044: How to introduce your child to music (even if you can’t play or sing)

I can’t play any instruments (unless the recorder counts?).  I certainly can’t sing.  But my daughter really enjoys music, and there are a whole host of studies showing how playing music benefits children’s brain development.  So what’s a non-music playing, non-singing parent to do?

Dr. Wendell Hanna’s new book, the Children’s Music Studio: A Reggio-Inspired Approach (Affiliate link), give us SO MANY ways to interact with music with our children.  I tried one of her ‘provocations’ with my daughter’s daycare class and I was blown away.  Give this episode a listen, and be inspired.



Other episodes referenced in this episode

027: Is a Reggio Emilia-inspired preschool right for my child?

To hear my interview with math tutor Wes Carroll, go to www.yourhomeschoolingmojo.com, click any of the “sign up” buttons on that page, scroll down to see the curriculum of the course, and look for the interview with Wes which is available as a free preview.



Allsup, R.E., & Benedict, C. (2008). The problems of band: An inquiry into the future of instrumental music education. Philosophy of Music Education Review 16(2), 156-173.

Anvari, S.H., Trainor, L.J., Woodside, J., & Levy, B.A. (2002). Relations among musical skills, phonological processing, and early reading ability in preschool children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 83, 111-130.

Bilhartz, T.D., Bruhn, R.A., & Olson, J.E. (2000). The effect of early music training on child cognitive development. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 20(4), 616-636.

Catterall, J.S., & Rauscher, F.H. (2008). Unpacking the impact of music on intelligence. In W. Gruhn & F. Rauscher, Neurosciences in Music Pedagogy (pp.171-201). Happague, NY: Nova Science Publishers.

Hallam, S. (2010). The power of music: Its impact on the intellectual, social and personal development of children and young people. International Journal of Music Education 28(3), 269-289.

Hanna, W. (2016). The children’s music studio: A Reggio-inspired approach. New York, NY: Oxford. (Affiliate link)

Heuser, F. (2011). Ensemble-based instrumental music instruction: Dead-end tradition or opportunity for socially enlightened teaching. Music Education Research 12(3), 293-305.

Kirschner, S., & Tomasello, M. (2010). Joint music making promotes prosocial behavior in 4-year-old children. Evolution and Human Behavior 31, 354-364.

Morehouse, P.G. (2013). Toddlers through grade 2: The importance of music making in child development. YC Young Children 68(4), 82-89.

Rauscher, F.H. (1993). Music and spatial task performance. Nature 365(6447), 611.

Rauscher, F.H., Shaw, G.L., & Ky, K.N. (1995). Listening to Mozart enhances spatial-temporal reasoning: towards a neuropsychological basis. Neuroscience Letters 185, 44-47.

Rauscher, F.H., & Zupan, M.A. (2000). Classroom keyboard instruction improves kindergarten children’s spatial-temporal performance: A field experiment. Early Childhood Research Quarterly 15(2), 215-228.

Rauscher, F.H. (2003). Can music instruction affect children’s cognitive development? ERIC Digest EDO-PS-03-12.

Rauscher, F.H., & Hinton, S.C. (2006). The Mozart effect: Music listening is not music instruction. Educational Psychologist 41(4) 233-238.

Schlaug, G., Norton, A., Overy, K., & Winner, E. (2005). Effects of music training on the child’s brain and cognitive development. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1060, 219-230.

Scott, S. (2011). Contemplating a constructivist stance for active learning within music education. Arts Education Policy Review 112(4), 191-198.

SEGMeasurement (n.d.). Effectiveness of ABC Music & Me on the development of language and literacy skills. Retrieved from: https://media2.kindermusik.com/website/2015/02/ABCMusicMe_ResearchStudy_FullReport.pdf

Smithrim, K., & Upitis, R. (2005). Learning through the arts: Lessons of Engagement. Canadian Journal of Education / Revue Canadienne de l’education 28(1/2), 109-127.

Standley, J.M., Walforth, D., & Nguyen, J. (2009). Effect of parent/child group music activities on toddler development: A pilot study. Music Therapy Perspectives 27(1), 11-15.


Read Full Transcript



Jen: [00:38]

Hello and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. Today I’d like to welcome my guest, Wendell Hanna, who is Professor of Music Education at San Francisco State University. Professor Hanna’s academic background includes a BA from the University of South Florida and a Master’s in music from Yale University in orchestral bassoon performance. After several years of teaching and performing in San Francisco Bay Area orchestras as a freelance musician, Professor Hanna then obtained her public school and teaching credential and taught elementary music in the Oregon public schools. Before obtaining a Ph.D At the University of Oregon. It was there that she shifted our attention to younger children and began researching and working musically with infants, toddlers, and preschool aged children. In 2002, she was offered a professorship at San Francisco State University where she researches and also teaches, early childhood musical development and local preschools. It was through teaching in a local corporate preschool that she encountered emergent learning and the Reggio approach. Now I discovered professor Hanna’s work not long after I heard a piece on NPR about the links between listening to music and learning grammar, so I was already looking for someone to talk with about the connections between music and child development, but today, dear listeners, we’re going to get so much more than that.

