Is there such a thing as too early for music lessons?

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The short answer is no. The long answer is maybe, and I’ll explain why.

There is no age too early for musical learning (our brains are equipped to start learning music from birth), but that learning should be developmentally appropriate. Because children develop at different rates, there is no magic age to start music lessons. There are three- to four-year-olds that begin violin lessons and do extremely well. That doesn’t make it necessarily a good idea for your three- or four-year-old.

If you have dreams of your child becoming a piano prodigy, you’re going to have to put that on the backburner, because the chances of that are pretty small. However, if you envision your child taking piano lessons and coming to love music because of it, that is a much more manageable goal. That is also a goal that you can reasonably start on from birth. There are some practical ways that you can make that happen.

First of all, you are your child’s primary music teacher. If you want them to begin learning an instrument early, you have to be able to teach them. That may mean that you get lessons in whatever instrument you want your child to learn, perhaps years before they start. When they begin lessons, you will have to go with them. You will need to practice with them.

When you decide that they will start lessons, be careful about the teacher that you choose. You may think that the concertmaster of the so-and-so philharmonic that also teaches lessons is the way to go, but if that musician isn’t equipped to deal with younger students, it may not be your best choice. Find a teacher who specializes in teaching young students and your little one will be more successful.

Choose a beginning instrument. For many that is piano or violin because they are accessible to even the smallest students. Let the child get used to the instrument before beginning lessons. You want them to be excited about it before they start the hard work of actually learning the instrument. Also, be aware that the instrument that they start with may not be the instrument that they will want to play for the rest of their lives. Your child may begin violin lesson at 4, but when she gets to fourth grade, want to play trumpet in the band. You’ll have to be ok with this. After all, she’s still playing music, right?

Accept that it may be slow-going at first. Your child may just hold the instrument while you play and sing the song you are learning. They may only play a few strings or a few notes. You are going to have to find a balance between being a strict motivator and a gentle encourager. While part of this balance is to find your style of parenting/teaching, you also need to find which balance works for your children.

Each of your children may have different needs. One child may be self-motivated and find her own time to practice regularly without being told, another may need a more regimented practice schedule in order to stay on top of her assigned lessons. If you are too strict with the very self-motivated student, you may stifle her natural urge to practice and take the fun out of noodling on her instrument in peace. If you are too hands-off with your other (and I won’t say lazy, but maybe less diligent) child, they won’t get the push they need to discover how much they love playing. If you discover the best motivation style for your child, be sure to share that with your teacher, she can use that knowledge to help your child progress.

No matter the age, make music fun! Music is supposed to be a joyous, social experience; explore group classes, go to concerts, let your children try different instruments! Sometimes finding balance with different activities is difficult, so if they need to give music a break for a while, don’t be discouraged. Many children who start lessons early, find that maybe the first instrument that they tried wasn’t for them, or perhaps they weren’t ready to commit to practicing, or even that their first teacher wasn’t a good match. While I don’t advocate quitting, I think it is important for children to explore all of their interests without having to make life-long commitments. Just like with practice- try, try again!

Do you have any insights on how to begin early music lessons? Any other questions about beginning your child on an instrument? Please chime in with a comment!

A million different things to do with shaky eggs…

Ok, maybe not a million, but there are a many, many different activities to do with shakers. Shakers are probably one of the best first instruments. I mean, we give infants rattles as soon as they can hold onto something, and then they are shaking away. Before we get into the activities, here are a couple of tips when it comes to infants/toddler/preschoolers with shakers.

  1. Hand-sized is a good rule of thumb (haha! get it?) for this group. If the shaker is at least hand-sized, they might be able to get it in their mouth, but they shouldn’t be able to choke on it. If they can wrap their hand around it, the more proficient they will be at shaking it on (or around) the beat. If it is top heavy, they will be more likely to drop it and it will impede their ability to play on the beat.
  2. Try shakers of different materials/ textures/ timbres. Shakers are more interesting when they can make all sorts of different sounds! There’s plastic, wood, gourds, wicker, long, short, big, small…
  3. Plastic or wood shakers for those that are putting instruments in mouths. Unfortunately, with kids, this is a fact of life. For some children, putting things in their mouth extends beyond infanthood into years 3, 4, and even 5. This is not necessarily a bad thing; some children are just more connected to learning through that route. Once they can understand you, try to discourage them putting instruments in their mouths, without being too harsh. Replace instruments with choke-able parts with safer ones.
  4. Show them, don’t do it for them. You should show them how to hold or play the instruments, but do not shake them for them to the beat. They will learn from watching you. While doing it for them gets them on beat faster, it does not help them develop beat competency in the long term.
  5. Don’t forget to move! Shaking shakers while moving keeps children interested and is great for developing rhythm!

