What can babies do

A rough guide for first-time music practitioners / entertainers on what babies (18 months and under) can do physically and some tips and suggestions to making your session plans.

A useful guide to read is the EYFS, Early  Years Foundation Stage which lists what a child can do in every stage of their early life, and how an adult can help them to move on safely to the next developmental stage.In the book it states “Children develop at their own rates, and in their own ways”. It lists the prime and specific Areas of Learning and Development such as making relations and building self confidence and self awareness to listening and attention to speaking, moving…etc. It would be good if you look through the book. It’s useful to focus every lesson plan around one developmental area and sub-area.

All children are different and develop at their own rates.

page 2 and footnotes

Use this as a rough guide and if you are not sure, ask and use your judgment. At about:

  1. 4 – 6 months they will be making sounds 
  2. 5 months start crawling – some children may skip crawling completely.
  3. 7 months start standing by holding on to things
  4. 12 months start walking on their own – and for some it may take longer
  5. 9 months clapping and gradually they perfect this. Although don’t expect that they can clap the beat to an entire song until much later
  6. 24 months (two years) to walk and clap at the same time
  7. 18 months will be saying some words
  8. 18 months will be very mobile, move around independently and through a ball (or let it fall from their hands)
  9. 20 months putting words together. Don’t expect them to sing you the whole song but they can shout out a word every now and then and may carry a tune
  10. 24 months their attention span is short so activities should be around 2 minutes long and gradually as they get older make them longer
  11. After two years of age expect children to be able to do controlled and simultaneous actions with all limbs, to cross their hands and place them on their thighs, or place one hand on their tummy and one hand on their heads. 
  12. Babies won’t be sharing until well after 30 months old (2,5 y.o.) but will know that some things belong to them and some to others from about 18 months. At this stage it is easier if they share a toy with their practitioners rather than with other children. 
  13. Play hiding games, show pictures, pretend vocabulary (let’s pretend we are frogs), use animals and make funny noises – These are always a hit!

FURTHERMORE:

If you are in doubt about what children can do, ask the nursery practitioner of the group you need clarification on.

You are building intention. They will not sing with you loud and clear or clap every time when the song says so but it shouldn’t stop you from working on this verbal and action vocabulary. There is no set date to start developing individuality and self awareness. Babies learn very fast so be patient, they are processing. 

The ratio of adults per babies in nurseries in the UK is 1 nursery practitioner for 3 babies – you should not be in the count. As they get older the ration changes.

Most nurseries will group the children according to their age (months) into different rooms. When a baby turns above a specific month and / or their physical, social and mental development exceeds expectations, then they move on to the “bigger” room. The room with older children. You may not be informed in advance. You will have to adjust your session plan to who you have there and accommodate to the majorities’ needs.

It’s useful to prepare a progression of your activities and how to break it down to something simpler. This way you can easily adjust according to who you have on the day. 

This is only a rough guide. You may know children that started walking at 10,5 months and others were still wobbly at 16 months, or could do simultaneous actions with both limbs earlier. Ask and be alert for changes sooner than expected.

Even if children can’t physically do something, they can’t do it YET. That means that you can build onto that skill. You can still ask the 20 month olds to put one hand on their tummy and one on their head. You will show them how to do it and move on to another activity, or break that activity down and allow each child to interpret it as they want. Be considerate. Don’t push them to do something they can’t do yet but guide them, show them and encourage them to do it when they are ready. Babies give feedback instantly, so if they feel frustrated about something you will know. Calmly congratulate them for what they have achieved and move on to something else that is more familiar.

During this designated music time with babies, you are building intention, perception, anticipation and expectations, feel safety and confidence in their abilities to carry on with their development. All this through music and sound exploration. So you are also offering an experience, the world through the auditory sense. All these qualities are invisible for a while but are there and are being cultivated through systematic and careful preparation.

I’d love to know your thoughts and how it goes for you!

© Rania Chrysostomou, 2020

Properties of Sound – Timbre [part 2]

When do you introduce contemporary techniques to your students?

