Director's Blog

Engaging in music with babies
By Deb Cavanaugh on July 10, 2018

        I am often asked at what age children should join my classes.  The answer is always the same, as soon as you are comfortable bringing them out socially.  Babies brains are like sponges.  They take everything in and are processing it at a phenomenal rate.  They want to interact with the world they have newly discovered and do that at whatever rate they can.  We see it in the way they look around, the way they make eye contact and in the way they move.  Every semester, I ask my families what they're noticing that their children are doing musically.  Parents of infants often have difficulty answering that question, and I admit, it can be hard to notice what they are doing.  If you know what to look for, it is much easier.

        Babies will often coo or fuss in the same key as the music they're listening to.  They move rhythmically when music is playing.  They interact when you sing to them and quiet when fussy if you sing or play music.  They even have favorite songs that we can identify by how animated they become when those songs come on.  Babies in my classes react to the music familiar to them, making the Music Together® CDs a very valuable item.  Time again I've been told stories of children who hate riding in the car but will endure a long car trip when they're listening to the CDs from class.  

        The children who start music class as infants often speak earlier and achieve Basic Music Competence earlier than others.  Basic Music Competence is the ability to sing in tune, keep a beat and participate with confindence in music, including instrumental studies, if they choose to do that.  They achieve this through the use of the building blocks of tonal patterns and rhythm patterns and with all the fun-filled activities, including the use of colorful props and instruments, found in Music Together classes.  Parents are taught to observe the stages of development and appreciate the musical journey their children are taking while embarking on their own journey as well.  

        There are so many advantages to music classes at an early age.  Music helps with emotional and spatial intelligence, memory, mathematics, socialization, creativity, motor skills, and aids in their cognitive and sensory development.  It has been found that musicians utilize both sides of their brains more frequently than non-musicians.  Melodic Intonation Therapy has helped stroke victims who have aphasia regain their speech through singing.  Because music crosses between both hemispheres, they can learn to access language in the undamaged part of the brain.  The utilization of both hemispheres of the brain is an advantage to all of us, especially in infants who are developing and learning at such a rapid rate.

        So, when you're singing to your babies, be sure to pay attention to their reactions.  Do they move faster?  Do they focus more?  Are they more engaged?  Does a certain song seem to appeal to them more than others?  Are there songs they clearly don't like?  Try to remember these things and come share them in class.  It helps us all to hear about our children's reactions and growth.

"Summer's here, and the time is right for dancin' in the street ..."
By Deb Cavanaugh on June 29, 2018

        I've always loved this Marvin Gaye song that came out in 1964.  I was 11 years old listening to it on my transistor radio.  Dancing in the Street

        Now that I'm teaching Music Together, I love it even more.  Wouldn't it be great if we all felt free enough to burst into song or dance whenever we felt like it and wherever we happened to be?  I actually do that often, embarrassing whoever I am with at the time. Our young children do it, why shouldn't we?  I think it's high time that we take back our spontaneous expression of music, though I understand that it's not going to be easy.

        The very least we can do is to start being musically spontaneous at home.  Like everything else, if we want our children to feel comfortable singing and dancing, we need to model it.  My children and grandchildren roll their eyes when I have a song for every occasion.  A word or phrase will remind me of a song, and I sing it right out.  Why not?  I also have to move my body to music.  My partner and I go to a laundromat that has rock music from our era playing, and I often sing along and dance a little as I'm folding my clothes.  He laughs, but I see other people smiling and sometimes joining in.  It makes the chore easier and way more fun.

        Music is contagious. If we show our enjoyment of making music publicly, maybe it will catch on.  I hope so.

A new start
By Deb Cavanaugh on June 18, 2018

I've been writing a Family blog on my regular website and have neglected this one.  Now, it's time to return to it.

        As I end the spring semester and prepare to start my new summer semester, I realize how much I love this work.  I see it as world changing because I help all of you use music in your everyday lives to make things easier and more fun.  There was once a time when everyone sang.  We sang the news and our histories.  We shared our joys and disappointments through music.  Over time, many of us have lost that wonderful gift.  In losing it, we've created a hole, an emptiness.  I hope to help us become whole again by rediscovering the joy of singing and dancing together as families and as communties.  There are plenty of articles written about the benefits of music for children, but what about adults?  Here's an article released by the NAMM Foundation which includes excerts from a Stanford Medicine study.  "Music moves brain to pay attention, Stanford study finds." Stanford Medicine. Accessed February 24, 2015  You can read the whole article here:

        Over time, I will post articles about the benefits to your children, but let's start with you.  Your children will learn from your example.  We often put so much emphasis on our children, we tend to forget that we are an important component in the process.  I will teach you and your children, but they will learn much more from you than they will from me.  I am just the facilitator - and very happy to do that part.

