This is PART 1 of a multi part post focusing on ways in which to expose your young children to music without spending loads of money on classes. This post just provides some basic background information; next week (and the week after, if needed), I will provide you with examples of things that you can do to expose your children to music.
As someone who’s heavily involved in music, I’m often asked, “What’s the best local music program in which to enroll my baby/toddler?” There are many programs like, Music Together or Kindermusik that are really fun and great for developing little brains; however, they’re not cheap and if you live where I live, they’re also not really logistically convenient. But let me let you in on a little secret: you don’t need to enroll your child in organized music classes at that age unless you, as a mom, want to socialize your child and yourself to other kids/moms. If your objective is simply to introduce your child to early musical concepts, this is something you really can do at home, even if you have little to no musical aptitude.
This post is designed to provide you with ideas of things you can do to introduce your child to music without enrolling them in classes. The post will focus on the fact that music is present in many aspects of our life, and you can expose your kids to music constantly (as opposed to just an hour a week), while really making it fun. Before getting into different games and musical activities that you can do at home, I should mention that if you want to introduce your child to other kids, moms, and a variety of kids’ music without spending a lot of money, you should check out your local library or churches – MANY have free musical programs and even the ones that are not great are still good exposure for children.
Early childhood music classes generally revolve around two key concepts. Developing an innate understanding of these two concepts is critical as a solid musical foundation for your child. Even if your child does not grow up to be involved in music, the concepts below truly stimulate the areas of the developing brain that can benefit a child in the long term.
1) Teaching the body to FEEL the music – this means teaching your kids to feel the rhythm, beat, speed, mood of the music. This will help not only with music but with activities like dance and sports.
2) Teaching the ear to LISTEN to the music – this is what we traditionally think of as music – tone, pitch, volume, melody.
Once you get beyond the basics, learning concepts such as technique and theory are critical, and are sadly, often overlooked. At that point, unless you are a professional musician yourself, it’s probably time for real music lessons.
You really don’t need to buy a lot of musical toys to develop your child’s musical skills. You can make most props at home with things like empty vitamin bottles filled with beans, big sticks you find in your backyard, and empty snack tubs like plastic deli containers and empty coffee cans. Be sure to “childproof” your props before using – for example, I usually glue the vitamin lids on so that we don’t have beans suddenly flying all over the place. One toy that I do recommend that you buy is some sort of cheap electronic keyboard that has multiple rhythm and sound functions – we have a tiny little Hello Kitty keyboard that sells for under $20 at Wal-Mart. Because the keyboard is a very visual instrument, teaching them to “see” the sounds and how they move relative to what they sound like is very helpful.
Beyond the keyboard, if you are willing to buy additional basics, I would get a set of rhythm sticks, and some sort of pleasant sounding percussion toy such as a tambourine. These are not necessary as you can improvise with homemade items, but it’s not a bad investment to make.
When to Start Instrumental Music Lessons
Studies have shown that like language, people do best with retaining music if they learn at a relatively early age. If your child shows an aptitude and interest for music, there’s nothing really wrong with starting them on lessons once they’re capable of listening, following basic direction, and sitting still for an extended period of time – I would not recommend starting any earlier if any of those elements is missing because it will only become frustrating for everyone. If you want to start your kids on traditional lessons that teach them to read notes and play, you should probably wait until they can read basic words because they’ll be in the mindset of seeing something on paper and processing it into some sort of action or instruction. Generally, this is at about first grade. If you prefer to start them earlier than this, kids may not be able to translate what they see on paper (notes) into instrumental actions and so programs that focus on rote activity (memorization and repetition, such as the Suzuki Method) could be a good place to start.
One word on Suzuki – while it is a great program, some teachers do not incorporate the critical elements of music reading and theory early enough into the program. IF you do go the Suzuki route, be sure to ask about when sight-reading and music theory are introduced. I took Suzuki violin as a child – in the year that I took it (despite already knowing how to read music and having basic theory via piano lessons), I was never taught how these notes apply on the violin. Therefore, I can play the violin like a champ by ear only but I am unable to read music and play it on the violin.
Next week, I will introduce some activities that you can do with your young child (preschool age and younger) to introduce them to music without having to enroll in organized music classes.