What is music?
Ask this simple question and you will probably get a myriad of answers. From the concrete (‘sounds produced by instruments’) to the abstract (‘Well, I know it when I hear it’).
We also know that music is something that enriches our children’s lives and can instill both confidence and discipline. As parents, it is easy to get so lost in the responsibilities of making sure that we “teach” music to children that we forget to enjoy the journey!
Kids are naturally drawn to music. From early rhymes that teach them the alphabet to the songs we hear on the radio. Kids instantly understand how enjoyable music is, because it provides so many fascinating ways of saying what we feel. Whether with voice or instruments.
Listening to music is a wonderful start, but like other forms of learning, it is the hands-on opportunities that reap the most benefit. It is my hope that every child has the opportunity to experience the wonder and power of a live orchestra playing.
Not so long ago I got into conversation with a group of very young children, under age five and cute as a button. I wanted to introduce them to orchestral music, so I chose a selection with the famous flute player James Galway playing Mozart.
Together, we listened to the golden tones of the flute for about 90 seconds. Then we discussed how the music made us feel. One small boy said proudly. “Mmmm…..I was thinking that this music sounds like giraffes!”
By simply playing a piece of music, I tapped into this young child’s natural curiosity. Turning that spark into a flame is both easy and hard. Easy, because your child is already interested. Hard, because you, as a parent, have to invest time – and that isn’t something that we have lots of! To make it a little easier, start with these four tips.
4 Tips to Keep Your Child Interested in Music
1. Find a Cool Teacher.
Somebody kind. Someone who is overflowing with encouragement. Who can inspire a child into practicing and into wanting to be better. You might also consider small group lessons, too. Playing music in a group means your child gets to play with other kids and the group dynamics of sharing and playing music creates additional rewards.
Look for variety. Yes, your child will have some music they need to practice, but avoid the boring teacher who has your son playing the same thing for so long that everyone is bored!
There is quite a bit of discussion about how early a child should learn an instrument, and whether kids should have formal or play structured learning. There is no right answer. You know your child best.
2. Don’t Forget to Listen.
Ideally, you can be nearby when your daughter is at her music lesson. That isn’t always possible, so make sure that when she practices, you take a few moments to give her 100% of your attention and encourage them.
Sing together and be involved with the lessons and the practice. Watch them play at every opportunity. One way to encourage their continued interest is to take your children to concerts that feature their instrument of choice. They might just come home and pick up their instrument to play.
3. Plan. Plan. Plan.
We schedule time for soccer practice, right? So why not music practice? Yes, some kids are naturally motivated to hit the practice room. Most, however, require an adult to assist them in the process of when and how they practice.
The more you nag your son to practice, the less likely it is that he’ll do it. “Later” is not an answer you can accept. It is far better to help kids organize their day in a way that includes an “appointment” for music practice. This is a win-win. Your day is more pleasurable (and you’re getting a return on your investment). He has practice time, isn’t nagged about it, and (odds are) will be happier when he’s done.
In my experience, too many parents, and (shame, shame) some music teachers let kids decide for themselves when and if to practice. Sort of anything goes, any time of day. “Oh,” they tell me, “it’s best this way.” But it’s not. Not even really!
Check out this PBS.org article with tips for getting kids to voluntarily practice.
4. Keep it real.
Being the parent of a music student involves some expense, unbelievable shrieking and hissing noises, and constant encouragement. Most adults are aware that little Paul John or Daphne Anne will not probably play in Carnegie Hall, or even grace city auditoriums. Despite this, parents persist in asking me what musical instrument *should* their young child learn to play, and where can they find good teachers. The Arts version of the stereotypical sports parent.
Applied music (singing, playing an instrument) has so many benefits! From learning and brain development to social / emotional growth. None of that will matter, however, if a child is pushed to the point of “hating” it or feel like they’re being pushed to be the next Yo Yo Ma.
Kids will find fun, and active musical experiences to be more meaningful than the musical excellence of a performance. Being involved and participating in music, children will develop enthusiasm which in turn will promote a desire to learn more and be keen to learn to play a musical instrument.
This post was originally posted on the now-defunct Mom’s Choice Matters blog on 3/9/15.
About Chrissy Tetley
Chrissy has been involved in music in one way or another all her life, and was one of those kids playing in the street making up songs with tunes you can whistle on the way home. Piano lessons and banjo/guitar playing led to learning the flute as a serious instrument and studying the Oboe.
As a retired music teacher and NZ trained primary school teacher, Chrissy still has a keen interest in children’s education, particularly where music is concerned. But she is also passionate about storytelling.
Visit Chrissy at Music on the Bookshelf to learn more about her books and music education.