Spot the Difference


If you haven’t already, I suggest you first read Reading, Writing and A Rhythmic Trick.

Below are some audio examples of a volume wave. I’m sure you will recognize Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (or The Alphabet Song; the tune is the same for both), but notice how each version is dramatically different.

What’s more, they share more than the melody; except for drums, all accompaniment parts are the same, too! There are, in fact, only two differences: the choice of sounds (instrumentation) and the placement of notes (rhythm and tempo). Children can hear how slide guitar, upright bass and harmonica create a completely different musical universe from a string quartet or rock band, even when playing the same notes. While tempo has an obvious effect on the perceived excitement and energy of a piece, rhythmic variation is more subtle (and beyond most kids. I include it here for your interest); notes repeated or played earlier and later than expected help place music in a genre. For example: Latin-inspired music creates momentum by playing ahead of the beat, whereas Western classical music is steadier and on-the-beat (more often using harmony to provide its movement). Electronica often cuts a single note into many for an excited, stuttering effect while slurring from one note to another (as the slide guitar does in the country version) is more gentle and laid-back.

There is a lot you can do with these mp3s. Read through the following lists and try to match the activity to your child’s mood and be as flexible as you can. Dependent on interest and attention, you might need to spread these out over a period of several days. Continue reading “Spot the Difference” »

“A one-legged dragon in a colorful shirt…

…with sharp nails hopping from a hair-cutting place to his birthday party where there’s a cake with six candles because he’s six.” Dorian and I made a volume wave puppet show (see previous post) which I share because a) it proves there’s no need for logic (why bother with a fireman driving to a fire when you can have dragons eating chocolate cake? I realize now I have no imagination) and b) because I’m a proud parent; my contributions were merely cutting around the dragon and cake and, at Dorian’s request, writing the sign at the barber shop.   Continue to the photo gallery

Reading, Writing And A Rhythmic Trick

Ava's music - Ava Schiraga (age 5)Expanding upon the ideas in Making Waves, the following activity uses shape to represent sound. This symbolization is a precursor to reading music and composing.  Additionally, the shapes form a graph of volume against time, so there is also a simple math lesson here, too.

To start your child reading music, you are going to send a musical puppet on a journey over some magical hills. Much more fun than clefs, key signatures and beat division! The higher the puppet climbs, the louder it sings or plays. Before starting, decide on the identity of the puppet, a starting point and a goal. for example, you could choose: a pirate walking from his ship to a treasure chest; Cinderella being driven in a coach from her house to the ball; a firefighter rushing from the fire-station to a fire; a grandparent driving to your house; a bmx biker riding towards a trophy; a mouse scurrying from a hole to some cheese; and so on. There are countless possible scenarios and, if requested, don’t be afraid of the surreal. A puppet of your family dog flying from a cake into your ear might makes this activity memorable; silliness can be very engaging.  Importantly, ensure the character and journey are meaningful to your child and the direction of travel is obvious.

Continue reading “Reading, Writing And A Rhythmic Trick” »

Where’s the Snake?

At Dorian’s pre-school today, I had the kids play a game which closely relates to my recent post, Making Waves.

  • The children sit in a circle;
  • One child is chosen to be the ‘snake-catcher’ and stands in the middle with eyes closed;
  • A small toy snake is given to a child in the circle who conceals it from sight;
  • With eyes now open, the snake-catcher walks around the edge of the circle;
  • All the other kids hiss, getting louder or quieter as the snake-catcher gets closer or further from the snake;
  • The snake-catcher judges when the sound is at its loudest and accuses the closest child.
  • The accused child reveals whether the snake-catcher was right or wrong.
  • Dependent on the age of the kids, the snake catcher might get one chance, several chances or (as was the case today) unlimited chances to find the snake.

I chose a snake to tie in with something else we were doing (and hissing is a fun sound to make!), but you could choose anything the kids can easily imitate: a car, another animal, a bell etc. In fact, you might try switching items and sounds between rounds.

This game can be easily adapted for just one child. Hide an item in the house and, as your child searches, make the noise yourself, getting louder and quieter (instead of saying the more traditional ‘hot’ and ‘cold’). As always, swap roles so you listen as your child gets to make noise.

Making Waves

All of us used sound as our very first means of communication. Whether hungry, tired, dirty, cold, or bored, we cried out loud for a cure. This ability of sound to generate attention is never forgotten. Toddlers and kids increase the repertoire; adding screaming, whining, shouting, interrupting, and pestering as more advanced means of manipulating adults. And they’re very effective. Early on, we learn that if a particular method doesn’t meet our needs, try it again…louder. Soft whimpering won’t guarantee food, but ear-splitting screams will. It may take a while for parents to decipher the milk order, but if the screaming continues, eventually it will come. Older kids, bored of shopping, learn shouting loudly will possibly get them out of the store sooner rather than later. Volume is power.

Helping kids regulate loudness is an important first step in playing with purpose and it’s not just because it renders subsequent music bearable for anyone within earshot!  This activity explores the range of an instrument’s volume.  Like Remote Control, there are two roles: one developing self-discipline and attention and the other creativity and assertiveness.  If your child has played music with me before, you’ll certainly recognize aspects of what follows; it’s a great starting point. Be warned! The ideas should test the limits of volume, so it might get loud…

Continue reading “Making Waves” »