Research has shown that children between the ages of 0 and 6-years-old are at a critical stage in their musical development. It’s important during this time, when a sense of pitch and a sense of rhythm are just being developed, to expose them to a variety of musical experiences. So what can you as parents do to help foster your young child’s musical development.
Music Education Begins at Home
A great musical education begins at home. From the time that your babies are born, they are already beginning to process music. So what’s your role in all this? Here’s how to introduce your child to music.
Play Music For Your Child
It’s as simple as this: play music you want your child to develop an ear for. Okay, stay away from the death metal until they’re a little older, but you don’t have to stick with Pooh bear sings the ABC’s or Little Einstein plays the world’s most diluted renditions of Mozart.
Play a variety of music for your children. Give them classical symphonies, folk tunes, jazz, rock anthems, Afro-Cuban rumba, but don’t stop there. Playing music is far more important than choosing which music to play. If it seems like your baby or toddler really dislikes some type of music (which I sort of doubt will happen), stop playing it. And always try to correlate music with pleasant experiences.
Make music for your children. If you play an instrument, play it for them, and show them how much joy you get from playing. If you can carry a tune (and even if you can’t), sing to them. The songs you sing will remain in their subconscious until they have kids of their own.
Encourage Your Children to Make Music Through Play
Whether it’s dancing around to music with scarves or banging on pots and pans, let your children discover the joy of making music early on.
Talk to Your Kids About Music
When your children are pre-verbal, talk to them about a song the way you’d talk to them about other things in their life, letting them know what they’re listening to and why you like it. It may not seem like it, but everything you’re saying is shaping your kids’ understanding of what they’re hearing. When they’re old enough to talk to you, discuss the music with them. Tell them who’s making the music, and discuss the elements of it you both enjoy.
Be aware that even when your children don’t look like they’re paying attention, they’re still doing a whole lot of processing and learning, so let’s fill their lives with as much music as we can!
How to Make Music With Your Child
It doesn’t matter how good a musician you are. Your kids love to do what you do. If they hear you singing, they’ll want to sing. Even if it’s just clapping along with music at home, you’ll be helping your child’s musical development.
You don’t need to purchase a new Steinway to expose your kids to music-making at an early age. Studies show infants who tinker around with musical toys develop better aural skills than those who are passively exposed to music: that means a more engaged and rewarded music listener. There are plenty of toys out there that will allow baby to discover simple melodic sequences. I like the Baby Einstein Count and Compose Piano because it allows babies to explore five diatonic notes in the scale, as well as string together pre-made melodies in “composer mode.”
Toddlers have slightly better attention spans than infants, and have unlimited energy. Harness that energy by making up games that involve movement. March around the yard with drums or tamborines and beat out the rhythm while singing a simple song. Play Ring Around The Rosie or London Bridges Falling Down. Older toddlers will enjoy copycat games in which you beat out a very simple rhythm, and have them imitate you.
Now is also the time to start exposing children to very basic ear training. Play very high and very low notes, and reinforce which is which by saying ‘high’ with a high voice, and ‘low’ with a low voice. Do the same for quiet and loud.
I recommend the Hohner 5 Piece Toddler Music Band, which includes a xylophone and several rhythm instruments. I like the variety and the portability of these toys, as opposed to a larger toy piano which can’t get up and run around with your toddler.
Four and Five-Year-Olds
When your child is four or five, consider enrolling him or her in formal music lessons. I frequently get the question, “what age should my young one begin lessons,” and the answer varies from child to child. If your child actively engages with you and focuses on the task at hand, he or she will probably benefit from music lessons. At this early age, keyboard is the best instrument to learn. Keyboards are straightforward, great for coordination, and require no strength or tuning on the part of the child.
You might also consider enrolling your child in dance lessons at this age. Ballet and tap were instrumental in cultivating my sense of rhythm and my “ear” for classical music. Dance is also a great energy sink for those kids who aren’t quite ready to sit still.
The most important point to remember is if you love music, and constantly demonstrate that to your child, chances are, your child will love it too. Early childhood exposure isn’t as much about aptitude as it is about enjoyment, so grab those pots and pans and get marching!