We are surrounded by sounds, but how well are we listening to them? Is there too much so that we “tune out” the sounds, ignoring it like “musak”. Or can we hear the violins play the melody, and the horns play the ominous chords that helps us feel the building tension in an orchestral piece about a thunderstorm? Can our children recognize the difference between different types of drums? We are either training our brain to listen purposefully, or we are training it to “tune out”.
There are so many sounds in our busy world these days that we learn to “tune out” most of the ones that aren’t directly effecting us at the time. The interplay between our brain and hearing mechanisms that allow us to block out certain sounds is a wonderful ability that our ear has, and is not something that can be duplicated with technology. Ask anyone with a hearing aid how they miss the ability to choose to focus on one sound, instead of hearing everything at the same level. This is truly an asset when we are trying to focus on something.
Yet, if our brain makes it a habit to ignore the background sounds, it lessens our ability to be fully aware of our environment. That is why it is important that we limit the continuous background sounds in our environment, such as the TV, or even music if played all the time. I knew a fabulous mom whose 2 girls were involved in Suzuki violin lessons. As part of the methods for training the ear to hear the right sounds, it is important to listen to this music regularly. In her zeal, she had this music playing in the background of their room all day and all night… for months. This is sensory overload, and the brain simply cannot process continuously like that. She appreciated this new perspective, and chose times to play it that the girls would be receptive to this auditory stimulation; as they were getting ready in the morning, before practicing the violin, and while relaxing before bed.
Families can consider and CHOOSE times that will work best for music to be played in their home, or even in their car. Play SONGS at a time when you and your child can interact with fun activities, even if singing along and talking about the music in the car. Play instrumental music while they are coloring or doing some artwork. OR play soothing music as a child is going to sleep. Just don’t have sound going on all the time. The brain needs a break so it can listen with refreshed awareness when it does get a chance.
In order to develop our ability to “tune out” the irrelevant sounds, and to focus on the important sounds, we must PRACTICE active listening. This means engaging our brain in the active decision to reduce our own sounds and pay attention to the details of specific sounds that we hear. In class, I suggest rubbing the ear lobes before an active listening opportunity. This helps stimulate MANY neural connections that help us pay attention and listen. With practice, a child, when told to listen carefully, will start to rub their earlobes and close their mouth – waiting for the sound. Music is a wonderful venue for learning to listen with purpose. There are many things we can listen for:
- We can focus on each instrument separately to hear their particular “voice”.
- We can try to listen to the words to determine what the song is about, or to learn the words.
- We can listen to hear if the music seems happy, soothing, or sad.
- We can listen to sounds of real creatures or objects and try to imitate the sounds.
- We can listen to patterns in music, anticipating, and making sounds or actions at the right place in the music. Ex, If your Happy and you Know It (clap, clap) This is the beginning of ensemble development – playing instruments with others.
Practicing active listening provides lifelong benefits. It’s necessary for following directions at home and at school. Preschoolers are developing the ability to notice subtle differences of sound, such as listening to many different styles of drums, and naming that style of drum- something he wasn’t ready to do as a toddler.
In our Imagine That class this week, and at our Studio Free Play on Saturday, the students were able to feel and hear the sounds of a variety of REAL drums, such as a djembe (African drum), a Native American Pow Wow Drum, and even a SNARE Drum. They got to feel the curled wires underneath the snare drum. They made an “ooooh” sound near it, and heard the buzz, and they played with drumsticks on the top.
This hands-on experience was delightful for all, but even more than that, it has laid a concrete foundation for them to start really HEARING the different timbres of drums.
HOME ACTIVITY with the DRUM !!!
During some of our movement activities, we are practicing active listening as we listen to how the drum is being played, and try to determine HOW it is telling us to move. For example, the drum is played with a nice steady beat for “walking”, or a fast steady beat for “running”. The students listen, and determine HOW to move.
After much practice, they are quite the experts at listening to the sound, and they are READY to use their creative thinking to figure out HOW to make the drum sound like we want others to move. Start with “walk” vs “run”: then explore tiptoe, march, slide, spin. We will continue to explore this in class next week.
So this week, take time together to “put on your listening ears” and discover all the wonderful sounds around you.
What do you now HEAR that you didn’t really recognize before? How will you “train your brain”?