Most kids love music. They love the repetition, the predictability, the way it makes them want to move or sing, or the way it relaxes them. Unfortunately, some music aimed at the early childhood market doesn’t always appeal to an adult ear…
Two Words – “Baby Shark”.
But music for kids can extend way beyond The Wiggles or even Grandpa Shark!
Think about what kind of music you like to listen to. Unless there’s an explicit language warning, most likely it’ll be fine for your child to listen to as well.
When you do select some music, remember your child will benefit from more than just listening. Find something that will inspire some singing, clapping or dancing. When our brains make meaning from music, a cognitive process called ‘audiation’ occurs. Focus on the interaction with the music, as you build your child’s musical repertoire. Home-made musical instruments or even just tapping out the rhythms on the kitchen table can help train your child’s musical ear. If you’re wanting your child to calm or even settle to sleep, rocking or patting in time to some slow music (around 60 bpm) will help internalise that steady beat and regulation to occur.
Just like food, your child’s musical diet needs to be varied and interesting. Try music from different cultures and both old and recent hits.
When your child sees you enjoying music and singing along, they will learn what a positive impact music can have from a young age. So create a playlist together, that the whole family can enjoy. I’ve started one for you here, inspired by some of my young daughters’ favourites… and not one baby shark in sight.
Before you pick the songs, keep in mind that your child benefits from doing more than just listening. To get the full benefits of music, children need to sing, clap and dance along with the tunes. Singing and moving to music tells the brain to make meaning of it, a cognitive process called audiation, explains Lili Levinowitz, cofounder of Music Together and professor of music education at Rowan University of New Jersey.
Audiation in music is like thinking in language. We learn by practicing it, making sounds and essentially training our brains. The brain can only develop its musical comprehension if we tell it to through voicing and dancing, not through simply listening. “We’re isolating ourselves with the earbud,” she says. “My research shows that 50 percent of children enter kindergarten without knowing the difference between singing and speaking.”
As you start to build your child’s music library, focus on interaction with the music that’ll help train your child’s musical ear. Peggy Durbin, a music educator at Kindermusik in Columbia, Md., suggests using bought or homemade instruments to play along. Help your child make music, not just listen to it.
The best musical library for your child includes a wide variety—a mixture of genres you like and music they like. Levinowitz compares music you play to the foods you serve: you don’t want your child eating only mac and cheese, or similarly, listening to the same CD all the time. “Create an ear food buffet,” she says. Your musical menu should consist of songs from your culture and those around the world, as well as music that you love.
“In addition to playing multiple genres of music, parents should play music that they enjoy,” says Eric Rasmussen, chair of early childhood music at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore. “I emphasize classical and jazz especially (that’s my taste), but there is no bad type of music. It’s harder to find appropriate music in some styles than others.”
In order to challenge your child musically, aim for a variety of rhythms and tonalities, or songs that are in different keys. “Play adult quality music,” adds Rasmussen. “It is also best to play music that does not have strident tone quality, that is, music that changes its sound frequently. Orchestral music is best for this. By contrast, most thrash metal bands usually don’t have much contrast from one song to the next, let alone within a song.”
Variety exposes children to more styles, but more important, musical variety may help them learn better. “Children learn through the juxtaposition of difference,” Levinowitz says. “They should be singing those songs in unusual tonalities. Other beneficial actions include singing along or chanting to songs that are in asymmetric meters and not necessarily inherent in the culture.”
Start with the Familiar
When determining how to introduce your child to music, consider the songs you sang growing up and start there. Durbin suggests starting with nursery rhymes put to music before gradually moving into folk songs and classical numbers as the children reach preschool age.
When in doubt, consult the experts.