Storytelling Using Music
by Nancy Mellon
A mother, dismayed at her son’s resistance whenever she wanted to go anywhere, discovered that the gentle singing of songs from her own childhood eased him into new activities where plain words could not. Although she had no musical training, eventually she learned to make up little songs and to sing him in and out of stories too.
A parent storytelling group encouraged one another to include music at bedtime. One reported :
“When I let myself hum a simply melody at the beginning of a story, it clears the air and makes me feel more present.”
Another said: ”
“Just humming two or three notes helps me find my heart an soul.”
A tired mother returned home to her children to sing her way through The Frog Prince as a spontaneous little grand opera. The children, who already knew the story, joined in with gleeful fascination.
Each time words are repeated in a story, try singing those words simply and spontaneously. Humming, singing or whistling a musical chorus to the storyteller’s words summons joy. Speaking about creating music in the midst of life, one parent who, for the sake of her young children, was beginning to sing again after many years mused:
“Doesn’t everything in nature sing, more than speak? I try to make the melody of a crow landing or a deer running. I love to imagine the moon singing to a stone or to a rose. When the children participate in the tones of starlight , or the drone of rocks and stones, we become very happy together.”
These parents also experimented including instruments in their storytelling. Sounding a little clear-toned xylophone, a bell, small cymbals before the first words of a story and at the end increased for them the sense of expectation and finality. A wooden flute poured forth simple melodies of bird-song and the sounds of wind and water. The parents collected basketsful of simple musical instruments and taught their children to use them sensitively to bring out key moments in the stories they told. Children who knew a story well enjoyed added the sounds of instruments they made, such as polished stones and carved sticks struck together.
A father encouraged his twins to make up stories as he played the piano. Gradually the children learned to be playfully sensitive to major and minor modes and to enjoy the interplay of tones and images. By seven years of age they were delightfully competent and inspiring musicians and storytellers.
“Singing and instruments carry our souls to a different reality,” confided the mother in this family, who also had to found confidence for storytelling through music.
“When I feel anxious about what will happen next in the stories we create together, singing opens us all up to the next inspiration.”
More Resources for Reading with Songs
Words That Sing
Reviews of beautifully illustrated children’s books that are also musical classics. By Polly Schulman inMothers Who Think.