music education

Kids and Celtic Music

I suppose my own Irish heritage predisposes me to being super excited about Celtic music, but I still think it's a fun genre to explore with kids regardless! The style of music is very different than a lot of what children hear on a regular basis. With it's unique instrumentation, driving 6/8 feel and the corresponding cultural aspects that come with it, Celtic music is such a rich style of music to study. It allows for a lot of new sounds and experiences for early learners! 

As with most genres I introduce in Music U, I like to start by going over what instruments make up the sound of that genre. For Celtic music, we learn about the harp, accordion, bodhran drum, Irish Tin Whistle, fiddle and flute. I show them images, and then I like to show them videos of people playing these instruments in the Celtic style. This allows the children to see how the instrument is played. It also can help them see that perhaps instruments we have seen and learned about in other genres are producing a completely different sound or feel in this particular style. Each week I will review the names of these instruments so that by the end, the children know all the names by looking at the instrument without any help from me! I also like to try to bring in a guest musician that plays one of the instruments we've talked about so they can experience it first hand! I lined up a flute player for this month, but he had to postpone, so we will experience that a little later! I did however manage to get my husband to come play a few Irish folk tunes on our tin whistle!

I think Irish dancing is amazing. From a purely entertainment standpoint, I thinks it's pretty incredible what Irish dancers can do with their feet! They are creating intricate, triplet based rhythms.... with their feet! So, I find it essential to show the children this amazing dance style that is unique to Celtic music. I show the children a few videos, they are typically pretty mesmerized by it all, then we give it a shot ourselves! I love to point out that the dancers don't move their arms much, an do a lot of quick work with their feet, and occasionally some leaps and jumps. It's fun to watch the children listen to the music, express themselves through dance, and use the template of Irish dancing they have just observed to create their movements. And, it's actually quite impressive what they can pick up on! It gives them a way to feel that dominant 6/8 feel even if they don't exactly know what that is. It's different, and they are aware of it. 

Lastly, we busted out the rhythm sticks and tapped along to some upbeat Celtic tunes. Rhythm sticks are always a good idea because it just helps them in so many ways beyond what you might be working on in the moment. We try to stay on a beat, and while that's tricky for these little ones, it helps to hear a constant beat coming from the teacher over and over again so that eventually they catch on. Studies have shown that rhythm play and singing in percussive phrases can help children be better readers and communicators later on! 

So here's to Celtic music and all it has to offer! We had a blast this past month!


3 Things Children Can Learn About Jazz

Every January I get the joy of teaching children about Jazz. I specifically chose January to teach this genre so that I can refer to the month as Jazzuary, because I'm just that clever! Here are 3 things that I have found children love to learn about Jazz.

1. Instrumentation

Every time I teach about a certain genre of music, I make a point to introduce all of the instruments that are typically used in that particular style. With pre-schoolers, learning about the names and sounds of new things is not just fun, it helps them broaden their understanding of the world! For Jazz, I have photos of an upright bass, piano, drums, trumpet, trombone, electric guitar, and a saxophone. There are obviously more instruments that can be found in jazz music, but this is where I start. I show them the photo and play little sound clips of each instrument. I also act out how each instrument is played. If I can, I try to bring in a real one for them to see, touch and hear. They learn new words, and experience the sounds coming from each instrument and begin to associate things like how the size of an instrument effects how low or high the pitch is. We play games where the children listen to an instrument and pick which photo corresponds to the sound. Then we listen to Jazz music and see if we can pick out some of the instruments we've learned about. Ear training at this age goes a long way, and not just for use in music. By listening for specific things, children are focusing their attention to more detail and picking out specific sounds, a skill that can absolutely help with speech and literacy as they grow.

2. The Hi-Hat

I like to bring in new instruments on a regular basis to expose the children to as much as I can. With Jazz, I bring in a hi-hat and play a Jazz cadence for them. Not all, but a lot of jazz has a very specific "swung" beat that plays an important role in why jazz sounds different than other kinds of music. I let the children each have a turn playing the hi-hat and exploring the foot pedal as they hit the cymbals. I then show them a familiar song like "Old Mac Donald" in the traditional version, then I play a jazz version of the song and we listen to how the "beat" is the most obvious difference in the two styles. The beat is the foundation of jazz, and a hi-hat is just fun to play!

3. Scat

Most of what we do in Music U is meant to be exploratory, improvisational, and fun. The art of scatting is about as improvisational as you get, and it's easy to have fun with because we get to use our own voices! A built-in instrument! I like to show videos of some of the best scatters in jazz so that they can actually watch their mouth move as they make the rhythmic sounds. Then we just try it ourselves. It's fun to explain that you can just make any sound that you feel sounds good, and give it a try! The kids come up with some great stuff. Some children need to warm up to the idea, and them come out of their shell a bit to sing a few nonsensical words. But once they've tried it, they're hooked! So easy! They begin to create jazz all on their own just like the greats!

At Music U, exposure is a foundational element to the learning process. My goal with each new theme is to expose the children to something new, something different, something exciting and something that keeps them wanting to learn more about music! It's good for the soul!