You might have anticipated that there is no one answer fits all but you can… Recognise your instrument’s “proper” timbre in the first lesson or two, but allow them to discover it on their own and praise them for hitting that gorgeous air sound. Quite early start introducing contemporary techniques. If you opt for giving your students pieces from many eras including 21st century pieces then they will get used to them sooner.

Sometimes, technical words aren’t needed, AT. ALL. Just space and time to play and discover what the instrument can do. Especially if you have very young students, allowing discovery time where we can find lots of ways the instrument makes noise and music will keep things separated in their head (why can I sometimes blow a lot of air and other times I have to try to focus a specific pitch?). You don’t want them to come to the lesson and just bang the the keys with no purpose.

Here, I recommend a few more ways to go around with it, Games or Distractions as I call them:

  1. Listen! Share many recordings with your students and talk about emotions and thoughts. What does this remind you of, the piece is called —– can you guess why, what do you hear in the music when you feel nervous… Introduce music from different eras and styles as well as music that was performed yesterday!
  2. Choose your words. Try avoiding absolute words like right and wrong and proper as it suggests there’s only one way of playing. You may also encounter problems later on when you would potentially want to break that pattern. Instead say something like, this type of playing is appropriate here for reasons yxz. You are throwing in a bit of music history without even trying!!!
    2a) If a child is very young you don’t even have to say the words “contemporary techniques”. You can describe a sound (i.e. ringing bells, the roaring sea…) and let the child experiment to find ways of representing these sounds with instruments available.
  3. Storytelling time where the child has time to discover different sounds independently based on a story (a concrete concept) and find out how all sounds can fit together to make music.
  4. Dedicate 5 minutes at the beginning of each lesson to create sound colours. You can base each lesson on one theme, musical or non musical – using only percussive sounds, or only harmonics, or only multiphonics / describe emotions, places, animals, circumstances…
  5. If your students are over 11 years old then they will most likely be able to separate to recognise what playing is appropriate in each situation. You can talk a bit more in depth about contemporary techniques. So try introducing short phrases from pieces that use them, if not full pieces*. 
  6. Demonstrate and listen to recordings (yes, it is very important to listen)

*I have a piece for flute that can easily be arranged for any other instrument that is like a beginner’s piece to contemporary techniques, available on request

These are only suggestions. You know your students better and you can invent more!

Photo by Soundtrap on Unsplash

In school classroom settings
It might be a bit tricky to show or teach your students a piece that uses contemporary techniques. That’s what they are playing before you enter the room!!! Depending on your year group, the school (how open to new sounds they are) and the classroom you will get different reactions. As early as we can normalise that ‘proper’ music has many forms is usually better. So again, listening is one of the easiest tricks to introduce contemporary classical music – any music for that matter – and that timbre matters in music. This philosophy, normalising what is proper, goes beyond the music boundaries to understanding their world.

Because…

There is not one proper, right sound (thing) that is law binding and then some other sounds around it of less importance, called exceptions. Each sound serves in its era and has its purpose, its value and usefulness according to that time period and region, when it was used more prominently. In different eras the purpose, usefulness and value of a sound changes because the resources and human needs change. Today, we know how that sound was important in the past and what it represented. We can evaluate its necessity in our present. Each person’s present is different and each present changes every few while. Those values and uses and purposes change as well. Sometimes we have to re-evaluate a technique or a sound and maybe we have to let go of it if it’s no longer useful to us in the present; or at least put it aside. It is okay to not use it anymore, we learnt a valuable lesson. It is less okay to condemn anything new because we have not learnt to live with it yet.

The ambiguity that comes with music becomes more prominent when we talk about timbre, the sound colour in a piece. This is the entire story of the piece and it becomes personal to each listener. This is what makes music so arousing and perhaps confusing. It is okay not specifying what is right or wrong, embracing experimentation and play, establishing new findings, and living as a contemporary musician.  It is another muscle to work on!

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© Rania Chrysostomou, 2020