Music and Self-Regulation

“The cerebellum right at the bottom of the brain is the timekeeper of the brain, controlling movement such as foot-tapping, dancing and playing an instrument. It plays an important role in emotional reactions to music. Our lower brain develops early and is functional from birth. It is involved with the regulation of all our primary body functions such as heart rate, breathing, digestion, temperature and regulation. Music helps with calming and regulation because it is an intuitive language of the emotions. We don’t have to think in order to process music. It can provide a calming, regulating environment of sound. The lower brain systems function without any conscious thought, but they respond to stress by speeding up our heart rate and breathing, slowing digestion, making the body ready for action. When we are highly aroused, it is harder for us to access higher levels of the brain. Music can calm stressed systems through the use of soft singing, rocking, patting, use of slow tempo and specific use of the elements of music.” (Wylie, 2017)

“Rhythm stirs our bodies. Melody or tonality stirs our brains. The coming together of rhythm and melody bridges our cerebellum (the motor control, primitive little brain) and our cerebral cortex (the most evolved, most human part of our brain)”  (Levitin, 2006)

What does this mean?

It is no coincidence that when a child is distressed our first instinct is to rock, bounce or sing to them in soft soothing tones. This natural response calms the child’s ‘lower brain’, returning them to a peaceful and regulated space.

When the lower brain is highly aroused it can be observed that children are in a state of ‘fight, flight or freeze’. They have no control over many of their actions as they are unable to use the other parts of their brain. These instances are sometimes referred to as tantrums, meltdowns or shutdowns. Often during this time, distraction, rewards or reasoning will not settle the child as they need assistance with self-regulation. This is where music can be an excellent tool as it brings the focus back to slowing the heart rate and breathing by singing in a slow tempo, allowing the child to feel calm.

Music can also be used to increase arousal. When singing to children in a faster tempo with complex melodies children can become excited and energised. These are songs that instantly make you want to get up and move or dance such as ‘Everything is Awesome’ from the Lego Movie

“The elements of music are used in very specific ways within Musical Play to match children’s energy levels, to build joyful, musical, regulated, relationship-based music interactions between parent and child, and parents and their children, within each Musical Playgroup.” (Wylie, 2017)

Researching Music

This months recommended resources for music, play based learning and some music to use at home.

Anita Collins Music:

I was privileged enough to do a six month mentor ship with Anita and she is absolutely brilliant! Her website is filled links to fantastic research and videos of her work such as her TEDx talk (http://www.anitacollinsmusic.com/tedxtalk/)

Why play-based learning:

Play based learning fosters a sense of autonomy in young children as they can choose what they would like to discover. This is a fantastic way to encourage a love of learning in even the tiniest of humans.

Julie Wylie Musical Play:

I have had the pleasure of meeting Julie and she is such an inspiration! Her blogs are well worth a read as she presents up to date research in an accessible format. She has created 13 fantastic CD’s (that are available on iTunes and from her website) and I use them every day.

Catalyst- Music on the Brain:

This Australian Program doesn’t just look at how music affects children, but also adults and the elderly. It was this program that inspired me to work towards inter generational music programs as it can be so beneficial for everyone involved.

Singing when you’re not a singer

The one comment I hear over and over in my profession is “I’m not a singer, so I can’t do music at home”.

Let’s get one thing straight, everyone is a singer, and the most important audience you will sing for are your children. You don’t have to be in tune, sing with the melody or even be in time! The most important thing is that you are confident and put yourself out there. This will not only strengthen the bond between you and your children as they observe that you are not afraid to express yourself in front of them, but the more you sing the better you will be! Like anything, practice makes perfect.

So, how do you get started?

  1. Find a song you like

This can be any song you have a connection with, but  would suggest a song with easy words and a simple melody. Some great examples are You are my Sunshine, Here Comes the Sun, Morning town Ride and Raindrops keep falling on my head. 