Jen: [01:49]

Professor Hanna has just published a new book called The Children’s Music Studio, a Reggio inspired approach and as soon as I read it, I knew that I had to ask her to do an interview with us because their interests coincides so neatly with my own. She brings a really rigorous evidence based view on the impact of music on a child’s development and she has also studied early childhood education in Reggio Emilia, Italy as I have done as well, and wants to bring that evidence-based view of music to Reggio inspired classrooms. Welcome Dr. Hanna.

New Speaker:  [02:17]

Thank you, Jen. Thank you for inviting me.

New Speaker: [02:20]

So I wonder if we can start kind of probably where parents already have had some exposure to information about music and related to child development. Can you tell us what is the Mozart Effect and how does what parents might have heard about it differ from what the study actually found?

Dr. Hanna: [02:38]

Sure, so the Mozart Effect was a research study and there have been many more research studies since the original one which was in 1993 in southern California, Rauscher and Associates and they, they looked at the effect of listening to a Mozart music and how that affected learning and their results were published in Nature magazine and they said that especially on spatial reasoning and a little bit on memory that listening to Mozart had positive effects on your ability to concentrate and learn. Fortunately, people got very excited about things, especially in my field of music education, we were like, Hallelujah. This is what we’ve been looking for. Scientific evidence of what we’ve always known to be true, and here it is. However, researchers, we were like, wow, let me look into this research, and then we discovered, wow, they listened to some Mozart for 15 minutes and then they became smarter. Hm, let’s replicate this just to make sure. And so it was replicated many, many, many times and the same results were not found and that’s a problem with research; it needs to be replicated in their same results, need to be found each time or most of the times it is replicated.

Dr. Hanna: [04:02]

So that was a problem. Many people have really jumped on. The idea of Mozart makes you smarter because it feels true. It just feels so right.

New Speaker: [04:14]

It’s so esoteric, isn’t it? It must be making me smarter.

Dr. Hanna:    [04:19]

So it’s actually fascinating from a researcher’s point of view that something that you know is right, you just haven’t been able to prove yet. And so that’s really what the Mozart Effect was about is just pure listening. And so there’s been a ton of research…neurological research and other types of research about this and so I would say the take-home point is that the Mozart effect is really likely to be an artifact of just arousal because you’re listening to the music and it makes you feel better. It heightens your mood. So that’s probably what the Mozart Effect is. You feel happier when you listen to Mozart and you feel a little more alert in your brain is a little more stimulated.

Dr. Hanna:  [05:07]

So those effects that were tested are likely because of that and have nothing to do with our dear friend, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the many other types of light and happy music that would have that same effect on your short term effect.

Jen: [05:26]

And so this study was also done with college students, right?

Dr. Hanna: [05:30]

It was done many, many times; people have been replicating it many different ways since 1993. Sometimes it comes out positive and but most of the time it doesn’t get strong statistical results because it just has to do with listening. And the real research is more when you’re doing active music making, especially playing instruments.

Jen: [05:55]

Alright, so let us all be warned about the dangers of reading one study and basing our entire approach to parenting on that. So okay. So if I’m a failure as a parent and I have not had my child listening to Baby Mozart for the last couple of years, I’m curious about how children approached music. If nobody’s teaching them about it, do they have some kind of innate sense of rhythm and a desire to produce music or are these things more culturally learned?

Dr. Hanna:  [06:19]

Well, yes. Children have an innate ability in music, just exactly the way that they have an innate ability to learn language. So there’s a really interesting study that came out of the Child Study Movement in the early 20th century called the Morehead and Pond study was done between 1937 and 1948. And it’s fascinating because it’s more of a longitudinal – not that long, but pretty long for a study. And they had children go into a room with beautiful musical instruments and by themselves with other children. And they videotaped, I guess they videotaped… Did they have that then? Anyway, they observed and they analyzed what the children did and they found that these children were understanding music without any adult supervision. They were creating music, they were understanding form. They were interacting, they were improvising, they were singing, creating their own original compositions and some pretty amazing stuff. So I would say that’s a real seminal study and there’ve been many others that have shown that children left to their own devices are extremely musically naturally musical.

Jen: [07:34]

Mmhmm. And where do you think that comes from?

Dr. Hanna: [07:37]

Well, it’s evolution.

Jen: [07:39]

And what what purpose does it serve?

Dr. Hanna:   [07:42]

Well, there’s a lot of theories on that. There’s definitely…. Music is definitely kind of brings the tribe together. It makes you feel more secure and protected. It gives you…and this answers your, your second part of the question which is about cultural learned. Whether music is culturally learned, but it. It helps you identify with your culture and children. They have an innate nature to respond to music, but there is a natural development that is occurring and that natural development can be further enhanced with exposure; parents exposing them to wide variety of music as well as direct instruction, so it’s kind of there’s an innate ability and children can do it on their own, but if adults give a very rich environment and exposure to music and some direct instruction, then that is really, really heightened because there’s so many neuronal connections in the brain for all kinds of learning and as we’ll talk a little bit more, language learning and music learning really out as one in the same in a baby, and then it splits later on. So if you’re encouraging language development, you’re also encouraging musical development and if you’re encouraging music development, you’re also encouraging some language development.

