Director's Blog

Using Both Hemispheres of our Brains
By Deb Cavanaugh on October 29, 2018

    We all know that music is good for our children’s development.  It helps with language development, socialization, and the list goes on.  But, did you know that when we sing, we use both hemispheres of our brains?  There are not many activities that do that.  “When we organize our thoughts into words and form vowels and consonants that is mostly the cognitive side of the brain (left) but for singing we also need melodic shape and that requires the creative side of the brain (right). In fact, singing is good for us because it uses both hemispheres of the brain.”  You may wonder why that’s important.  It has been found that humanity’s greatest philosophers, thinkers, inventors and artists all use both hemispheres of their brains in unison. 

        The left brain is logical, sequential, objective, rational, detail oriented, analytical and fact oriented.  This includes visual perception, language, attention, memory, focus and speed for completing tasks. The left brain is used more for math and science. This is also where you memorize names and learn dates or formulas.  The right brain is innovative, whole picture oriented, subjective, holistic, intuitive, synthesizing and emotionally alert.  It includes general well-being, stress management, problem solving, spatial reasoning, integration of ideas, multiple intelligence use and the ability to collaborate and cooperate.  Imagination rules in the right brain, as do beliefs, using symbols or icons and taking risks.  When using both sides of the brain equally, we increase the ability to come up with new ideas.

        Most of us use one side of the brain more than the other, but some of us use both equally, and many people work hard at trying to balance these hemispheres.  The good news is, singing helps to do that without you even trying, and even better still is singing in parts.  When you sing harmony, rounds, counter melodies, even as simple as one note repeated throughout a song while someone else is singing the melody, you are giving your brain a great workout.

        I discovered the importance of this when my mother had a massive stroke that destroyed much of the left side of her brain.  As a result, she lost all ability to communicate.  She couldn’t speak but more importantly, she couldn’t recognize letters or even know what they were.  This took away the chance to point to letters and spell out what she wanted to say.  For my mom, this was devastating.  She was always very gregarious, a social butterfly and a big talker.  I had heard about a relatively new (at the time) form of music therapy in which you sing all conversations to the person with aphasia (the loss of speech).  Because music utilizes both hemispheres of the brain, it’s possible to learn to access language from the right side of the brain.  My mom was able to sing, just a little, even though she couldn’t speak.  It was forward movement toward recovering her speech.  Unfortunately, before she could expand that progress, she had a second big stroke and didn’t survive that one.

        The more I learn about the brain and about how music affects our abilities to learn and to function, the more fascinated I am and the more I am determined to bring music to as many people as I can.  It is not only fun, creating bonding among families and communities, it is also physiologically important for our development.  So, go out there and sing, sing, sing.  And, don’t forget to sing in parts.

Children's participation
By Deb Cavanaugh on October 22, 2018


        This past week, I asked everyone how it's going at home, and what they notice about their children's music development.  I do this every semester because I often don't see as much in class as you will at home.  Some children never participate in class but sing constantly at home, copying the activities we've done in class, making up their own words and music and asking for parental participation and approval.  Some parents worry about the lack of participation in the class setting, but there is no need for worry.  Every child is different.  Some are shy, others are outgoing.  They have different learning styles, too.  Many children are observers, taking in the information and processing to recall it later in what feels to them like a safer environment.  Not that we are not providing a safe environment, but it's all about your children's perceptions and their own needs.  I was once extremely shy.  I know it's hard to believe it now, but I once cringed at the thought of having to interact with others, and I understand that reluctance in others.  

        Another reason for sharing what you've noticed is to become more aware of your children's progress.  You are with them every day, making it sometimes difficult to notice the changes.  When you're forced to think about it and listen to what others are saying, it stimulates your awareness.  I've often seen parents suddenly realize, when listening to another parent talk about what their child is doing, that their own child is doing the same thing, but they hadn't previously thought about it.  All of us need reminders or prompts sometimes.

