A Chat with Ann Kay about Music and Literacy, Part 1

Introduction

Here is the Crescendo Music Education Podcast – Episode 48. In this episode, you get to listen to Ann Kay, in part one of our chat together, listen to the things that she is doing to promote music education, to help teachers, music teachers and classroom teachers to develop musical fitness with our children to help build literacy, about developing the skills not just having music as an experience, or as entertainment, which of course, we know musics great for an experience and for entertainment.

But if you’re listening to this, I’m thinking you’re most likely invested in music education in some form, and that you see the value of developing the skills and all of the great positive development that happens with music education, delivered continuously and sequentially. Anyway, look, you’re going to love listening to Ann Kay, sit back and relax. Though you might want to take notes too. That’s okay. Do all of those things just enjoy this episode.

About ‘Read the Episode’: Sometimes, we would rather skim visually than listen to a podcast! That’s a great way to learn too! The transcript of episode 048 of The Crescendo Music Education Podcast is below.


Welcoming Ann Kay!

Debbie
Hello, welcome to the Crescendo Music Education Podcast Ann Kay, it is lovely to have you on the podcast. I’m going to start by reading your short bio. I’ve had a read. It’s a great bio, but it is only short. I’m sure you could write reams on all of these little points, but I do appreciate having a nice short bio. Give everyone a snapshot. Yep, good.

Ann Kay’s Biography

Debbie
Okay, eight years ago she co-founded the Rock ‘n’ Read project, a Minnesota nonprofit dedicated to “using singing to unlock children’s potential for reading”. She makes presentations and teaches courses for preschool and elementary classroom teachers and recently wrote A Song a Day: Brain Prep for Pre-Readers – 50 sequenced lessons that use singing and music making to enable children’s auditory processing critical for proficient reading.

Formerly, she was an elementary music teacher, choir director and instructor of music teachers. She founded directed and taught in the Kodaly Certification Program at the University of St. Thomas for 18 summers, and serves as Associate Director of Graduate Music Education. Wow, that is such a fabulous bio. Okay, before we go on. And as I said, it’s so brief, there’s so much that I want to ask you about, but is there anything you want to add to that? Before we go on?


Ann Kay
I think you said served, hopefully served, since the mid 2000s I’ve been working with classroom teachers. And you know, I left working with music teachers. So and the latest thing that I’m working on is I’m working with legislators here in the state of Minnesota in the USA, to put a bill in for a state funded what I call musical fitness program. And I have many legislators interested and I have one that will offer the bill. And whether we put it in this session or next session, he’s behind it, the idea that all children would be musically fit by age five.


Debbie
I love that idea of fitness, because it’s well, any sort of fitness, it needs to be regular. It needs to be effective, it needs to be well done. You know, you don’t just get on a treadmill and exhaust yourself for two hours, then do nothing for the next six months. Do you?


Ann Kay
I love that , it’s got to be regular. Yes. And you have to develop the brains and bodies skills. So it’s not an experience or just entertainment. No, no, no, it is skills. We have to build those skills, but we have to build those brain skills early. So that’s what I’m working on whether it gets done this , the legislature just started up, they’ll be done in May. And then you know, we may have to wait till next session, but I’m building the support.


Debbie
That sounds fabulous. Now not knowing much about the American political structure and system. Apart from the big sensational things we’d get on the news here, what happens if you get this bill passed? What happens then what does that actually mean to practice?

Musical Fitness: What It Is & Links to Literacy


Ann Kay
So the idea would be, that’s what I’m still shaping, the idea that we would get the brain science to parents and care providers and preschool teachers so we can talk about that a little later what the brain science is, the new brain science and most parents don’t know how the brain processes sound, how the brain processes sound is highly correlated with reading achievement, who knew? So when you know, we don’t do music to raise reading. We do music for all sorts of reasons. But wouldn’t we, as music educators be interested in? What does that actually do in the brain? And so that’s what I follow. What is music making doing in the brain? Is it creating a different brain? And my answer looking at the sciences, yes.