Jen: [09:12]

Okay. I’m wondering what my daughter is learning from the Maroon Five music that she has a preference for at the moment.

Dr. Hanna: [09:22]

I’m sure she’s learning a lot!

Jen:  [09:22]

I am sure she is. I hesitate to imagine what. So you mentioned a couple of times as you were explaining that, that if parents provide direct instruction as well as exposure to different kinds of music, what do you mean by direct instruction in that

Dr. Hanna: [09:35]

format? Well, purposeful interaction for music’s sake, if you take them to a, a child parent class and the Music Together classes are very popular here in the bay area and I think all over the country now. And those are wonderful classes, but there’s a variety of music. The children are playing instruments, you know, it’s tactile; it’s locomotor… They’re jumping up and down and they’re moving and they’re, they’re singing and they’re just participating in music with others and with adults and not passive, not just listening to music in the background.

Jen:  [10:11]

Okay. Okay. Alright. So now really starting to dig into the research here. I want to try and untangle what some of the research says on the benefits to children of being involved in music because I read through a bunch of abstracts of papers on this topic and you kind of get the impression that music is absolutely incredible at promoting children’s cognitive development. But then when you dig into the methodology and the results, you find things like children who attend music classes are able to look at a pattern of beads and replicate it from memory more effectively than children who didn’t attend classes and that kind of skill does have good implications, visual memory and chunking of information, both of which are very important in reading, but there was also no difference between the two groups on the other five subtests of a well known intelligence test. But the abstract to that study says “this study suggests a significant correspondence between early music instruction on spatial temporal reasoning abilities”. So I’m wondering, based on what you know of kind of the totality of the literature and not just honing in on one study’s results, is there a benefit to a child’s development from making music and what kind of music does the child have to do to gain this benefit?

Dr. Hanna:  [11:22]

Well, I would really recommend this wonderful book. It’s very easy to read by Daniel Levinson. He’s a neurologist up in Canada and it’s called This is Your Brain on Music and it really is fantastic. And what he really says is that when anyone is participating in music, every area of the brain lights up in what he terms as a neuronal symphony. And so the phenomenon of music is incredibly complex. Even though, from our first person perspective, we just like your music and go, oh, I want to tap and I want to dance and makes me happy. And that’s how children enjoy and understand and appreciate music. It’s a very simple natural response that, I mean, you’ve seen with your own daughter, I’m sure he put on a little music and…

Jen: [12:13]

Even a little Maroon Five!

Dr. Hanna:   [12:16]

Right? And even if a child can’t walk they’re bobbing, and they’re holding on to something and they’re moving. I mean this is, they call that entrainment. And so we just naturally entrain where the no other creature does this type of entertainment other than humans. And so this is just a wonderful natural thing to do. But when you look from a third person perspective of a neurologist and you actually look at the brain and you say, well, what’s going on? Then it becomes extremely complex and you see that there’s this complex coordination of neural systems almost everywhere in the brain because there’s… Each aspect of music and I go into more detail in my book about these different aspects of music use a completely different specialized area of the brain process that and then for it to all come together as one holistic experience of what we consider music. It takes a lot of coordination from all these different brain processing parts. So melody information is processed in one area.

Dr. Hanna: [13:19]

Rhythmic information is processed in a completely different area. Timbre is processed in another area. I mean these are not. These are all over the brain and so it’s the form of the music, the meaning, the referential meaning of the words of the song, you know? Then the limbic system is processing certain emotional aspects of the music. So there’s so much going on. So what evidently has been observed in some of the latest research is that children who study music, especially a musical instrument, usually it’s most noticed before the age of nine if they start. But you look at the adult brain and the corpus callosum, which is the the white connective tissue between the right and the left hemisphere is much thicker in people who studied music at a young age and so that I think is because there’s so much interconnectivity between the hemispheres and between the different parts of the processing of music that’s almost like a muscle because you’re working out so much interconnectivity that this corpus callosum builds up like a thicker muscle and it stays throughout life.

Dr. Hanna:  [14:40]

So it’s hard to say that this one thing is benefited by early involvement in music. It’s more like your brain is just overall more fit, especially in anything that’s auditory in nature because music is mostly auditory, but it’s also psychomotor. So anything that have to do with your brain and your hands interacting or like language, which is, you know, it has to do with ability to listen and process sounds. Those in particular, they’ve tested through research that adults who studied music seriously as a child do much better on those types of tasks throughout life.

Jen: [15:21]

Okay. And so I just wanted to give back to something you said about the corpus callosum and, and how that tends to be thicker in people who studied music as a child and I’m wondering if there has been caused an effect established there or if it could be that people with thicker. I don’t know what the plural of corpus callosum is, the corpus callossi? Are more inclined to study music. Has caused an effect been established so we can say with directionality, which thing proceeded what?

Dr. Hanna: [15:50]

Well, I mean a caveat for all of neuroscience is that it’s so new. Yeah. And everything is coming out fast and furious. So I don’t think you can say once and for all. But from what I’ve looked at, yes it is definitely a cause and effect from what they’ve they’ve studied.

