Music is a universal human gift. Cultures all over the world have their own ways of creating music. Music helps us connect with each other, express our emotions, define our experiences and mark important events. The first sound we ever hear is musical – the rhythm of our mother’s heartbeat is the soundtrack of our beginning.
And yet, many people feel that the ability to make music is reserved for a select few – the “musicians” of the world. Many believe that only some are born with natural talent. In fact, all children are musical. We are all born with the wiring needed to develop musical skills (barring a disability that limits movement or sound production). These natural abilities need to be nurtured over time, ideally before age six. Given the right learning opportunities, almost all children can learn to sing in tune and keep a steady beat.
You don’t have to think of yourself as a “musician” to raise a musical child. Children learn the most from the modeling of their loved ones – seeing you be musical is the ultimate inspiration. And they learn through play (not “practice”), so the most important thing is to have fun. Here are some simple ways you can support your child’s musical development, regardless of your own experience:
Sing With Your Child
Your child loves the sound of your voice, even if you don’t sing in tune. When you sing, it shows your child that singing is normal, and that people of all ages can sing just for fun. Sing pop songs, lullabies, funny stories, nursery rhymes. Make up songs about your world. Invest in a collection of age-appropriate music (kids’ songs) that you enjoy as well.
Dance With Your Child
In order to learn about rhythm, children need to move, and they need to see you move. Take time to dance to your favourite songs – with your child; and for your child. Clap your hands. Step to the beat. Make up silly actions.
Acknowledge Your Child’s Musical Behaviours
When you notice your child engaging in music, whether she’s sustaining a single sound, bouncing her torso, or picking up part of a song, join in. Repeat her sound back to her, bounce your own body, sing the song. This mirroring reinforces her behavior and shows encouragement. Sometimes your child might want space to experiment on her own, so be aware of her signals. Never criticize or tease a child (or adult!) about his or her growing musical abilities.
Provide a Variety of Musical Experiences
Take your child to concerts and festivals. Keep a basket of child-friendly instruments handy for family jam sessions. Drum on plastic tubs or pots and pans, or make shakers from empty plastic bottles filled with rice. Listen to fast songs, slow songs, and music from around the world.
Join a Music Class
Early childhood music classes can be a wonderful source of inspiration, fun and community. If the songs and activities are age-appropriate and the teacher is knowledgeable, a class can provide a rich learning environment for your musical family to grow together.
Know That it’s Important
When you provide your child ample opportunities to develop his musical abilities, you help him develop confidence and self-esteem. He will not be embarrassed to sing “Happy Birthday,” and he will be much more successful at learning an instrument at school. He will have an early start at literacy and math skills.
Perhaps most importantly, music-making promotes family bonding, happiness and wellness. Even if the memories fade, the positive feelings associated with music will live on.
Heidi is an Early Childhood Music Specialist, voice coach, author and Expressive Arts Therapist. She is also a singer and songwriter who has raised a musical child of her own. She runs Music Together classes for 0 – 5 years at various locations throughout the Lower Mainland. www.harmonyexpressivearts.com