And that brain is more able than other brains that never developed music competence. So I’m calling it musical fitness. Because, well, 60 years ago, there was a Dr. Hans Kraus, and he was an orthopedic surgeon in New York and he had imigrated from Italy. And what he found was, he came up with a physical fitness test, a very easy one, basic physical fitness test. They gave it to all these children and they found that hundreds of children here and in Europe, and they found that the US kids were not fit, not flexible, maybe only 50% of them and the European kids are pretty fit. Well, it was the 1950s and guess what, that was the Cold War.

And our government was concerned about I’m assuming going to war, and that we didn’t have a fit population. Well, his studies got the got the attention of Eisenhower, who was president at the time, and Eisenhower established the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, youth actually, Youth Fitness. That was it. And then under John F. Kennedy, President Kennedy who followed Eisenhower, they launched the US Physical Fitness Program.

Now when I grew up, I was fairly active and fit. And actually, I became a competitive tennis player, in addition to a musician, but it was thought that you had a special gift or talent, if you were pursuing a sport, those people were just specially talented. No one really knew that exercise was good for our health and well being. So 60 years later, we still have that Presidential Council, we launched that huge thing. Everything changed. The school started this US Physical Fitness Program, and it had exercises, exercises, people were like, what, huh? So now we don’t even question you ask people on the street with a microphone, you know, well, is exercise good for your health? And they go well, of course.


Debbie
Of course.


Ann Kay
Now, I have another question for you. Is music making good for your health and well being and brain development?


Debbie
Yes, my answer is yes.


Ann Kay
They’d say No, I didn’t get that special gift or talent. The same we used to say 60 years ago about physical exercise. So I thought, Well, hey, if they had a very simple physical fitness test, how about we have a very simple musical test? On children? Yeah. So that’s, that’s really the basis of it.


Debbie
That is fabulous. Because I know we have spoken in the past before, about there’ll be some people possibly listening to this, because I know I’ve had conversations with them. And I know that you are quite aligned with my opinion in this one. There are some people who might be thinking, we should have music, for its intrinsic value. Music is valuable, we should not have to argue that it’s good for anything else. And I can see their point. Music. I agree. Totally intrinsically valuable right.


Ann Kay
Yes. So is math, so is reading, so is whatever.


Debbie
Exactly. So that’s not going to be enough to help convince systems and people in power. And people who don’t feel they have any musical in air quotes, talent themselves, or who may be in fear of music, or maybe have been told you can’t sing. You know, for whatever reasons, those people that do not see the value of music, what is wrong with pointing out all of these other great benefits? We’re not saying that should be the only reason you do it. But good heavens, what great byproducts these are.

Byproducts of Learning Music


Ann Kay
Exactly byproducts. People use music for so many reasons, entertainment, regulating our emotions, socialisation, and there are 10 zillion reasons we make music and every culture makes music. What goes on in the brain, when we make music is my total fascination. And I’m in communication with brain scientists. So that, to me, is driving everything. And I’m also in communication with top reading people in the US. And the big thing here, the big debate here right now, huge debate about reading instruction.

They just keep saying the science of reading. Well, you know what that is? It’s the science of brain development for reading. So why wouldn’t we as music educators be interested in these researchers who are looking at the actual connections. The electrical connections are the chemistry of when you make music. What actually happens in the brain?

This is the total new science. It’s brain science that we didn’t have those tools 10 years ago, maybe even to assess that. Why wouldn’t we want to know what’s happening in the brain? And then the ancillary things like, Well, is it correlated with anything else other than just music making? You know? So? That’s kind of it? Yeah. And I know a lot of people aren’t going to agree with me. That’s all right.


Debbie
No, I think most people will agree 100%. But I’m just I was just sort of playing a bit of devil’s advocate, because in the past, I have had some discussions with people saying, well, no, we shouldn’t need to use this. But you are. I’m 100%. With you, all of these great things.


Ann Kay
Later, I know we’re going to talk about advocacy, I’m going to tell you, nothing in this country, the US has worked, it hasn’t worked. We’re still in danger. We’re in danger of losing music, music specialists. And so it’s not worked whatever advocacy. So I have a whole different suggestion about advocacy.


Debbie
Ooh do you.


Ann Kay
Later on in the interview?


Debbie
Oh, okay. No, I want to know, we have to skip the whole interview and get to that now. No there’s too many good things to talk about first. Before we leave your journey as a music educator, what would you say would be a highlight or highlights and I’m imagining, one of them will be when you first sort of came across the brain science type element of what you’re doing.

