Saturday, October 15, 2011

Keeping a Steady Beat

You’re at a concert and the ensemble is playing some lively music. Without thinking about it, you start tapping your toes. Or you’re baking meringues and you carefully separate the egg whites into a bowl, then beat them rapidly with a whisk. You are building a birdhouse with your child and you pick up a hammer to nail one board securely to another. All these activities are examples of ways we use our ability to keep a steady beat.

A child is born with an internal sense of steady beat that is innate and unique to them. You might see a baby kicking her feet or waving his hands rhythmically and it’s connected to what they feel on the inside. The learning for steady beat comes when we learn to coordinate our movements – like playing a pair of sticks or dancing to music – to an outside source of beat. Steady beat requires careful listening as well as flexibility and adaptability to connect the sound we make as individuals to a larger group of people playing or singing music. In order to keep a steady beat, we also need the ability to organize and coordinate our bodies so we can control our movements. Socially, we need both the ability and the desire to connect ourselves to a larger community, like a band or orchestra – or a group of children.

For children, especially, learning to keep a steady beat helps them with larger physical movement like walking, riding a bike, and bouncing or kicking a ball as well as using tools such as scissors, a hammer, or a whisk. Listen to the music you’re making the next time you type on a computer keyboard! Learning steady beat also helps with cognitive abilities such as speaking, writing, reading, and evening doing math.

In Kindermusik classes, we take seriously the importance of learning to keep a steady beat. And we also know learning comes so much easier if you’re having fun! The variety of scarves, shakers, clackers, bells, and drums we keep in bins on our shelves, as well as the dances, chants, poetry, and songs in our repertoire are all part of the rich palette we use to help children learn to keep a steady beat.

We help babies feel the beat by holding them while we dance, tapping on their legs or arms, rocking them during rocking time. We help the toddlers learn to play the beat by playing instruments, encouraging them to dance and move, and by modeling steady beat for them as they explore their own ways of playing and moving. We help the preschoolers expand beat into rhythm using their own creativity. We give the school-age kids mastery by teaching them to read and write the beat using notation.

Playing along with a jingle bell to a song with a class of children can seem simple – but really it is just a step on a lifelong path of musical growth and unfolding.

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