        It can be challenging for parents of infants to notice the subtleties of their baby's responses to music.  And yet, babies respond very early to the music around them.  They sometimes coo or fuss in the same key as the music being played or sung.  This can be hard to notice, but it's one thing that often happens in class, especially during the lullaby.  One of the easiest things to notice is their reactions to music.  Do they calm down when you sing?  Do they seem to prefer certain songs?  Do they become more animated?  Even babies have favorite songs or favorite styles of music.

        Tracking music development is just as important as tracking their physical or mental development.  Music helps with so many aspects of learning such as language development, math skills, socialization, learning cooperation, and the list goes on.  Music uses both hemispheres of the brain.  There is much research that's been done on the benefits of music, and it is ongoing with new discoveries happening all the time.  Music is being used to help the elderly, people with Alzheimer's and Dementia, people with mental challenges and disabilities.  It brings people together and provides a common ground where there may not have been one before.  Music even transcends language and cultural differences.  So, keep thinking about and noticing what your children are doing musically at home and out in the world, and keep sharing those observations to help others do the same.

How music helps with parenting
By Deb Cavanaugh on October 15, 2018


        Most of us already love music and want our children to have it in their lives.  However, how many of us use the music to our advantage as parents?  Our children also love music and respond well to it, so why not capitalize on that love?  All parents get angry sometimes.  We can't help it.  Life can be tough sometimes, and those stresses get to us making us grumpy and less patient.  Our children also get grumpy which can be hard on us.  When we're singing, it's impossible to stay angry.  We can change any words to any song to suit our purposes, and the kids love hearing our creativity.  Instead of "This Little Light of Mine," why not sing "every time I eat my dinner, I'm gonna let it shine."  Or you can definitely use "Can You Do This" as a helpful song singing words such as "I can put on my socks, ... and put on my shoes ..." encouraging your child to sing along.  Even simple common songs like "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" can be used creatively.  "Eat, eat, eat your food at the dinner table.  When your finished, then you can get down and p0lay around."  Notice that nothing ever really needs to rhyme.  And, remember too that your children love to sing and hear you sing.  

        If you use the same song over and over again, it will get old and may not work anymore.  Mix it up.  You can also sing or talk in silly voices.  Who doesn't like to be silly?  We often forget to be silly ourselves and sometimes roll our eyes at our children's silliness.  I hope we don't become so grown up that we forget to have fun.  Laughter is often the best thing for changing a dismal mood and usually leads to better cooperation.  I promise that your children will love your spontaneity and silliness.  Another good parenting tip is whispering.  I have used this trick in classrooms to get everyone's attention.  Your kids don't want to be left out of anything and will stop in their tracks to try to hear what you're saying, especially if you're whispering to someone else.  Go up to another adult, whisper in their ear and see what happens with the children in the room.

        Parenting is a wonderful, heartwarming and very hard job.  It's important to gather things in your bag of tricks to make it easier.  I hate to say this, but children are often easy to trick.  A good example of tricking them can be with acceptance of the lullaby.  Are they rebelling against the lullaby, knowing that it means the end of the day?  Start singing before lullaby time so that the lullaby is just part of the musical play.  SIng while in the bath, brushing teeth and changing into PJs.  By the time they're snuggled into bed, music is a part of the whole routine.  It may not always work, but it's worth a try.  You can also try singing a song that's not usually used as a lullaby.  Just slow it down and siing it in a calm and soothing way.  Tricking them is much better than yelling or ending the day feeling stressed out.  I'd love to know what other tricks you've used.  There is no master class or parenting manual, so it's important to share our tips with each other.  Even though I'm not actively parenting anymore, I still collect these ideas and pass them on to my family, friends and music families.

Audiation revisited
By Deb Cavanaugh on October 01, 2018


        Do any of you struggle with singing in key?  Although, it really doesn't matter to our children whether we are singing correctly or not, it may matter to us.  Often the inability to sing in key stifles our creativity and natural tendencies to sing.  Yes, natural tendencies.  Everyone has an instinct to sing, but many of us are ridiculed or criticized for our singing.  I think this is a crime.  It is no one's fault if they can't hit the notes correctly.  When we stop them, we are taking a very important and primal thing away from them.  Music is bonding and helps us grow as individuals and as communities.  I often hear from parents who struggle with this that they sing right out when in the shower or in the car with the windows rolled up sp no one will hear them.  That makes me feel sad.  I think that we should sing no matter what, and I do understand the reluctance.  Who wants the kind of feedback they often get when singing?  The good news is ... everyone is able to train themselves to sing more accurately.  It does take a little work though, and it all starts with audiation.