I’d be pretty sure that would be a fairly important part of your journey. But don’t let me put words into your mouth. What would you say would be a highlight or highlights. Off you go.

Highlights of Ann Kay’s Career in Music Education


Ann Kay
The number one highlight of my career as a music educator, hands down, it’s teaching children music, teaching children. I still teach a little bit, you know, because my granddaughters are two and five. So we, you know, informally, I’m teaching them music. I taught until the pandemic, kindergarten once a week, a kindergarten music class, and first and second grade choir I was conducting. And then I just couldn’t keep teaching online. It’s just too hard for me.

So I re-retired that, but absolutely, I’ve always felt that I just love, I just love teaching children music. I mean, I get high, I mean I pump those endorphins, oxytocin, I know the dopamine, it goes doo doo doo doo. I have a childlike part that just adores that. And so that’s number one. And then helping spread the Kodaly approach. I have an Orff certificate, I have a Kodaly certificate, I have two levels of Dalcroze. But I chose the Kodaly approach to bring to Minnesota because it wasn’t here. So by doing that, I believe that structuring the sequencing of skill development is important and that’s the best approach I could find for that.

And so that I taught 18 summers, teachers and directed that program that’s still going strong at St. Thomas, part of the master’s program here in town. Then the third thing would be founding the Rock ‘N’ Read project, because that’s when we started looking at the whole thing about brain development. And that’s eight years ago, and I really, totally shifted in my view of what classroom teachers could do.

So that’s the, you know, leaving the teaching of the music teachers, and realising that if I want to reach all children, I’ve got to reach their classroom teachers and their parents. So those are probably the highlights.


Debbie
Oh, that’s amazing. And I so hear you, because now that I am getting a little older. You get to a certain age and you look at retirement, and some people even start asking, oh, what are your plans? And I’m thinking, Well, I’m not, I’m getting more joy from teaching the children than I have ever received. I do not want to stop. I love it.


Ann Kay
Why would we? Why should we? I think retirement was invented. We call it refirement. Because refirement, you know firing up about something else. Maybe you maybe you retire from active full time music teaching in elementary, but maybe you volunteer over the private, you know, Montessori school or something, you know, I mean, there are many ways to work with children.


Debbie
Yes, true. I love that, refirement. I love that. But I still think there is something special about having your own school and I’m lucky I’ve only got one. I’m not on a circuit, but one school, all of those children. And I watch them develop over the years. You know, it’s magic. But anyway, I’m not getting down about that. I’m just enjoying the ride. But it’s lovely. I do think they are fabulous highlights. Wonderful.

Can we get onto gratitude. Who do you think has influenced you? For what are you greatful? I just like asking this question of all of the people I speak to, to get just a little insight into that part of your life.

Ann Kay’s List of Gratitude


Ann Kay
So I had to make a list. Because, you know, there’s so much. As we get older and retire from some things, and refire up about other things, I have a life I absolutely love both personal and professional. And every New Year’s we just, New Year’s rolls around, I pick new being or it’s how I’m going to be in the new year, I don’t pick I don’t write affirmations. So last year was flexible, attentive and magnetic. So out of that I got a lot done last year.

I love my life and I’m caring somewhat from my mom who’s still living independently with her husband. She’s 96 and she was a competitive tennis player. And so I then also became a competitive tennis player. I competed in high school and college and as an adult, and now I’m just playing, I’m not competing. But so she taught me that, you know, life can be long, and I expect to live over 100. And I expect to keep working and how that worked. Many of my friends who are music teachers say, keep going, I don’t have time to do what you’re doing.

So I have this huge mantle, I feel on my shoulders. It’s not weighing me down but they’re like, go, go, go. We don’t have time to to advocate, I just met with the Public Policy Director for Americans for the Arts. It’s a national group and I said I have a completely different suggestion for you. And he said, We’ve got to keep talking. So music teachers don’t have time to advocate like that. So I represent a lot of, to me wonderful music teachers, and they’re out there like you working day in and day out, who’s going to change the system for us? Voila that would be me.

