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Learning to Listen through Music

Posted Oct 04 2009 11:14pm
Some people question why you would make music and singing such a large part of a hearing impaired child’s life. It never occurred to us not to. Like most new parents, we naturally sung to Hadley from the moment she was born. Some days, singing while rocking was the only way to calm her down and keep her relaxed. Other days, I would sing song after song after song to her; I liked to think it was because she loved it, but truly, it helped keep her happy while passing the time on some long days.

In our AVT sessions, we frequently sang familiar childhood tunes and nursery rhymes, using music and song to extend a simple activity in a lesson. We talked about how singing a word made it easier to hear all of the speech sounds present in that word. I love music and I love to sing, so using those methods as a way to increase Hadley's awareness of sounds and words was a no brainer.

In the early months, we used music as another way of increasing Hadley's interest in different sounds and developing her skill in discriminating one sound from several. Although I actively decreased the amount of background noise in our home during this time (using the dishwasher, washing machine and dryer at night), I did play music quietly during some of our structured AV time to challenge Hadley's listening.

A favorite toy of Hadley's when she was ten months old (four months aided) was the Fisher Price Little People Zoo where all the animals made sounds. Her favorite thing to do was to make the bird chirp the music to Have You Ever Seen A Lassie and dance along to it. Usually we would sing along too, and sometimes we'd sing the version The More We Get Together. A few weeks after getting the toy, Kate, her grandmother, put on a new Raffi CD and had music playing in the background while Hadley was playing in the kitchen. The first song was The More We Get Together. Hadley bolted over to the zoo (as fast as she could crawl) and immediately began to make the bird sing along too. It didn't even take more than a few notes of Raffi singing the song for her to make the connection with the song on the zoo. This was the first time she independently connected two musical sounds together.

There's a lot of bad children's music out there, but some gems too. I sought out music that highlighted one singer at a time, so the words were well articulated. I looked for music that was not overpowered by loads of instruments all vying to be loudest. I especially loved shorter songs that could be used during certain activities (cleaning up, calming down) or combined with toy props to become an activity. Here are some of our favorites. I have separated them by age ranges, but there are great songs on each album for each age.

Babies & Toddlers (most of these songs are under two minutes and are about concrete things)
Laurie Berkner
Red Grammar
John Langstaff: The Jackfish and Songs for Singing Children
Elizabeth Mitchell
Woody Guthrie

Preschoolers (longer songs that focus more on telling a story)
Dan Zanes & Friends
Justin Roberts
Carole King: Really Rosie
Raffi (I'm a lukewarm fan, but since so many preschool teachers use his songs in the classroom, it's great for a hard of hearing child to have the early exposure to them)

We listened to far more musicians that this list (Peter, Paul & Mary; Pete Seeger; Leadbelly; Burl Ives; Lisa Loeb; They Might Be Giants). The ones above are those that we actively used for learning, not just listening enjoyment. Additionally, we used Warren Estabrooks' CDs Songs for Listening! Songs for Life! and Hear & Listen! Talk & Sing!. In the last five years, PBS and Noggin have highlighted a wide variety of great children's musicians. There are more and more great artists to hear about.

In addition to compiling a great library of children's music, Hadley joined a Kodály based music class when she was one. This method is the perfect complement to auditory-verbal therapy as it places the highest value on teaching the parent/caregiver, who teaches the child. The class was highly structured; relied on props, finger play, and short books to augment the songs; included a wide selection of folk music; included a brief segment each week with real, age appropriate instruments; and incorporated lots of movement and dance. Even better, the class was easy to replicate at home, which we did several times each week on our own. The class was small, and the teacher, Sarah Moran, was phenomenal. Not only did Hadley latch on to the class, but she especially connected with "Teacher". Hadley and I took the weekly class together for 2 1/2 years, and later Hadley took private piano lessons and sang in a kid's chorus, performing twice with the group. Hadley's brothers are now in the baby class, and she is a fantastic teacher to them. Singing was integral to Hadley's ability to articulate speech and develop a natural sounding voice. She developed better breathing patterns that helped her with some of the softer sounds that were problematic for her. Listening to music in the car was a great way to improve her ability to focus her listening on the person speaking, and tune out the background noise of the car and music. Above all, music has given her confidence-- a hard of hearing child can never have too much confidence!

This video, taken in October 2005 when Hadley was 4 years and 2 months old-- and very into Halloween, as the song will show-- shows how well developed Hadley's self-correction was, both for words and tune, and the ability to memorize and sequence.
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