        Audiation is the foundation of musicianship. It takes place when we hear and comprehend music for which the sound is no longer or may never have been present. One may audiate when listening to music, performing from notation, playing “by ear,” improvising, composing, or notating music (see types of audiation).

        Audiation is not the same as aural perception, which occurs simultaneously with the reception of sound through the ears. It is a cognitive process by which the brain gives meaning to musical sounds. Audiation is the musical equivalent of thinking in language. When we listen to someone speak we must retain in memory their vocal sounds long enough to recognize and give meaning to the words the sounds represent. Likewise, when listening to music we are at any given moment organizing in audiation sounds that were recently heard. We also predict, based on our familiarity with the tonal and rhythmic conventions of the music being heard, what will come next. Audiation, then, is a multistage process (see stages of audiation).

  ... Through development of audiation students learn to understand music. Understanding is the foundation of music appreciation, the ultimate goal of music teaching.

        It is possible to practice audiation and improve your ability to hit the correct notes at the correct time.  We do this in music class by singing a familiar song that has hand motions, such as "A Ram Sam Sam" or "Eensy Weensy Spider," and leaving out some of the words while keeping our place with our movements.  I've often noticed everything getting very quiet, except for the singing, when we do this exercise.  In class and at home, you can see how intently the children watch and listen.  That's a sign that they are audiating.  I don't expect adults to go around practicing audiation by singing these children's songs, but when you're dong it with your children, it will help you, too.  If you want to practice on your own, listen to a song then turn it off and try to recreate it in your mind.  Can you hear it playing?  Then, try to sing along with it playing on your stereo.  Turn it off again and try to audiate the song.  You won't improve overnight and, depending on how off-key you are, it may take a long time, but hang in there.  And meanwhile, keep singing anyway.  It's good for everyone!

By Deb Cavanaugh on September 24, 2018

          Over the years, I have talked endlessly about the importance of singing lullaibes to your children.  I've recounted my own stories of singing to my own children and grandchildren and the benefits that came from that commitment.  Every semester, I set aside one time in class to reinforce the necessity of lullabying in class and at home.  I've addressed your concerns and questions about what to do if your child resists and given other tips for success.  I've written lullabies and made them up on the spot.  I have such a huge collection of them, I should probably compile a book of lullabies.  But why are they so important?

          In class, the lullaby signals the end of class.  Right after the "Play-Along," you'll see the older kids reminding their parents that it's time to lie down on the floor.  The youngest ones will often start fussing to be nursed.  They instictively know that it's time to rest.  Other children will realize what's coming and start racing around, resistant to the idea of resting.  I keep reminding parents that these children who are running around are in need of hearing the sound of their parent's voice.  They get drawn in by your voice and the ritual of bedtime, or rest time in class.  The more you sing, the less they will run around.  When you stop singing and try to reel them in, it all breaks down.  I know that many parents feel uncomfortable singing in a group and try to avoid it or sing very softly.  I understand that, but I want to assure you that most of us are not listening to your voice.  We're busy dealing with our own discomforts or concentrating on our own singing and bonding with our child.  Some of the children want to come sit next to me by the door.  That's always fine, but please remind them that they need to walk back and forth, not run.

          At home, lullabies should part of your normal bedtime ritual.  I'm including some links to articles that lay out the importance of establishing a ritual that includes singing.  And, it has to be conscious singing.  You are creating a unique bonding experience that lasts a lifetime.  There is now evidence to show that lullabies also relaxes the parent.  We can't settle our children down for sleep if we're feeling or stressed.  Scientists have now discovered that lullabies also reduce pain in babies.  There is so much we still have to learn about the connections between music and good health.  Some children will be resistant to lullabies.  They know what it means, and who wants to go to bed when there's clearly more happening at home.  My suggestion is that you start singing during the bedtime prep, bathtime, getting pjs on, etc.  Sing their favorite songs, getting them to participate.  Gradually, change the mood of the music until you are finally singing softly and soothingly segueing into lullabies.  Or, if that doesn't work, have your child sing their favorite lullaby to you first.  If there is an older sibling, they can help sing to the baby.  Lullabies shouldn't be a punishment.  They need to be a well-loved part of family life.

