylie has created 13 CDs for children, and because she has such a knowledgeable background in musical theory, music therapy and child development, the songs on these CDs are perfect for children. Many of the songs have been ‘musical collaborations’ between Wylie and children she has worked with, where both Wylie and the child are active participants in the composition process. The resulting songs are beautifully written from the eyes of the child about subjects that matter to them.

Many of Wylie’s songs encourage the development of the key concepts of music such as beat, rhythm, tempo and dynamics while having beautiful melodies that children can comfortably sing and rich instrumentation to accompany the lyrics, challenging children’s listening skills as they try to decipher what they are hearing. Some songs are designed to arouse while others help to calm children, enabling us, and other adults, to tune in to, and match children’s energy levels, and take them on a musical journey in each session. They have a clear beginning, middle and end providing predictability and introducing children to musical form.

Below is one of my favourites ‘I’ve got a Teddy Bear’

Other favourite Julie Wylie songs include:

  • See the Little Clowns (Magical Musical Play)
  • We are Playing Music (Magical Musical Play)
  • Walking in a Circle (Magical Musical Play)
  • Up and Down and Around and Around (Magical Musical Play)
  • Bop it in the Rocket (Bop it in the Rocket)
  • Jump for Joy (Starting on the Right Foot)
  • Shuffle Like a Penguin (Starting on the Right Foot)
  • Little Clown Dance (Starting on the Right Foot)

Using Disney songs in the classroom

When Disney’s Frozen was released in theatres, children in my music classes were excited to sing Let it go during music time. For whatever reason, the children really connected with this song and it became a favourite overnight. Every week, I would have to remind them that we would finish music time with Let it go, but we had to get through the rest of the lesson first! If you haven’t heard the song, have a look at the clip below.

Songs from Disney movies have always been popular, and so I started to think of how to incorporate this song into our music time in a way that would be authentically educational. These songs from Disney soundtracks often have elaborate melodies with fantastic dance scenes during the movies, however, they are particularly challenging to sing. This was definitely the case for Let it go.

Although Let it go has a beautiful message for children to embrace their gifts and to ‘let go’ what others think of them, in terms of singing to it, children simply do not stand a chance. It was specifically written for Idina Menzel, the actress who voices Queen Elsa.  Menzel has a long career on stage in Broadway productions so it is no wonder the song is challenging. The vocal range from the song spans almost two octaves (F3 to Eb5) with a complex key change after the bridge. (Anderson-Lopez & Lopez, 2013) With each verse, the melody rises higher, making it less achievable for little voices to reach. Then in the final bars of the song, Elsa sings ‘…let the storm rage on!’ hitting that high Eb for two bars (almost ten seconds when sung at the correct tempo). What I found was that when children attempt to sing this, it inevitably ends in screaming at the end of the song.

Disney songs in general also often have fantastic instrumentation with full orchestras accompanying the lyrics. This makes for a beautiful sound but can be difficult to decipher for children who have limited auditory processing skills.

But why were the children I was working with asking for this songs over and over?

Children request songs for a reason. This might be to calm or excite them, or to learn something new. When repeating a song, educators are allowing children to create connections within their growing brains. For example, after listening to a song a few times, a child’s brain is connecting the lyrics (language) to the melody (auditory processing). When educators repeat this activity, the connection between these two parts of the brain become more efficient and more creative. The connection in the brain is like going from a small pathway to a road, to a highway, each time the neural ‘pathway’ is used, it becomes more efficient. This increases a child’s problem-solving skills and their ability to apply knowledge to various new environments.

How to utilise Disney songs in a way that is educational

For Let it go I created a movement activity with scarves. Children were to dance with their scarves during each verse, then when it comes to the chorus, scrunch up the scarves and throw them in the air when Elsa sang ‘Let it go’. This encourages children to notice the form of the song (when the chorus was coming up, how long until each chorus), it gives creative freedom with dancing, working on gross motor skills in throwing and in anticipating the chorus and the children are beginning to understand a sequence of events.

So instead of screaming the song to finish our music lesson, we would finish it with our scarves being thrown in the air and some creative movement. This was much better for both me as a teacher and the children, as we left the room in a calmer more regulated state, and wouldn’t hurt our voices!

It starts with ‘Hello’

‘Hello, hello hello. It’s music time today!
Hello, hello, hello, who is here today?’

When children first arrive in your room, do you sing hello? Singing a hello song is a great way to start any music session. Not only is it a great way to warm up your vocal chords but it also builds a sense of community and belonging amongst children. Creating a space children feel they ‘belong’ to is essential in an Early Education and Care setting, as the Early Years Learning Framework states

Experiencing belonging – knowing where and with whom you belong – is integral to human existence.

The Early Years Learning Framework

The play therapy technique of acknowledging children where they are at (emotionally or otherwise) allows them to feel seen and understood. Singing hello adds the layer of communal music-making, giving children the opportunity to be a part of a team, working together to achieve a common goal.

So, let’s start the day on the right foot and sing hello!

What hello song do you use?

Recorder Memes

Yes, we’ve all seen them on our Facebook pages, and even had a little giggle, but I am officially over it. Recorder memes poke fun at the hard work music teachers do!

I understand better than anyone that learning a new instrument is difficult. When I was in year ten I decided I wanted to try learning the oboe. As a flautist of four years, this was quite the challenge as an oboe has a double reed. I was determined to learn it specifically for an upcoming eisteddfod, however, when I started practicing at home, my family promptly told me that I sounded like an injured goose.

Learning a new instrument is no easy feat. Not to mention having the courage to actually perform that skill infront of peers and an audience! When we teach children how to play the recorder, we are actually teaching them:

  • fine motor skills of holding their fingers over the holes so as to make the best sound
  • breath control to play their recorder soft or loud
  • how to read music (which is a huge challenge in itself)
  • how to work in a group to achieve a collective goal when playing in ensembles
  • timing when playing a piece of music with others
  • multitasking while watching a conductor and also following along with the music their playing
  • listening skills as they tune-in to the sound of their recorder amongst a group of peers
  • determination and tenacity as they practice
  • and a lot more!

So next time you hear the high pitched screech of a wrong note, think of how much your child is learning. And thank their music teacher!