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Family Jam Session

Humans, just like many of our animal friends, generate sounds to communicate. And, from the beginning of time, music has allowed us to communicate a wide range of things—ideas, emotions and even cultural heritage. What a better way to infuse music-making into your family’s play time than with a celebratory family concert! Here’s how: 

The Guide

The idea for a family jam session was sparked in the midst of 2020's shelter-in-place, inspired in part, by the wonderful online jam sessions by Jimmy Fallon and the Roots. If you haven’t yet, check out their performance of Helpless from the Musical Hamilton.

Step 1: Get Inspired by reading or watching musical stories:

  • Watch a video read-aloud of Noisy Frog Sing-Along by John Zimmerman.
  • Or, watch a video read-aloud of Max Found Two Sticks by Brian Pinkney.
  • Then, go outside, hand your kiddo two sticks and welcome them to bang away.
  • Or, if you need to stay inside, hand them two wooden spoons and welcome them to explore sound making—just make sure you identify any objects that are not open for banging.
Step 2: Pick a song: Choose a song that is meaningful to your family. Maybe there is a song that is already a family favorite and you know all the words. Or reach out to grandparents or other older relatives to learn a favorite song from when they were kids. 

Step 3: Invite family to a jam session. Connect with family or friends and invite them to join your for a family jam session. This year, you can do that in person or via group video conference like Zoom.

Step 4: Make some sounds.

  • Get some metal containers to bang, drop or plop objects into; rubber bands to stretch between branches and pluck; and canisters with tops (e.g. yogurt, raisin or oatmeal containers) to fill with pebbles, wood chips, acorns, etc.
  • Head outside where you can find endless objects and loads of space to make noise!
  • Start out by lying down, closing your eyes and listening for the natural sounds around you (this is great, challenging practice with self control). Talk about the many sounds you hear.
  • Ask kids, "How many different sounds can we make?" If they need a jump start, gather pairs of sticks and explore how many ways you can use them to make sounds (e.g. bang them together and on logs, trees, objects from home, rub them against rough bark, shuffle leaves or dirt around).
  • As kids play, record new sounds using a digital recorder (like the voice memo app on the iPhone).
  • Check out this post for more info.
Step 5: Gather your musical "instruments:" If you have some instruments in your home, gather them for your family band. Or, better yet, make your own from all of that sound making discovery you did! Or, try out some of these homemade musical instruments

Step 6: Band practice: Now that you have spiffy new instruments, It’s time to practice your song! Experiment with playing the song loudly, softly, slowly, fast, super fast, and then back to loud again. Take inspiration from animal friends and play your song in the style of another creature. How would a gorilla, butterfly or cat sing and move to the song? If you watch the read-aloud of Noisy Frog Sing-Along, try out some frog sounds to add background vocals to your song.

Step 7: Pick an outfit! It’s fun to wear something special when you’re doing something special. Invite kids to put together an outfit that they are excited to perform in. Or, use fabric markers to turn old t-shirts into band shirts. 

Step 8: Create a stage/performance space: Use paper or an old bed sheet and other art materials to create a colorful backdrop. If performing outside, use chalk to decorate your space or string colorful yarn or ribbon in your performance area.

Step 9: Invite friends to your show! Invite friends, family members or neighbors to join you for your performance in person or virtually. Or, take a video of your family’s musical show and send it to loved ones to spread the musical joy. Kids can invite stuffed animal friends to watch the performance, too! Be sure to capture the big moment and share photos and video on our free #OutdoorsAll4 Facebook group to inspire more music making.

Want more ideas like this? Try out our Make Your Own Musical Instruments DIY. Or, take inspiration from the sounds of birds in your area with our Bird Song DIY. 

Why is this activity great for kids?

Not only is sound making super fun and engaging for kids, but it also gives kids a chance to balance listening and controlling the sounds we make, a key component of conversation. Making music provides kids with a form of creative self-expression from a very early age. And, research shows that participation in music can help improve a child’s learning ability and memory by stimulating parts of the brain that are related to memory, language, patterns and emotional development. Finally, if you are able to connect with family and share in jamming on a song that is special to you all, you foster children's sense of belonging, nurturing their roots, too!

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