So I am incredibly grateful for the music teachers I had, I started piano at six, my mother called up the University of Minnesota and said, Yeah, something unusual, different. Not the neighborhood piano teacher. Not that there was anything wrong with the neighborhood piano teacher, but she took me over for the Guy Duckworth system, and it was a woman in her 40’s who had come back to school to get a piano ped degree Master’s.

And she needed a guinea pig group. So I was a guinea pig in a wonderful approach. And then those kids stopped taking piano a couple of years later, and I kept going as an individual. But I was her first student ever. And then she passed away. So I realised, oh my gosh, looking back now all these decades, I felt I was handed a mantle there to continue. And at 14 I wrote a paper for class saying I was going to be a piano teacher. I was never a piano teacher.

But I love teaching elementary music and started teaching kids in high school and I’m so greatful for her. Her name was Virginia Hanscom, and I loved my lessons with her and I went on to her teacher and I won the state piano contest. Who knew? But I’m not actively playing anymore. Because there’s so many other things we need to do in life. So I’m so greatful to her, and my other teachers. And then of course, my choir directors and then my Kodaly mentors sisters Lorna Zemke and Lamar Robertson, you may know them, of course.


Debbie
I know their names. I don’t know them.


Ann Kay
Oh okay. And they’re still both alive and they’re 89 years old. And I talk to them regularly and zoom with them. We get excited together online about the things I’m doing and they give me advice. And then of course, my Orff mentors, who would be Jane Frazee and Arvida Steen.

I’m so greatful. I mean, I would not be who I am without them. So we build on the legacy of others. And a lot of what I do is not creative at all. It’s taking what I already learned from another and tweaking it or looking at it in a new light.


Debbie
Yes, but I would argue that that’s creative. So that you are creating.


Ann Kay
Well sister Lorna Zemke told me once, you know, she is a sister. No, it’s all been created. I said, Well, you know, for a child, it’s something new when they create something. So I’ll look at that as creativity. I’m very interested in creativity. In fact, my master’s approach was on creativity and composing in the classroom with children. Yeah, well, so those would be what I’m really greatful for. Of course, two granddaughters, you know, two kids, two granddaughters and family.

All About Rock ‘n’ Read: Sing Today – Read Forever!


Debbie
That’s lovely. I love it. Okay, now, I want to get into this Rock ‘n’ Read now. I do love your camera positioning. Those of you who are just listening, this will be on YouTube eventually. So Hi if you’re on YouTube, but if you’re just listening over your shoulder there is your little logo very cleverly with a note in the side of the book. Yes. Rock ‘n’ Read, it’s the tagline that I like, sing today – read forever. Very clever.


Ann Kay
Yeah, yeah, that wasn’t mine. I didn’t create that, a person we hired actually to rebrand our logo, came up with it. And I said that was worth the whole payment. Because I love it. Sing today – read forever.


Debbie
Yeah. So tell us all about Rock ‘n’ Read, eight years ago, you said you started it?


Ann Kay
Yep. Well, in actually in 2008, I discovered a singing software called Singing Coach to improve your singing. I called the company and I said, Hey, teachers don’t even know about this, this would be really helpful for assessment. So you have see a line for your voice and you get your voice in it. And at the end of singing a song, up comes a score out of 100. And you sing it again, to get a better score. It’s great. It’s just highly motivating.

And so I had my sister in law, buy it. And I said, What do you think? She said, This is great. So I called up the company, they sent me 25 free copies. And I know a lot of music teachers. So we got together and we launched the great American singing challenge. With the idea of getting all children singing in tune. And so they decided, well, we’re going to use this as an assessment tool, because you get a score.

We’ll go pre and post in the fall and in the spring, and I said send me your scores. And so they wrote down all their third grade scores, and we used My Country Tis of Thee, because it’s got a small range, and most kids know it and they sent me all these scores. So I was travelling all around getting people to do this. And the company made it free for all these music teachers to use it.

But what they discovered, the guy who invented this, or he had somebody write the software. He’s a businessman down in Tampa, Florida. And he played bass in a band, but he couldn’t sing in tune, and it always really bothered him that he couldn’t sing. So he said to a friend, the software guy, can you write me a software program, and I could see a line from my voice, I bet I could learn to sing in tune. By gosh, he did.

