From my article for Home School Enrichment, how we as homeschool parents can teach music appreciation in our daily lives.
Growing with an Appreciation of Music
One of my earliest recollections is of my father singing. I still remember him rocking my younger sister to sleep every night in the creaky maple rocker, singing every verse of “Amazing Grace.” That simple melody and uncomplicated text naturally became ingrained on both our hearts. My sister and I can still sing every verse of that song, if tears don’t choke us up. This poignant memory is just one example of how my parents used music throughout our lives.
There was always music in our home. My mother sang constantly. Loud, lusty singing was the soundtrack of housecleaning, cooking, and errands through my growing years. My infamous bout with chicken pox, during which I infected my entire church kindergarten class and my baby sister before breaking out over my entire body, was also the beginning of my Patch the Pirate addiction. I would soon wear out many a cassette tape from over-use as I loudly sang along with every character.
My father practiced his trumpet in the kitchen, and my failed attempts to make any sound come out of the mouthpiece insured I would become a violinist some day. My mother kept her oboe in the bedroom, only letting me gaze upon the fragile double reed. My preschool bedroom was furnished with a Mickey Mouse record player and blue Smurf radio alongside the over-used tape deck. I never remember the sound of silence. We ended many evenings with dares of “I can name that hymn in three notes!”
Music for Children
I am convinced that parents can develop music appreciation within their home. By creating a healthy appetite for good music, exposing their children to diverse musical forms, and acknowledging music as a natural form of human expression, parents teach their children that music is an art to be admired and utilized daily. It is a simple thing for parents to train their children to love and use music.
From infancy, parents can begin by playing good music in the home. In our home, as well as that of my parents, we played a variety of great classical music. Choosing from among the best – pieces that have withstood the test of time – developed within us discernment for good form, beautiful melody, intricate harmony, complex rhythm, and appropriate balance. Like reading excellent literature to develop good taste, there is nothing like listening to the classics to train one’s ear.
Infants also love to be sung to. My sister can remember my father singing “Amazing Grace” to her as a baby. