Marsha Goodman-Wood is a ninja in disguise. She is a DC-based singer/songwriter who makes music for clever kids with sharp imaginations and active minds brimming with curiosity. Marsha is also a former cognitive neuroscientist. Yep, you read that right. Brain science…pretty cool.
As a songwriter, Marsha brings her educational background and combines it with her experience as a music and drama teacher as well as her role as a mom of three. “I think about all the intense brain development that is going on in my young audiences,” Marsha says. “[My background] also shapes the way that I engage with my audience. Because music uses all our senses, it activates more parts of the brain and creates very strong memories; so music is an ideal vehicle for learning. Just think of the ABCs, and how ingrained that song is in all of us.”
I am happy to present two goodies to you today – the video world premiere for Marsha’s single “Ninja School”* from her debut solo album Gravity Vacation, and an illuminating guest post where Marsha dives further into the whole body benefits of music.
And of course, fist bump to all those ninjas in training out there.
Marsha is currently writing for her next record which she expects to record in 2016 with her recently-formed band, The Positrons. Stay up to date with news about Marsha through her official site, Facebook, Twitter or Reverbnation, and catch her latest videos by subscribing to her YouTube channel.
*The “Ninja School” video was produced by NY-based kids artist and video producer, Patricia Shih, with illustrations by Giulia Neves.
I’m a cognitive neuroscientist by training, which means I used to study the brain and am still fascinated by how our brains work. I think of music as a great connector that ties together lots of different processes that are happening simultaneously in our brains. It activates our senses, is a total body experience (if you want to be technical, uses both our gross motor skills and fine motor skills), and brings an emotional and human connection. Music is also a universal source of joy!
There’s some fascinating research that shows how music can aid learning and how closely music & movement are tied to language development in young children. Brain researchers have looked at movements that involve coordinating the right & left sides of the body and ones that use our whole personal space, and have found that there’s a strong link between actions which send messages from one side of the brain to the other and the kinds of signals that our brains send from one side to the other when we read and speak. So, when we sing a song like “The Wheels on the Bus” or add actions or dance moves to any song, we’re building and strengthening connections in the brain that are important for language development.
With my music, I think about what kinds of moves I can offer little kids to reinforce those connections kids are forming. When I perform “Ninja School” I ask the kids to show off their martial arts moves (karate chops, kicks, leaps and such). When I can, I like to include something interesting in my songs for older kids or grownups, too, like mixing fun facts into the song so there’s something to take home and think about. The title track for my record Gravity Vacation has facts about gravity and inertia that kids like to bounce along to, mixed in with some “la-la-las” the audience can sing along with. The bonus, though, is they still absorb the facts so I get the coolest stories later. A mom told me her 3-year-old old daughter explained to her out of the blue one day that we stay on the ground because of gravity! Another family told me they were sitting around the breakfast table talking about the moons of Jupiter and started checking out NASA info online because the song sparked the kids’ curiosity.
I tend to put positive messages and a little something educational into my songs because kids are sponges. They absorb everything we put out, so why not give them something interesting to think about that they might not have heard before? Mixing in information that sparks their curiosity and complements what they’re learning now in school (or what they will need to learn at some point down the line) is a built-in bonus. Maybe it reaches that one kid who is not connecting with material in the classroom. Maybe it inspires a child’s fascination in science and creates a budding scientist.
Plus, you don’t have to teach a kid to have fun. Music is inherently fun and if you write a catchy tune and make it musically interesting that’s a ton of fun in and of itself. There’s definitely a place for adding in humor, imagination, and silliness in kids music. Helping listeners to explore outrageous ideas is something many artists do well, but I’m OK with taking it to a different place. It’s definitely tricky to write a song that’s educational, yet still fun and not preachy. That’s where I try to go, and I believe people pick up on that and enjoy that about my music.
Some of the other messages in my songs are the kinds of messages that I feel we as parents are trying to share all the time. I loved hearing from the mom who told me her 8-year-old twin boys were always reluctant to wear helmets, but after listening to “Wear a Helmet,” they started enthusiastically wearing them! Another mom told me her 5-year-old was about to show her a new wiggly tooth, but said, “I need to go wash the germs off my hands before I touch my mouth,” since she had picked up the message in “Nobody Likes Viruses and Germs.” It’s amazing to think something you wrote could affect people like that.
I’m not sure where my songwriting will take me. All I know is that I’m on a journey where I’m trying to stay true to myself and write about what inspires me. The great thing about working with kids is that they are full of questions and make you think about things differently. Sometimes their questions spark my curiosity or lead me somewhere new as I try to answer them. I feel that kids can understand anything if you explain it well, so I want to honor their questions with real answers and not assume a concept is too far over their heads. It challenges me to make sure I understand a concept well enough to explain it to a 5-year-old or an 8-year-old. If that leads to a song, it’s a win-win in my book!