And then they did an all call at their company that said bad singers wanted. And people came in and they said, you know, sing with this and they got a pre score. Then they came back six weeks later, you know practiced with it. You know just folk songs and patriotic songs and old pop songs that they didn’t have to pay much for and they came back and this one little girl had done it. This Mum had brought in her daughter.

And she had jumped up in reading. So the guy who invented this Carlo Franzblau said, wow. So it’s obviously working to improve people’s singing, because the scores would go up phenomenally after six weeks of using this thing, but what about that? Wow, could it have anything to do with reading? Weird. And so he went to the University of South Florida, and he found Dr. Susan Homan, and she said she would do a little research study about it. And there have been four or five controlled research studies done about it. On average, kids go up about one year in 14 hours of singing songs repeatedly, singing and reading songs over and over.

So they listen to the song three times, you know, hot cross buns, hot cross buns, and then the person’s singing goes away. But the the accompaniment is still there, the melodies still there. And then the child has to read or sing the words, five times, and they get rewarded for singing better, in tune in rhythm. So kids go up, 14 hours is one year. Wow, I mean that’s phenomenal. I don’t think there’s another intervention for struggling readers out there that has that kind of thing. So that was a surprise to them, they refocused their whole company and the Singing Coach thing is gone now. They made it into Tune Into Reading, which is an intervention for struggling readers.

So we found out about this. And in 2014, we decided, well, let’s get this going. In Minnesota, we bought an old retired city bus, my partner and I paid for it. He built it into a mobile computer lab. And we went to schools in the summer and YMCA in the summer and kids sang with this thing in the summer, well, we saw a half a year gain in 10 hours on the program on average. And I thought, wow, this is great. So we went to the legislature.

And over time, we got $600,000. And we did it in 2500 kids in 25 schools and our data, we hired a data analysts it affirmed the research that was already there. Now here’s the bad thing. We can’t get schools to use it. They’re so busy. And there is I think there still is a belief gap even when they look at the data about their own students. You know, how could just singing songs, raise reading? Well, I don’t know any any other intervention that would claim that in 14 hours, your kid’s gonna go up a level, a year in reading.

So anyway, we’ve gone away from that, because what that says to me that that really sparked my quest about brain research and Dr. Nina Kraus at Northwestern University has been doing brain research on sound processing for decades, and just published a book called Of Sound Mind. And it’s really a good read. And what she’s saying is the brains that process sound well, she can predict at three years old, that this child is going to struggle with reading, by the way they process sound in her lab.

So we’ve refocused Rock ‘n’ Read now on early childhood, you know, I mean, it’s late second through fifth graders. I mean, they’re, you know, they’re 7 through 10 years old. That’s, that’s the old brain. Why don’t we work with a young brain. And so we now offer a course for teachers in using singing games, to practice, then you learn the singing game, and then you tweak it, to practice letter sounds, sight words, whatever. Then we also, we’re piloting a song a day brain prep, those 50 lessons you mentioned.

And I hope to do a research study that would look at the brains processing pre and post those lessons. Because we think that those lessons are developing auditory processing, auditory memory, phonological awareness, and beat synchronisation. So all music teachers would love to hear that the research out of number of labs says if a child can’t keep a steady beat, they are most likely going to struggle with reading, and classroom teachers hear that they’re like, What?


Debbie
But whereas we know, as someone who’s basically been in a music classroom for about 40 years, I can have a prep class like my four year olds come in, we’re doing an activity, you could actually ask me, and I’m not magic. I’m just saying just with a bit of experience, and many music teachers I know, I think you could say, teach this class for half an hour.

And at the end of half an hour, point out who you think is struggling or will struggle academically, you can pick them, they’re the children that aren’t keeping in time, that don’t have that coordination, that are struggling to match your pitch. They just stand out. You can go yes, I can tell 1,2,3,4. Yes, you’re probably struggling in all areas of school.

I mean, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I’m you. I’m just saying in our heads we can see these kids, and it’s almost always right. So like we know instinctively that there are correlations, but knowing instinctively and from experience is not enough. We need that research behind us.

The Research Behind Music and Literacy


Ann Kay
So most kindergarten teachers, with five year olds would tell you the same thing. Within a couple of weeks of the child arriving at school, we started at five or some are six, when they start kindergarten, they will say, Oh, these are the children they’re going to struggle with reading I can tell already. And then they will tell you that the interventions don’t work.


