Besides those things I mentioned yesterday, I could switch to rhythms. Now I will gently bounce the child to a beat. The child is not able to do anything to a steady beat yet, but I can again model that, teaching the child what that feels like, letting the child experience it. So I’ll bounce the child while I chant rhythms on a neutral syllable, like “bah” or “bum.” I’ll repeat the same pattern so that the child learns that pattern and so that I make it highly predictable. I’ll also use different meters. When we sang “Twinkle,” it was in what we call duple meter, or alternating strong and weak beats. After using a duple meter song, I would switch to triple meter, or patterns of strong, weak, weak. Remember I mentioned earlier, it is important to use a variety of tonalities and meters when singing to young children, so there is variety in what they absorb, so their musical vocabulary grows large, and is not restricted. To help more with the meter, I could instead make some large muscle motion like raising my arm and perhaps the child will see me doing that and join in. Very young children can’t time it to the music yet, but they can time it to what they see, and connect the motion to what they hear. Eventually this will help them feel the meter in their bodies themselves. Remember, we’re not expecting or insisting that toddlers do any of this, just that they see and hear us doing it. If they do it too, great, and if they do something else in response, that’s great too. With older children who are capable of participating independently, I insist on them participating once they are comfortable in the class; I don’t permit them to opt out; but with toddlers, they are not yet at that stage.
When a child has reached two years, she can imitate songs with some accuracy, especially when singing structurally important notes. For example, it is typical of a two year old to tentatively and with some precision sing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” but then sing the last note louder, with confidence, and with excellent accuracy. A child at two has learned the tonal hierarchy of music, and easily audiates and sings the most important pitch in Western harmony, the tonic note. Some children will be able to sing with greater tonal precision throughout an entire song, though this often does not occur until 3 years.
Before I give you some classroom music activities for 3 and 4 year olds, I must reiterate how far the child has come so far. As with language, the child simply must have been around music since birth if his or her brain is going to develop well for music, language, and math. Think of how catastrophic it would be if a child heard barely any language spoken, or none at all, until they were 3 years old. The setbacks would be impossible to overcome. We know the value of children being around speaking people, and of reading to young children. Every parent remembers the excitement of his or her child speaking the first intelligible word. The situation is no less critical for music than for speech. Singing to a child, being around those who sing and play music, are essential for musical and cognitive development. We have seen why this is so. The activities I am about to show you are designed to decidedly take children out of the music babble stage, into the realm of singing pitches accurately and with a clear tonality, and of rhythms in a clear meter. Clear tonality means the pitches are accurate enough to be perceived as belonging to a particular scale, such as D major, or E minor, and meter means the rhythms are accurate enough to be perceived as being consistently grouped in a pattern of strong and weak beats, such as STRONG weak STRONG weak, and so forth.
There are four types of musical activities you should do with your students; those that help the child find and be comfortable with their singing voice, those that advance the child’s audiation ability, which is the ability to think in music and sing what has already been thought, those that develop moving to the beat of music to which they listen, and those that develop moving to music for expression.