Wednesday, February 1, 2012

One Ear at a Time

music and behaviors, music therapy, singing, listening skills, music, music class, children's music, strings keys and melodies

“Children can learn almost anything if they are dancing, tasting, touching, hearing, seeing and feeling information.”  -Jean Houston, Educating the Human Brain

I love this quote.  It makes me think of a perfectly happy child spinning in circles as she is singing and dancing barefoot in a field of green grass and wild flowers with an orchestra of musicians playing beautiful music for her.  Wouldn’t that be the ideal way to learn?  Carefree and happy.

Unfortunately that is not the way it usually works out for our children.

So many of my students have a hard time listening.  Some can’t hear well.  Some have trouble processing the information that is spoken to them.  Some are so easily distracted they can’t pay attention to what is being said because they are off doing something else. 

This week I was reading a book that explained that some children can’t process information when it is spoken to them.  But when the same instructions are sung to them, they are better able to understand and follow through.

Children with attention problems often have hearing problems.  And it is possible that one ear is better at hearing than the other.  So you need to speak or sing into each ear, one at a time.

In one of my singing classes, there are a couple of 7 year old girls who have a hard time paying attention.  I know they wait all week for singing class.  They love singing and learning new songs.  But when they see each other they can’t keep their hands off each other and start doing cartwheels and pulling on each other for the entire hour.  Now, in my classes we start off with a lot of moving and dancing.  So I am not expecting them to sit in chairs and pay close attention.  I understand children need to move and stomp and feel the rhythms with their entire bodies.  But when it is time to sing I still want them to sing.    

So I decided to do an experiment. 

Deliberate Movements

Instead of watching them do random movements such as cartwheels and flips, I initiated the movements for each voice warm-up.  During one warm-up, we held hands and swung them back and forth to the beat.  The constant movement helped them pay attention to their singing.

Singing and Speaking in Each Ear

During other warm-ups, I walked around the room bending down and singing in each girl’s ear.  This worked like a miracle!  One student, who always sings too high, off pitch, matched my voice as I was singing in her ear.  It got her attention and she was able to hear my voice and sing on pitch. 

I continued singing in their ears, going from one ear to the other so that both ears got a chance to hear my voice up close.  I loved how easy it was for them to then sing on pitch the rest of the class time.

Singing Directions

This week, I also tried singing instructions to my classes instead of just saying them.  It did get the children’s attention faster and they were quicker to jump up and follow me to the next activity.

Singing for Speech Therapy

I decided to try the ear experiment at home with my 4 year old daughter.  She has a hard time saying some of her sounds.  We have been working on the” th” sound for words like the, that and this. 

I leaned over close to her ear and sang “the” to the tune of “Mary Had a Little Lamb”. Then I leaned over to the other ear and sang the same thing.  When I was done I asked her to say “the” and she said it exactly how she heard me say it!  It was wonderful.  She has not continued to say “th” sounds correctly in her regular speech but when I chant them in her ear she will say it correctly.  So she can do it!  She just needs to keep practicing and hearing it clearly spoken to her.

Some children have a hard time listening.  Some can’t hear well.  Others have a hard time processing what is said to them.  Some are easily distracted.  One way to help these children is to sing to them, one ear at a time!

Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if everyone sang to their children as they gave directions and taught them new things?  Our children could be dancing and singing as they were learning.  A lot more happy and carefree!


  1. We do a lot of singing in our house - and I LOVE hearing my kids sing while they play!

  2. Wow! I want to take your singing class! It sounds fun! I've seen how singing works so well to get kid's attention and calm them. My son has a language delay and we've been doing some testing. He saw a wonderful audiologist who sang to him almost the whole time she conducted his exam. When she put the little plugs in his ear to test his hearing, he gently sang, "1-2-3-4-5" up a scale. He held perfectly still, usually at the pediatrician's office, he won't hold still and they can never get a good reading on him. Interesting stuff.

    1. Isn't that amazing? I'm sure the singing got and kept his attention that talking wouldn't have done. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  3. Didn't they have G. Giffords sing as part of her recovery, so this would also work for adults. I volunteer in a care center and music really helps some people. Thank you so much for all you write, it is so interesting and positive. Carolyn

    1. Idon't know who G. Giffords is but I do know they have people who have had strokes sing in order to learn to speak again. For some reason it is easier for them to sing than it is to speak.
      Thank you for your wonderful comments!