Debbie
Yes.


Ann Kay
By and large. The research that I’ve found is that if a child is struggling with learning to read at first grade, only 10% will ever catch up to their peers. 10%. We know that’s brain development, teachers are teaching that they can’t retain it, they can’t process it. There’s something going on in here. They’re not necessarily learning disabled, but they’re not enabled in some way that the other kids are. What if that’s auditory processing?

Well, reading teachers will tell you all we know that phonological awareness is really important when they’re not really teaching it. So you can develop phonological processing.


Debbie
But they don’t know how to develop it?


Ann Kay
They don’t know how so that the key to reading is auditory processing and the primary way of developing it is music making and developing musical skills. So I sometimes say to classroom teachers, okay, go back to your third grade classroom. You know, they’re taking my course and have your kids close their eyes so they can’t imprint visually, right?

Gotta be auditory, have them hold two hands on their laps Twinkle, twinkle little star and this kid how I wonder what you are, that kid that is going between the beat and the rhythm and is very confused. That’s a struggling reader. And they go no that couldn’t be. They come back for the next class is anybody trying it? And half my kids can’t keep the underlying beat.

And how many are struggling readers? Over half? I said, it’s not a magic pill. But the brain that can’t go tick, tick, tick. Do you know, Debbie, we are the only, no for a long time, we thought we were the only species that could keep a steady beat. Now they know it’s cockatoos, and elephants, and maybe sea lions that can be trained to hear music, and keep that pulse. Wow. And we’re the only species that creates music.

We’re the only species that read. And contrary to what people think about the brain, those are separate. Howard Gardner’s frames of mind was wrong, they aren’t separate, they are interconnected, and in many ways, the same neural networks between those areas. So if brain research or brain science tells us, Oh, these are interlocking and inter woven networks, it makes perfect sense that a brain that can keep a steady beat, clap the rhythm of the words, hear a pitch and discern this one is higher or lower, or sing in tune, is going to be a better reader, because their inner related parts of the brain, they’re not separate.

And so we have to shoot some of those myths. Oh, music is a separate gift or talent. It’s over here. No, that is not true. Oh, I’m right brain. I’m left brain. Really? Did you have a lobotomy? I mean, come on. What are we talking about? So I don’t talk about the brain is ,the brain is very complex. But we should look to science to find out what is happening in a musical brain and why is it different? And why is it helpful? The physical fitness program I’m advocating here that we’re creating I partnered with early childhood organisations, because they’ve already got a network, they’ve already got the context.

So then I want to develop the communication to these parents. I travel around with a teddy bear van. They’re all people like me. And they’re, they’re just great. They got lots of CDs, they’re just great. They’re like Fred Rogers, or they’re just, they’re very fun. And they sing folk songs, and we dance and I, and then they let me talk to parents.

And I say, did you know I’m here with the latest neuroscience? Did you know that your kids if they have basic music skills, they’re going to be better readers? The eyes on the parents say, they go like Whoa, what is she talking about? I said, it’s not rocket science. Have your child pat the beat? Not just listen to songs, not just listen to music? Can the child pat along with the beat, two hands on the lap? Can they clap the rhythm the way the words go? Oh, I don’t know.

Well ask them, you know, the parent is, you know, and then the surrogate parent, which is the preschool teacher, we need to get them strategies. So I’m going to probably develop strategies, the song a day is going to be probably kindergarten intervention. I’d like to call it prevention. You know, preparing the brain for reading.


Debbie
Yes, I’ve got sort of a one of the many UFOs as I call them, my unfinished objects that I have, I have all these UFOs in my computer. But one of the concepts, one of the things I’d love to do is and start at my own school, of course, because I’m there, and to have, of course, the music lessons with me, but to get daily music into, and of course, start at our lower grades and move up if I can. And my little name for this and if anyone else is listening, I’m copyrighting this name. Do not steal it. Okay, if anyone else is listening, I want to call mine a literacy boost.


Ann Kay
Oh, I’m writing that down.


Debbie
I’ll sue Rock ‘n’ Read, no just joking.


Ann Kay
Literacy boost, I like it!


