The early years
Baby music classes are a fantastic way for parents to introduce their children to music right from the beginning. If you can find a good class near you it’s a fun way to introduce singing and movement to your baby, as well as being a great opportunity for new parents to meet each other too!
Classes like these do pull on the purse strings though, so If you’re unable to justify the expense or can’t commit to classes on a long-term basis, attending just a half term of classes will be enough to watch a professional at work and perfect for you to learn the basics of what you could be doing yourself at home. Many first time parents doubt whether they’re doing the right things, so by going to a few classes, you will quickly build your confidence.
Sing, sing, sing
Singing is something that everybody can do with their children at home and even if you think you’re a terrible singer, you should never be embarrassed to give it a go. Your child will respond to your voice because they recognise it, regardless of how good or bad you sound! When they’re little you could start by singing traditional nursery rhymes (with your own made up words if you can’t remember them) and then as they get older you can start singing along to your favourite band, solo artists or their favourite film soundtracks. All are great ways to engage your child with music. Many recordings created especially for children will include fun effects and recognisable sounds, which they will quickly engage with.
If you’re singing and your child looks like they want to join in, encourage them to sing along with you. Encourage your child to copy lines of your chosen song back to you in parrot fashion (call and response) or alternatively, you could encourage them to sing along with you at the same time, in unison. Most children will pick up the melody of a song, first of all, so encourage your child to ‘la’ the song with you, until they’re at the stage where they can grasp the lyrics too. If a song doesn’t already have any actions, then a further way to engage your child with the song would be to create your own movements.
Listening to music
Playing music for your child to listen to is an invaluable way of encouraging their musical interest. There is a vast selection of music out there to listen to and the greater variety of music they are exposed to, the quicker they will find music they really love and identify with.
Playing music can be introduced to children from birth. In the early years, playing soothing music can relax your child or help them get to sleep. Although this technique works for many parents, be warned! Some children can be stimulated by all types of music, so you may find that silence is best for your little one at bedtime.
Music is an expressive art form and benefits the social development of children. As they get older, children will start to explore different feelings and emotions when they listen to music.
As they start to understand more about what they are hearing, you can make listening to music into a game. You can do this by asking your child questions about what they can hear or you can encourage them to make up actions when they hear and identify specific sounds.
When children are babies their instinctive reaction is to respond to music physically. Many will start by moving their arms and legs! As children grow up they will respond by dancing. A great way to develop their musical interest is to actively encourage your child to dance when they hear the music.
That way, your child will automatically associate music with an enjoyable activity and feel comfortable to express themselves and what they are hearing. Associating movement with music early on will help them understand the physical aspects involved if they decide to play a musical instrument later on.
It is common for a child’s physical inhibitions to increase as they advance developmentally (and become more aware of their aptitude), so it useful to get them used to express themselves physically before they start to become too self-conscious. That way it is already ingrained as part of who they are and is second nature to them.
Let them be inspired
Whether or not your child loves music, giving them a taste of what it is all about will definitely kick start their excitement for it. One of the best ways to do this is to go to a live concert. For a child, seeing the spectacle of a symphony orchestra, a rock band or a musical can have an enormous impact on them and it will give them an excellent flavour of how wonderful being involved with music can be.
Your child will see and hear a group of people playing together and feel the effect it can have on an audience! I can still remember the first live performance I went to as a child and it’s one I’ll never forget. I would add that it’s important to pick your concert carefully though – I was taken to see an opera at 4 years old and although I loved every second, it was also totally and utterly terrifying! Concerts can be pretty pricey (especially if you have to factor in the cost of travel as well), however free or subsidised events are often put on throughout the year for families and they sometimes include outreach projects with specialist children’s workshops too.
One of the best aspects of music is that it is sociable. Children will often be misled by seeing their peers performing solo at school events and get the wrong idea. So it is important to let them know that being in a band, an orchestra, a choir or a theatre production is no different to being part of a football team and they will love the sociable doors that making music can open for them. By taking them to see a large scale concert you will be able to demonstrate to them first hand how sociable musical participation can be and it probably won’t be long before they are want to experience it for themselves.
When to encourage?
It is common for parents to encourage their children to start learning music in the early years of primary school and if money allows parents usually begin by suggesting their child starts music lessons on an instrument.
Eight times out of ten, the intention behind this idea is great. It is wonderful that there are still parents out there who recognise learning a musical instrument as a valuable skill and long may this continue, especially when children are now growing up in an instantaneous world surrounded by technology. However, if you are considering music lessons as the next step for your child, be careful to assess that the timing is right for them, else they will get nothing out of it!
If your child is asking you whether they can play the piano, guitar or another musical instrument then the timing is definitely right for them to start. If your child enjoys listening to music, is always singing, or responds to music in other expressive ways then the time is right for them too. If you are the one steering your child towards music but they have different ideas and there is something else that they would rather be pursuing, then definitely give them the opportunity to explore these alternatives first.
If the approach you use to introduce your child to music is too clinical (or forced), then they will be much more likely to view music as ‘another thing they have to learn’ and rebel against the idea. Sometimes introducing music to a child too early can result in them never wanting to try it again.
If you or another member of the family plays a musical instrument, then share it with your child because this could trigger their enthusiasm for it. It is a common trend that when one family member learns a musical instrument, another sibling will want to follow in their footsteps. Children will usually be intrigued after watching someone close to them play an instrument and then might feel inspired by that person to want to give it a go for themselves. Don’t feel nervous or worried about introducing your child to music yourself if you know what’s involved – go for it, you’ll soon know if you’re doing the right thing!
If you find yourself in this fortunate position where everything appears to be going well, don’t be disappointed if your child turns around after a few weeks and decides that they don’t want you to be the one teaching them! This is very normal. Even if you do know what you’re doing, be wary not to push back or you could experience a lot of tension. This is the point when you should seek advice from a music teacher and find someone else (emotionally unattached) to teach them instead. Even teaching your own child the basics when they’re not willing to listen to you, could be enough to put them off learning a musical instrument forever.
The techniques mentioned in this post give you the key stepping stones you will need to encourage your child’s interest in music. By being subtle in your approach and engaging your child with music through play, you’ll definitely find your child will be want to explore music more. And if after reading this you feel that your child is actually ready and raring to go, then what are you waiting for?! You have a very exciting time ahead!
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