There are many, many different ways that you can use shakers. They are great at keeping the beat, but it can get boring if you always do it the same way. Get creative!

  • Count the beats- I like to beat them on the floor in front of me from left to right. You can count the beats, “1-2-3-4,” or just show them with the shakers. It doesn’t really matter if the children can count with you or not.
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  • You can also draw a circle to show the beat.
    circle shaker
  • Shake to show volume. Start down low and quiet, and get louder as you raise the shakers!
  • Hide the shakers behind your back.
  • Play freeze! Have your children watch whoever is the conductor and stop when they stop!
  • Pick different body parts, maybe ones that go with your song, or just pick any one!
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  • Play copy-cat. Play a rhythm and have everyone else repeat it. I suggest doing the listen-repeat several times to ensure that even young musicians can catch on.
  • Pass the rhythm or beat- pass a shaker on the beat by placing it in the hand of the person next to you or in front of them. You can also have the first person play a rhythm and the next repeat it. Then they make up a different rhythm for the person next to them.
  • Roll the shakers on the ground, like you’re cracking a hard-boiled egg or like you’re rolling dough (this get’s the core of the body in on the action, which is good for internalizing the beat!).
  • “Fry” the shaker like an egg in the palm of your hand.
  • And many more! If I think of more, or if I get ideas from readers, I’ll add them! Send me your great shaker activities that you do at home!

This Adorable Toddler Singing Ed Sheeran Is All Of Us On Karaoke Night

etstrab:

Cute toddler sings along while playing his guitar!

Originally posted on Buzzfeed Music:

*drinks too much* *turns into infant rockstar*

This incredibly cute kid singing along to Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” is going to have you awwww-ing instantly.

This incredibly cute kid singing along to Ed Sheeran's "Thinking Out Loud" is going to have you awwww-ing instantly.

It will also probably remind you of the last time you tried your hand at karaoke while being totally wasted.

Via Facebook: LADbible

Apparently, the kid is good enough to tell that the guitar is “out of tune.”

Apparently, the kid is good enough to tell that the guitar is "out of tune."

We all love thorough professionals.

Via Facebook: LADbible

You’ll soon realize that the guy who’s actually singing in the video is quite good too.

You'll soon realize that the guy who's actually singing in the video is quite good too.

Via Facebook: LADbible


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Filling your family’s music basket

If you want your children to be able to create music, they need lots of practice! Having a basket of instruments, either that you bring out for music time or have available with the rest of their toys, gives them a chance to explore music on their own and experiment with different instruments. Knowing just want to get can be difficult. Many toy stores sell kits, but these often include plastic toys that make more noise than music. There are so many different companies that sell instruments and movement props, that I cannot even begin to name them all. Time and again, though, I find myself using West Music for the things that I need for class, and I have never been disappointed. They aren’t paying me, and I wouldn’t discourage you from trying to shop for the best price, but they are having a movement prop sale in March, so if you want to order, now is the time! Here is a list of things that make great additions to your music basket (you can also check out my West Music wishlist to see some of the instruments I recommend):20150312_090545

  • Small drums and tambourines. Because your kids are small, drums they can handle easily, like the ones pictured above, are best. They can be frame drums, which are hand-held, small floor drums, drums with mallets, like lollipop drums, or even small bongos. I’d stay away from drums with fiberskin heads because while they sound great, don’t hold up to being hit with mallets, which is what your children will want to do.
  • Shakers. Shaky eggs are a favorite because they can be easily held by babies. Small maracas are great, too. Plastic ones hold up better, but wooden ones do sound better. Some wooden shakers are shaped like animals, which are fun for children. Stay away from big, adult-sized maracas. They are too heavy and cumbersome.
  • Castanets, tone blocks, and small hand-held percussion. There are so many different kinds, and they can usually be found for a couple dollars a piece. Kokorikos are a lot of fun. Rain sticks and be a fun and beautiful addition to music time.
  • Movement props. Scarves and streamers fold up and can be used in many creative ways by children while they dance. I really like using rubber bands, like the ones on my West Music wishlist, so that we can stretch and move the music together as a group.
  • Props for singing. Toobaloos and kazoos can help children find their singing voices, as well as puppets, or even play microphones.
  • Books. In order for children to become accustomed to seeing musical notation and connect it with the music that they make, they need to see it and have it be around the house. The Wee Sing series is great at providing notation, pictures, and CDs to sing with. Sing the songs and look at the music in the book, just as if you were reading words to your child.

Do you have favorite instruments in your collection at home? If so, let me know which instruments you or your children just couldn’t live without!

How to get the most out of your Early Childhood Music Class

So, you’ve signed up for an early childhood music class. Whether you chose one of the most popular programs, like Music Together, Kindermusik, Musikgarten, or something else entirely, you want to make sure to get the most bang for your buck. After all, you may only be able to participate in one semester or year before you’re trying dance, gymnastics, or sports with your little ones, or the money it costs becomes a burden on your family. Here’s a list to help you make those weekly lessons last a lifetime.