Jen: [16:10]

Okay. All right. And so I’m just kind of drawing links between learning music and learning other subjects and people are listening to the show regularly, will remember that I developed a course recently to help families decide whether homeschooling could be right for their family. And as part of doing that, I interviewed a really cool math tutor and I’ll put a link in the references to where people can actually go and hear that because I technically did pretty well in math. I actually got an A in my high school exit exam in England, but I’m only good at math as long as the problem that I’m presented with looks exactly like the one that I was taught. And so I was thinking about the way that we teach math, which is basically to say, I know you don’t know why I’m teaching you all these components and skills, but trust me in the end, you’re going to be able to use these to get into college and maybe one day he’ll solve a problem using these skills. And what occurred to me is I realized that traditional way of teaching music is very much the same. And we teach children how to read music and how to play each note. And we sort of say to them, trust me, in the end, we’re going to teach you skills. And these are gonna help you get into band. And one day you might even express yourself using music and the way that you’re describing teaching music is very different and we’re going to get more into kind of what is a constructivist approach to education and music education, and children can start expressing themselves right now today, right? It does the same parallel strike you.

Dr. Hanna:  [17:35]

Absolutely. Absolutely. And this is why I’m so excited about the Reggio approach because it really is a educational approach that people are very excited about and I think it’s a wonderful parallel to music education needs to look at this idea and there is a growing faction of the music education field that really feels that the old school methodology of band, orchestra, choir, traditional piano lessons where you have to practice and show your teacher how well you practice what they gave you each week and then they, they critique what you do. That’s a very passive. The child is a empty vessel, a passive learner, and the teacher is an expert and they tell the child what they need to do. Yes. Circle the flat and measure for you. Missed it. Don’t miss it again. Now that is not a very creative methodology.

Dr. Hanna:  [18:40]

Luckily we have these new…I know the common core is a very touchy subject, but the arts new common core art standards are really actually moving in a more creative direction, less passive area. So I have some hope that we’re moving in this direction and the Reggio Children Research Division, uh, I don’t know when you went?

Jen:  [19:05]

It was about a year ago.

Dr. Hanna:  [19:05]

OK, but this was a big thing when I went in 2016 Okay. Yeah, and I think that you’ve probably heard this too, they’re very, very interested in expanding beyond preschool into elementary and secondary schools. So the Reggio approach is not considered an approach that is only appropriate for babies and toddlers and preschoolers.

Jen: [19:28]

Yeah, I think Italian education had been very traditional heading it and they’re just now starting to think about what it might look like to expand this idea that the Italians are pretty much in love with too, right? Yeah. So, okay. So we’ve sort of alluded to this a number of times then, and so listeners may remember that I actually interviewed Suzanne Axelson specifically about the Reggio Emilia approach in preschools. So if you’ve got the time to go back and listen to that episode, I highly recommend it, but I wonder if Wendell, you wouldn’t mind helping us to just briefly understand what are some of the main tenants of the Reggio Emilia approach to learning?

Dr. Hanna: [20:02]

Sure, of course. I’ve been very focused on the arts element, but, and I’m not an expert in the Reggio approach per se. I’ve just kind of dug into more the artistic aspects of it. But what I would say is that the Reggio approach is a learning environment. It’s not a method, a curriculum or a technique. That’s one of the reasons why you can’t “do Reggio.” You can’t be certified in Reggio because every single environment is different. The children, the parents of the municipality is different. And so it’s an approach that you bring to your own unique learning environment. So why schools are said to be inspired by the Reggio approach, but they are not Reggio schools. But that said, I’d say there’s three really important aspects to that and one is focusing on the child. The child is very, very central to the Reggio approach.

Dr. Hanna:  [21:04]

So the belief is that the child is an active constructor of knowledge, so they’re not an empty vessel, they’re a fully powered ship moving through waters, they’re not. You know who poor innocent things that need to be helped. They’re very powerful learning beings and they’re also social creatures. They don’t learn in a vacuum. They really need to be working with other people to learn. That’s an important aspect of how they learn and that a big part of the Reggio approach is the children have rights. It’s not a privilege to learn. It’s a right to be provided with as much opportunity and materials as possible. So that’s the child. And then the role of the teacher is very different than the traditional teacher role. The teacher is not an expert; they are a collaborator. So being an expert, they’re a. What I say in my book is there a co-learner.

Dr. Hanna: [22:07]

They’re learning alongside the children now at the same time, they’re adults. You’re an adult, do no more than children. So you are a guide. You’re a guide because you do know you’ve been down these roads before, so you don’t just completely let the children off on their own, and you’re there to facilitate. So that means you know, you want to provide materials and structures and resources for the children. And then the most unique aspect I would say, of being a teacher in a Reggio environment or a parent that wants to instill that environment in their own home would be that you’re a researcher. Which I think is really interesting because I think most of your listeners will know about Piaget. One of the most famous early childhood researchers who didn’t stick children into laboratory. He just observed his own kids at home.

Jen: [23:06]

His sample size was a little suspect, wasn’t it?

