What Should My Children be Listening to?

This is probably one of the most-asked questions I’ve received.

Grammar aside, it’s simply not a good question. Why? It assumes that there is something to which your children shouldn’t be listening. This leads me to my answer:

Everything.

From Peanuts by Charles Schulz

From Peanuts by Charles Schulz

Yes, I mean it. Children should be listening to as much musical variety as possible from as early as possible. That may mean that you don’t like everything that they are listening to, but if you want them to have broad tastes, it is necessary. If you asked a culinarian how to make sure that your children develop mature tastes and learn to appreciate food, they wouldn’t recommend a certain cuisine, but they would recommend variety. The earlier you start exploring, the easier it is to make trying to new things less scary.

Children love what is familiar to them. They crave the same old foods, the same old songs; and we give it to them because it makes them happy. I certainly wouldn’t say that you shouldn’t be indulging that tendency, but at the same time open their ears to new possibilities. It may mean one new song played during their favorite album that they’ve heard played a thousand times. They might say they don’t like it, but keep sneaking it in, especially if it is something that YOU like.

I have to make my kids listen to classical music and I do it mostly for myself. I love classical music and want to listen to it and sometimes listening to the Frozen soundtrack for the billionth time will put me over the edge. Sometimes they like what I pick and sometimes they don’t, but when we have to share auditory space, there needs to be compromise.

If you set up an environment in your household where you can listen to new music, or even music that you don’t like, and find a way to make it a positive experience, you will have children who are more educated about the world of music, have a broader taste in music, and most importantly will learn what they like and why they like it. In our house, we have forcefully eliminated the H-A-T-E word, especially when we talk about things that don’t suit our tastes. Kids say it because adults say it, but they don’t know what it really means and when we say it, we don’t even really mean it. When an adult says it we don’t think anything of it, but when a child says “I hate this music!” it becomes to harsh a word to be talking about something like music.

Even young children can attempt to tell you what it is about the music they don’t like. Prompt them with possible attributes about the music that don’t align with their tastes:

  • Is it too slow/fast?
  • Is it too loud/soft?
  • Does it sound too sad? (or does it not match how you feel?)
  • Are the lyrics about something you’re not interested in? (don’t say boring!)
  • Do you not like the sound of certain instruments/ voices?

Children gravitate toward songs that they can sing, like ones they know or that are repetitive, so they can pick up on them quickly. They also like music that they can dance, too. Luckily, those traits exist in at least some songs in just about every culture. Pick music that features something that your child has shown interest in and they may be more receptive to the novelty of it. For example, if you have a little one that love to bang on drums more than anything else, maybe try introducing them to the tabla found in Hindustani classical music, like in the first part of this youtube video.

If you’re interested in finding music from all over the world, the easiest place to go is the Smithsonian Folkways site. They have many recordings from all over the world, most of which you can listen to before you buy, with single tracks as inexpensive as $.99 to download.

Pandora Internet Radio is a great way to introduce a variety of music to your children, and there is very little effort involved in curating it. Try their world music station at the link above. Some moms from Portland created this Pandora kids station with kid-friendly songs. If you find a song, album, or artist you like while listening, there are links to buy it from iTunes or Amazon, allowing you to expand your go-to favorites playlist, making for less repetition during long car trips.

And don’t forget folk-songs! If you need ideas, or even sheet music, you can search or browse the Kodaly Center’s Folksong Collection.

Happy singing and dancing! Remember that variety is the spice of life! And music!

If you have any recommendations for songs or artists that are your family’s favorite or must-listen, please comment!

P.S.- The lyrical content of some music may prove inappropriate for certain age groups. For the very very young who can’t understand lyrics, I don’t think it is worth worrying about and you should listen to whatever YOU like. While some genres, like hip hop and pop have many songs with words that you wouldn’t want your children to repeat, there are also many songs that do not, and I would challenge you and myself to try to find them, so as to not rule out an entire genre music from our children’s listening opportunities. Just use your parenting extincts on this one.

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