Summer 2016
By Deb Cavanaugh on July 25, 2016

           The summer is in full swing with lots of singing and dancing happening.  Registration is always lower in the summer, giving me a chance to think about the upcoming semester as well.  In the fall, Troy classes will be back at the Arts Center on River Street but will be in the dance studio.  I'm looking forward to working in this new space.  It is still accessible by elevator and is very roomy.  Delmar classes will stay at the same site, and Brunswick classes will be offered at the Brunswick Children's Academy again.

          During the fall semester, we will be singing from the Flutes collection.  I hope you'll join me in singing such favorites as I've Been Working on the Railroad, Hey Lolly, Lolly and Rocketship.  Meanwhile, we'll keep having fun with Allee Galloo, Trot Old Joe and so many more.  Most of all ... keep singing and dancing!

A New Semester
By Deb Cavanaugh on January 23, 2016

           It's 2016 already, and the new Winter semester is in full swing.  I love this collection of music and feel so lucky to be able to do this important work with all of you.  Already I'm seeing shy children starting to open up, babies cooing in the same tonality that we're singing in, and older children taking leadership roles in modeling for the younger ones.  I truly love my job.  One of the things I love the most is seeing how the veteran families model so well for the younger folks who are always a little reluctant until they realize that we are all in this together with all of our reservations about singing in a group or our worries that we don't sing well enough.  Any singing that you do is always enough, regardless of any discomfort you might feel.  This is all about modeling for the children.  It is not anyone's job to teach them, just to enjoy ourselves and model that enjoyment.  Thanks for sharing your children and yourselves with me this winter.

music and language development in early childhood
By Deb Cavanaugh on November 02, 2015

 Music Together classes help your child in so many ways including with their language development.  Below is an abbreviated list of the ways these classes help.  Below that is an article for you to read.

  Here is a brief synopsis of how music class helps your child’s language development and general learning skills:

*       Music has structure and rules, so does language.

*                  *  Music ensures that the words are sequenced in a predictable order

*                  *  Music has rhythm and meter.  As we talk, our speech has a beat, a tempo and  inflection.  Like a line of music, a spoken sentence has a cadence as it rises and falls.

*                  *  Music offers a fun opportunity to learn new words and concepts through repetition, which is an important factor when helping to improve a child’s language skills.

*                  *  Music encourages turn-taking behaviors.  This prepares them for conversations.

*                  *  The actions combined with the words in a song serve to reinforce word meanings.

*                  *  Music assists children to remember new words, especially with repetition.

*                            *  Music has rhyme, encouraging children to become aware of words and their sounds.

*                           *  Rhythmic music can be helpful in learning parts of speech and language.

*                           *  Music helps attention and listening skills which are crucial in language development.

*                 *      Music motivates children to socialize which assists in their emotional development and encourages conversation.

*                           *  Musical involvement is known to enhance self-esteem and confidence.

*                           *         It is a well known fact that the more senses are involved in a task, the more learning is going on.  When we sing and dance or play instruments, it multiplies the learning as they use their ears, eyes and bodies all at once.

*                          *  Both sides of the brain are activated when we sing.  Singing also stimulates both new learning and memory.  Music has been known to help children remember their addresses and phone numbers, even school lessons.  Stroke patients with aphasia are being taught to regain their speech through music.  Alzheimer patients are having moments of clarity when hearing familiar songs that have an emotional attachment.  They often remember and even start to sing along.

*                         *   Language development starts in utero.  Four month old fetuses can hear and start to respond to the sound of their mothers at around 5 months, according to Dr. Alfred Tomatis, who used fiber           optic cameras to observe the movement of the fetus in regard to sound.

*                         *  According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, "these skills (language) appear to develop best in a world that is rich with sounds, sights, and consistent exposure to the speech and language of others." 

“Wherever there's music, there is sure to be plenty of language learning going on. Of course, there's more to music than just language learning. Music can evoke powerful emotions in children, such as joy, delight, and excitement. Music enriches the lives of all children; and for some… it can become one of the first paths for connecting to others.”

(Ann Gadzikowski, former Grants Coordinator, Chicago Children's Museum)




New York Times - lullabies
By Deb Cavanaugh on October 26, 2015

      I'm so glad people are beginning to understand how important it is to sing to your children, and what an important role lullabies play in their lives and our relationships with our children.


