Timbre (pronounced “tam-ber”) is the distinctive quality of a sound. During the last few weeks in all the Kindermusik classes, we have experienced many different timbres. We’ve listened to the sounds of different types of bells, paper bags, a variety of wooden instruments, multitudes of drums (played with the hand to get a better variety of sounds), and much more. The Young Child class has been using different timbres to represent the sounds of animals during a story song.
The little ones in our class are developing their own “vocabulary” of timbres. Just as we recognize the importance of developing a large spoken vocabulary, it is important for us to recognize the importance of developing a similar vocabulary for sounds. This will help children tune in to subtle distinctions in both music and speech.
Why build a vocabulary of sounds?
- Improves interest and ability to hear, distinguish, and recognize sounds, even when the sound maker is not visible. (Like knowing Mommy’s voice.)
- Helps them understand the relationship between the feel and look of an object to the sound it makes. Bigger things make deeper sounds, smaller things make higher sounds.
- Allows them to recognize that even though something may look the same, it may sound different (if different objects are inside it). Or that things that look different may sound very much the same. It builds generalization skills.
- Research shows that as the variety of sounds in an environment increases, the more the child is interested in making new sounds themselves, allowing them to explore more fully all the sounds they can make. This in turn has a huge effect on their ability to articulate words when it is time.
- The neural connections they are building with these basic sounds are the foundation of knowledge, on which they can expand as they develop. Recognition of a metal sound, leads to recognition of a horn sound, and on to a saxophone sound, and on to a tenor saxophone sound, and on to the specific style a particular artist on the saxophone.
- And finally, it leads to a lifetime of enjoyment in making music. This lady seems to continue to enjoy even in her later years!
How can I help my baby learn this? Provide a basket in a popular play location that will hold 2 – 4 objects that make a variety of sounds. If possible, have some objects that look the same but sound different, such as similar containers with different materials inside. Or similar objects (wood) that have subtly different sounds. Keep the same objects in the basket until the child’s interest in what’s in the basket just starts to lessen, then switch them out for totally different objects. (don’t wait until they’re bored, but don’t switch it when they are still fascinated by them). For the younger babies, keep a few sound makers next to the changing table, especially those that can be worn on their hands, such as “mittens” or “bracelets”, or on a “mobile” they can tap.
To be able to gain the maximum benefit from this play, the baby should be able to explore ALL the different sounds an object makes (often with your help). Equally important is exploring the object through their other senses: What does it look like? What does it feel like? What is the texture? What does it taste like? Is it heavy or light? Which parts move? What movement makes the sound? Of course they are not asking these questions, but their explorations answer them. This “learning” is enhanced greatly if an important partner talks about all these things while the baby is exploring.
How can I help my OLDER CHILD learn this?
Children 1 – 2 really enjoy exploring the sounds in a kitchen. Clean your floor, then partner with your child to pull out items from the cupboard, plastic, metal, etc. (glass, only when supervised with a parent to ensure safety.), as well as a variety of mallets from kitchen drawers, wooden, metal, etc. Cutting boards make great sounds.
I like to keep a picnic basket full of kitchen sounds so that I don’t have to continue to clean each item after they play with it on the kitchen floor.
Children 2 and older love to MAKE their own instruments. Are they most interested in making something they can TAP, something they can SHAKE, or something they can RUB. THEN MAKE TWO – help them find a way to make two of the same type of instrument, but that makes different sounds.
All ages of children love to explore the different sounds that their mouth and voice can make, as well as how they can use their body as a sound making device. Explore the different sounds you can make in these ways. Make it a copycat game: one person makes a set of sounds with their body or mouth, and the other person has to copy what the first person did. Take turns. OR hide behind some barrier, and allow the other person to guess how that sound was made. This is also a wonderful way to improve their listening skills.
There are several previous blog postings that include ideas for your family to explore timbre
Refer to homemade instrument blog postings:
- Easter Eggs – before, during, and after Easter – making Timbre Eggs
- Homemade Instruments made from Pencils – see a slide show of child created examples
- Vocal Play in the Kitchen? – Oh, YES! – of course your mouth and voice can make produce an amazing amount of different timbres.
What part does Kindermusik play in this development?
Kindermusik class is a perfect venue for offering your child the opportunity to experience a wide variety of sounds–drums, egg shakers, baby bells, woodblocks, singing, speaking, plus the host of wonderful and diverse sounds on the recordings! Kindermusik is the best choice you can make for your child, again and again!