As a parent and a music fanatic I was very excited to bring on my next guest. Music is an amazing form of expression. It can do everything from putting you in a good mood to getting you up and dancing. Did you know that music can also help children develop intelectually? My next guest Sharon Burch knows this alot better than I and she is here to talk all about it. A music teacher, clinician, and author, Sharon Burch developed an effective method using fiction and fantasy to teach musical concepts to her preschool through third grade students. Join us as Sharon talks about how she created Freddie The Frog, the danger of cutting music in school, how music benefits children, and so much more!

Stoli: Where are we talking from today and how was your holiday season?

Sharon Burch: Iowa. Fabulous holiday season! Getting to spend time with my two college-age kids, one of whom goes to Tufts in Boston.

Stoli: Where did you get your degree and can you expand on your educational background?  

Sharon Burch: I got my undergrad degree in music education at Truman University in Missouri; my master’s in education at Morningside College in Iowa.   Certified in the International Piano Teaching Foundation by Robert Pace of Columbia Univ.   The Pace training taught me how to break down big abstract concepts into developmentally appropriate pieces for kids. Creative teaching at its best.

Stoli: Do you have children and if so how much music do you expose them to?  

Sharon Burch: My two children are 18 and 20.   Our daughter has a passion for musical theater and is a member of the premier a cappella group, The Amalgamates, at the Tufts University campus.   Our son is a drummer and studying audio engineering in Arizona.   Music was part of their lives from day one.   They both tested in the top percent of the standardized tests throughout their academic careers.   Both are very creative thinkers and problem solvers.   I attribute that to their music training and involvement.

Stoli: Does it bother you that schools are cutting back on music programs and what are some repercussions of this on our kids?

Sharon Burch: Shorting our nation’s kids. When our nation needs to nurture creative thinkers and problem-solving the most, we’re cutting the arts! Developmentally, we are stunting our next generation–dooming our country to mediocrity and followers of those who globally have the creative edge.   Reading, math and science are necessary and important, but without creativity we are doomed to being mental workhorses to the nation who’s creatively pioneered the next market.   Large corporations recognize this and currently recruit from art schools to capture out-of-the-box thinkers for their management, research and development teams.

Stoli: How did you come up with the idea for Freddie The Frog and why did you choose him to be a frog?  

Sharon Burch: The original story used the treble clef staff as a “map” to a child’s eye. I needed each line and space on the treble clef to represent a character or place in a story.   The top line is an F and my daughter owned a frog puppet. Thus, he became the main character, the kids were in love with him from day one, and the rest is history.

Narrated video reading:

Stoli: How did it feel when Freddie The Frog started gaining momentum with parents and selling in all major book stores like Amazon & Barnes & Noble?  

Sharon Burch: Wonderful!! Very rewarding to have kids falling in love with music around the globe because of my little frog and his story.   I love getting emails from teachers and parents that are amazed how their kids are in love with Freddie the Frog after reading the first story!

Stoli: At what age should parents begin to expose their kids to music?  

Sharon Burch: Day one. There are music programs for every age, including babies! I would definitely begin singing/chanting nursery rhymes and other simple folk songs right away. Keeping the beat and singing together is an important part of mental development that is being exchanged for video games and passive listening.   Kindermusik and Music for Young Children programs can be started at age 2 or 3.   A great time to start since we have a maximum amount of brain cells at that time.  

Stoli: How do you come up with the variety of adventures & story lines for Freddie The Frog?  

Sharon Burch: The kids are the key. I work with 450 kids between the ages 5 and 9 five days a week.   I put my creative self in the mindset of a child and the stories that entrance kids.   I begin creating and share the stories with the kids.   If the storyline keeps them enthralled from beginning to end, I know I have a winner.   It’s fun to create in a fictitious land where anything can happen!

Stoli: I have a 2 year old and we always listen to Frank Sinatra in the car. What other artists or genres can you suggest for parents to play that could benefit & soothe the child?  

