Music & the Voice: Giraffes & Singing


Do giraffes have vocal cords?

Photo from the artists at Dollar Photo Club 

Many children are fascinated with giraffes and they are very interesting animals! Their long necks have evolved over time and there are some interesting facts about why giraffes don't have much of a voice. I found an informative site called, "Tetrapod Zoology" from Daren Naish who is a writer & technical editor at Scientific American Publications, and a palaeo-zoologist from the University of Portsmouth, UK. (Click the links to learn more)

Here is some information from the article about giraffe anatomy from his recent studies and dissection of a giraffe who was killed by poachers:

"Perhaps the most memorable scene involved the dissection of the recurrent laryngeal nerve: the branch of the vagus nerve that travels from the brain to the larynx. Rather than going directly for all of 50 mm or so, it needlessly travels all the way down to the heart, loops round the aorta, and then comes all the way back up to the larynx. This is more pronounced in a giraffe than any other living animal, of course. This is illogical 'bad design' and apparently the result of historical legacy: in the earliest vertebrates, the nerve was taking the most direct route, but once necks evolved the nerve found itself in the middle of a complex vascular junction, and had to remain tangled with the aorta even when the aorta and the brain became widely separated. 'Bad design', whatever it means and whatever significance you want to give it, does demonstrate the contingent nature of evolution..."This might explain the debate about whether giraffes have vocal cords or not. They indeed don't have a "voice" to speak of, but the reason is because of the long journey the laryngeal nerve must take to function in the modern day giraffe.

For me, I find it interesting that the nerves of the larynx  need to travel from the brain to the heart before ending up at the throat where vocal cords reside. This supports the old Cherokee belief that the voice is connected to the heart. American Cherokee teachings say that it is possible to strengthen the voice by strengthening the heart and also strengthening the heart strengthens the voice. So, singing is a healthy activity in every way! This is probably why so many people say that music is healing, especially singing.

Photo from the artists at Dollar Photo Club

You might be interested to know the various stages of vocal development according to Joanne Rutkowski from "Exploring the Many Voices of Children"(Kindermusik International Notes, Feb/March, 2001) 

"What a joy to hear young children sing. Each child's voice is his or her own instrument and brings much pleasure....The following five terms can be used to identify children's voices:
  • Pre-Singer: These children generally use a talking voice no matter what type of voice they are asked to use. They 'sing' by talking.
  • Speaker Range Singer: These children talk when asked to talk and they "sing" when asked to sing, but they use the same limited range for singing as they do for talking.
  • Limited Range Singer: These children use at least two voice ranges. They talk in their normal speaking range, but when asked to sing they use a little higher range (generally from D above middle C to around F-sharp or G)
  • Initial Range Singer: These children speak in their speaking range, but they also use a voice range from D above middle C to A when singing.
  • Singer: These children use all their voice. They sing in a wide range, using much vocal inflection when talking and produce a wide variety of sounds." 

 Photo from the artists at Dollar Photo Club

This information can be very helpful and seems to go along with developmental milestones in young children. The older Preschoolers are beginning to sing in a wider range, while the younger Preschoolers are just learning to distinguish their singing voice from their speaking voice. Where is your child's singing voice these days? Singing a lot is a great way to help your child develop musically.

Hope you get lots of time to sing this week!

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What About Music? Giraffes & Xylophones!


So, this confused looking giraffe walks into a juice bar and lays down a crisp heart-shaped note on the counter. 

Barista reads from the note: "I finally discovered the difference between a glockenspiel and a xylophone! Glockenspiels have metal bars and Xylophones have wooden bars. Is this bar here, made of metal or wood, sir?"
The barista had to laugh...

Read on for a short history of the xylophone from the website "A Fresh Approach to Mallet Percussion":

The Xylophone

The xylophone is the best known of all the mallet percussion instruments. It is a word everyone recognizes, and is often used to identify any and all of the members of the mallet percussion family.Oddly enough, the xylophone is rarely heard in popular music. This instrument is used mostly in the symphony orchestra and in musical theatre. The tight, brittle sound it creates is perfect as a kind of "special effect" that can add punch to a woodwind section. It's sound is especially striking when coupled with flute. Broadway has always used the xylophone as part of the pit orchestra. The opening to Porgy and Bess contains a difficult and impressive part for xylophone.All three instruments, vibes, marimba, and xylophone look similar. Let's take a look at the major differences.

                                                  Photo from the website: West Music
  • The xylophone's wooden bars produce very short, high pitched sounds. The marimba's wooden bars create more mellow sounds that have a sustaining quality. The vibes have a metal bar that can ring for a long time, like a note on a piano.
  • The xylophone is played with a hard wooden or plastic mallet. The vibes and marimba are generally played with a softer rubber mallet that is often wrapped with yarn.
  • The xylophone is used almost exclusively in ensemble settings. The marimba and vibes often perform as solo instruments, as well as members of a group.
History of the XylophoneThe xylophone received its name from the Greek word xylon, meaning "wood", and the word phone, meaning "sound". Historically, the xylophone probably had its beginnings in Southeast Asia around the 14th century.
The simplest xylophones were a pair of bars that laid across the player's legs. More complex instruments were developed that were mounted on a frame. It developed further as part of the Indonesian gamelan, or percussion orchestra.  
From there, the xylophone spread throughout Africa and Europe. It became a widely used folk instrument in central Europe, and was first used in a modern orchestra in 1874. From Africa, the instrument was imported to South America by African slaves, where it developed into the Marimba.

The xylophone was probably a frequent member of early jazz bands in the 1920s and 1930s. It was also a very popular instrument in Vaudville. It's bright lively sound would work well with the syncopated dance music of that time. Red Norvo, best known as a jazz vibes player, used the xylophone a lot in the early days of his career.
As time passed, the xylophone was used less and less in jazz and popular music, while the vibraphone gained in popularity. A modern xylophone player, Ian Finkle, is enjoying much success performing traditional vaudville, classical, and contemporary music arranged for a large ensemble that he fronts. Ian is a virtuoso musician with impressive technique. His live performances are always exciting.

I recently found this wonderful video clip of one of the greatest xylophonists, Teddy Brown.

Check out blog # 2 in the January section of this site for a short history of the glockenspiel!

When teaching a child how to hold the mallets for playing the glockenspiel or xylophone I learned the following trick during my training with Orff-Schulwerk Music for Children. 
It is best to have the child use two mallets, one in each hand as this is how the instruments are played in performance. Before holding the mallets, I ask the children to pretend that they are riding on their bicycles and so we wrap our hands around our pretend handlebars. 
Then we practice  holding our elbows up as if we were maneuvering our bike handlebars and we dramatically hold on as the whole arm moves in a slight see-saw motion as if riding a real bike. This little activity can be transferred to the actual mallets and the children love it!
Incidentally, did you know that using rhythm sticks helps very young children get ready for holding mallets for later use with the pitched instruments? (Xylophone, Glockenspiel) 
Also, rhythm sticks are a wonderful exercise for developing  strength in the small muscles of the hand which benefit all areas of fine motor development, including using a pencil for writing!

Advertising Disclosure: Magical Movement Company may be compensated in exchange for featured placement of certain sponsored products and services, or your clicking on links posted on this website. Thanks for your support!

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