How to Introduce Music to Young Children
Ever since Mozart wrote his first composition at the tender age of five, parents around the world have asked themselves how they can get their children interested in music at a young age. Infants and very young children experience music through their immediate sensory perceptions, by hearing it, by feeling it, and by learning through experimentation about their own vocal abilities. Even if you don’t expect your toddler to compose a symphony before he enters elementary school, introducing your young child to music is a crucial part of his or her physical, emotional, and intellectual development. There are many formal opportunities for preschool music education, such as music classes for toddlers and even private music lessons for the very young. Many early childhood programs incorporate basic music education into their curriculum, but perhaps the best foundation for a lifelong love of music starts at home, with caring parental attention coupled with an invitation to your child to explore the general concepts of music directly through their senses. These are some of the most important and fundamental ways you can help your child discover the wonders of enjoying music.
Your infant’s first aural delight is the sound of your very own voice. Your infant naturally and instinctually responds to the variations of pitch and tone in your voice from birth. When you sing to your infant, it creates an association between you, the source of every delight, and music. What greater introduction could there be? I still remember the astonished look on my infant son’s face the night when I first started singing to him during a diaper change; he at first looked as if he might cry from the surprise, but then he grinned, his very first toothless smile. For an infant, the content of what you sing is quite irrelevant; you can sing opera arias, or make up tunes to the grocery list (as I used to do while shopping, much to the dismay of other patrons around me). When choosing music for toddlers, songs and lyrics representing various rhythmic patterns and tonalities are beneficial, but remember, you don’t have to sing “The Wheels on the Bus” seventy five times to be a good parent. Children respond most positively to music that you have a deep affection for, so sing something you love, rather than what the Wiggles are performing lately. Otherwise, be forewarned, in three years, the only CD’s you have in your car will be the sappy drivel that often passes for ‘children’s music’, and you will be longing for the punk rock (or opera) of your yesteryears. Why shouldn’t your children grow up with impeccable musical taste, just like yours?
Another way children begin to acquaint themselves with concepts of sound is by experimenting with their own voices. For an infant, developing skills of language and musical awareness are closely linked; the sounds infants form the basis of their budding ability to communicate, as well as the concrete foundation upon which they will eventually base all musical experience. It is important to imitate and repeat the sounds your baby makes with enthusiasm, and never to chastise your young child simply for making a sound you may feel is ‘impolite’ or overly harsh. A simple game of imitation is enough to engage a baby or very young child. Older children may enjoy a game of “Simon Says”, in which you can introduce concepts involving higher and lower tones, louder and softer sounds, and longer and shorter notes.
Providing Exposure to the Wide World of Sound
Vocal sounds shouldn’t be your child’s only introduction to music. Simply put, the more music your child is exposed to, the better. Music should be a part of your daily routine. Play favorite recordings at quiet time as you snuggle with your child; sing a song as you get dressed for the day. The more your child comes to associate music with positive experiences, the more he or she will naturally gravitate towards the comfort that music will provide as he or she grows. Although music should be an important part of the atmosphere of your home, beware of allowing music to become ‘wallpaper’. While some may disagree, I firmly believe that in order for music to maximally benefit your children, music should be given conscious awareness. We listen to music; we don’t put it on peripherally in the background when there are other things that are dominating our attention. And by all means, treat yourself and your children to age-appropriate live music experiences, remembering that while concerts specifically aimed at children are often excellent choices, many other concerts, such as those in outdoor venues, will be suitable for families, and will afford you a much wider range of choices. Finally, remember that we live in a world of sound, and that all sound is, in effect, music. Discuss and appreciate all the sounds in your environment: Is the fire truck siren a high sound or a low one? Does clapping your hands create a melody or a rhythm?
Developing Rhythmic Awareness
One of the most important benefits you can bestow upon your child is the gift of rhythm. Our bodies are naturally rhythmic. Our heart beats, our breath flows in and out evenly. With an infant, when you hold your child and rock or pat him gently to music, you are reinforcing the relationship between bodily sensation and musical rhythm. By generally choosing music with a slower rhythmic pulse for quieter moments and lively music for energetic play, you will create an association between the rhythms of music and the parallel rhythms of our lives. As your child becomes mobile, the importance of dancing becomes paramount. Many children are naturally wonderful dancers, and you can help your child relate the motions of his body to the sounds of music simply by providing lots of opportunities to move expressively to musical accompaniment. If dancing isn’t one of your foremost talents, you can alternatively bounce a ball back and forth to the beat of the music, or hold silky scarves and make patterns with them in the air as the musical melodies unfold.
The Best Musical Toys
There are innumerable musical toys on the market that make broad promises about increasing your child’s early musical prowess, but the best toys are undoubtedly those that generate acoustic sounds that children can control themselves. Very few electronic toys have musical value for the young child; the sounds they generate are unnatural, sometimes unpredictable, and don’t ultimately encourage a child to explore. The best toddler toys for music-making are made by companies that also manufacture instruments for professional musicians, such as those made by Remo, Latin Percussion, and Woodstock Chimes. These are safe and excellent products which will engage a child’s burgeoning musical curiosity while providing durability and quality. Please see the featured products below for some representative examples:
With your support and encouragement, your child will develop a love for and appreciation of music which will benefit him or her for a lifetime. And who knows? Perhaps someday he or she will surprise you with a symphony he composed in between fingerpainting projects in kindergarten.