     I love this paragraph:  

The lullaby my father sang most often to me was ‘‘Goodnight, Irene.’’ He would sing the chorus, but then he didn’t quite know the verse, it seemed to me, because the rhyme scheme was off. (‘‘Sometimes I live in the city, sometimes I live in the country,’’ he would sing, and then he would repeat the chorus.) I can remember well his tuneless voice — part of what is so moving to me about lullabies is that they are usually sung by people who ‘‘can’t sing’’ — and I remember that sometimes I would just pretend to be asleep, because I would feel guilty, knowing that I wasn’t anywhere near asleep, and that he was trying to help me.

       It was my mother who often sang to me, singing the words, "Rock-a baby, Rock-a-bye, Rock-a-baby by and by" to the tune of "Rock of Ages" over and over again, night after night.  She never sang in key, her voice cracked, but I would drift into a netherworld, not asleep, not awake, feeling comforted and safe and wrapped in her voice and her love.  My mother was not a very demonstrative woman, very rarely saying she loved me and not very affectionate, but when she sang to me at night, I felt that love more clearly than anything she may have told me.  When she had a very severe stroke about 6 years ago, she needed to be kept very calm and still to give the medication given to dissolve the clot a chance to work.  She was very agitated and thrashing around.  I did the only thing I could think of and sang that same lullaby back to her.  Then I sang all of the lullabies I've ever known.  As long as I sang she stayed calm and relaxed, so I sang for over an hour with tears flowing down my face, remembering how comforted I felt by the sound of her off-key voice.

      And the Troy Record did another article in May of this year about a Lullaby Project in Troy. 



      I keep hearing stories from parents about how much they get out of this intimate time and how it has changed bedtime into a wonderful bonding ritual.  I hope you'll share your stories with me as well.



The advantages of spinning
By Deb Cavanaugh on October 10, 2015

Do you remember the exhilarating feeling of spinning until you were so dizzy, you fell down?  I do.  I loved it!  But, I was told by my parents not to do it because I might get hurt.  What they didn't realize is that spinning helps develop and stimulate our inner ear and helps our sense of balance.  Check out these two articles on spinning. 

Rhythm development in children
By Deb Cavanaugh on October 08, 2015

Just like in every other areas of child development, your child's rhythmic development will vary and will not follow a strict timetable.  For this reason, we don't put ages on the following chart, but keep an eye out for the different stages.  Remember, your modeling is the most important thing you can do for your child.  Clapping, playing percussion instruments or moving to the beat, being sure to accentuate each beat is one of the best things you can do to promote your child's progress in this area.  Below is a chart of the stages of Tonal and Rhythmic development.  Also check out the two articles following.


Tonal Development

Child “coos” or briefly intones slight descending patterns, usually around a one-pitch center.

Child sings songs utilizing skips and leaps away from one pitch. The pitches she or he sings are not the exact pitches of the song, but the direction of skips and leaps represent the song’s correct melodic contour.

Child sings some parts of the song correctly. Those parts may begin the song or progress to a resting pitch at the end of the song.

Child sings most parts of the song correctly and/or in tune.

Child sings entire songs correctly and in tune.

Rhythm Development

Child responds to music, but the movement is undefined and irregular.

Child moves with a characteristic gesture and/or songs with a characteristic pattern of rhythm. That gesture or pattern usually does not synchronize with the beat of the music she or he is hearing.

Child moves or sings with a consistent tempo. That tempo is usually different than the tempo of the music she or he is hearing.

Child’s movements often coincide with the beat of the music she or he is hearing or creating. She or he sings parts of the songs in the correct tempo and meter.

Child’s movements always coincide with the beat of the music she or he is hearing or creating. She or he sings entire songs in the correct tempo and meter.

By Deb Cavanaugh on September 28, 2015

      Audiation is a musical term created by Dr. Edwin Gordon. Audiation basically refers to singing a tune or rhythm in your head without making any sound with your voice or body.

       "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 " - Edwin E. Gordon

      For many years, even before I started teaching Music Together, I encouraged my private students to listen carefully, then sing a melody before they tried to play it.  Little did I know that I was encouraging audiation.  In order to sing in key, we have to be able to audiate.  Often, when learning a new instrumental piece, I sing it to myself or audiate the piece before trying to play it.  If it is implanted in my brain through my voice, I can then transfer it to my fingers.  Children can learn to audiate by singing a familiar song then singing it again leaving out a line or two but audiating so that when you start singing again, you pick up right in the perfect spot - without even missing a beat.  This works great with songs that have hand motions.  Try it at home.  It's fun and helpful to your child's and to your music development.