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Bells on her toesToday I’m going to focus on bells. Instrument playing works best when you limit the instrument type to one.  Then the auditory nerves are not over-stimulated.  There’s absolutely no need to give anyone a headache when playing instruments.  It should be an enjoyable activity for all.

The kind of bells we usually find in child care centres, preschools and schools look like this:

They are actually based on real sleigh bells worn, perhaps reluctantly, by real horses.  You can imagine how they sound if you think about those cheerful Christmas songs such as Jingle Bells and Walking in a Winter Wonderland. Real sleigh bells look like this:

The best sleigh bells to buy usually have the biggest bell and are not necessarily the attractively coloured ones on plastic handles – in my experience they break easily in the hands of a strong two year-old, and what’s more they often sound tinny.

When running music sessions with toddlers I work on three guiding principles:

  1. everybody gets the same thing as quickly as possible (we all share the good things)
  2. when you have an instrument you’re allowed to play it straight away (children learn best through free-play)
  3. you can take it out of the basket yourself and put it back yourself (choice and agency are important)

Once everyone has quickly chosen their instrument it’s time to play together.  My first suggestion is the song  Li’l Liza Jane (click here for downloadable product).  Here’s a preview of our version.  You can hear the bells clearly in the backing track:  Lil Liza Jane Preview

Here’s the same song, this time with Michael Cashen singing:  Lil Liza Jane Vocal Preview

While the children play along with the music track they are exploring the musical elements of timbre and rhythm.

Another song that features bells is She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain (click here for downloadable product).  I use them in the verse “She’ll be drivin’ six white horses when she comes, Whoa back!”  We hold the wooden handle with both hands and pull back as though the bells are reins.  Here’s a preview of the backing track, once again the bells are clearly audible:  She’ll be Comin’ Round the Mountain (bells) Preview

Here’s the same song, this time with Mish Bown singing:  She’ll be Comin’ Round the Mountain (bells) Vocal Preview

As the children handle the musical instruments they are increasing their manipulative skills.  The fine muscles in the hand and wrist are being strengthened.  We do a lot of fun things like “wear them on your feet, wrists”, “play high, play low”, “tap them on your knee, shoulder, belly-button etc”.  We look through them for “I see . . .” We hide them behind our backs and bring them out with a flourish.  If a child comes up with a new way to play them we take up that new idea straight away.

For a third song, why not try The Wheels on the Bus (click here for downloadable product).  We represent the sound of windscreen wipers with sleigh bells.  Here’s the backing track preview:  Wheels on the Bus (bells) Preview

Here’s the same song, this time with Mish Bown singing: Wheels on the Bus (bells) Vocal Preview

As the children play they experience emotions of joy and happiness.  The “feel-good”  chemicals released during this musical social interaction lead to feelings of togetherness and really cement social bonding.

As the children tune in to the starting and stopping of the music they are practising auditory discrimination.  Many of them will be playing in time to the music, others will be engaging in spontaneous imaginative play – it’s all valuable musical experience.  There is so much learning happening and yet it takes very little effort on our part to make it all come together.  Children should be doing this kind of activity every day.  Plan to make instrumental music with your group soon!  Here’s a helpful link to get you started.