        Here are the articles I found.  Please share your stories of your lullaby successes.  We all want to hear them.

slower songs
By Deb Cavanaugh on September 17, 2018


          How many of us think of lively, bouncy songs when we think about children’s music?   Maybe that’s because we think of childhood as a time of running and jumping. While bouncy, jumpy songs are valuable, so are songs that are smooth and slow: They allow children the space for broader, longer movements; they give more time for breath; they provide room for moving farther up, down, and side-to-side; and they give children the opportunity to “audiate” * (see below) larger beats and a different quality of movement. More space + more breath + more audiation = more learning! 

          Watch how your children move to “The Butterfly,” “Shady Grove” or “Lauren’s Waltz.”  Do they dance with wider, swooping motions as opposed to the wild jumping and spinning they often do when dancing?  It’s important for them to hear the differences in tempo as well as the different tonalities.  As they notice these differences, their movements will change also.  Think about how much learning is going on there.

          Remember that you can always model these differences in a subtle way by just dancing slowly with your own large movements.  It’s always better to model by doing rather than trying to teach.  Our children want to feel empowered, coming up with their own ideas and showing or teaching us.  However, they watch everything very carefully.  We all know that not much gets past them.  We can teach them without them feeling as though they are being taught, and they learn so much more that way.  They also enjoy it more making it lots of fun for everyone.

*   We haven’t talked about audiation in class yet this semester, but briefly, it is the ability to hear the music in your head when it’s not playing.  Audiation is typified by those earworms we get, those songs that haunt us and just won’t stop.

Fall 2018
By Deb Cavanaugh on September 10, 2018

Welcome to the start of the Fall 2018 session!  This fall we'll be learning songs from the Fiddles collection. 

          As always, there are so many fun songs for us all to learn and sing together.  I'm particularly fond of Los Fandangos with it's complex clapping patterns for us to learn.  Apples and Cherries is another favorite.  We'll be singing this one in a round before too long, so make sure you're listening to the CD often and learning the songs.  Let me know what songs you love on this CD.

          I'm very excited to be starting up the new Rhythm Kids program this week.  I've always loved drumming and percussion and am looking forward to sharing that love with the 4 and 5-year olds who have signed up.  It will be a learning experience for all of us.  There are new songs as well as songs from the mixed-age collections.  I'll add the Rhythm Kids 2 program for ages 6 & 7 in the winter semester, so be looking for that announcement sometime later in the fall or early in December.  

Singing with your child
By Deb Cavanaugh on August 21, 2018

        I grew up being sung to and singing.  My dad always sang songs to my brother and I.  We learned songs from the 1800s and 1900s.  We learned cowboy songs, ragtime, jazz and more.  We learned mursery rhymes and poetry.  I can still recite most nursery rhymes and many poems, mostly from Robert Louis Stevenson, and recited them to my children regularly.  Now, I make my living singing with children and teaching their adults to do the same.  Many people come to me as reluctant singers, and my challenge is to help them feel more comfortable with it.  Sometimes it's easy, other times the discomfort is so entrenched, it's almost impossible.  But, I never give up because it's so important.  

        I keep repeating, "Your children don't care at all what your voice sounds like or even if you sing in key.  They just want you to sing to them."  SO, why do we feel so uncomfortable with singing?  Sometimes it's because of subtle, or not so subtle, messages we were given as children.  I remember my former partner telling me that his mother once commented that his voice was so beautiful when he was younger.  She didn't actually say that it wasn't beautiful now, but that was what he heard, and maybe what she was implying.  Other people have told me about not being alloowed to join the school chorus, or even getting kicked out.  These things sometimes stick with us for a lifetime, getting in our way and stopping us from pursuing something we may love.  I know it can be hard to start, but just jump in and live with the discomfort for a little while.  The more you do it, the easier it will become.

