For me, one of the most fun things about playing music is improvisation! Reacting to the sounds around me, filling in the spaces, creating something brand-new with the tools I have available. There's nothing quite like coming up with a guitar or bass solo on the fly, working to fit the notes and rhythms into the framework that I and my fellow musicians have laid out.
Improvisation is an enjoyable and interesting challenge in a musical setting, but it's also valuable in everyday life. We often find ourselves needing to adapt to unexpected circumstances. It could be something on the smaller side, like a missing ingredient for a recipe, or a traffic jam. Or it could be something bigger - a major transition or development! Either way, the ability to improvise through unexpected changes is a vital life skill.
So how can we use music to help teach this skill to the young children in our classes?
For starters, instrument play-alongs are an awesome opportunity for children to play music in an unstructured, improvisational way! We offer a variety of different instruments to explore, and provide play-along music with a steady rhythm or familiar tune. Children are free to experiment with music using their choice of rhythm instrument. A younger child might explore sounds by tapping on all different parts of a drum, or comparing the sound made by playing with hands vs. a drum stick. An older child might be working to play in steady rhythm, or trying out various dynamics. Each child plays along according to their own skill, improvising and contributing to the music with their own ideas.
Often when we use instruments or other hands-on items in class, there are a variety of choices, plus a variety of personal preferences. Sometimes a child will find that their favorite color scarf is not available, or that someone else has beaten them to their preferred drum. This is actually a great opportunity for a learning experience in adaptability and improvisation! As parents and teachers, we can guide children to share or to choose another item without dwelling on disappointment.
Another big way we encourage children to improvise in our music circles is by asking them for their input! When we ask "what other animals are on the farm," we are really asking them to help us compose the song on the fly! This is an opportunity for them to "solo" - to build onto the music using their own creativity. Then comes the delight in seeing the teacher adapt to the new input (what DOES a giraffe say?) and the understanding that we are working together as a group to create something new.
Finally, dancing is a wonderful way for children to experience the joy of improvisation! Although we will sometimes encourage specific movements, a lot of our time dancing with scarves is for free movement and expression. It is inspirational to see the children showing off their favorite dance moves, and to see them learning from each other. Many times a child will see a teacher, parent or another child doing a new movement, and will want to learn and adapt their own dancing to incorporate the new movements. Free movement is all about improvisation - reacting to the music and dancing with your very own individual motions.
Although each class certainly contains structure and routine, we always lead a few unstructured activities each week to allow the children to express themselves freely, improvise, adapt and create! Want to see it in action? Click here for more information on parent/child music classes in Chestnut Hill, Abington and Southampton PA! We can’t wait to hear the music of your little one’s own invention.
Keep on rockin’!