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Music For Kids By Kids
Chapter 1.3: Giving your child a head start

Children who grow up in a musically rich environment have a tremendous advantage over others when they begin formal music instruction. There are many things parents can do to develop musical interest, understanding and skills in the 2-6 year old child.Singing, dancing and listening to music are the best preparation for private lessons on any instrument. In some families, these are already part of daily life. Dance classes (tap, ballet, jazz, free style) and singing groups (community and church choruses) are an excellent supplement to home activities. In most locales, there are also group classes available for preschoolers which focus specifically on activities that prepare the child for private music instruction. The children sing and dance, learn rhythmic skills, play simple percussion instruments, and are introduced to musical notation. As in any kind of learning situation, the quality of the teacher is critical. A good teacher at this level must be able to make it all seem like play. Everything should be fun and relevant to the children's interests and age.

Musical appreciation is developed by example and exposure. Take time listen to music that you enjoy and your child will gradually develop an understanding and taste for it. Encourage and explore your child's developing musical interests with age-appropriate CDs, songbooks, and music history/performing arts videos (available at the local library, bookstores and online). Attend musical, theatrical and dance events often. Make music appreciation part of your daily life.

Ways to support your child's musical interest at home before they start private lessons:

o Sing to them and with them often. Sing along with recordings, sing while you are doing chores together around the house, sing in the car, sing at bedtime (make up melodies for the bedtime stories). If you lack for repertoire, check out the songbook section of the local library.

o If either parent has some keyboard training, children of 4-6 can be shown how to "sound out" on the piano simple tunes they already know how to sing. (Avoid all piano method books, even those designed for the very young child. They rarely contain any actual songs that your child knows how to sing, but rather abstract and dull exercises that are labeled "tunes".)

o Clap, Move and Dance to music with them. Use recorded music, musical videos, or live music performed by other family members or friends. Take musical breaks during the day - moving to music develops a sense of rhythm and a musical ear, physical coordination, and sensitivity to the emotional states evoked by music.

o Be an appreciative audience for dance "performances" to recorded music. Most young children love to move to music and perform "improvisations" for friends and family. This is an excellent way to introduce the young child to recorded music of all kinds, since they usually prefer to move rather than sit still and listen (e.g. ask them to make up a ballet to the music for the Nutcracker).

o Play music at bedtime or in the morning for listening. These are the times when kids are normally less physically active. Try a variety of genres and styles: instrumental, vocal, classical, jazz, pop, country, etc., and encourage them to express their tastes. There is no such thing as "bad" musical taste at this age.

o Encourage them to "make up" (improvise) music at the piano for an audience of family members.

o Help them compose a song of their own, starting with words and then developing a simple tune that goes with them.

o Videotape a musical/theatrical/ballet or other "performance" created by the children and their friends using costumes and musical props.

Caveats:

o I strongly advise against the multitude of electronic keyboards and toy instruments which are, unfortunately, marketed for the very purpose of introducing children to music. (see chapter 1.4 "An appropriate instrument"). Since they do not produce a beautiful sound like a real acoustic instrument, they turn off the ear, and can also create bad habits technically and rhythmically. Fortunately, most children lose interest in these "instruments" rather quickly.

o The idea that one can learn how to play an instrument by computer is another misleading idea that is widely marketed. There are numerous computer games and programs claiming to be able to teach one how to play an instrument. This is completely false. At best, one can learn a bit about musical notation and history. As any musician can tell you, true musicianship can only be learned on an acoustic instrument under the guidance of a professional musician.

Guidebook for Parents and Teachers