2. Learn the song so you could sing it in your sleep

Play the song all the time. In the shower, in the car and when you wake up. Look up the lyrics and make sure you sing the correctly. I sang ‘Our lips are sealed’ as ‘Alex the seal’ and was very confused as a child! If you are going to sing this song to your children, it’s important you are singing the right words, otherwise you end up with confused faces looking back at you!

3. Build up your confidence

Find a version of the song you really like on iTunes or Google music and sing along with it until you begin to feel confident with the words and the melody. As your confidence builds, turn down the music bit by bit, so you can hear your voice over the top of the music. Do this for as long as you need to!

4. Practice, practice, practice!

Keep at it! Children need repetition to create strong pathways between different parts of their brain. If they are asking for the same song over and over, it means they are still learning things from it.

Tips:

If you have the music turned down very low, but still aren’t feeling confident, try and find a karaoke version of the song, so you still have some kind of backing track to sing along to.

If singing makes you nervous and you forget the lyrics, print out a copy of them to read off. Building your confidence will take time, so if this helps, go for it!

The only audience you need are your children, no one else needs to hear you sing. I guarantee they will adore sharing this time with you, and one day they will feel confident in joining in.

 

So, why music?

This week, someone asked me the question “Why did you choose to focus on Music Education rather than another artistic discipline?”

Aside from the fact that Music is my passion, I thought I should explain why there needs to be a push in our Early Learning Services to make Music Education more accessible, compared to the other artistic disciplines.

Art

There is a huge amount of emphasis given to art in Early Learning, as its more accessible. Every educational setting has easy access to paper, pencils, paint, stamps, natural materials and easels. Educators and Parents also have no issues in modelling art and artistic techniques such as holding a paintbrush or pencil correctly and using creative mediums such as twigs and leaves as paintbrushes.

Drama

Let’s face it, being an Educator or Parent requires a lot of improvisation. You are always making things up as you go and adapting to new circumstances. Through these situations you are modelling this important technique to your children. Also, children use drama almost every day! Things like playing ‘house’, pretend and role playing sets up the foundation for more complex dramatic techniques.

Dance

Children naturally move to music without inhibition and quite often babies will be positively reinforced when they start moving to music as Parents and Care-givers smile, clap, laugh or move with them. When playing outside, children practice their Fundamental Movement Skills such as jumping, side stepping and skipping which is then transferable to dance.

What about Music?

We have unintentionally created a culture in which Educators and Parents are ashamed of their musical skills. No one is a perfect singer, yet many adults are unwilling to sing to children in their care, even though they are the most receptive audience they will ever find!

This is not to say that Specialty Teachers are not required in Art, Dance and Drama, but in Early Learning we are more inclined to give them ago compared to Music.

Supporting Early Music Making

When the children in our care are exploring musical concepts for the first, fifth or fiftieth time, it can be tricky for us (as adults) to say the right thing. Everybody has a memory of being a child and being told you cannot do something or that you aren’t good enough, and it can completely destroy your confidence. To make sure this doesn’t happen to the children in your care, here are some things you can say to continue encouraging them without harming their self confidence.

If a child continues to sing the same song over and over and over again…“Wow, you really know that song! I don’t think *insert name here* knows it very well though, do you think you could teach them?” This not only gives you a little break, but it also instills confidence in the child, as you really need to know something inside out to be able to teach it. This can then lead on to a great reflection process on how their teaching went. Why did it work? Why didn’t it work? Did they like the song?

On an occasion when a child is singing/playing really loud and you need them to be quite… “You’ve really mastered singing/playing loudly! Do you think you could sing/play softly?” Sometimes life happens, and you just need five minutes of quiet while you take a phone call, finish getting lunch or recharge your mental batteries. This is a great way to start exploring dynamics without discouraging their creativity.

When all else fails, think of it this way: If a colleague did a presentation for you on something they are passionate about, what would you say to them? How can you be respectful without discouraging their effort? If a child wants to sing or play for you, they are beyond excited to share this special gift with you. Just sit back, and enjoy it!