        It's easy to sing for children because they are so forgiving.  But, a word of caution, they are also brutally honest.  They will tell you if you're not singing the song the correct way.  That's okay.  You can try correcting it or just reassure them that you're singing because you love to sing and are not performing in a concert.  It's good to model the enthusiasm for singing.  I'm always saying this in music class.  We're constantly modeling for our children, even when we're not aware of it.  Everything we do is modeling some kind of behavior.  So, don't we want to model being comfortable singing.  You may have to fake it at first, but I predict that, once it becomes second nature, you'll find that it's very comfortable.

        Some children will want to tell us to stop singing.  My rule of thumb has always been, if your child starts the song and you join in, stop if they ask you to, but if you start the song, explain to them that you love to sing too, and they are welcome to join you if they'd like.  If they are adamant about you not singing, stop and try again later.  If you are casually singing throughout the day, they will become used to it and be more accepting over time.  Feel free to ask me specific questions about this here or in class.

        Singing at home can make everything go smoother.  Listening to the CD is great, but singing the songs and doing the little activities is even more important.  Change the words around to make them fit into your day.  This semester we've been singing "Old Brass Wagon."  "Circle to the right, Old Brass Wagon ..."  Why not sing, "Get in your carseat, little (name)," "changing your diaper ... , or "eating your dinner ... ?"  It switches the feeling in the room.  Your own frustration is lessened by singing, and it sometimes takes your child offguard or entertains and comforts them.  There are many tricks that make life easier.  Why not utilize them when you can?  Once you get into the habit, there will be no turning back.  It will become second nature to burst into song and the whole family will be happier.

Top 10 skills children learn from the arts by Valerie Strauss Washington Post website January 22, 2013
By Deb Cavanaugh on August 13, 2018

I'm posting this wonderful 2013 article from The Washington Post on some of the many skills children learn from the arts.  Sharing this learning together promotes bonding and encourages your children in different ways.  "Only those adults with whom a child has the closest emotional bond—parents and primary caregivers—can affect a child’s
disposition. Music Together® is set in a playful, experiential learning environment—perfect for bonding." - (from a 2007 NAPS article)


You don’t find school reformers talking much about how we need to train more teachers in the arts, given the current obsession with science, math, technology and engineering (STEM), but here’s a list of skills that young people learn from studying the arts. They serve as a reminder that the arts — while important to study for their intrinsic value — also promote skills seen as important in academic and life success. (That’s why some people talk  about changing the current national emphasis on STEM to STEAM.) This was written by Lisa Phillips is an author, blog journalist, arts and leadership educator, speaker and business owner. To learn about Lisa’s book, “The Artistic Edge: 7 Skills Children Need to Succeed in an Increasingly Right Brain World,” This appeared on the ARTSblog, a program of Americans for the Arts.


By Lisa Phillips

1. Creativity – Being able to think on your feet, approach tasks from different perspectives and think ‘outside of the box’ will distinguish your child from others. In an arts program, your child will be asked to recite a monologue in 6 different ways, create a painting that represents a memory, or compose a new rhythm to enhance a piece of music. If children have practice thinking creatively, it will come naturally to them now and in their future career.

2. Confidence – The skills developed through theater, not only train you how to convincingly deliver a message, but also build the confidence you need to take command of the stage. Theater training gives children practice stepping out of their comfort zone and allows them to make mistakes and learn from them in rehearsal. This process gives children the confidence to perform in front of large audiences.

3. Problem Solving – Artistic creations are born through the solving of problems. How do I turn this clay into a sculpture? How do I portray a particular emotion through dance? How will my character react in this situation? Without even realizing it kids that participate in the arts are consistently being challenged to solve problems. All this practice problem solving develops children’s skills in reasoning and understanding. This will help develop important problem-solving skills necessary for success in any career.

4. Perseverance – When a child picks up a violin for the first time, she/he knows that playing Bach right away is not an option; however, when that child practices, learns the skills and techniques and doesn’t give up, that Bach concerto is that much closer. In an increasingly competitive world, where people are being asked to continually develop new skills, perseverance is essential to achieving success.