Debbie
Because that’s what it would be. It would be all of the well being things they would be singing together. And like you said, all those endorphins that we talked about, get released when we sing with children. They get it when they’re singing with each other. We know that.


Ann Kay
Oh yeah. So when I teach the classroom teachers they get happier.


Debbie
Yes. Exactly.


Ann Kay
The teacher.


Debbie
It’s like win, win, win isn’t it.


Ann Kay
It is and even the ones who say I can’t sing? I say just they don’t care. No, you’re gonna be their rock star. It doesn’t matter, though. They’ll sing anyway.


Debbie
Yes so I would really love to do that.


Ann Kay
That’s the thing, we have to think we don’t have to, but I always think, well, Why do I want to do it? I remember when I first started teaching the Kodaly course in Minnesota, and teachers would totally argue with me. They would not use soul fish. No, no numbers, children know numbers. That’s why 1,2,3,4,5. I said, stop, stop. Okay. Let me just ask you a couple questions about that. In the numbering system three to four is a whole step.

You know, it’s a whole integer, but in the auditory system three to four, step three to four is a smaller interval, a half step, but if you use numbers you’re acting like it’s a whole step. Yeah, it works for numbers, but it doesn’t work for sounds, because it’s not true. They’re not equal distance. And they would go get all, they would get all puzzled. I said, Listen, just go back to your K-5 classrooms, your elementary school, just take one first grade class, you got two or three first grade classes, just take one and try out the soul fish.

And they would come back next summer. I’d say, Oh, you’re back for level two. What happened? Oh, my gosh, it was so much better. So I’ve always said, Well, I didn’t learn that growing up. But the question we must always ask really is what is best for the child? Not what is best for me? Of course, we’re gonna do what’s best for us, right? No, we have to ask. And so if it’s best for the child, though, the best thing for the child is singing their whole day away.

Well, they only get to see the music teacher once a week in Minneapolis Public Schools. What once a week they get to eat. When I say that people go, What are you talking about? music making, once a week, they get to eat, once a week, they get to eat music, they get to think in music with the music specialist.

And the other days, there’s no music making going on maybe the music, she plays the teacher, he plays some music or something. I’m like this is not okay. I mean, I even look at it as it’s neglect of children.


Debbie
Yes, yes. No, I would go that far.


Ann Kay
I call it neglect. Knowing what I know about the brain. So if we know these things, how can we get those children? So I’ve heard people say, Well, if they’re doing that in the classroom, then they think they won’t need the music teacher? Absolutely not. They the teachers that take our course go, oh, my gosh, we just had one go to the school board and say, based on all of that we’re doing, they don’t have music specialist in the kindergarten, we need every kindergarten teacher taking this course, singing every day.

And we we need to hire music specialists for the kinders. So it’s contrary to what many music teachers are fearful of, well, if they’re singing and making music in the classroom, then they don’t think they need music teachers. No, no, they think they need them more. So I asked what’s the best for the child? And then let’s get it to them. I can’t get into them teaching them twice a week.


Debbie
No, that’s right. And we’ve got situations here in Australia without making comment on specific states. But we have many schools in our country that do not have access to a music specialist at all. And even the ones that have music specialists, a lot of that has been cut back.

So they may have a term like a quarter of a year or a half a year, every two years, you know, it’s been cut right back, and those that have no music, maybe if they’re lucky, they have a sort of an incursion, or an immersion, you know, they’ll have a guest come in and do like something wonderful on top of the program like the orchestra, they might get to see.

The Importance of Singing Every Day for Literacy


Ann Kay
Exposure to the orchestra. It’s lovely, but you’re gonna catch the disease of going to the orchestra? No. The truth is they don’t go to the orchestra when they get to be adults. So I would maintain that children with basic music skills that they can hit kindergarten, they hit formal schooling, public schooling. They already sing in tone. Oh, they already keep a beat. What could you do with that? Wow.

And then their classroom teachers should be singing with them every day. I’ve written a rap for parents, Mama rock your baby, rock your baby so sweet. Sing a song and tap along on baby to the beat. Daddy, bounce your baby, bounce your baby so sweet . Dance to the music put the beat in your feet. The next part is the best part because to me, it says Have your child keep the beat. This is how it trains a vital neural network that the brain retains.

