Spontaneous Music-Making

(Image by Marcelo deOliveira via Creative Commons)

A few weeks ago when the weather was warm, I took my son to the playground. It was just starting to turn cold again, feeling more like February weather. I sat on a bench and started to take my phone out, but then decided to put it away. I’m glad I did because I almost missed a great scene of spontaneous music-making by preschoolers.

Archer had found a couple of friends to play with. The three of them were running back and forth on a little playground bridge that sways slightly, with planks that move. After awhile I really saw what they were doing. It wasn’t some willy-nilly random running. There was a rhythm and an order to it. They each took turns, with space between each turn—they were waiting for one of them to cross over before the other one would go. And each of them made a different sound and movement as they crossed. There was a girl who would raise her arms up, run across, and yell “Woo!”. A little boy was next and he made a squeaky sound like “ee-er—ee-er” while he galloped across. Then it was Archer’s turn, who simply ran across, without an accompanying vocal sound. They cycled through this over and over, very rhythmically, keeping the same pace and space between each of them.

It was fascinating to watch. It was totally spontaneous music-making. I doubt that they were aware of what they were doing—but it must have felt good to move in that predictable, rhythmic way, over and over again. At some point it stopped when something—a toy? fell out of the boy’s pocket.

Have you ever caught your kids in a spontaneous act of music-making? Singing under their breath while playing (my older son does this while he plays with Legos, making up little songs), banging on objects, moving in a rhythmic way, experimenting with their voices, touching instruments if you’re at a music store or walking by a piano, dancing when they hear music? I dare you to find a toddler who doesn’t automatically move when they hear music. How many times do we tune them out or tell them to please be quiet? I’m totally guilty of this—I’m a stay-at-home mom and sometimes need some peace and quiet to stay sane.

But sometime over the next few weeks, can you stop and pay attention for a moment? Can you catch them in the act of spontaneous music-making? I bet they do it more often than you think. Once you catch them in that moment, stay with it for awhile and observe. Let them make noise for awhile. What do they look like in that moment? Can you help them capture that same sense of play when they’re practicing at the piano?

Children are inherently musical. Our job as adults is to try not to stamp it out of them. Encourage (or at least tolerate), rather than dismiss, their crazy vocalizations, their goofy movements, their yearning to experiment with sound.

Also notice this week: Do you make music without realizing it? Do you walk rhythmically down the street with a song in your head? Run on the treadmill to the beat of a song from your headphones? Drum your fingers on the table? Tap your thumbs on the steering wheel? Sigh audibly (when your children are being too loud…..)?

Music doesn’t just have to happen in a practice room, or on a stage, or inside your stereo. It can happen on a playground, or in the shower, or while sauteeing vegetables.

According to John Cage, “Everything we do is music,”  Do you agree?

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