Updated: Nov 17, 2020
If you aren't singing the blues in your Musical Play – here is why you should start.
Babies and young children naturally groove to the jazzy scale of the blues – making it an important music genre in your Musical Play. Babies and young children respond to the use of the “Blues Scale” and the use of echo songs that are a natural part of singing and playing the blues.
If parents aren’t sure of how we use the blues, the first song “Bop it in the Rocket” on my CD “Bop it in the Rocket” is a great musical example of how we this use minor blues scale with echo and nonsense words (scat).
The babies in our Musical Play classes really get into the groove of singing, moving and communicating when we come to the blues section of our Musical Play. Often a baby will take over the singing using shrieks, squeals, singing clear musical notes and showing obvious pride when we all copy his/her sounds. We sing this song using the babbling sounds of young babies and they quickly start joining in with their own movements and sounds. We sing the blues echoing the babies. They show enjoyment of the repetition, predictability and emotional quality of the blues.
The blues originated from African Americans and has played a huge part in American Music history and in many of our pop songs. The blues helped the singers to express a wide range of emotions – to move and sing about their experiences, to draw comfort and inspiration from these songs. Many of the pop songs we enjoy have been inspired by the blues.
When a parent and their child get into the swing of communication this leads to wonderful singing, moving, turn taking that resembles the singing and taking of parts of Jazz musicians. This bluesy singing and playing has strong rhythmic and melodic elements.
The baby or young child might take the lead as conductor. The parent copies the sounds and gestures of the child. This reinforces what he baby is offering and gives vital feedback which helps the child to develop a strong sense of self and pride in their musical offerings. This turn taking is the beginning of communication. What is happening is a kind of musical sound game between two musical people: parent and child enjoying every moment of their blues games. There is a real sense of structure – waiting, watching, listening, appreciating, turn taking and feeling the emotional bonds of connection.
Trevarthen says that even a newborn can take the lead in the earliest “conversations” between mother and child. Although the infant’s sounds have no semantic meaning they are conversational in terms of the exchange of sounds and gestures. To quote the words of the well-known song by Irving Mill and Duke Ellington: “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.”
With our older children 3 years and upwards we use the blues scale using a range of props, so that they can see, hear and feel the pitches (notes) and start to use elements of this scale in their own play.
A grandmother showed me a video of her grandson listening to “Teddy Bear Blues” track 4 from my CD “Swing Me A Song”. He kept dancing and singing along. When the song stopped, he would put it on again on his IPad. She said he had been practising his dance moves every day with the repeated song and she could hear him singing snatches of the blues in his everyday play.
I quote a seven year old from my after school music class who was dancing and singing his own words: “I really, really, really love to sing the Blues, and I like wearing my blue suede shoes”.
- Originally published by Julie Wylie, 27 May 2016
Bjorkvold, J.R. (1989) The Muse Within. Harper Collins. New York
Trevarthen, Colwyn 1988) “Infants Trying to Talk: How a Child Invites Communication from the Human World.” In Ragnhild Soderbergh, ed. Children’s Creative Communication. Lund and Kent.