... or 'my summer cleaning animal scat'
Right after high school, I was privileged to spend time in a small farming community. My job there was to take care of the children's petting zoo. Seems like fun, yes?
Most of the job was cleaning up after hundreds of animals, work that felt repetitive and never ending. So I sang. All kinds of songs every day until my work was through when I would walk cheerfully up a hill to my dorm to shower and study. Neuroscience confirms that the singing and not the scent of scat that made me feel so at ease. 😉
The extended out breaths you need for singing cue the heart to slow down, supporting a calm physiological state. The accessible and fluid sounds of singing send signals to the body-mind that support calm readiness to engage with self and life. (Stephen Porges)
Sometimes I do the same thing now while I'm stuck in traffic or doing anything that requires seemingly endless repetitive effort. I just sing.
You may know that I host a non-performance singing group for people who, like me, simply want to sing. I’m so grateful to have the support of the Houston Arts Alliance to continue our meetings throughout the 2018-19 season.
Our next meeting is coming up soon. Sign up here for more info!
When I started piano in first grade, my mother and I lived in an apartment complex in the flats of San Francisco's East Bay Area. My two-block radius was home to kids whose families had moved to the neighborhood from a range of cities and countries. Neighbor kids and I played together outside or in each others’ homes, using our imaginations in combo with toys, big and small. I still have scars and bone warps from learning to ride a bike, roller skate, tumble and excavate. To be honest, I did not have a lot else going on. My mom raised me on her own and every structured activity was a luxury. She funded piano and choir inspired me to make the most of these. This included asking me every weekday whether I had practiced piano, doing her best to make sure I did that a few times every lesson week, and driving me to and from lessons and choir rehearsals in far-away parts of town. I'm so glad she did. There were times I would not play. Times when I practiced and ignored my teachers' instructions. Somehow I lived to tell you about what I call 'home play,' a brain-friendly term for 'practicing.' Looking ahead to summer, I hope you can build time into your family's schedule to rehearse whatever it is you love, whether it's piano, softball, painting or robotics. I’m not here to add another task to your already-full plate. However, I would like to make it easier for you get more joy through your family’s learning. As you may know from my last note to you, I made How to Home Play to help you do just this. Download it and apply these three simple things to ANYthing your family learns.
As a kid, I was NOT a diligent prodigy, practicing piano on my own with no help from Mom. Any home play I did, all the way through high school, was motivated by attention from my mother. If she didn’t sit with me while I played piano, she reminded me to play it and said encouraging words when I did.
Once I had built up certain skills, playing piano became its own reward. Its 88 keys became a place where I grew into myself, physically, emotionally and cognitively. The piano was a place for me to be myself, independent of my family. But my family's encouragement still fueled my efforts.
As we get ready to head into summer, I thought I would send you a few words about home play. These brain-friendly words mean 'practice' in my Playful Mindful Music studio. Home play does not have to happen every day in order to work--a lot of benefit can come from three mini sessions per week.
I made How to Home Play, an easy download that you can print and share with your loved ones as you plan for summer. No matter how busy your schedule is, these three simple things can make home play for your family fun and doable.
Could you use an extra tool for calm? I've got a mindfulness tip for you that's all about low sounds, which are different from quiet sounds as my students learn.
Let's start with high and low sounds. High-pitched sounds include birds chirping, swooping car alarms and kitten meows. Instruments that play high sounds include flutes, piccolos, violins and chimes. They are called high because their sound waves happen at a high frequency or quickly, and look a little like this:
Low-pitched sounds such as a mature cow's moo, the chuff of a train engine or a tiger, or a ship's fog horn have lower frequency sounds waves, which means they happen more slowly than those of high-pitched sounds. Their sound waves look roughly like this:
Bass guitar, tuba, bass drum, bassoon and didggery-doo all make low sounds.
For kids, it's easier to hear high sounds with clarity than low sounds (because of the way both brain and ear develop). But adults can hear low sounds more acutely. And low sounds have deep emotional significance: they are the first steady rhythmic sounds humans hear in the womb as mama's heartbeat.
This brings me to your mindfulness tool. Because low sounds have such a harmonious relationship with the oldest parts of the brain, listening to low sounds can calm your system. In a celebrated relaxing song by Marconi Union, low-frequency sounds are used continuously. It's probably not a good idea to listen to this while driving, because it is so relaxing.
Even without cuing up a snooze-inducing sound bath, you can still experience the benefits of active listening to low sounds. Most mainstream music features some kind of bass or percussion sound that is steady throughout each tune. There are also a range of higher and lower sounds in the ambient noises of daily life, from the working din of a cafe to the sounds on a television to the noises of a busy street.
Your mindful mission, if you choose to accept it, is to listen for low sounds throughout your day. Want to train your ear to hear low? Listen to Bach's cello suites (mostly bass sounds) Chaka Khan's Tell Me Something Good or Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah (slower bass) or Charles Wright's Express Yourself (quicker bassline). Listen for the steady sounds that outline the beat of each song.
This will train you to hear and name low sounds. Over time, you will be able to use your ears, even in what seems like chaos, to find a focal point for your mind. This can reduce irrititation in the moment, and stave off overwhelm to keep you more contented all day long.
Rhythm is the first thing I work with in my students’ early lessons. We improvise (play spontaneously) based on fast and slow rhythms. I teach them the basic musical note shapes for 1 (one) beat and 2 (two) beats.
Elisabeth C. Swim
Playful Mindful Music Guide