Sofia and Lila play row your boat
Licenced under Creative Commons © Noam, Jemima, & Lila on flickr
  • Go to class: This might seem like a no-brainer, but if you don’t treat class like a priority, your children won’t treat it like one either. Try to find a class that fits your schedule, which can be tough with preschool, naps, other activities, and not to mention untimely childhood illnesses. However, I think it is worth molding your schedule around a once-a-week class. Infant naps can be unpredictable and changeable, but you’re still only on the hook for class once a week. Try to do everything you can to make it. Bring your sleeping baby, even if it’s just you and the baby. You’ll probably feel awkward, but the baby is still becoming acculturated to music, and you’ll get to learn the songs and activities. You’ll then be able to replicate those activities at home, but not if you didn’t learn them in class first! If baby gets cranky and you have to leave, that’s ok. If you have to spend the whole class nursing, it’s fine! They are still benefiting from being in class.
  • Learn the songs. I know it’s almost like having homework, but it’s worth it to familiarize yourself with the songs so that you can fully participate in class. It also allows you to enjoy the songs on the CDs spontaneously, without having to make sure you have the CD handy! If your children are old enough to learn the songs, getting them comfortable with singing the songs gives them more confidence with participating in class, so then you feel like they are getting the most out of it.
  • Bring fed and rested kids to class. Again, probably a no-brainer, but your child can’t enjoy class if they are tired or hungry. Try to shift your schedule to fit the class and give it your all. Maybe music class day is not a good day to go to the pool from 10am-2pm. Have a snack before class so children are full and ready to sing and play.
  • Steal your teacher’s ideas. Did the teacher plan an activity that your children absolutely loved? Recreate it! If there was a certain prop, ask her where to buy it or make a version for use at home. Sing the song and play the way you did in class. Do you like the new lyrics that the teacher made up? Use them yourself. Don’t worry, we won’t sue. Sing the tonal patterns that you learned in class with your children after you finish singing the song together. Start singing directions at home and see how much faster your children clean up! Copy the body percussion the teacher used during the rhyme. You’ll make music at home more fun, and you’ll be connecting what you do in music class to music-making at home for your children.
  • Put in requests to your teacher. Your teacher has a lesson plan for class, but she might be able to fit in a round of your favorite rhyme or song. If she can’t get it into that day’s lesson, I guarantee she’ll try to fit it in more lessons than she would have otherwise, just because she knows you and your children like it. If your teacher doesn’t normally take requests, maybe send her an email letting her know the songs and activities your children appreciate most.
  • Have fun! If your children see you having fun, they’ll have more fun, too. It will also show them how much you love music.
  • Give it time. While participating in early childhood music classes will have long-term benefits for your children’s musicality and brain growth, the products of this education might not manifest themselves quickly. Your child might be badly behaved during class, or maybe they don’t participate at all during the lessons. There is usually something behind this that the child is working through. You may have to take a break from music classes for a while, but I urge you to try again. Maybe when your child has become more comfortable with his singing voice, or maybe she is more comfortable around new people. If you started in the Fall, sing those songs at home all year long, then come back in the Fall of the next year and maybe they will be happy to sing and dance to those songs. Some children just need more time. You wouldn’t pull them out of kindergarten for being shy or getting into trouble once in a while, so don’t halt their musical education! If a class environment isn’t suited to your child’s needs, try to adapt the songs and activities to your life at home. If you’re not sure how, ask your teacher! I’m sure she won’t mind helping, even if you’re not enrolled. Most of us are passionate about music and education, and wouldn’t miss the chance to help a child make music!

I hope these tips were helpful. Do you have any more tips to add from your experiences in early childhood music classes?

My Child Won’t Sing…

Every child has preferred ways of expressing their musicality. My son’s happens to be with lots and lots of volume…P1000485

As a parent, we have a desire to know how well our children are meeting certain developmental milestones. New parents are going to check reference books and the internet to see what their child should be doing and when. Often parents worry about their child’s musicality. Just like other developmental milestones, musical milestones vary with each child, and sometimes the variance is even greater than with motor or linguistic milestones. A lot of this is because our culture doesn’t emphasize music the way many other cultures do, so children are simply getting less practice. Another factor is that sometimes we just can’t see what our child understands. If you are reading this blog and care about your child’s musical development, it is almost certain you had little to do with any delayed development. You can go to this PBS site to check out musical milestones.