Dr. Hanna:  [23:10]

And yet that was a long time ago and nobody’s really refuted what he observed in his own children. And so I think this is such a great thing. I mean, you, you’re a researcher. You’re looking at the unique learning that is occurring in your children and, you know, you don’t have to have a phd to observe and research and help your child learns. So as an adult you’re a collaborator with the child, you’re not an expert. And then the other aspect is that you may have heard of emergent curriculum and that is an aspect of the Reggio approach. So the idea is that knowledge is emergent through socially constructed discoveries and that this knowledge, this emergent knowledge is very diverse. It comes from many different areas. So it’s not just math and, or I’m doing science now or it may involve many different areas all coming together.

Dr. Hanna: [24:12]

And so with all these different areas coming together, then you get this meaningful whole. So it’s a little bit messy because traditional education, you know, you can say, oh, they’re learning math, they’re learning science, they’re learning reading, you know, they’re learning music. But really Reggio approach says that, you know, it’s, there are no boundaries between learning areas and that everything can kind of interweave and commingle within this type of approach. But the part that I like the best is that the Reggio approach really emphasizes the arts. And so this is what fascinated me; unfortunately it has focused for last 40 years, primarily on the visual arts. So their adage is that a child has over 100 languages and those of you that know the theory of multiple intelligences, which is Howard Gardner’s theory from Harvard Education Graduate School, he was very good friends with Malaguzzi and traveled to the Reggio schools.

Dr. Hanna: [25:20]

And so there are actually a lot of parallels and I think they really came together with this thought that the arts in particular are very rich and deep and creative and complex way of understanding and expressing the world because there’s emotion and there’s nonverbal content within the arts. So that’s my favorite part of the Reggio approach. And so my research has been, okay, how can we look at what they’ve done with. I mean the things. And as you know, you’ve seen the work of these children in the art studios which are called the affiliates that are so sophisticated and you’re just like, preschoolers could not have possibly done this work. And it’s like, wow. And so for me, I’m like, well gee, in their philosophy they say that, there’s a over 100 languages, so music should certainly be one of those languages even though it hasn’t really been developed to that extent. So my research has really been, you know, how could we look at what the Reggio approach is done with visual arts and then apply it to music.

Jen: [26:28]

Okay. Wow. You said a lot there was so interesting in that piece. I want to go back to something that you mentioned…you talked about Piaget and. Yes. Nobody has really sort of said that what Piaget found was not accurate. Although I will say that I think there’s a general agreement that children tend to reach stages earlier than Piaget might have acknowledged. So I just want to put that out there. But tying together a couple of points that you mentioned. You mentioned this concept socially constructed knowledge and separately from that, but related to it, the idea that the teacher is not necessarily…doesn’t have to be an expert, which I think can be very empowering for parents who are thinking about music and thinking, well, I don’t know anything about music, you know, speaking personally, I took piano lessons when I was seven and and I can play the recorder pretty well. I can still play Christmas carols, but I don’t really know anything more about music than that and I just want to kind of bring that full circle and say that is it right that because the Reggio approach sees knowledge as socially constructed that that is okay and that I still bring something useful and valid, but also my daughter brings something that’s useful and valid. Can you help us think through that a little bit?

Dr. Hanna:  [27:42]

Yeah, sure. I mean we were all once children, right?

Jen:  [27:47]

I think so, yeah.

Dr. Hanna:  [27:50]

I think sometimes we overthink you know that we have to sing well or have taken piano lessons or have some background, but children don’t really care if you’re singing in tune and they don’t really care if you know every ballet step or can read Shakespeare and understand it. They just want to experience music and explore and interact. So many adults just feel like, oh, that ship’s sailed. I quit piano lessons when I was eight…why did i do that? Why didn’t my parents make me? I should have done it, and now I could play Mozart…

Jen: [28:22]

And then my kid will be a genius!

Dr. Hanna: [28:34]

So they feel like, you know, that that’s over for them and it’s not over. We can always learn music. Right. And the children are really programmed just as they are to learn language, their program to learn music and there’s a natural development that occurs. So if you just follow along with. So if your child is into Maroon Five.

Jen: [28:57]

Yes it is. You don’t sound like you’ve heard of them. I’m shocked at this lack of knowledge on your part of an essential component of the musical Canon…

Dr. Hanna:  [29:05]

I am shamed. You are right. Yeah. She’s interested in that. Now in traditional music learning. We would steer our children away from that because it should be Motzart…it should be proper…it should be children’s developmentally appropriate music. But the Reggio approach would disagree with that. Your daughter is into Maroon Five and so you want to explore that with her. So you would put the music on and ask her some questions. You put on your researcher hat and say, wow, what do you like about this? Tell when you listen to what she says, and then maybe she says, because it makes me dance like a rabbit. Okay. I don’t know what. What does she say? Have you asked?

Jen:   [29:51]

I have not asked her that. Actually. I wonder, and I noticed this, when I was reading your book that sometimes you acknowledged that when you asked a child a question about music, they didn’t always give you an answer and I wonder because when you read the books about Reggio, the children are always amazingly eloquent and they always have some kind of answer to the question you’re like, I don’t think my kid would say that, but you actually acknowledged that you didn’t always get announced. So when you ask a child about that, and so I haven’t asked to be honest and I wonder what I would get and what would you do if she didn’t say anything?

