Musical sounds permeate our environment, shaping the way we experience life. We wake up to music on the radio, identify our cell phones by personalized musical tones, wait patiently in offices surrounded by soothing melodies, and select favorite CDs for pleasure and inspiration. A child’s world is equally inundated with musical moments. From the sounds of a parent’s lullaby before bedtime to the colorful tunes accompanying favorite television shows, children experience and respond to music with joy.
Beyond the simple pleasures associated with music, music offers important benefits. Research tells us that music plays a vital role in the learning process and strengthens skills in other areas, including academic achievement. Children also learn coordination, goal setting, concentration, and cooperation as they develop musical skills. Last but not least, children who make music gain the self-esteem that comes with personal achievement.
Besides all those benefits, making music is just plain fun! Children intuitively start making musical sounds from an early age, banging on the table rhythmically or attempting to coo or call out in a sustained musical way. They listen to favorite songs on CDs and begin to sing independently as they mimic familiar tunes. As they grow older, children enjoy the act of sharing and playing music with others.
There are many ways to nurture your child’s love of music and encourage his or her musical talents. Listen to musical programs and recordings together. Attend musical events and make music as a family. Here are a few more ways to encourage your child’s musical development:
- Listening. Sing to your child from birth and play music of all genres at home and in the car. As your child gets older, talk about the music with her. You may find your child shows preferences for specific types of music. Acknowledge your child’s musical interests, but continue to expand his or her repertoire as well.
- Singing. Invite your child to sing along with you. Sing favorite songs while you’re getting ready for school, cleaning up toys, or riding in the car. From about three years of age, singing with children builds on their natural ability for spontaneous, free-rhythm singing, encouraging them to sing more structured songs. Additionally, you can turn reading with your child into a musical game. Many books are written to be read with a hint of rhythm and rhyme, and some are meant to be sung. Sing them!
- Moving. Notice the way your child responds physically to music. Even young toddlers can be caught swaying to the music from a CD or moving rhythmically to the background music of ads and television programs. It is often the musical melody or rhythm that is most appealing to a young child. Encourage your child to move to music by being a model. Move your body, clap to the rhythm, or create a dance that reflects the feeling of the musical selection. Your child will soon join in the fun.
- Reading. Young children love to listen to stories. There are many appealing stories that relate to music that might spark a child’s interest in music making, musical instruments, or song and dance. Some of the most popular children’s books are those that use the lyrics of a favorite children’s song and add illustrations.
- Expanding storytelling through music. Introducing music in storytelling can be a powerful experience for a young child. Read a story like Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain by Verna Aardema or The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry. Talk about and then plan music and sounds with your child to accompany the story you select. Shaking rice in a plastic container could make the sound of rain. Tapping two wooden spoons together could represent a woodpecker’s pecking. Let your child use his or her imagination with simple objects that are commonly found at home or in the classroom. Children love the challenge of making music in this way.
- Playing musical instruments. Start by getting a few good quality instruments. Together explore the sounds the instruments can make. Percussion instruments such as drums and xylophones, blowing instruments such as slide whistles and recorders, and stringed instruments such as guitars and ukuleles all offer fertile ground for musical experimentation.
- Making musical instruments. Not everyone can afford to buy musical instruments for exploration, but you can make simple instruments at home. For example. a rubber band can be turned into a musical instrument by stretching and plucking it. A pan can become a drum by turning it over and slapping the bottom. Rice or beans in a plastic container with a lid can become a maraca. You don’t necessarily need an expensive instrument to have fun musically with your child—use the resources around you.
- Attending live performances. Share music that you love with your child and expand your own range of musical experiences by attending programs at local festivals, art centers, museums, community centers, and parks. Music at outdoor festivals, parks, and family days are perfect for small children. Older children can handle longer productions and may even enjoy a Broadway musical if the subject matter is appealing and appropriate.
- Exploring music from around the world. Music is a universal language, evident in the wide array of musical expressions created by nearly every culture around the world. Experience the music of other cultures available on labels such as Smithsonian Folkways and Putumayo World Music. Many artists offer cultural selections specifically for children. Listening to a variety of different genres enriches your child’s understanding and enjoyment.