However, this post isn’t really about milestones. What if a child can’t, doesn’t, or won’t sing? My son, the elder of my two children, obviously loved music from a young age, but he was well past two by the time he did anything that resembled singing. As a music teacher, I felt troubled by this. Didn’t I sing enough to him? He certainly got enough music in utero, as I was singing as an elementary music teacher, all day, every day until his birth. Now, he certainly does sing, but he has developed an insecurity around singing. Maybe he feels that because it takes him a long time to learn songs (especially the words) that he isn’t good at it. In fact, he’s said so. Hearing “mama, I’m not a good singer,” is heart-breaking. If you’re dealing with something similar (maybe your child asks you to stop singing, only sings when he doesn’t think someone is listening, or doesn’t sing at all, but loves dancing to music), I don’t have any magic answers for you, but I have some suggestions.

  • Figure out how your child likes to be sung to. Maybe they don’t want “background noise,” but want to be sung to, face-to-face. Maybe face-to-face is too much for an introverted child, but they will join in to music that is around. You may want to catch their singing on camera, but while some children will jump at the chance to perform, others will shrink from it.
  • Take out words, or slow them down. Putting words and music together is challenging, and not that natural for some children. My son often complains he doesn’t know the songs at class, but comes home and sings the melody without words or with made-up words. Sing with vocables (la, ba, doo, etc.) to make the child focus on the music instead of the words.)
  • Repetition, Repetition, Repetition. Variety is the spice of life, and you should sing many different songs, but children often take several repetitions in a row to become comfortable with a song and start to understand it. Even when it’s a song that they “know,” it might take several play-throughs for them to join in. This is why your child always shouts “again!”
  • Embrace Silence. Children need quiet time, just like adults. Our brains need a break to process everything they absorb. On a larger level, have time without you singing or listening to music, or TV. During your child’s quiet play by themselves, you might hear echos of songs you sung earlier that day or that week. You may even hear them make their first improvisations. On a smaller scale, pause between lines of a song for them to catch up or repeat what you just sang. For very familiar songs, slow down toward the end of the line of music and omit the last word or two for them to fill in, i.e. “Rockabye baby, on the… tree top, when the wind… blows, the cradle will… rock.

Try these tips, or you find more tips at How to Sing with Toddlers ‘The Hanen Way’

Please comment: What got your little one to start singing if they were reluctant?

10 Things You Should Do BEFORE Your Child Begins Piano Lessons

From birth, we should be molding our children’s musical environment. If you want your children to start piano lessons, or instrumental lessons, it is smart to prepare them for it with their environment. Here is a good list of what to do before your students start piano lessons.

10 Things You Should Do BEFORE Your Child Begins Piano Lessons | Music Schools International

Props for Musical Play

There are a wide variety of musical instruments and toys that are available for children of all ages. Some help children’s musicality, and some are very annoying, like the guitar pictured below (trust me, I know from experience.) 20140125_083143

While you can buy all sorts of props, and I suggest that you do, here are some ideas for the Do-It-Yourselfers out there. Dancing ribbons and scarves are great ways to encourage musical movement in young children. They are fun and colorful. I suggest these over the streamers on sticks for young children because children running around with sticks is never a good idea. These are more durable, too. However, you may not need the dozen or twenty-something that come with the sets sold by music education retailers. If you DIY, you can make scarves or dancing ribbons in you or your child’s favorite colors, which may encourage them to use it even more. You could even tie-dye the scarves and get the children involved! Below are the links to the two websites that give detailed DIY instructions. Happy crafting!!!

DIY Dancing Ribbons

DIY Dyed Silk Scarves

Musical Play

Babies like to be bounced on laps; it’s a great way to elicit those infectious baby giggles. Did you know it’s also good for their musical development? Babies that are bounced on laps internalize the steady beat of the music. You can bounce to music you are listening to, or you can sing.

How about using this opportunity to make classical music fun? I sing themes from Rossini’s William Tell Overture while my daughter bounces on my lap and holds my hoodie strings like a horse.

It doesn’t matter if you sing it exactly right. The point is you are isolating the recognizable themes from the larger piece and portraying them in ways more relatable to a young child. They will begin to recognize those themes when they hear the Overture.

What musical games do you like to play? Do you listen to classical music with your family?

Ok, now what am I supposed to do?

Alright, you’ve committed to being more musical at home. You sing more, dance more… but what else could you possibly do? How about enjoying some musical prop time? It’s a great idea to have some instruments just for your kids that are kid friendly, like shaky eggs, drums, and small percussion instruments. You can put on the CD player or sing your favorite songs and play along. You can also encourage musical movement by dancing with scarves.

Dancing with scarves

If you are feeling adventurous, like some of my local mom friends, you can conduct your own preschooler ensemble! The kids were given simple directions like when to start, stop, get louder or softer. They had tons of fun and it is very simple to put together. If they don’t follow the directions, that’s fine, too. They can work on their beat competency while the song is going on. Check out our little ensemble below!

*Thanks to the mamas that helped with the video and donated their kids and their time to this blog post!