When my youngest daughter was three, she loved to serenade her dolls and stuffies while playing on her bed. She would sing, “Brown bear, go to sleep” or “zoom, zoom, my car goes zoom.” Then I realized she sang her little songs to the same tune as “Rain, rain, go away,” only with different words.
This nursery rhyme has only two notes, which is called the minor third interval, or sol-mi. Sol-mi is the first and most frequent interval all children naturally use when singing or calling.
As early as infancy, children begin to discover their vocal capabilities. Playfully, they explore vowel and consonant sounds. As they get older, young children string nonsense syllables together as well as inventing their own little songs or tonal fragments. They imitate sounds and make up songs about everyday life, such as animals, nature, playthings, and machines.
Children enter into this activity naturally and joyfully. In his book “Music as a Source of Knowledge”, Dr. Harold A. Taylor writes, “in the young child we find a natural poet, a natural musician, a person who is accustomed to responding to aesthetic values by his very own nature.”
The sol-mi interval is part of a music system for singing notes called solfège. A very good example of solfège is the song “Do-re-mi” from the 1965 movie “The Sound of Music.” In the song, the solfège note names are heard: do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, and ti.
The sol-mi interval is found in many nursery rhymes and singing games. Prime examples include, “Ring Around the Rosie,” “Cuckoo, Where Are You?” and “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe.”
These little songs are important and can foster a lifelong love of music. Here are some ideas to encourage your child to sing:
1 | Make sol-mi songs part of your daily transitions
Transitions help move children from one activity to another. It’s an effective way to keep kids on a schedule as well as refocusing a child’s attention in a positive and fun way. Sol-mi songs can help your child make these transitions and remember things throughout the day. They can be sung at any time, such as afternoon nap, bath time, or snack time.
For example, sing a song with your own simple lyrics at bath time:
Bath time, play and splash, Soap suds, splash, pop, splash.
Or, sing a song while brushing teeth:
Toothbrush, brush, brush, brush, Get them clean, toothbrush.
2 | Fill in the missing lyrics
Encourage your little one to sing the missing lyrics from nursery rhyme songs. For example, you sing “Mary had a little...” and encourage her to sing “lamb,” or sing “Hot cross...” or “Merrily we roll....” Slowly, as her language skills increase, she will be able to add more lyrics until she is singing the song by herself.
An excellent book to read with your child is “Singing Bee!” by Jane Hart. This collection of lullabies, nursery rhymes, finger plays, and action songs comes complete with piano accompaniment and guitar chords. Songs in the book include, “Hush Little Baby,” “Pat-a-Cake” and “Where Is Thumbkin?”
3 | Sing lullabies at bedtime
Choose easy lullabies with simple lyrics that your child can sing, too, such as “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” “Are You Sleeping?” or “Lavender’s Blue.”
There is no need to feel that you must be a great singer in order to sing lullabies. Your child does not expect or want a beautifully produced voice. He expects and wants a comforting sound.
Likewise, don’t worry about pitch or phrasing. It doesn’t matter. Sing high or sing low. Sing fast or sing slow. Just sing, and over time, you will gain more confidence in your singing skills, and your child will sing along with you.
4 | Sing songs with repetition and echoes
Songs for toddlers should be fun and easy to master. At this early age, they enjoy the repetition and simplicity contained in many nursery rhymes.
Songs with repetition, such as “The Wheels on the Bus” or “Five Little Ducks”, are lively and entice children to join in the actions. Echo songs using simple melodic patterns, such as “Down by the Bay”, are very helpful because children must first learn and then sing the answer.
Remember that you are your child’s first and most important teacher when it comes to music. Just begin! Singing to your baby is a happy activity. You will find, as time passes, how singing can bring joy and calmness to your child as well as yourself.