Dr. Hanna:  [30:27]

I would ask a different question or I would suggest, oh, why don’t we put on, you know, why don’t we make our own music video; what types of costumes shall we were, and you’re always opening up avenues to find out how they’re thinking. So if one door doesn’t open up you, you suggest another. So that’s where the researcher hat really comes in. You’re guiding, but you don’t know what the answer will be and if there is no answer, the new guide in a different direction and see if, if it happens and if, say for instance she says ‘I’m very interested in the bass guitar for some reason, right?” And you’re like, what’s the bass guitar? And then you know, you could bone up on that and maybe learn more. Maybe find something that’s like a bass guitar. She was fascinated with that and then bring those materials in and then explore that area. So it’s really letting the child be the leader and you’re learning along so maybe you don’t know about something that they’re interested in. Then you can learn. You’re learning along with them so you don’t have to be an expert.

Jen: [31:33]

Yeah, and as you were talking through that, I was thinking about something I remembered actually that I saw while I was in Reggio Emilia and just thinking about parents who say, “but I can’t even read music.” How am I going to support my child’s interest in music? And the children, I guess they were probably aged around for in this particular classroom that we watched in the video were inventing their own musical notation and so they would draw squiggles on the page and the whole thing was a line from the start of the piece to the end of the piece and where it got squiggly they would introduce a certain kind of music and they would draw a stop sign to indicate and everybody would stop for a second and then they would start playing again and the line kind of meandered slowly around the page until it got to its endpoint in the lower right corner.

Jen:  [32:18]

And I think they might have played it differently every time they went through it. But they probably got more consistent as they went through it again and again. And they had the opportunity to kind of redraft it and give new interpretations to it. But I as a parent who have the vaguest recollection of musical notation from elementary level recorder playing could probably figure out how to draw music in a squiggly line on a page, right? And so the, the absence of that kind of knowledge, I think that parents should not see that as a limiter, right?

Dr. Hanna:  [32:53]

Oh no, of course not. Of course not. I mean, what’s interesting about that, because I’ve observed the same thing when I was in Reggio Emilia, Italy, the children have been so adept at visual arts and they’re so able to express themselves with drawing, with using visual arts materials that they’re very able to translate what they hear into drawing something. What I would love to would be to say the opposite, you know, could they read something or see a picture and then translate that visual thing into music. So that would be the other side of the language. I mean, you really want children to master all of these, what they term as languages or abilities and conceptual understandings. And it’s not to become a prodigy, it’s just to have that ability to be able to express in that particular modality as well as every other type of modaililty.

Dr. Hanna:   [33:52]

I mean, you want the best for your child and you want them to be able to express their understanding and to communicate to others. And artistically I think art is very cathartic, right? I mean that’s what’s so wonderful about music is that it has this affective modality. And so in my book I talk a lot about the particularly, and I think this relates back to what I was talking about earlier about this is your brain on music. It’s very complex there. And I talk about these three different learning modalities that when you’re working with your child, you’re, you’re working in… And the aspect of modality is to me the most accessible for the youngest children.

Jen:  [34:35]

And what you mean by that is how does it make me feel?

Dr. Hanna: [34:37]

Right, right. And so when you play a fast music in generally it’s exciting and slash or happy slow music is generally calming. Softer music is a little more intimate; it brings the child in and these are all biological aspects of music that create a lot of different aspects and it’s, that’s just just that one aspect. The affective modality of music is just absolutely fantastic. And then there’s the temporal modality of music. So that’s such a unique aspect because you’re listening to a piece of music and so it’s new and you’re kind of remembering that like twinkle and then you get into the next twinkle, twinkle and you’re kind of remembering that the first two twinkles happened. Now these next two twinkles are happening that you’re thinking, oh, but now there’s that star part. So you know, it’s this evolving experience, a temporal modality within time that you were experiencing music. So you’re experiencing the past, the present, and you’re anticipating the future. And it’s one of the fantastic things that the brain is processing. It’s almost like juggling multiple balls in the air at the same time. That’s one of the reasons the brain is so stimulated, you know? And then beyond that, you know that there’s a complete song that there’s going to be an end of the song that the song will be over and you could do it again if you want.

Jen: [36:08]

And we do do it again, many times…

Dr. Hanna:  [36:11]

And it had an end. So there’s this temporal aspect of music that is just absolutely fascinating. And then the third modality is the spatial modality. And I think this one may be why some of the research that has shown that spatial reasoning tests is often a much higher after playing instruments or musical intervention classes and things like that. So spatial ability, what is that like imagining a cube, multiple sides and space or I don’t know, what is your understanding of, of the way now, how that would benefit you in the real world?

Jen:  [36:48]

Oh, for sure…Map reading.. all kinds of things.

