Kids playing guitar. Licensed through creative commons.
Music is not an individual endeavor. As parents, so much of what we teach is didactic; “no, don’t do that,” “let me show you how to tie your shoe.” However, most musical learning, especially at an early age is informal and interactive. Even babies less than one year old can start to participate, meaning that you’re not making music to them, bur with them. Their clapping off the beat and making gurgling sounds is their attempt to make music with you. Humans are social creatures, and by our nature we want to socialize and feel included in a group. Making music is one way that we do that.
When you make music at home, try to make it as social as possible. That means letting everyone be able to give their input, as though you were having a conversation. Get down on the floor with your children, and let them pick an instrument for you, or pick the song that you are going to sing. Maybe they’ll make up new words to the song, or sing it the “wrong way.” Follow their lead, and give suggestions, too, but make it “our music.” Just like in social situations, you might need to mediate “musical fights,” which could be agreeing on a tempo, a volume, the songs, or instrument choice.
Make sure that your children get a chance to see how musicians play in groups. Informal concerts, like those at coffee shops or bandstands are a good chance for them to see musicians interacting with the audience. You may be able to take them to an open rehearsal, which will let them see how much work goes into playing, how the musicians have to get along, and you don’t have to worry about your child’s behavior as much as at a concert, or your ability to stay through the who show.
Music classes are a great way, even for the youngest children, to experience group music making. Making music in group is beneficial for musical learning, but also social learning. All students, even students with learning disabilities or autism, benefit from the social interaction in a musical environment. Music brings people together and gives us a way to navigate and come to accept individual differences, making us better classmates, siblings, or friends. As a teacher, I’ve seen shy children come out of their shells through music, I’ve seen children who struggled in every other subject find the joy of excelling in music. You can do this for your family, too.
Families are made up of people with a wide variety of ages and abilities, but who can come together in music. Everyone in the family can do something musical. Maybe the infants only listen and smile while the toddlers dance and the preschoolers sing, while mom or dad plays an instrument and sings. Try to carve out a time where you can make music together as a family. If big sister is practicing a well-known piano piece, let her little brother sing along and make an impromptu duet.
Don’t let me delude you into thinking that all music-making will be happy and conflict free. There will be times when it will be difficult to get everyone together or for everyone to find their role. Working through these issues and focusing on the bigger picture of coming together to make music is what makes the experience so useful. Those problem-solving skills in a social environment help children become better friends and helpers.
So, find time to make music together and have a musical conversation. The next post will focus on how to dialog through music in a kid (and parent!) friendly way!