Children who sing songs develop smarter brains that know more words and make greater gains. So it’s everything that we know about music making. Let’s give it to the parent. Let’s tell them, if you do this with your child. Oh, there’s a recent study that came out that said that children, babies pay more attention to their mothers when they sing than when they speak.

So I’m I’m diapering my my granddaughter and she she doesn’t like it. She’s squirming all around and I just started I just made it up right. Diaper diaper don’t you cry, diaper diaper now you’re nice and dry. And she was like, looking at me. Like she was just totally, totally settled. So speak in rhyme and rhythm children’s are going to love it. So what does the child need? On our website?

We have lots of help for people, but I think we have to ask the preschool and the classroom elementary teachers to sing their day away. Oh, the best one is two years ago, a kindergarten teacher called me and she said I’m taking a sabbatical to study the link between singing and literacy. I know there’s a link, but I don’t know anything about it. I sing all day and my kids do better than the other kindergartens. And I said well you may be a better kindergarten teacher, but you know. So she is now taking, she’s back from her sabbatical.

She’s taking my course that she’s brought into the district, we’re teaching 15 kinder, first and second grade teachers Rock ‘n’ Read course. And we’re playing singing games just like you do in your music classroom. But then they tweak them. So who took the cookie from the cookie jar? Now it’s who took the “A” (phonetic) from the, you know, who took the “U” so they they play the game, just like the street game, and then they tweak it to practice things the brain needs automaticity and retention for and she spoke up at our last class.

And she said, I just want to tell you, I’m back in the kindergarten classroom this year to the other classroom teachers, I’m singing everything, all my directions and everything. It’s just so fun. And she makes it up. So she’ll sing, put away your crayons and they all answer right now, you know, and line up at the door.

Okay. So they’re just singing everything. And she said, I can’t tell you the difference it makes. So all these teachers are like, Whoa, I don’t think I can do that. You can just hear the wheels turn. Can I do that? So this is the kindergarten teacher saying this. So it will be interesting to see how her kids do on the reading assessment at the end of the year.

Yeah, so I think we don’t have to make lesson plans for them. You know, we just need to encourage them to sing. And we need to give those classroom teachers the research. Because this is what children need to develop and your work would be easier if they could develop their auditory processing.

Building Confidence in Parents and Teachers


Debbie
And I think too, part of this process with the general teachers, the generalist teachers, the ones that I have worked with, they just need a little confidence to try it. Because there is this element of fear of not being, I’m not a musician, I can’t do music. And we have to combat that through building their confidence. But you know, it’s it’s a bit of a, it’s not quite a catch 22. But it’s a double edged sort of sword in a good way. Because the more they know about the power of what they can do, the more likely it is that they’ll try it. So it’s about empowering them.


Ann Kay
They value it more when they see it working for their children. And then they come to the music teacher and go, Oh my gosh, I had no idea. I’ve been teaching this course since 2005, for Minneapolis public and it was a 24 hour course then, and they did research and we’ve got great action research from these teachers on math achievement, as well as reading achievement. So I just think we could encourage them to sing. Many of them are scared. There’s some easy things they can do though.


Debbie
I appreciate you and all of my colleagues and hope this episode has been enjoyable and useful. Don’t forget you’ll find the show notes on crescendo.com.au. I’d love to share rate or review to help other music educators find this podcast. All I can be as the best version of me. All you can do is be the best you. Until next time, bye.


Sign Off

This podcast is brought to you by Crescendo Music Education, connecting, supporting, and inspiring music educators. You’ll find links to Crescendo’s social media platforms in the show notes. Please connect with me and be part of the Crescendo community. You might consider becoming a Crescendo member. You can access hundreds of files, worksheets, printables workbooks, repeat workshops, and webinars for a low annual fee and receive great discounts on events. So come and connect with me, Debbie O’Shea. See you in the socials.

Just for Laughs

As we know laughter relieves stress. Don’t lose sight of the funny side of life.

What’s red and bad for your teeth?

A brick.


Links Mentioned in the Episode:

Book Recommendation: Of Sound Mind: How Our Brain Constructs a Meaningful Sonic World

Metronome Apps with Pendulum Swing:

Pitch Pipe Apps (C-C)

Ann Kay’s Website and Resources:

Where to find me:

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