Dr. Hanna:  [36:51]

So in addition to that, that holding music within the span of time, you’re also holding it within space. So twinkle is a little bit lower in pitch twinkle is higher. And then little, it’s just a little bit higher than that one.. Star… And then how I wonder what you are is going down, so you’ve got this up and down that you’re processing in the brain and then how far up in how far down or is it the same, and then you add another tone and then you’ve got not only that, the relationship between one tone to another, but then you’re bringing in harmony and then you’re bringing in different instruments, the flute and the tuba and electric guitar, which brings different textures into it. So this kind of explains why the brain is like working overtime when you’re lists, it seems like, such as just this twinkle, twinkle little star, you know, and Oh, and then let’s do the motions. The finger play with it. Now we’re now we’re using our modality for, for movement, our motor cortex and our sensory cortex, which is a huge part of the brain on both sides of the hemisphere, of the brain. So yeah, there’s a lot, a lot of stuff going on that really is happening when you work with children musically. So I went to more detail in the book with that.

Jen: [38:15]

Yeah, just a little bit more so I want to get to that. So the first half of the book is on kind of the research behind what’s involved in music and how it affects children’s development and also about the Reggio Emilia approach and the whole second half of the book is a series of what are called “studio proposals” and they show how children can respond, perform, create, and connect with nine different qualities of music like dynamics and tempo and beat and rhythm. And these aren’t so much lessons to be taught as examples of how a teacher can explore a topic with a child and it doesn’t have to be a teacher, it can be a parent. And so I actually, I tried one of them.

Dr. Hanna:  [38:54]

Oh, did you?

Jen:   [38:54]

Yeah, I did. I, uh, my, one of my daughter’s favorite books is called I Will Love You Anyway. And it’s about a dog who in conventional language we would probably say is not very good. It’s not a good dog. And it keeps running away. And in the middle of the story there’s a thunder storm and I thought a thunderstorm, that’s a really dramatic thing. I wonder if there’s music… I wonder if there’s something in Wendell’s book about thunder storms and it turns out there is! And so her birthday was recently and so our preschool, which is Reggio-inspired, has a thing where the parents usually go in and do some kind of activity on the child’s birthday and so I looked up the piece of music that you recommend that has a piece in it that’s about a thunderstorm and it sounds like a thunderstorm and we put a big piece of butcher paper down on the table that all the children’s sit around and we played the music on a phone and we just gave each child a crayon and said, what do you hear?

Jen: [39:45]

Can you draw what you hear? And they start drawing these incredible dark squiggles for the clouds and the music builds and and I say, wow, it sounds like it’s raining. And they all start going, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap with the crayons on the paper. And the teachers are just sitting there absolutely gobsmacked. And it was such a powerful… And I’m just sitting there with my eyes wide open thinking there’s no way I could have predicted this would happen in your book. You sort of go beyond that and you extend it to well, how could we could do three or four different drawings within the piece of music and we can actually arrange them as a piece of music. And one of the teachers said, you know, I would totally go back and do that again with a smaller group sometime. And so, you know, if, if parents are listening to this thinking I don’t know anything about music, I don’t know if I can do this. All it takes is look up a piece of music on YouTube and Wendell gives you these prompts for ways that you can engage a child and ask them questions and find out what they’re thinking about it. And you don’t have to know everything or even very much to make this incredibly successful. So I guess this is sort of a little infomercial for your book, but it was a powerful example for me.

Dr. Hanna: [40:56]

That’s wonderful. And I have some examples of popular children’s books and ways you can incorporate music into that.

New Speaker: [41:04]

Okay. Were they in the book and I don’t remember them or can you share them with us?

Dr. Hanna: [41:07]

They’re in the book.

Jen:  [41:08]

Okay. Okay, great. And so what, what should parents look for?

Dr. Hanna: [41:11]

Like, you know, like if you’re talking about tempo, there’s some books about the tortoise and the hare or clocks; if you’re talking about the beat. There’s lots of things about clocks and things like that.

Jen:  [41:24]

Yeah, I loaned my book to the preschool so I don’t have it. Right. But my daughter is really interested in clocks as well and is starting the rudimentary elements of telling time. So I bet she’d be super interested in that.

Dr. Hanna: [41:36]

Yeah, I mean I think the main point for the parents is this is a socially constructed approach. So sometimes the kids are so self-absorbed in coloring or whatever. They’ll sit by themselves for hours and color and draw and stuff. And I would encourage you not to do that with the music. I mean, I think it’s great to, to let the kids listen to music of course, but to really have the most learning, the parents should be playing alongside them and interacting and not, not just say here, sit here and listen and do this on your own. It really is about a social experience.

Jen:  [42:16]

Yeah. So I can see this being so, so relevant as children are younger and don’t necessarily have, you know, maybe the kind of coordination to play formal instruments in a formal way. And I’m wondering how shifts over time as they get older and as they start becoming interested in playing an instrument. Well, and I’m thinking about how the art teachers in Reggio Emilia, I will teach a child to use slip, which is like a wet form of clay to bind two pieces of clay together so that the children can broaden the repertoire of things that they can make using clay. And that seems sort of similar to teaching a child how to read music and play notes correctly. Except that with clay, you sort of have this two minute, you know, here’s how you wet the clay, here’s how you stick it together and then you get the whole world of opportunities. But in music it’s sort of, it seems to be a very time-consuming process where you get an hour of lesson and then endless practice and then maybe you can play something that you are really interested in. So how can you apply this constructivist approach or can you as the child gets older and becomes really interested in deepening their knowledge and skill with an instrument.

