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 children to the language that transcends words, cultures and backgrounds: the language of music.
1. Start ‘Em Young
When it comes to musical exposure, there’s no such thing as too young. Janna Hymes, conductor of the Carmel Symphony Orchestra, says that babies and toddlers are drawn to music because it’s enticingly interactive.
“Kids who learn music from an early age can have so much fun with it,” Hymes says. “They can make music right away, whether it’s banging on drums or crashing a cymbal. It’s immediate.”
Hillary Blake, director of Meridian Music School in Carmel, says to start with what feels right. “The most natural thing is just playing music and singing to your child,” Blake says. “Without even thinking about it, you’re rocking and singing to them.”
2. Jump Around
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. Blake says that’s because children aren’t just hearing the music — they’re feeling it as well.
“Young kids, toddlers and preschoolers especially, learn through experiencing the music rather than just listening to it,” Blake says.
Hymes adds that if you want children to develop a love for music, you have to give them the freedom to experience it in the way they choose. “I think it’s important that kids can move, because if you constrain them, they’ll learn to hate it,” Hymes says. “They’ll think it’s a horrible experience.”
3. Get Out and About
It doesn’t have to be a horrible experience. Even classical music can become thrilling for the youngest audience members, when presented in a way that appeals to their interests. That’s why parents shouldn’t fear taking their kids to live performances, especially those designed for a younger crowd. As a bonus, says Blake, it may kindle their own desire to create music.
“If they want to be in music but they don’t know what instrument or where to start, the beginning stage is really just exposing them,” Blake says. “Take them to concerts, takes them to events that have live music, take them to musicals, take them to all kinds of different shows. And then it’s going to be easier to determine what they’re drawn to.”
4. Encourage Consistency
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. Blake says parental involvement is key.
“I think the number-one thing is making the time, making it part of the routine, just like doing homework,” Blake says. “Make it a set time every day.”
5. 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.
“They may not necessarily have a lot of natural ability,” Blake says, “but if they have the ability to listen and they have the desire to learn and take the time to practice, they can do as well as a student who has talent but who doesn’t have the desire or the opportunity to succeed.”
6. Watch Them Blossom
Music has a transformative power in the lives of many children. The benefits of 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.
“The thing that’s so great about music is that there’s a sense of not just sharing, but of working together, which is vital,” Hymes says. “There’s a real sense of community. They are creating, they are learning to be responsible by having to take care of their instruments and learn their music. There is a discipline that is inherent in learning music which translates to everything else in life, and it opens up a whole world of exciting possibilities.”