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 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.

Step 2: Go for a listening walk.

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. You can also scan the QR codes on these printable Critter Sound Cards to listen to the music that different insects and amphibians make.

Step 3: Gather materials and make instruments.

Nearly any object can be used to make sounds. Here are some of our favorite homemade musical instruments:
  • Drums: Metal bowls, buckets or boxes with sticks.
  • Shakers: Recycled containers with lids (e.g. yogurt tubs, tupperware, oatmeal containers) + small treasures to fill shakers (e.g. wood chips, small pebbles, acorns rice, beans).
  • Guitars: "Y" shaped sticks + rubber bands to string across the gap.
  • Want more ideas? Find more examples of homemade musical instruments here.

Step 4: Make sounds!

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).

If your child has a favorite song, welcome them to use their homemade instruments to create the tune or rhythm. 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.

Extend Play!

Perform a song for friends and family! 
  • Connect with family or friends and invite them to join your for a family jam session in person or via group video conference like Zoom. Or, take a video of your family’s musical show and send it to loved ones to spread the musical joy. 
  • 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. 
  • Use paper or an old bed sheet and other art materials to create a colorful stage backdrop.
  • Be sure to capture the big moment and share photos and video on our free #OutdoorsAll4 Facebook group to inspire more music making. 

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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