Unless you have been on another planet, you will know there has been much baby talk this week, with the arrival of Prince George of Cambridge, the new royal baby. So I thought it may be appropriate to highlight the best ways to introduce a little child to making music. It’s entirely natural for young children to enjoy music and want to take part in musical activities, however, I believe the best age to commence formal piano lessons is around the age of seven or eight years old. This doesn’t mean small children can’t enjoy lots of different musical events or activities, and it’s extremely beneficial for their development too.
Youngsters love singing and experimenting with all types of musical instruments. Mother and baby classes have become increasingly popular and can no doubt be found in most towns and cities around the world. It’s probably the best way to encourage a small child to take an interest in music, but there are many options for music making at home costing very little. So with this in mind here are a few ideas for your little ones:
1. Rhythm is one of the most important elements to be grasped in music making. You can use very simple household items such as Rulers, Saucepans, Pots, Wooden Spoons etc. and ‘beat’ in time with the pulse to any type of music (pop and rock is good for this type of activity). It’s good fun and will urge a child to observe a basic pulse (the basis of elementary aural training or listening tests). Children love to get up and dance too, so all kinds of movement to the music can be encouraged.
2. Instruments can be formed by using bottles filled with various amounts of water (forming pitched ‘sounds’ if struck or blown), filling empty jars or containers with rice or any kind of dried beans (forming a ‘shaker’), or just using an upturned box as a drum! These could be supplemented with triangles, little bells or various percussion instruments encouraging children to explore different sounds and effects.
3. Familiarise your child with all styles of music; listen to everything from Classical to Folk and beyond. Music from various periods and cultures make this type of activity even more valuable. Children do not differentiate between styles, so this therefore is the ideal time to encourage them to enjoy all genres; a must for those who are keen for their little ones to fall in love with Classical music particularly. Introduction to various instruments can be done by listening to their respective sounds via recordings.
4. Singing is one of the most important elements in musical development. Simple tunes, nursery rhymes or hymns can provide the perfect foil for a child’s first vocal experiences. Be sure to assist by joining in and making sure children really listen to the tune so that they can try to pitch the sounds successfully. This can take a while but practice makes perfect in this respect.
5. Drawing pictures can fire a child’s imagination and creativity. Whether sketching various instruments (instrument colouring books can easily be obtained), or scribbling images of how a piece makes them ‘feel’; is it happy, sad, fast like a train, or slow like a snail!? This is a great idea for musical development later on too.
6. Pitching notes can be challenging for little ones to start with, so it can be a good idea to help them distinguish between high pitches or tones and low pitches; a variety instruments or even everyday sounds or noises can be the perfect foil here.
It can be great fun exploring some of these ideas with children; I love helping my nephew and niece in this respect (who are aged five and two years), and it’s interesting observing their responses. If you implement some of these ideas, by the time your child starts instrumental lessons they will have already understood the basics.
For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.
You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.