If you were to ask me what is the best thing since sliced bread, I would possibly have to answer Spotify, an app for playing music. Though we might all have a different idea of what good music is, most people can agree it should be a large feature of our every day lives. Apps like Spotify make that possible.
We’re about as historically privileged as it gets in terms of how effortless it is listen to music now. Ye olde wandering minstrel’s song used to be a village green rarity; youths of less than a century ago were warned by their elders they’d “get square ears” if they listened to the gramophone too long.
Now, we can just about listen to music all day, every day if we want to. Even workplaces are tuning into its value. Workopolis cites research claiming that nine out of ten workers function better when plugged in. Washington Post published similar findings, adding that listening to “happy” music fostered better communication and co-operation between workers.
With two small children, I spend a fair amount of my day at home. But I have found these observations just as relevant to household chores. Mundane tasks can be promoted to satisfying jobs merely by the accompaniment of my favourite tunes.
Whether it’s Rolling Stone’s Ruby Tuesday, Aha’s Take On Me or Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine, these tunes are relaxing and motivating, putting a rhythm to the day that somehow makes it run smoother. They even inspire a sneaky moonwalk between rooms at times.
Sometimes the process of folding clothes – not a soaring intellectual activity in itself– allows for proper appreciation of Mozart’s Requiem or Debussy’s Clair de Lune. Before I know it, lost in a trance with classical genius, the basket is empty and neat piles of clothes are before me.
Time for silence
But, everything in moderation. Although I am grateful for having my life put to a beat when I need, I’m not looking for every moment of silence to be filled. If there is an opportunity for a true moment of quietude, especially at the end of a hectic day, or when the kids are happily playing outside, I will take it.
Likewise, the background music of their mischievous chortles, a lawnmower in the distance, a blackbird on the back fence – these are to be relished as well. I’d be losing out if I forever opted for an artificial, albeit enjoyable soundtrack to my life.
On the whole, though, the kids seem to settle more into an activity, and stay concentrated on it if there’s the soft murmur of a melody playing. So it shouldn’t be surprising that according to a 2016 study at the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute, music can accelerate brain development, and is especially helpful for language and reading skills.
This isn’t exactly news, but the idea that children and parents might be able to find a music playlist that both can enjoy might be less instinctive to modern parents.
It can seem like cheating if I opt to play music I prefer and accidentally discover the children enjoy it too. This feels less like mindful parenting than beating the system and fluking it. I’ve found my kids dancing together in the dining room to a variety of 90s rock — songs that don’t traditionally make it to the top 100 of toddler tunes. But it’s a system that works, and “if it ain’t broke…”
Nursery rhymes and – even better – folk
Sure, Freddie Mercury might be a little too punk-rocky for my toddler daughter compared to “Frère Jacques”. Nursery rhymes have a special time to shine, and I gain a lot of joy teaching them ones I loved learning as a child. But they don’t have to monopolise our music diet. Over-exposure to the relentless repetition of nursery rhymes (often sung in sugary sweet or unnatural tones) are not exactly calm-inducing.
In contrast, anything from Peter, Paul & Mary, though not specifically intended for children’s listening, is calming- and the kids enjoy it as well as a mother less highly-strung. That is why I tend to settle for something folky these days.
I might also be getting some serious cred with the oldies when the children recognize some Simon & Garfunkel classic playing overhead at the supermarket – all too easily lost when my three-year old son breaks into, “ten bottles of beer on the wall, ten bottles of beee…r!” (His version of a hoary old ditty.)
It’s an eclectic musical education my children get. At home, we’re bearers of an odd assortment of repertoires, and it’s not all geared to my children’s preferences (tut tut!). But whether it’s high culture….or not so high, there’s music in the house, and we’re all glad of it.
Veronika Winkels is the mother of two young children. She writes from Melbourne.