Show Notes

Music is a powerful tool for helping kids develop the social skills they’ll need to succeed in life, as numerous studies have demonstrated.

Stages of development in children’s social skills

Children learn new kinds of social skills in every stage of development. Ivy Rehab has a great article on the topic, but roughly speaking, you’re looking at:

  • Infants: smiling, eye contact, crying, imitation
  • Toddlers: basic communication
  • Preschoolers: emotional regulation, sharing
  • School-aged: empathy, self-control, active listening, conflict resolution

What music teaches kids

You could say music is the “spoon full of sugar {that} helps the medicine go down.” Music and live performance are inherently fun and energizing for kids – particularly in a group environment. And while they’re having fun, kids are learning:

  • How to listen so they can play/sing in sync with others
  • How to wait for their turn
  • How to communicate with gestures & eye contact (to show when it’s someone else’s turn)
  • How to share attention

In addition to being fun, music has another unique advantage, as music therapist Catherine Backus explains:

Whereas academic courses may be separated by ability, or verbal conversation may be limited by language fluency, music is accessible at multiple levels, from virtuosic guitar soloing to playing an egg shaker out of time.

Episode Transcript

Hello and welcome to “Music for Life Skills.” My name is Mike Arturi and I’m the founder and executive director of Universal Music Center, and we are Red Wing Minnesota’s original music education organization. And today, we’re going to be talking about getting along and how music can help and how musical exercises can help kids learn to get along with each other.

Today’s Topic: Learning to Get Along

All we need for this exercise is something to bang on. Now you can use an inverted trash bin, you could use a drum which we have here, you could have two people on either side of a table, you can use your thighs—just something that’ll make sound that won’t hurt your hands, that’s all you will need.

Now to illustrate this example, we need two people. So I’m going to invite my friend, Katie, in to join us.

KATIE: Hey, Mike!

MIKE: Hi, Katie! Thank you for helping. Happy to see you here today and thanks so much for helping us.

KATIE: Of course, I’m looking forward to this.

MIKE: What we’re doing today is we’re looking at ways to get along, ways that people get along. Now we’re going to use a simple musical exercise to show how music can be helpful in getting kids to get along with each other. So what we’re going to do is we’re going to use these drums, and we’re going to create a rhythm with these two drums, okay?

So the way you do this is you assign one person one part of the rhythm, and another person the other part of the rhythm. So it’s one idea that we’re splitting into two parts, and the secret here is to show each part individually, okay? So I’m going to show you your part, then I’m going to reveal my part, okay? So when you’re doing this with your children, you give them their part and you have your part, but don’t play them together just yet, okay? It’s important to play them individually, separately, first.

KATIE: Okay.

MIKE: So your part is going to be a single stroke. We’re going to use four beats: one, two, three, and four. Your part is going to be a nice single stroke. Put your hand flat in the middle of this drum to make a nice low sound, and you’re going to play on the numbers one and three. One stroke, okay? I’m going to give you four counts just to bring you in, and then you join me, okay?

KATIE: Okay.

MIKE: So one, two, three, four. One

[Katie hits drum on one]

two, three

[Katie hits drum on three]

four. One

[Katie hits drum on one]

two, three

[Katie hits drum on three]

four. Let’s give Katie a big round of applause, she’s nailing it.

KATIE: And evidently this is something you can do without having an innate sense of rhythm, so.

MIKE: Absolutely, yeah! That’s the idea too, you know? And wait until you see what happens next.

KATIE: Okay.

MIKE: You don’t need an innate—actually, you have an innate sense of rhythm that you’re going to experience right now.

KATIE: My goodness.

MIKE: So I’m going to add my part now, okay? What I’m going to do is I’m going to play on the beats two and four, okay? So I’m going to play two [hits drum on two], and then I’m going to play four and [hits drum on four and and]. So I’m going to give us four counts, okay? And you remember your part, now? One and three, okay?

KATIE: Okay, but did—were you going to play—

MIKE: Yes, I’m going to play my part too.

KATIE: Okay.

MIKE: My part is going to be on two and four, so my part is going to be one, two [hits drum on two], three, four and [hits drum on four and and]. I’m playing a quarter note—I’m getting a little technical here—a quarter note and two eighth notes on beat four. So it’s going to be bum, bum bum. Bum, Bum bum. Okay?

KATIE: So it sounds like its own thing when it’s played alone.

MIKE: Yes, yep. Here it is:

[Mike drums a quarter note on beat two, two eighth notes on beat four]

Okay? Remember your part? Play me your part.

KATIE: One [hits drum on one], two, three [hits drum on three], four.

MIKE: Right. So here we go now. You ready? One, two, ready, play.

[Katie plays a quarter note on one, Mike plays a quarter note on two, Katie plays a quarter note on three, Mike plays two eighth notes on four. Katie fumbles on the fourth round. Mike and Katie laugh.]

Let’s try it again, okay?

KATIE: Okay.

MIKE: One, two, ready, play.

[Katie plays a quarter note on one, Mike plays a quarter note on two, Katie plays a quarter note on three, Mike plays two eighth notes on four. This continues for several rounds]

Four, three, two, one, stop. Great job, fist bump!

KATIE: Thank you.

MIKE: The reason this works is—there’re a couple of things. What we discovered in trying to play this exercise and as we learned it, we learned, you know, that we have these two ideas that are separate ideas that we now try to do at the same time, or do together. But we’re also both—we’re working with each other, but we’re actually working for that pulse.

So when that pulse happens—and it always does—it’s called locking in, you know? That’s what we calling it in music, locking in. We’ve got to lock in with the beat. So once we lock in and this thing starts to self-propel itself, then it becomes musical, you know? Then we’re experiencing a—we’ve made music.

Now the really cool thing about this exercise—and I’ve done this exercise for nine years now, working with all sorts of populations doing drum circles—it’s the greatest experience when this lightbulb goes off and they’re playing together and everybody’s kind of doing this thing in time. And what I think is really great—what happens then is all of a sudden, these two people that didn’t necessarily get along with each other before are now sitting here and they’re playing this beat together and it’s feeling good, and it’s making music and they’re smiling, and the best thing is now they look at each other and go, “You know, you’re not so bad after all.”

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