Dr. Hanna:  [43:20]

Right? Like we discussed earlier, that is the old fashioned, old school way, but I would say you can do the practice and instill creativity at the same time. So let’s, let’s go with twinkle twinkle.

Jen:  [43:34]

While we’re at it

Dr. Hanna: [43:36]

While we’re at it. Okay. So I mean the old school way would be say the child has a violin and [makes sound of violin playing Twinkle Twinkle].

Jen:  [43:44]

I can play that.

Dr. Hanna: [43:44]

Now, play that again. Okay. Whatever. So over and over and over until it’s perfect. But let’s say instead you show them how to play twinkle twinkle on whatever instrument is and then you don’t keep practicing that twinkle twinkle over and over. You use that as a template. So then you might say, hey, you know, you just learned how to play twinkle twinkle, what other song could we learn, you know? And then they, you know, the wheels of the bus. Okay, so see if you can find that on there. And then so then they use that and then you can use the template. Well they learn how to play twinkle, twinkle, maybe not perfectly, but then you might say, oh, so twinkle, twinkle, oh that was, that was a big distance or was that a small distance?

Dr. Hanna: [44:28]

Oh it was a big one. Okay, well let’s try it out. And then you know, they would trial and error and they’d figure out the wheels of the bus, and maybe they wouldn’t learn the wheels on the bus, but they would learn about directionality in a melody that it Kinda goes up and down like a rollercoaster as they’re figuring that out on their instrument. And then you might say, oh, well would you like to make up your own song? You know, we don’t have to just play songs we already know, what should we make a song about? So I would say that’s a more constructivist approach. You can start with twinkle, twinkle, but you don’t want to stay there until it’s perfect. You just want to expand in different directions that the child is interested in. Yeah. And like we said, I think that this approaching, even though it’s for preschool, I really believe that it’s such a wonderful, powerful approach. Even though it’s slow, slower education, we always want to know right away the benefit and the right to approach is slow education it, it really is.

Dr. Hanna: [45:29]

But I believe these constructed, this approaches can go on through middle school and even through high school. And I even have the. My last chapter talks about how you could use constructivist approaches and music classes and middle and high school.

Jen:     [45:43]

So just bringing it full circle. I guess back to the research, I know that research has shown that there are some benefits to a child’s development as a result of participating in music, not just listening to Mozart, but the vast majority of the research on this topic seems to achieve those findings by dividing children into two groups and giving both groups an intelligence test and then providing one of them with music instruction for 20 minutes a week and then giving them another intelligence test and seeing if the two groups are different and I’m curious as to whether children might see the same kinds of benefits using a Reggio-based approach where they aren’t really so much directly shown how to play an instrument. They, they do a lot more figuring out for themselves, but then sort of following on from that, I’m wondering should we care about such a reductive approach to understanding something is holistic as a child’s experience of music? What do you think?

Dr. Hanna:   [46:32]

Well, that’s a good question and that’s always talked about in my field. You know, shouldn’t music just be for music’s sake, art for art’s sake, you know, why do we always have to have it in the service of better mathematical intelligence?

Jen:     [46:48]

So they don’t cut our budget!

Dr. Hanna:   [46:52]

Right, exactly. And so, you know, why can’t we just enjoy the aesthetic aspects because it’s beautiful, it’s a part of being human. But all of these approaches, I mean all these subject areas can be considered beautiful. Right? And that’s what the Reggio approach is all about. It says the arts shouldn’t be compartmentalized as this aesthetic approach and math shouldn’t be considered a hard learning area. I mean, now what is it that STEM versus STEAM debate?

Dr. Hanna:    [47:26]

Right. And the Reggio approach would say, you know, everything should be arts look at math, like it is an art look at everything as an art and the ateliers might be in Reggio, you know, might be doing regular academic learning, but they do it in an aesthetic and beautiful way. So yeah, Via Vecchi, who’s the main atelierista for the Reggio School, she said “boundaries are as thin as smoke,” is what she says, and she says, you know, you can’t, it’s all should be beautiful and it should all be incredibly meaningful and academic at the same time. So yeah, I mean we’re used to the reductionistic approach, you know, what if I do this, I get this result. So I would say you get both. It’s aesthetic and it’s hardcore learning.

Jen:    [48:21]

Alright, and on that note, we shall leave it today. Thank you so much. This has been such a fun conversation. I’m so honored that we got the chance to learn from you.

Dr. Hanna:    [48:28]

Oh, thank you. It’s been a delight.

Jen:    [48:30]

So Dr. Hanna’s book, The Children’s Music Studio, a Reggio inspired approach can be purchased on Amazon and you can also learn a lot more about the book before you buy it by visiting Reggio music.com where you can follow windows blog. Her latest posts was actually a comparison of the Montessori, Waldorf, and Reggio approaches to music and as always, the usual references for the show can be found at YourParentingMojo.com/Music.


Also published on Medium.

About the author, Jen

Jen Lumanlan (M.S., M.Ed.) hosts the Your Parenting Mojo podcast (www.YourParentingMojo.com), which examines scientific research related to child development through the lens of respectful parenting.

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