I've got Rhythm

Tessa Grigg - Published First Steps 34, Gymbaroo, Melbourne. October 2001

A baby's first sound is the rhythmic sound of the mother's heart beating.   For many children that beat was continued after they were born through the sounds of their family going about their daily chores, grinding, milling, sweeping, the live music they played, drums, instruments, etc. and the dances they danced. Western babies hear their mother's heart but after they are born they are more likely to hear mechanical noises and commercial radio.   Very few families sit around at night playing live music, dancing and singing. If there is music in the house it will most likely come from a stereo or radio.

Children need to develop a strong sense of the beat and because the way we live our lives has changed from those earlier times when a beat was supplied by a variety of sources, we need to make some adjustments so that our children have opportunities to learn to keep the beat.

How does being able to keep the beat help a child?   Many physical activities have a beat; walking, running, skipping, hopping, jumping, kicking, etc., and these activities allow the child to play more sophisticated games with other children, which then gives them opportunities to make friends, which encourages them to develop social skills, which increases their enjoyment of life.   And all because they could keep the beat. It all sounds simple, but think about the children that you know who found sport a real challenge.   They were not included in the lunch-time games, they were the last to be picked for teams, and their self image took a real battering.

For many of these children there will be a range of issues but if you test a group of children who are challenged by sport you will find that many of them can not keep the beat.

Another benefit of being able to keep the beat is that the child can then follow a rhythmic pattern.   This happens quite naturally when the child is able to keep the beat, you do not need to teach the rhythm - they can just do it!!

So what can we do for children to help them learn to keep the beat?

Babies - Ever found yourself in the bank queue swaying from side to side without your child?   That shows that you have naturally been keeping the beat with your child. Mothers usually work out that the child will remain more settled if their back is patted or if the mother gently sways from side to side.   These are good things to do.

Whenever you are listening to music gently pat the child's body in time to the music (just keep the beat), or dance with your child in time to the music. They thoroughly enjoy a good waltz, jive or foxtrot!!

Use instruments such as maracas, rhythm sticks or bells and keep the beat for the child.

They need to hear lots of music and be made aware of the beat.

Sing little songs to your child, make up the words, use other tunes - whatever you can think of.   There is nothing nicer for a child than the sweet sound of a mother singing (you do not have to have had singing lessons to do this, the vibration of love for your child that is passed on is as important as the sound of the voice).   This is great for language development as well.

Choose the music you listen to carefully.   Heavy metal and music where the sounds are muddled up more do not provide a very rich experience for the child.   Choose music where there is a strong beat, the type of music that makes you want to tap your toes.

Toddlers - Still keep the beat at every opportunity and do all of the baby activities as well.

Encourage some independence in the use of instruments — for example, let the child hold the sticks and you tap together.

With a good range of experience many children will be able to keep the beat at this age for some of the time and eventually all of the time.

3+ years - For these children focus on the ability to keep the beat with a variety of instruments and do a variety of activities.   Can they shake in time with their arms crossed? Can they tap in time on the floor, up high, in front, behind?   Can they tap in time and balance? Can they tap in time and sing?   By being able to do two things at once, keeping the beat being one of the activities, the beat becomes "automatic". Rhythm then follows.

The main thing with music is to have fun.   If children are having fun they will find learning easy and music has so many opportunities for learning. Enjoy it!!!