There are many great reasons to teach and expose kids to music – and there are also many not-so-great reasons that have been popularized over the past ten or twenty years and which people have been using, understandably sometimes, as arguments for keeping budgets alive for school music programs. These ideas have also had the unfortunate side effect of creating anxiety for parents.
So before we discuss the great reasons to expose children to a wide variety of musical experiences, I thought I would debunk some of the myths of music learning:
- There is no “Mozart Effect” for testing. Famous and now debunked study claimed that music listening can improve performance on spatial-reasoning tasks given immediately after listening
- There is no scientifically proven correlation between studying music and achievement in school
- There is no real evidence for a link between studying music and success later in life
- The famous math and music link is tenuous – correlation is not causation
There are, however, some very real neurological changes that take place in the brains of people who play music. For example:
- In violin players, the region of the brain responsible for moving the left hand increases in size as a result of practice
- Musicians tend to have larger cerebellums, an increased number and density of synapses than non-musicians, and an increased concentration of gray matter responsible for information processing
- The mass of fibers connecting the two hemispheres is significantly larger in musicians than in non-musicians
This all sounds great but still, the relationship between these neurological changes and success in other fields of study or elsewhere in life is weak and hard to prove. And it’s not the most important reason to expose kids to music.
The most important reason is this: Music, like any art, can connect us to one another and to larger truths about what it means to be alive and what it means to be human.
The goal of exposing children to a wide variety of art and culture advancing to higher levels of complexity and nuance is so that as they grow they can take part in this universal conversation. They can find reflections of themselves out in the world and feel less alone. They can better appreciate and engage in collaboration, creativity, discipline and the capacity to reconcile conflicting ideas. To stay with what current pop music provides is to have extremely limited spiritual, cultural, artistic, and psychological connections to the world.
Humans have played music for many thousands of years – the oldest known musical instrument is a bone flute from 40,000 years ago. These early musicians had no interest in synapses, correlations or tests and still they were driven to use their precious survival time to make music. They did it for pleasure, for connection, to remember and to relive – in short, they made music for the pure joy of it, simply because they could.
The goal of our MUSIC IN THE HOME workshop is to take the pressure off of ourselves – and off of music itself – and discuss some authentic and meaningful ways to engage thoughtfully and joyfully with music as adults, children, and as a family.
When you make music at home with your kids, be easy on yourselves. Many parents have said to me they think need to get their kids into a music class because they can’t sing or aren’t musical. It’s like saying you can’t read a book to your child because you aren’t a professional voice-over actor. Or you’re not an architect, so your child won’t enjoy playing blocks and Legos with you. The analogies are endless!
Everyone is musical to some extent. If you are a human being, you are musical enough to have a wonderful musical life at home with your family. It is about sharing, spending time, being creative, LISTENING, bonding. Artistry, accuracy, and performance are way, way down on the list.
Some easy ways to get started if you feel like you really need help:
Incorporate music into something that is already happening: If you are reading, turn it into a musical book – especially Dr. Seuss!
Jam sessions with household objects: Before you empty that box of pasta into the water try a little “one, two, shakeshakeshake.” Give everyone a box of pasta and see what happens!
Play Guess That Sound: Have your child close their eyes while you tape different objects with a wooden spoon. See if you can let this naturally evolve into a music session on its own or to accompany recorded music.
Have an accessible box of instruments: Shakes, drums, kazoos and bells are all great choices.
Children, even toddlers, can have autonomy in playing recorded music: Old CD player? Tape player? Record player? Put identifiable covers on CDs or tapes if they are homemade so that they can make conscious choices.
Use different funny voices in familiar songs: Explore your voices together. Can you go high and squeaky? Very soft and mysterious? This game takes the pressure off trying to sound ‘good.’
Incorporate dolls and favorite toys into music activities: You might find that certain dolls become associated with certain songs. (For instance, in our house we had a Lucy in the sky with diamonds!)
“Weird Al” your favorite songs: Choose a melody you know really well and make up new words. A great way to memorialize an event: ‘Yesterday… Josie went to see a puppet show.” Don’t even worry about making it rhyme—really this is just for you.
And a homework assignment should you choose to accept it:
Create a family musical repertory: This is a group of songs and musical works that uniquely represents your family. Take a moment right now to think of three songs:
A current song you’re enjoying right now
A song from your adolescence
A song from your family or childhood
Then build on this list – consider the music you listened to before you had kids and what you listen to now. You might not want to introduce the kids to everything all at once, but can you envision your musical road map? Choose to share the music that you love. Don’t worry if the list starts off small, focus on a few well-loved songs. And remember, th family repertory is not just songs to sing but music to listen to together.
Your child will have their opinions but don’t give up right away. Even for grown-ups it can take several listens before we fall in love with a piece of music. The main reason you should only share songs that you like is that they may want you to sing or play the same song over and over again. Although it can get annoying it’s really good to indulge this. The child’s brain is learning something from this particular song. Repetition also creates a sense of comfort, control, and confidence.
Thank you to all the families who attended our workshop, we really enjoyed the conversation and hope to continue it whenever we can! Here are a few resources you may be interested in as well:
Debunking music myths:
And why it really matters:
Music Director, Lower School
& Julie Rapoport
Music Teacher, ITC, WNP and PreK