Sharon Burch: That varies from child to child, but some safe bets are Classics for Children, such as Mozart and Beethoven, Schumann, Bizet. Google Classical music for children and you will find many classical pieces that are soothing.   Peter, Paul and Mary have a great collection for children that was very well done. Raffi, Sharon, Lois and Bram, are an example of great music written for kids. Whatever you enjoy that is also appropriate for children is great. Kids sense your authentic enjoyment, or frustration.   Physically keeping the beat to whatever you are listening to is a great start for a two-year-old, as well as singing classic children’s folk songs, such as, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, and Five Little Monkeys, etc.

Stoli: What should parents know about the benefits of music and children in their mental development?  

Sharon Burch: In past generations, singing and playing instruments was an integral part of family life.   A great way to express and entertain yourself and others. We did not realize it, but we were also exercising our brain while we played, causing us to be creative, more vibrant, smarter, etc.   In our current generation, we tend to be passive listeners and consumers as a society, and as a result, shorting our mental development and our children the opportunity to reach their mental potential.

Humans are “wired” for music.   Until recently, scientists did not know how music affected the brain.   The advancement in technology allows scientists to actually “see” brain activity via PET scans and MRI imaging scanning the blood flow in the brain.   Our brains are “wired” with neural pathways.  

Most activities only cause a portion of the brain to “light up” with activity; thus, the saying, right brain/left brain, etc.   But there are actually four parts to the brain and music makes ALL of the areas “light up” and create new neural pathways as a person is learning and playing an instrument.   Those neural pathways remain in tact and can be used for other things besides music.   It’s an exciting time of discovering how little we know and how much there is to learn.   There is definitely enough evidence to recognize it is not in a music teacher’s imagination.   Music has a huge impact on activity in the brain.   You can physically/visually see the growth and changes that happen inside the brain. The possibilities are endless. The implications for music therapy and music education are profound. Just check out PBS video “The Music Instinct.”

But even if you are still skeptical about music making kids smarter, let’s look at the other benefits.   Socially, music is an ageless hobby creating interaction with great people.   Take a look at any school band or orchestra or top-ranking choir and you will find a huge percentage of the members are in the top 10% of their class and college bound.   Striving for excellence is a given in a musical group.   Everyone has to perfect their part for the group to perform at their best–NObody “sits on the bench.”   Everyone has to pull their weight or the whole group suffers.   Creativity, especially in jazz groups is developed, honed and embraced.   Who couldn’t use more creativity in their workforce? Creativity is what makes the difference and gives any company the cutting edge.

There are many benefits of being involved in making music, but the neural pathways drives home the point and gets our attention.   Scientists are reluctant to state that playing a musical instrument makes you smarter, but all the indicators are there, so let’s look at it from the opposite angle.   Instead of trying to prove that music makes you smarter or good for you and your child, try to prove that it is not. I can’t think of a single reason how learning a musical instrument is detrimental, can you?

Give your child every opportunity and advantage you can. Enroll them in music lessons and watch them grow and mentally develop as they play, create, express, and struggle through the rigors of the discipline mastering an instrument.   You will discover a more creative, brighter and mature person in the making.

Stoli: What are some musicians that you like to listen to on your personal time?

Sharon Burch: Jack Johnson, Jamie Cullum, Michael Buble, Tamir Hendelman, great jazz greats, like Louis Armstrong, Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald and great instrumental classical pieces by all the masters.

Stoli: What is coming up for Sharon Burch & Freddie The Frog for 2011 & beyond?

Sharon Burch: JAZZ! Freddie the Frog and the Flying Jazz Kitten, introduces kids to the world of jazz in 2011.   I explored the various elements of jazz and chose one that would be easily accessible and   interactive, creating instant success through scat singing.   Then I asked myself, what could happen in Freddie’s world that would cause him to scat sing?   Meeting a group of cats that only communicate through scat was the answer.   Freddie’s curiosity gets him in a pickle and learning to scat was his only way out.   Of course, the reader is scatting right along with him.   By the end of the story, kids are effortlessly echo scatting and have a feel for the groove of jazz.

Leave a Reply