Not just play music, but play with it. Make it fun. Make it approachable.
There are always children in my early childhood music class who are not comfortable participating in the singing or activities that we do. For some, they are just shy, others feel too much pressure to “perform” in front of others, still others use the time to absorb what is going on around them and then replicate it after their brains have had time to process it.
Almost all children get involved in free instrument time- something about all those instruments is just too much fun to ignore. Even so, there are children who prefer to play with the instruments, like toys, rather than play the instruments like, well, musical instruments!
If you are the parent of one these children, don’t despair! It’s not that they are unmusical! Some are just focused on how the instruments work or how they look. We can meet them half way, so here’s a few ideas.
- Mirroring or echoing- make a game out of taking rhythmic or short melodic phrases and have the children repeat them. It doesn’t matter much at an early age if they get it exactly right. They are learning to listen, audiate, and expanding their musical memory. Even older children (and parents!) often stop listening at the end of a pattern because they are getting ready to repeat, so make sure that you incorporate at least a beat of silence and a preparatory breath so that they have a better chance of repeating the whole pattern.
- Conversational instruments- Use instruments to have a rhythmic conversation. Castanets work well for this because they already look like clams with mouths! Have one castanet talk to the other and have the child join in the conversation. By using your voice, too, on a vocable such as “baa,” the castanets can even ask questions by having last syllable end on a slightly higher pitch. “Baa, baa baa, baa baa, BAA?” Your child will likely recognize it as a question.
- Drum with me- Play the same drum at the same time. With young children, use both hands at the same time to the beat. You can put their hands on top of yours for infants, or have toddlers sit across from you. As they get confident, you can can do left-right-left-right patterns.
- Shaky egg hide and seek- Take turns hiding a shaky egg in the room. As the seeker gets closer to the egg, shake faster, and shaker slower for farther away. Littler children might not understand the “hot and cold” shaking, so they can find the match to their egg and shake the egg they still have with you while they look for the egg.
Just make sure you and your children are having fun! And if your little engineer is still more focused on how it works than making music, don’t worry- she’s still learning and absorbing so much music and will perform when she’s ready!