Saturday, 21 July 2012

Alysa's 5 Musical Tips

My friend Alysa is pretty darn cool.  She is the mother of 2 sweet boys.  She's well read and blogs about her favorite books at  She hosts an interactive music class for kids every week called Kindermusik (and the kids love it!)  And she's the kind of person you love to hang out with on girl's night because brings out your silly side while holding a real conversation.  One of my favorite moments with Alysa was when we were in a playroom together watching our kids go crazy.  When her younger son started fussing, she took him on an elaborate and exciting tour of the tiny room (a 10'x10' square).  I was intrigued by it!  She was making everything up on the fly (her description of the slide was an old mansion built in the 1920's for wealthy cowboys... or something like that) and I loved how she took something so ordinary and made it exciting everyone, herself included.  I could definitely use some help making ordinary days a bit more exciting.  

I was trilled when I read her tips on making music a part of everyday family life.  Speaking from personal experience with music, I would LOVE it if my children learned to appreciate music from the hearth at a young age.  Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!  

Five Tips for Using Music to Make Life Easier
Hello, all! Emily asked me to post about how to get your little kids involved in music. Of course the first thing I thought of was that they could take a music class from me, but that is hardly practical advice for everyone who will see this. So, no matter where you live, here are my five tips (with bonus Pro tip and music recommendations)!

1. Signal Songs
In our house, we pray as a family at least four times a day. When we had only one child, we could just snatch him up and help him still his hands for the prayer. With two mobile now, we've resorted to a song for our signal. 
When you use a song as a signal, it gives your kids time to do what you're asking of them.  Instead of repeating, "Come to the table. Sit down. Fold your arms," we sing our song and it means all of those things. We don't have to repeat ourselves because we're saying all of that the whole time we sing. For the first few weeks, Jacob would invite someone to say the prayer immediately after our song ended, regardless of where the kids were. This showed them we were serious and the prayer was going to happen right after the song. Now, they're almost always ready by the time the song is done.
Another signal song I use (though not as frequently) is a folk song "Come, Follow" that I learned by teaching Kindermusik. It gets us out the door or all walking on our way somewhere. At a family reunion a few years ago I learned a signal song my great-grandmother had used for getting up in the morning. You could have a signal song for climbing into bed, buckling your seat belt, clearing your plate, or whatever you need. The possibilities are endless.

2. Extender Songs
There are times when my toddler has asked for a drink of water and as I stand to go get the cup, find the lid, make sure the water's not boiling out of the faucet and so forth, he is repeating at an increasing speed and pitch, "Drinkwater! DRINKwater!" It can be annoying, to say the least. 
This is when I sing The Patience Song. Jacob brought this song to our parenting from his own childhood experience. It tells my son "even though I'm turning my back, I still remember when you asked me to do. I'm going right now to do it. When I'm done singing, you will have your drink." I don't have to keep up a constant stream of chatter, or hear "drinkwater" incessantly. 
I also sing a song while changing diapers. When you're halfway through and you just need a few more seconds to finish up, it can be tempting to take a harsh tone. But everyone is so much happier when the shocking thing you do to make the baby look is not yelling but singing. We made up a diaper song with our older son and it has been great fun. It always starts the same way, but on the last line we just say whatever comes to mind. This makes it easy to make it just one second longer if need be. 
Pro tip: When you use a song as an extender, time your beginning so that when the song ends unpleasantness also ends. If your song is done and they are still waiting, the song will lose its power.  

3. Scaffolding with music
When kids are just learning all the noises they can make, sometimes they pick the most annoying ones to repeat. Over and over and over. Yes, a fire truck says wee-oh-wee-oh-wee-oh but it usually drives away as it does. Not the case for a toddler who wants to play in the same room as mom. I've found to say, "change that" is better than saying "stop that."
I like to find the musical principles in what the child is doing (such as high or low voice, loud or soft voice, steady beat and repetition) then ask him to change just slightly. "Ooh, fire trucks also honk now and then! Try that! Wee-oh-wee-oh baah baah!" or "You're making your voice is so high! Now can you say the same thing with your voice down lowwww?" It changes things just enough that my brain isn't about to explode anymore and it has the added bonus of teaching kids more about music. 
Teaching kids in this way -- stepping in briefly to suggest a small modification -- is called scaffolding and it is fantastic. 

4. Improving literacy with music 
I don't know about you, but I make up songs all the time. Especially when I'm tired. My brain just switches into song-mode. I've been known to sing entire conversations. It's like my brain is kaput and in order to do anything it has to have music to help it along. You've probably already heard that music is great for our brains.
Songs stand out and help us remember things. Try making up a song to teach your little one a new word, or to answer your child when he asks a question that he has asked before. 
Songs help us divide words into chunks. Typical songs have one note per syllable, and the ability to divide words into syllables is an indicator of reading readiness. Rhyming (common in song) is also helpful when learning to read and write. 

5. Mood enhancement through music 
Often, Jacob will come home from work and turn on music. It is like magic: we will all get a second wind and have energy to make dinner and clean up. (And why didn't I think of this earlier? I will say to myself.)  At night, we calm down with music, singing songs to the boys once they're tucked in -- and we've had to cap it at three otherwise we're in there all night. These nighttime songs are almost signal songs, since they tell the boys to settle in for the night, but they change nightly.
When my son started preschool, we carpooled with an adorable little boy. About halfway through our first ride he asked me to turn on some "kids' music." I love listening to music while I drive; and in our car the driver gets to choose the music. "This is kid music," I said. In my opinion, any wholesome music is kids music, and there is no bad language or thematically inappropriate content in any music I listen to. Ergo, my kids listen to what I like. I'm sure as they grow they'll introduce me to new things, but for now, we listen to the music mom and dad love. I don't buy low-quality, oversimplified, annoying "kids' music" that I don't want to listen to. 
That said, here are three albums marketed as kids albums that Jacob and I love: 
  • Laura Viers' Tumblebee
  • Medeski Martin & Wood's Let's Go Everywhere
  • The Barenaked Ladies' Snacktime

What do you think? Is there a tip you would add to this list? Which of these are you most likely to try? And seriously, if you're looking for a music class for a babe age 0-5, email me at 


  1. Wow! Every mom should read that post! If I had only known some of these things a few years ago - but its not too late - I can still use them at home and in the classroom.

  2. I love the signal song idea. Wow! What a happy, non-pushy way to tell them it's time to do something. You're brilliant. It's funny, we have one for bath time, the kids love it, but I never thought about a song for dinner or prayer. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Music is universal language in whole world. Here I get best details about musical tips. I impress by this ideas. I like to listen music so much.

    voice over artist

  4. LOVe your ideas Alysa! Would like to hear more about the patience song you sing...David wholeheartedly agrees that a lot of kid music is low quality, over simplified, and often annoying. He also despises the noises on a lot of toys and will quickly take the batteries out of them(doesn't bother me quite so much). Our kids enjoy listening to Mussorgsky and The Planets by Gustav Holst. They LOVE the 1812 overture by Taikovsky and John Williams. Another musician we LOVE is Nathan Pacheco. He sang with David at BYU and was his district leader on his mission. His voice is so beautiful -you can check out his music on youtube. We love Julie Andrews and David also loves Luciano Pavaratti. I'm not an expert on music, but for "kids music" I like a cd by Sandra Boyton-especially the song "Singing in the Shower. And I like some of the upbeat fun disney classics-can I call them classics? Thanks for sharing your ideas. I sometimes will sing to my kids instead of talking and it really does get their attention. I just love it when they start singing back! Oh, and we like Whitney Houston too...