Sarah Marsh, managing director of Musical Bumps Ltd shares her experience of music-making and singing with the youngest of children.
“When people ask me what I do for a living, I say that I teach music to babies! This prompts interesting responses –“What? Piano lessons?”, “Aren’t they too young?” and the like. If they are interested to know more, then this is what I would say: Whilst there are plenty of studies proving the benefits of music for babies, my own experience of working with babies is convincing enough for me!
Despite the recent trend for multi-sensory baby experiences, the thing that matters more than anything else is singing. In the first three years, brain development is faster than at any other time in our lives. New connections are being made at an alarmingly fast rate, and things learnt and frequently reinforced at this time will be retained into adulthood. So babies need repetition –where better to enjoy endless repetition than in a song?!
Just think back to a time when you asked someone to do something. They didn’t do it, so you asked again. And again. How long was it before you felt like you were nagging? Now think about the song “London bridge is falling down” and change the words: “Everybody tidy up, tidy up, tidy up, everybody tidy up, thank you, thank you!”. I’ve just asked you to tidy up four times! Did it sound like nagging? No –because songs demand repetition, and are better for it. Try this on your toddler (but I warn you, it doesn’t work on teenagers!). So songs are a great place to establish and practise vocabulary, ideas, skills and understanding.
But there’s more…babies need human interaction. Simple – they need to see other humans smiling, frowning, laughing, empathising. This is how babies learn about their world and it’s how they shape their future. Attending a baby music class is a great way to learn new songs and games to play with your child –games and songs where you can practise all those silly faces and voices and where you can have lots of fun doing so. Putting a CD on (even one from the best musicians in the world) won’t be as good as you singing and responding to your baby (even if you don’t think you can sing!).This is true for all babies and toddlers –in the womb, new-born and older. So babies need to learn and babies need to have human interaction.
When you have a new baby, you also need to build a new social network. The world is a very different place as a parent – indeed things will never be the same again. This can be a very positive experience of course, but is also a little daunting. Attending a music class is a great place to meet other parents and make new friends – often friendships that last well beyond the baby years.
So; something for you, something for your baby and a great place for the two of you to share special times together. For me this is enough. But you might have read about how music makes your baby cleverer too! There are many studies showing how music boosts intelligence–some suggesting an increase of eight or nine IQ points. Again, I can only speak from my experience: there is no doubt that learning is more memorable when we are having fun. There is also no doubt that repetition is essential for reinforcing learning.
The fun had at classes also really encourages participation. Children attending music classes will, most likely, have practiced or been exposed to hundreds of words, and have enjoyed playing with those words and sounds within songs. These children will arrive at school more confident to use their voice, with a wider vocabulary and better able to retain and remember information. I can’t say if this equates to a higher IQ, but I can say that their capacity for learning should be greater!
So why start from newborn? Most babies who attend music classes have good early communication skills (expressing their feelings, pointing, waving etc.) Socially, these babies also smile plenty, are easily comforted and cope well with new or unexpected situations. As they grow they already know the songs and games, so participation (verbal and non-verbal) comes sooner and self-confidence is high. So remember, you don’t need gadgets, gizmos or apps. Your baby needs you. And the best games you can play when they are tiny are ones that involve singing!”
Sarah Marsh is a music teacher and advisor working in primary and early years music across the UK. Sarah founded and directs Musical Bumps Ltd – with classes across the UK. Kent locations include Crowborough, Kings Hill, Malling, Medway, North West Kent, Royal Tunbridge Wells, Sevenoaks and Tonbridge.