Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Summertime musicking

Many families imagine summer as a time of endless fun and warmth. But summer is full of parenting challenges, including disrupted schedules and kids having more free time while parents have less. Such parenting challenges make this a great moment to consider how to weave music into activities and routines of family life to make things a little easier and a little more fun—an approach I call “parenting musically.”

New Zealand-born musicologist Christopher Small (1927-2011) coined the term musicking, which he used to encompass every aspect of music-making, including composing, performing, listening, setting up the stage, taking tickets at a performance, and so on. Musicking can occur on stages, in strollers, and everywhere in between.

For families, the idea of musicking can be valuable because it helps us recognize that there are many fleeting moments of a day that are already musical, such as a child creating rhythms with a pencil on the metal ridges of a radiator. The broad umbrella of musicking also reminds us of the many ways we can incorporate music into family life; there is no need for special training or polished performances. We can slip in a sung “Hello, hello, hello” to our own tune each time we come home, creating a small but poignant ritual.

In my research with families and how they use music in daily life, I found it helpful to consider the purposes for which parents deployed music. I observed families using music in ways that were mostly practical, mostly relational, or a blend of the two. You might recognize that certain times of day call for practical musicking (such as a song that gets kids into their car seats and buckled without arguing!). Other summer moments are prime for relational musicking, like reconnecting as a family after children return from summer camp. The families in my research study reported that blended goals (practical and relational) helped sustain musical involvement over many years.

Practical musicking helps us get things done as a family with a little more ease, including brushing teeth, calming down, or building specific musical skills. For example, music playlists can help provide structure to wide-open summer days, with “get ready” playlists and “calm down” playlists. As a family you could put together a “get ready” playlist that lasts for the length of time you expect your children to accomplish specific morning tasks (eating, grooming, chores). Set the goal of finishing before the end of the playlist. Playlists can also bring a sense of stability if you are traveling or your schedule is disrupted—even though the location or time has changed, the music is the same for your kids. If your children have more free time than usual during the summer, consider pointing them to music composition apps such as Garage Band, Soundtrap, and BandLab to build skills and provide a creative outlet.

Relational musicking refers to music making that helps children deepen their relationship with self, family, friends, the world, or the divine. You could make a list of family members to connect with over the course of the summer, either in person or long distance, then brainstorm ways to connect musically with these family members. For instance, prepare three songs to play on the porch for grandparents, or collaborate with teenage cousins on a long-distance ringtone composition using Garage Band or a similar app. Model for your children the way you use music relationally, such as showing your excitement to attend a concert with college roommates or demonstrating how you create a new playlist for your partner with songs you think they will enjoy.

Summer is also a good time to explore new music—whether by new music listening, opportunities, and concerts, or by finding new ways to engage with music. Make a “new music” calendar and assign family members to find and share new artists each week during shared listening in the car or at home. If your family tends to use headphones to create their own sonic worlds, use the new summer schedule to designate a few times for shared listening. Make a summer bucket list of music festivals, outdoor concerts, or album releases you are excited about. Look around for free or low-cost opportunities to engage in music in new ways, like community dances or drum circles.

The suggestions for adding musicking to your summer do not need to include expensive or time-consuming activities. Small adjustments can add more meaning to existing family traditions. You might also notice that many of your musical interactions are practical and decide to intentionally “add more relational musicking to the mix.” Throughout, remember that music belongs to everyone and does not require special training or equipment. Create your own family hashtag or keep a family journal to document your shared musical adventures this summer, from practical to relational and everything in between.

Featured image by Aarón Blanco Tejedor via Unsplash.

Recent Comments

There are currently no comments.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *