Similar to art, I believe it is never to early to start exposing your child to beautiful music. Many expectant mothers begin playing classical music to their little ones when they are still in utero. I followed that practice when I was pregnant with my daughter. But often there isn’t a lot of follow through after the baby is born. We resort to playing music embedded into the crib mobile or the bouncers and various toys and occasional classical station in the car. It is understandable. After all, parents have their hands full and musical exposure is not always on the forefront. The good news is that its never too late to pick it back up and with various online music opinions, all you need is your smart phone and/or computer and access to internet to start.
Make Music a Part of Your Daily Routine: Every morning when we come down for breakfast, first thing that I do is turn on pleasant classical music. This is what my parents used to do and before them their parents. While they used a radio, we have a lot more options with so much music now available online. I don’t draw my daughter’s attention to it right away as she is still waking up and would likely protest anything this early in the morning. I tend to pick very light and uplifting pieces and don’t experiment with the introduction to new more serious classical works so early in the day. You can find great playlists with music by Mozart, Vivaldi, Chopin, Tchaikovsky on YouTube. Please see my list of classical music recommendations with links in the next post. Alternatively, if you don’t want to curate your own music, you can download Google Play Music or a whole list of other online radio apps for customized radio stations including a fantastic selection of classical music. As the day progresses, we move music from the background to the foreground as discussed in the bullets below.
Tell a Story: We all know how much children love stories. Classical music can be daunting and difficult to understand at such a young age. Its not surprising that children tend to gravitate to more digest-able nursery rhymes or even simple pop music (e.g. Taylor Swift ). Its our job as parents to help them find the key to unlock the complexity and beauty of classical music. When I see that my daughter is ready (i.e awake and focused) to learn about a new piece of music, I bring it to the foreground with a specific musical piece in mind. I do it in a very casual way – “Valentina, do you want to hear a cool story?” Then I tell her a story about it. It can be about the composer who wrote it or about what the music is meant to convey. For example, when I introduced her to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, we read several books about seasons. Then we tried to figured out which season was represented by which concerto. Within each movement, we talked about what each instrument represented. For example, we heard the sweet chirping of the birds and imagined beautiful flowers blossoming in spring. We also felt the clouds gathering and thunder and lighting and rain of the summer storm. Vivaldi actually wrote sonnets to accompany each season/concerto which can be used as inspiration. Guide your child’s imagination in the right direction and then let it run wild! It is equally fun for the parents : )
Experience Music First Hand: I believe that starting at age 2 you can start venturing beyond the house and taking your children to classical music concerts, be it ballet or symphony or opera. It is all about setting the right expectations. I would certainly not splurge on expensive tickets the first few times that you go. I would also, have low expectations about how long your child will last. This is why child friendly venues are times of day are preferable (e.g early evening concert in the part). The first time that we took our daughter to see the Nutcracker, she just turned 2 and lasted through the majority of the fist Act. We made sure to pick seats next to the exit to allow for a swift escape. The following year, when she turned 3, she sat happily through the entire first Act and we left during the intermission. And this year she watched the Nutcracker in its entirety, loving every moment of it. Having experienced live music, she was then interested in listening to it again at home. She also started watching recorded ballet and opera performance as it reminded her of the Theatrical experience. It is important that you let your child decide when they are ready to leave. Forcing them to stay, might result in aversion, which is the last thing that we hope to achieve here. I also believe in preparation just I would with the Art Museum trips. Prior to going to a ballet performance, for example, I recommend sampling the music at home and getting library books that convey the plot of the story or perhaps talk about ballet in general. For the Nutcracker, I recommend: Ella Bella Ballerina and The Nutcracker, The Nutcracker, The Story of the Nutcracker Ballet, The Nutcracker (Little Golden Book).
Unlock Your Child’s Inner Musician: As I write this post, my daughter is playing with sounds around our house. Making music with everyday objects and building our own music instruments is something we’ve been doing since as long as she could sit up. That being said, we do have several “real” instruments at home, including a guitar, a Sitar and a set of Tabla drums. Valentina received her first keyboard on her 2nd birthday. While I was worried it might be too early, especially given how rough a 2 year old can be with any new toy, it turned into a great investment and she plays with it almost daily. I picked a mini portable Casio model but I there are many options available online. I prefer the electronic keyboards over the cute looking wooden Toddler piano toys as they hold the right pitch, offer exposure to a whole range of instrument sounds and are often lighter to carry around the house. While I have not started formal piano lessons with Valentina and don’t put pressure on her to learn to play simple tunes at home, she does enjoy to sing scales. Most of the time, I allow her to create her own music and to have fun exploring the keyboard. Based on the feedback that I’ve received from several music teacher, piano lessons are more appropriate for 5 year olds and up due to an improved ability to focus. That being said, we have had a lot of success with voice lessons that I believe are a productive and yet low key and fun way to introduce your child to formal classical music lessons.