When you invest in music classes for your young child, you want to be sure that your child is getting as much out of the experience as possible.

Has this ever happened to you?  You sign up for a class.  You like it.  The teacher is skilled.  You like the songs.  You like the other parents, too.  You get your hopes up.  Maybe this one will work out, you think to yourself.

And then…

Your child spends the entire time playing with a yoga block in the corner.

Or fiddling with the baby gate, trying to flee the room!

What does this mean?  Would it have been better to keep your child home?  Is he just not ready for a group experience like this?  Is he overwhelmed?  Is it the wrong class?

These are all important questions, and as a parent, you’re the only one who can come to the right answer for your family.

However, what I’m going to offer today may encourage you to stick it out.

Here’s why:

When it comes to nurturing your young child’s musicality, there are two things you need to do.

1. Provide them with a rich musical environment.  This might be a parent child music class, or a regular sing-along time at home, or with friends.  A rich musical environment is a place where adults engage in active music making, with children also free to participate.
2. Let them your child engage in her own time.  As she sees fit.  Truly.  Even if she plays with a yoga block the whole time.

Why?

Well, actually, there’s a very good reason, and the reason is this:

No matter what they are doing, when they are surrounded by live, in person music making, children are taking it in.

And guess what?  “Taking it in” is actually half of what it takes to become more musical!

I’ll explain…

When we think about what it means to be musically skilled, we usually think of a person doing something active that we can see – playing an instrument, or singing.

And this IS an important aspect of music making.  It’s half of what musical growth is about.  You might call this half “Musical Expression.”

But think about it…  In order to express ourselves musically, we first have to be able to FEEL the music within us.

To move our body to the beat, we first need to be able to FEEL the beat.

To sing in tune, we first need to be able to HEAR the differences between the pitches.

If there’s music in the vicinity, your child is taking it in. EVEN while examining the leaves. 🙂

The path of developing these abilities is what you might call “Musical Receptivity,” and just like musical expression, it is an actual set of skills and abilities that take time to develop.

The important thing to understand about musical receptivity and musical expression is that they don’t necessarily develop at the same rate.

Here’s an example.  Have you ever known an adult who LOVES music, has an enormous record collection, and is always turning you on to amazing new bands?

BUT who doesn’t sing or play an instrument himself?

A person like this has not had the chance to develop his capacity for musical expression.  But his musical receptivity is highly developed, and this is why he is able to take so much joy in music.

In order to pave the way for later musical expression, we need to cultivate our musical receptivity.

Fortunately, musical receptivity is about the easiest thing to cultivate  in your young child!

Simply expose your child to rich musical environments…  and let your child engage as they see fit.  That means don’t move their hands or feet in time to the music, or try to “help” them do anything they’re not able
To do themselves.

Instead, focus on your own enjoyment of the music.  And join in, however you can.  Sing along.  Move your body.  Shake a shaker.  You are your child’s most important teacher, and you’ll be modeling something very important for her– adults taking joy in active music making!

And if you ever doubt whether your child is getting anything out of the experience, look a little closer.

In fact, there is probably more musical expression going on than you realize.

Listen to a seven month old baby in music class, and you may notice that she is cooing in tune!  Watching a fourteen month old toddler closely, and you may notice that she is moving her arms in time to the beat!

These are actual musical milestones, and in a music rich environment, they will unfold organically, and with ease.  All while the two of you get to enjoy an activity that is a lot of fun, and that gives you new ways to connect with each other.

I don’t know that it gets better than that!

If you enjoyed this post, here are a few ways to go deeper:

Wherever you live, you can download our latest musical release for families.  It’s pay what you want!

If you’re in the SF Bay Area, join us in person:

Learn about Meadowlark, music class for children and caregivers

 Learn about Mothersong Chorus, an intergenerational singing circle for women and girls.

This post draws on research done by the Center for Music and Young Children, and the good folks of Music Together.