Last Thursday I had the pleasure of teaching music to a room full of three- and four-year olds. There's an art to this, no pun intended. The songs work best when they're sequenced in a particular order, and when you do certain things to make them more appealing.
Because there's a lot riding on these songs, we usually choose them carefully. A lot of nursery rhymes and fun play songs work best. But as I prepared my set list for the class, it got me thinking.
Why are these songs so great? Because on one level, they don't seem "great" at all. They're ridiculously simple, often repetitive, sometimes even carbon copies of other melodies with new words.
If I was a parent or the average person on the street, I'd be thinking: "Why use these songs when there are so many more high quality songs available? Today, we have the entire world of music at our fingertips...continents full of them. Surely even a Led Zepplin song would be more interesting than 'Good Night, Ladies.'"
I understand that viewpoint, and the only reason I don't agree with it is because I teach these classes and I have a different perspective on music. These simple kids' songs are very good songs, in fact. I'd even call them powerful.
In fact, they're not songs at all. They are to other songs what recipes are to literature. Kids' songs are recipes.
In a recipe, the meaning of the words, the style and content, is secondary to their aim: the dish being created. For kids' songs, the result is not a dish, but a learning relationship between adult and child (or child and child) that is fun and nurturing. These songs are special in that, when done right, they produce powerful understanding in a child.
What does "done right" mean? Like any good recipe, a skilled musician-teacher must be paying attention to the children as the song is sung, making sure they can feel and see the structure of it, and can participate with movement, props and their own voices. The result of the interaction will be three minutes in which the child is fully engaged and is discovering something about how they move, how they sing, or how they sequence information (think counting songs).
To judge a children's song by any other standard is to do it a disservice. They are deceptively simple. They are what they need to be to create the best results: a high-quality learning interaction.
Do you have comments? Need clarification? What do you think?