Musical Ways of Children
Parents want the best for their children and to give them as many experiences as they can. This is especially true for very young children, who may be too young to tell us what they like or what they want to try.
As a music educator who specializes in working with young children, parents often tell me that they want their child to be musical and to love music. My response is that children are musical, even from infancy. Adults see music as a definable thing that exists in a certain way, under specific conditions. Music is personally meaningful to people; ask five people what music is and you’ll see how varied our responses are. We use music to define our sense of self and identity, especially through our adolescent years. Young children don’t think of defining music like adults and often don’t separate music from dance, drawing, and other expressive practices.
Musical Ways of Children
It is difficult for adults to understand how young children are musical. Young children don’t necessarily demonstrate musicality through performing in rock bands or playing a sonata on violin. Instead, young children demonstrate their musicality in simple ways: dragging a stick across a fence as they run by, making vocal sounds as they play with their toys, creating a spontaneous song as they eat breakfast, changing the words to a familiar song. These are examples of playing with timbre, patterns, high and low sounds, rhythm, and melody. Timbre is the quality of a sound; we could describe the quality of a sound as scratchy, smooth, annoying. The flute’s timbre is different from a guitar’s, which is why many of us can identify an instrument without seeing it. Young babies play with the timbre of their voices when they make vocal sounds before forming words. Children experiment with timbre when they use funny-sounding voices in their play. In play, children also make decisions about using high, low, loud, and soft voices. These are musical decisions that demonstrate that a child thinks in sounds. Young children make up chants and songs, which are often created with repetitive rhythmic and melodic patterns. These are not always accidents, but evidence of intentional musical decision-making that changes and evolves over time.
When looking for a music program for children under five, parents can look for the following attributes:
- Toys, objects, and instruments are available for children to play with.
- Not all activities are organized by an adult. Adults in a music program should follow the actions of children more often than they lead activities. This fosters a child’s natural musicality and avoids giving the impression that there is a right and wrong way to be musical.
- Children are not required to participate, but are welcome if they choose.
- Curiosity should be modeled by adults and inspired in children through a friendly and playful environment. With some children, this takes time as they grow comfortable in a new place, with new people.
- The program facilitator should be open with parents about the musical processes a child is going through so that parents learn to recognize and value the musical traits their children demonstrate.
- Children should have many ways of expressing themselves: drawing, listening, hiding, playing instruments, singing, yelling, observing, dancing, etc. Program facilitators should be attentive observers who react to individual children’s acts of expression immediately and in following classes. This can stimulate musical thinking in children and inspire curiosity.
Being musical with your child can evolve loving relationships in new ways. How is your child already demonstrating their musical side? Enjoy these musical moments as a caregiver and share them together with your child.
By Ryan Bledsoe
Founder and Facilitator
Duo Musical Playground