Have you ever wondered how to help develop your child’s musicality? Maybe you’ve heard of studies linking childhood musical exposure to language development, general well being, even early math skills.
Maybe you played an instrument yourself, as a child. If you quit, how do you feel about that? Do you ever wish you’d kept it up? If so, this question may feel especially important:
What can you do now, while they are very young, to set them up for a beautiful lifelong relationship with music?
Here are three things you can do:
1. Group Music Making Experiences
Experts agree that the most effective way to teach little ones to make and to understand music is through adult modeling in a group setting. Parent child music classes are one way to do this. Between classes, listening to recordings and singing the songs at home will help your child get even more out of the class.
Whether or not you enroll in a class, though, you can still make group music making a part of your child’s life. One way to do this is to introduce a “Family Music Time” that happens weekly or even daily.
Gather the family together, bring out some percussion instruments, and sing your favorite tunes. It’s great if someone can accompany on guitar, piano, ukulele or banjo.
But even if you don’t play an instrument that lends itself well to accompaniment, you can still make music making an important part of your family culture.
The most important thing is simply to make the space to come together… and sing!
2. Sing Through Your Day
Whatever you’re doing, try adding a song to it. Getting dressed. Leaving the house. Saying a blessing before dinner…
It doesn’t matter if you consider yourself a good singer. To your baby, your voice is the most beautiful voice in the world. Now, be warned… As children reach toddlerhood, they may start to resist the singing. I call this the “Mama, don’t sing” stage.
If this happens to you, don’t take it personally. It’s not you. It happens to most of us.
And don’t give up. They might lose interest in singing for a little while, but if it remains something that you continue to take joy in, they will eventually come around. And you’ll probably hear them singing through their day too!
My son is an example of this. He went through a very strong “Mama don’t sing” phase. But now, at 4 and a half, he has not only come out of it, he actually uses songs himself as his main means of directing his little sister.
You are never too young to discover the usefulness of song!
3. Play with the rhythms of speech
Many of us think of melody when we think of singing. But rhythm is every bit as important.
One of the simplest, and most playful ways to help develop your child’s rhythmic sensibility (and your own!) is through speech. (This is why spoken rhymes tend to play such an important role in early childhood music education.)
Try speaking a nursery rhyme and watch your children snap to attention. Before you know it, if they’re verbal, they’ll be reciting it themselves.
Look for something rhymed and easy to remember. Mother Goose rhymes are a good place to start. Here’s one that works well for putting on shoes.
Deedle deedle dumpling
My son John
Went to bed with his stockings on
One shoe off and one shoe on
Deedle deedle dumpling
My son John
Once you’ve memorized a few nursery rhymes, try making up your own rhythmic patterns.
They don’t even need to rhyme. Next time you’re doing a household task, take a phrase from what you’re doing and speak it aloud. Say the words over and over, so that it turns into a chant.
Your children will imitate you in this too.
My son’s current favorite, “Baked banana, baked baked bananas.” He says this over and over, and then I add other foods (and rhythms) over the top, and before long we’ve got a wonderful syncopated rhythm going.
I love seeing him take delight in his capacity to improvise. Like imaginative play, musical play is great for the brain, and good for the soul. It’s so much fun that you hardly notice how much you’re learning.
But best of all, from my standpoint as a mother, is how these moments bring us together. In improvising, we are co-creators. Laughing together. Appreciating one another’s contributions. These are some of the times when it feels most fulfilling to be a family.
So, in closing, I’d love to hear from you! What ways are you finding to bring music into your life with young children?
And if you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, I hope you’ll join us for live, in person music making at Meadowlark Music Class, my music class for children and caregivers.