I feel like the luckiest person in the world when performing a Debbie and Friends concert. Last weekend, my trio had the great honor to perform for 300+ kids, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends at the Needham Public Library in Needham, MA. It was an incredibly moving experience! Everyone was singing and clapping and making music together. Here is a link to some pictures from the day.

Music is important part of a child’s development, and sharing a musical experience provides a powerful bonding connection between parent and child.

I really do feel lucky to be able to share in those musical experiences with children and their families through Debbie and Friends!

Those of you involved in music for young children, please share your experiences here.

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Roger H. Brown, President of Berklee College of Music, shares his thoughts on the importance of music for child development, cultural awareness, communication, and family connections.

BNL for Kids

May 07 2008

Everybody’s doing it. Crossing over to the kid’s music scene seems to be a right of passage these days for rockers with a toddler or two at home. Dan Zanes (formerly of the Del Fuegos), They Might Be Giants, and many others have made the leap. On May 6, the Barenaked Ladies joined the fray and released their debut children’s record, “Snacktime.”

“Our collective kids now outnumber the band more than 2 to 1,” explains vocalist/guitarist Ed Robertson. “We set out to make a record that would be entertaining for them…not strictly a children’s record, but a record that children would really enjoy. Making the focus about what our kids like was a truly liberating process and fun for the whole band.”

Here’s a music video based on their kid’s song entitled “7, 8, 9.”

I’m a big fan of BNL and also of high-quality music for children. To me, this album represents the best of both!

Not on the Test!

Mar 14 2008

For students and parents who may be stressed out over testing, here’s a lullaby for the times. Grammy Award-winning children’s artist Tom Chapin offers the “Not on the Test” song and video to raise awareness about the importance of music education in all classrooms and to express concern about what is missing from American public education. “Not on the Test,” with music and lyrics by Chapin and his long-time collaborator John Forster, and produced by PST Records, can be downloaded at www.notonthetest.com.

Additional information and advocacy links can be found here.

As a children’s musician I have the wonderful opportunity to share music with kids and their families. We sing, dance, laugh and have a great time making music together. The songs we sing are songs I wrote and before these songs see the light of day, I run them though a 10-point kid-tested checklist and do rewrites accordingly. The 10-point check list came from studying the music of wonderful children’s artists who came before such as Shari Lewis and Buffalo Bob Smith. Also from listening to and attending shows of today’s great children’s artists including Bob McGrath of Sesame-Street fame, Steve Songs, Ralph’s World, Dan Zanes, Vanessa Trien, and many others. The items in this 10-point checklist fall into two main categories: Child Development Considerations and also Music and Production Considerations.

10-Point Kid-tested Checklist

1. Vocal Range and Melodic Intervals

2. Tempo

3. Age-appropriate Skills

4. Language

5. Message

6. Active Participation

7. Song Quality

8. Recording Quality

9. Arrangement

10. Diversity in Style

Child Development Considerations

1. Vocal Range and Melodic Intervals: When writing music for children it’s important to remember that a natural, comfortable range for a young child’s voice is from middle C to G (a perfect fifth above). This range can be extended by a few notes on either end as a child goes from preschool into the primary grades.

In addition to the vocal range, the melodic intervals should be appropriate for the target audience. Does the melody move largely by step or by leap? Are the intervals natural for children to sing—such as the minor third—or unnatural such as a tritone. Of course, a tritone may have its place in a song, but it’s important to be mindful of the challenge and make the rest of the melodic intervals accessible whenever possible.

2. Tempo: A resting heartbeat for a young child is faster than that of an adult. The normal rate is 70 to 90 beats per minute in adults, and 90 to 120 in children. Therefore, songs that an adult would perceive as up tempo might feel more like medium tempo to a young child. This is an important consideration when developing music for a specific energy level.

3. Age-appropriate Skills: Five-year olds know the concept of opposites and can rhyme; two-year olds typically can’t, but they love to make the Itsy Bitsy Spider go up the waterspout with their fingers. Be sure to challenge and engage your audience with opportunities for active participation that address the appropriate skill level for the developing child. Child development publications are helpful resources for this information.

4. Language: Is the vocabulary appropriate for the age-range of the children?

5. Message: Is there a moral to the story or is it nonsensical (both have their place in children’s music). For songs with a value-based message, how will you set that up in the song and then reinforce the message?

6. Active Participation: Children’s music is all about actively engaging kids from start to finish. Are there singing and movement parts for them to do throughout the form? How will you keep them actively engaged in a meaningful way throughout each song for an entire set?

Music and Production Considerations

7. Song Quality: Kids songs should be comprised of the same high-quality standards expected from any other genre.

8. Recording Quality: Give the families who listen to your music the same production values in your recordings as you’d expect from your own favorite recording artists.

9. Arrangement: Do the song sections build? Is there an ebb and flow to the piece? Is the instrumentation interesting and appropriate? Are there hooks and surprises along the way? Where are the memorable moments in the song?

10. Diversity in Style: Stylistically, for a children’s music composer, the world is your oyster. You can write in whatever style is best suited for a given song. It’s not uncommon for a children’s CD to have pop, rock, swing, folk, show-style, and more. Experiment with style. Kids love it!

That’s it!

The true test, of course, is in the actual sharing of songs with children. If they don’t like it… you will know right away! Children are brutally and beautifully honest. If they do connect with your music… you’ll know that right away, too!

Rewriting is the name of the game with songwriting, especially when writing music for children. Keep refining your music to the 10-point checklist and test it out in live performance. When it’s “just right” you’ll know!