Whether you spent your childhood headbanging to heavy metal, crooning to country, belting out showstoppers in the school musical or toting your instrument to marching band practice, chances are, the music you listened to when you were young influenced and shaped your life. Now that you have kids of your own, you want them to develop the same love of music that you had. But where to begin? Whether you have infants, preschoolers or pre-teens, there are endless ways to help them nurture a deep and meaningful relationship with music.
Here’s what you need to keep in mind when exposing your kids to music. Kid, rock on!
Start ‘Em Young
When it comes to musical exposure, there’s no such thing as too young. Anna Backer, co-owner and founder of the Cincinnati School of Music, says it’s easy to incorporate music into your routine with little ones. “Start by getting them exposed to musical instruments and letting them play through exploration,” Backer says. “Learning through play and making everything a game is a great way to get them interested.”
Julie Montgomery, executive director of Linton Chamber Music and presenter of Peanut Butter & Jam Sessions in Cincinnati, says that introducing young children to music is easy. “Turning on the radio and listening to any kind of music is a great start,” Montgomery says. “When you have your baby on your lap, just start patting out that beat. Those kinds of things develop connections in the brain.”
Children often interpret music in a way that is extremely physical. Moving to the beat of the music develops their sense of rhythm and helps them learn. Shelia Vail, director of the Indian Springs Academy of Music, says that rhythm is one of the big keys to successfully learning music.
“They’re talking and they’re playing, and one of the most important things they learn is rhythm,” Vail says. “If a child has a sense of pulse, it will be a successful journey for them. Rhythm is one of the main components of any musical program.”
Individual lessons aren’t for every child, but there’s enormous value to be found in learning with others. Group classes and lessons are a great way for children to develop their interest and learn valuable skills.
“Being in a group is a big motivator for kids,” Vail says. “They don’t want to feel like they’re the only one doing anything. They want new experiences, but also peer approval. So, some kind of group activity is really essential for children.”
Rachel Kramer, president of the Baldwin Music Education Center, says that group learning is core to how we learn. “Students gain skills in cooperation, collaboration, healthy competition and more,” Kramer says. “We learn every other skill in a group — why not music?”
If your child decides, as he or she gets older, that playing an instrument sounds appealing, you’ll need to be ready to encourage, support … and sometimes force them to develop good habits.
“Consistency is the most important piece,” says Patsy Rabinowitz, director of the West Chester Academy. “If you value music, make it part of what you do. I think especially if they get into that kind of ritual when they’re young, it’s easier to carry it forward. I have always been amazed at how much progress students can make if they practice just a little bit every day. That’s the key.”
Take Talent Out of the Equation
You don’t have to have given birth to the next Mozart or Taylor Swift to make music an integral part of your child’s life. Music is for everyone, no matter what their skill level.
“You don’t have to wait to see if your child has a musical talent to introduce it,” Backer says. “I think everybody is musical. And everybody can learn how to play an instrument or sing if they persist and continue to work at it.”
Rabinowitz adds that the concept of “talent” is fluid. “We’re talking aptitude,” Rabinowitz says. “And I think at those young ages, up to about age 7, their aptitude is not set. So the more exposure they have, the more that aptitude can increase.”
Watch Them Blossom
Music has a transformative power in the lives of many children. The benefits to being exposed to music at a young age are well-documented and extensive. From scoring better on math tests to developing social skills, music is an enriching and worthy hobby that can easily become a passion.
“Music is never going to go away,” Kramer says. “Kids love it. They learn so many other things because of it. It’s a way of communicating. It’s not like anything else they will ever do. People agree: Every life needs music!”
To learn more about introducing your child to music, check out these organizations.