5. Focus – The ability to focus is a key skill developed through ensemble work. Keeping a balance between listening and contributing involves a great deal of concentration and focus. It requires each participant to not only think about their role, but how their role contributes to the big picture of what is being created. Recent research has shown that participation in the arts improves children’s abilities to concentrate and focus in other aspects of their lives.

6. Non-Verbal Communication – Through experiences in theater and dance education, children learn to breakdown the mechanics of body language. They experience different ways of moving and how those movements communicate different emotions. They are then coached in performance skills to ensure they are portraying their character effectively to the audience.

7. Receiving Constructive Feedback – Receiving constructive feedback about a performance or visual art piece is a regular part of any arts instruction. Children learn that feedback is part of learning and it is not something to be offended by or to be taken personally. It is something helpful. The goal is the improvement of skills and evaluation is incorporated at every step of the process. Each arts discipline has built in parameters to ensure that critique is a valuable experience and greatly contributes to the success of the final piece.

8. Collaboration – Most arts disciplines are collaborative in nature. Through the arts, children practice working together, sharing responsibility, and compromising with others to accomplish a common goal. When a child has a part to play in a music ensemble, or a theater or dance production, they begin to understand that their contribution is necessary for the success of the group. Through these experiences children gain confidence and start to learn that their contributions have value even if they don’t have the biggest role.

9. Dedication – When kids get to practice following through with artistic endeavors that result in a finished product or performance, they learn to associate dedication with a feeling of accomplishment. They practice developing healthy work habits of being on time for rehearsals and performances, respecting the contributions of others, and putting effort into the success of the final piece. In the performing arts, the reward for dedication is the warm feeling of an audience’s applause that comes rushing over you, making all your efforts worthwhile.

10. Accountability – When children practice creating something collaboratively they get used to the idea that their actions affect other people. They learn that when they are not prepared or on-time, that other people suffer. Through the arts, children also learn that it is important to admit that you made a mistake and take responsibility for it. Because mistakes are a regular part of the process of learning in the arts, children begin to see that mistakes happen. We acknowledge them, learn from them and move on.


Benefits of Music Class
By Deb Cavanaugh on August 07, 2018


I'm slowly getting my fall registrations in, and it makes me remember about all the benefits to taking a Music Together class.  I've listed a few of them below.  I've found that many families start classes with a small handful of children's songs and a reluctance to sing in a group.  It saddens me when I think about the large number of us who have received bad messages about our musical ability when we were young, myself included.  In my case, I was told that whatever I did, it was never good enough.  That still haunts me today.  We are sometimes told by teachers that we can't join a chorus because we don't sing well enough, or parents who make statements like, "You used to have such a nice voice."  I believe that we are all singers.  If you can talk, you can sing.  And, remember ... your children don't care what your voice sounds like at all.  They just want to hear you sing.

  • Music Together encourages parental bonding through music. Early childhood music education benefits kids both academically and socially providing younger children with a foundation for success in three key areas:  musical aptitude, social and emotional development and academics.
  • Research shows that the younger a child is when (s)he begins music instruction, the more (s)he will benefit.
  • Group music instruction facilitates the development of healthy social skills by encouraging cooperation, turn-taking and sharing.
  • In the process of singing, dancing and having fun, students have the opportunity to learn how to behave in a structured setting.
  • Internalizing rhythm and tone at an early age can help children recognize emotion in spoken language later on.
  • Music class teaches children that they can use a variety of tools to communicate their thoughts and feelings, including sound and movement.
  • Studies indicate a link between early music education and increased spatial intelligence.
  • Experts say music forms strong connections in the brain, and that these connections are the same as those used in cognitive skills such as critical thinking, problem solving and mathematics.
  • Parents and kids alike benefit from early childhood music classes; the kids get social confidence, pre-reading skills, and neuron development, and the parents find new ways to communicate with their kids and incorporate music into daily play.
  • Early childhood music education helps with language development.  Children in music classes often speak early with increased vocabulary.