Music to Their Ears

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I’m a bit of a music geek. Much of my free time is spent discovering music old and new, mainstream and obscure, making mixes (on CDs, because I’m old), reading, thinking and writing about music and, whenever I can do it, listening.

I also have four daughters, and as much as I want to share my enthusiasm with them, this has proved to be tricky. For one thing, much of what I listen to is simply not appropriate for children (the same can be said for what still gets played on Top 40 radio). For another, my girls are free with their opinions and have made it clear what they want to hear and what they don’t (my seven year-old is alone among her sisters in appreciating a good synthesizer).

What works for them? We play a lot of classical music during the day. It has been claimed that playing Bach and Vivaldi and especially Mozart can have a positive effect on a child’s brain development; and though the evidence for this has been disputed, there’s no doubt that it makes a nice backdrop for them as they work and play. Jazz and folk music have always been popular in our house. While the kids love the soothing sounds of New Age music, I…don’t, so much.

It is only recently that my kids have discovered the musical mainstream, in the form of the soundtrack to Frozen. You are probably familiar with this, especially if you have girls. There is nothing like hearing four children sing “Let It Go” at the same time in four different tempos and levels of volume.

Children are always listening, and will soak up whatever is around them. Some of my earliest memories are of my parents playing Janis Joplin and Creedence Clearwater Revival, and not surprisingly they stuck with me. It made me very aware, as a parent, of what I am exposing them to. So what’s the best way to introduce music to kids?

  • It’s important to help children connect what they’re hearing to the people making the music. If you have musicians in your family, let your kids see and hear them playing instruments.
  • If you can, practice an instrument, any instrument, at home. I own a banjo, and regardless of my lack of skill, it is good for them to see me struggle with it. After all, we want them to know that we take on skills through practice, and that failing is part of the process (I am good at failing on banjo).
  • Show them performances on YouTube and point out what’s happening. Help them to identify the sounds that they’re hearing and where they come from.
  • Encourage them to make music on their own, whether it be through the music program at their school, or with instruments (bought or made) at home. Countless studies have made connections between music making and other skills, especially math and problem-solving.
  • Most importantly, sing! Make up songs for bedtime, cleanup time, bath time, and crossing the street. Sing lullabies. And yes, sing songs from Frozen. Using songs to prepare children for chores, transitions and other routines has proven to be very effective.