Benefits of Beats for Babies and Beyond

Why do I need to spend time with my child focusing on Steady Beat?  There’s an old adage, “With age comes wisdom”.  And then there’s the comedy trailer, “… and sometimes age comes all by itself.”    The same is true for steady beat. 

Most people don’t understand its importance:  in an international study by the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation, the majority of 2,000 teachers and 5,000 parents indicated steady beat was only of moderate importance, and that no teaching was necessary for it to occur.  (Weikert, 1999)

BUT, a steady beat does not develop along with the ability to walk.  Just because we have a steady heartbeat does not mean everyone can match the beat of recorded music.  There are plenty of adults who don’t have this ability.  How many of you KNOW someone with “two left feet”?   It doesn’t mean they can’t learn it.  It just means they haven’t…  yet.     

Steady Beat, at any age, must be experienced fully.   And “developing a sufficient level of competence requires support from knowledgeable adults and plenty of opportunities for active engagement in targeted learning experiences.”  (Weikert, 2003)   In other words, get with someone who knows what they are doing, who can provide a wide variety of activities that can help that skill develop.

If this worries you as a parent (if you feel you have two left feet), be comforted.  For one – please realize that parents do not have to dance with a perfect beat, or sing with a perfect pitch.  Your joyful musical interactions with your child are beneficial across so many developmental realms – the musical benefit is just one of them.  Just KEEP making music with your child, even if you can’t “carry a tune in a bucket”, or you avoid skipping rope like it’s a snake!

In Kindermusik, a licensed educator facilitates the class, providing the “knowledgeable adult” who will help both you and your child to experience and develop this skill.  Even in class, we offer a variety of options, allowing each individual to find their own “best way” for beat development.   It’s never too late to learn !

So WHY is it so important to teach it to my child NOW?

Like learning a language, steady beat, rhythms and pitch of music are best learned through immersion at a young age.  As we talk, sing, and interact with our children throughout the day, they are naturally learning and using the same skills that are somewhat more difficult to learn later in life.   With each repeated steady beat activity in childhood, the early neural networks are laying a solid foundation upon which MUCH MORE information will be connected.   As the child is developing the concepts and skills, the benefits start working right away !

The consequence of insufficient steady beat experiences in early years can result in poor physical coordination, halting speech (in some cases, stuttering), and even weakness in thought flow. 

 So, really, how important is  steady beat competency?

Of course, there is the fact that a good steady beat is required for any musician to play an instrument effectively, as a soloist, or as part of a larger group of musicians;  and the sooner they learn it, the better.   Formal music instructors on any instrument, including the voice, can guide the child’s progress so much more effectively if the student has already have mastered steady beat.  Just ask a music educator.  You will get an earful.

But if someone is not planning to become a musician, how much does it really matter? 

Steady beat is an organizer for the child, purposeful and calming.

This skill is required for many physical abilities, both large motor skills, like walking, skipping, and bouncing a ball, as well as fine motor skills, like using a pair of scissors, or chopping vegetables quickly like a master chef. 

Because beat, rhythms and pitch are also a part of language, the addition of rhythmic and music experiences in their daily routines also supports the child’s development of speech, communication, and writing skills.  Actually, we KNOW that steady beat can help those who stutter to speak more clearly.   Some Scientists believe that a poor sense of rhythm could be the cause of dyslexia.  “Researchers concluded that an awareness of beats can influence the way young children assimilate speech patterns, which may in turn affect their reading and writing abilities.” These examples underscore the importance of steady beat in helping children make sense of their world and organize their responses.”  (Education Tuesday, 23 July 2002).

Feeling and moving to steady beat develops a sense of time, and the ability to organize and coordinate movements within time.   (A sense of time… what a great gift to give your child. )

The research carried out by High/Scope Educational Research Foundation (Timing in Child Development,  Kuhlman & Schweinhart, 1999) shows a positive correlation of steady beat to many academic and school skills, as well as physical coordination. 

“Standardized testing shows that children with steady beat independence are better readers and more successful in mathematics.  Further, teachers report that children with better abilities in steady beat are more well behaved in class and have less aggressive physical contact with other students.  Steady beat seems to help in these areas because it contributes to children’s ability to concentrate, to understand space and distance, and to have better control of their actions.”  (Weikert, 2003)

Wow !  All that can come from learning to keep a steady beat !?!   How can that be?

Well, let’s take a look at which basic skills are involved in developing true competence with steady beat:

They must LISTEN – intentionally listen – well enough to feel the beat in their head and in their body.  That, in itself, takes training.

They must OBSERVE – to watch closely enough to match the actions of others;  from the early stages of learning to keep a basic beat, to when they become involved with ensembles (playing music with others in a group).

They must CONTROL their movements, not just for a moment, but over time -coordinating their actions according to what they HEAR and SEE – repeatedly and consistently.

These are a fabulous set of skills to continually practice and develop for any aspect of life (and they do not necessarily develop in the natural course of aging.) 

Fascinating, isn’t it?   Now that you know WHY, let’s move on to WHAT &  HOW:

A Parent’s Guide to Beats and Rhythms –  includes games to help clarify these topics

Developmental Progression of Steady Beat – how the skill develops over time

The best teaching methods for parents to use, with links to a wide variety of ideas specific to each age group;  babies, walkers, preschoolers.

References

Insights on the value of music and steady beat  article by Phyllis S. Weikart   This article helped me round out a lot of my thoughts on this topic, and is referred to regularly in this review.  It is well worth your time to read the whole article, which also includes other musical skills such as pitch. http://www.childcareexchange.com/library/5015386.pdf

BBC News Education. (Tuesday, 23 July,2002). “Poor Rhythm ‘at heart of dyslexia’.“ pg. 1.

www.highscope.org/Research/Timing  Paper/timing study.htm

Weikart, D. P. (1999). What Should Young Children Learn? Teacher and Parent Views in 15 Countries. Ypsilanti, MI:  High/Scope Press.

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One Response

  1. Totally agree with what is said here about the importance of teaching young children about steady beat. I’m an early childhood teacher and I noticed that not every child is born with the ability and awareness of steady beat, so I use songs and rhymes often at mat-times to enhance the children’s sense of beat.

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