"Where words fail, music speaks." Hans Christian Andersen
Hans Christian Andersen certainly had a point with regard to adult emotions, mood and dealing with life's crises. Whether it's comforting ourselves with a familiar love-song, celebrating a success with a samba across the kitchen floor, or bonding with our friends over a glass of Prosecco and an early 90s playlist, we instinctively use music to help us convey a mood, or evoke a time that resonates with us. And the same notion is no less valid in a small child, or even a young baby. Perhaps it resonates even more so, given a lack of language at the finger-tips of a little one, to articulate their needs or feelings.
How can we harness the power in music, to help us on our parenting journey? How can we best use music to bond with our children, to share joyful moments, to play and to comfort? How can we teach musicality?
I'm not talking about giving a two year old a course on semibreves vs quavers, or teaching them to play Moonlight Sonata on the piano as soon as they can sit up. Children naturally jig, sway and dance in whichever way they can if the music they can hear fits their mood. Children "feel" music. One way of harnessing this, and helping children to understand music is to Feel-Show-Imagine.
Feel how a child feels when music is played. Join in when a nine month old baby is wiggling away to their favourite songs. Tell them how it makes you feel.
If you're feeling ambitious, play Tchaikovsky's introduction to Swan Lake. Sit, cuddle, wrap a blanket around yourselves and seek empathy from the music. Feel the mood changes within the piece as it plays. Sway. Then gradually introduce more upbeat tunes. Include your child's favourite songs or nursery rhymes. Set out a few different instruments (perhaps a jingle stick, a tambourine and a pair of finger cymbals). Get your child to choose the instrument they feel works for the music they can hear.
Experiment with loud and quiet music, and loud and quiet instruments. Make sure that when you're being loud, you're very loud with your instruments. Not only will they laugh and squeal with delight, but they will take far greater notice of the changes in volume as you move to a quieter piece.
Show them that same emotion on your face.
Change the mood. Pop on a slower-paced song, pick them up and rock them to the beat. Swap genres and respond in your movements and facial expressions. When they're very young, don't just play music... show them music. Show it physically. This will help build an understanding of different types of music and how it makes them feel inside. Then, when a child is older you can work with this to talk about the emotional impact of music.
As your child gets older, imagine a forest scene. Play some music - any music, and tell your child who you see walking through the forest. Are they walking, hopping, stomping, or even flying? How are they interacting with the grass, the flowers and trees - are they swishing past them quickly, or stopping to smell the bluebells? Are they nervously crunching over twigs or bashing down all the trees as they go? See how the music inspires you, and get your child to give their input.
Celebrated Russian composer, Igor Stravinsky believed that his music was best understood by children and animals. There is something that calls to our basic soul in music, be it a steady tribal beat, or an atmosphere you can almost taste, created by a classical piece. Music lifts our mood and comforts us when we're sad. So be bold, and don't be afraid of mixing musical genres. Be eclectic and play music you've never heard before, as you feel-show-imagine with your child. Who knows where it could take you!
Joss Astle is a self-confessed music shop addict, and the founder of Little Teapots percussion classes for babies and toddlers in Essex.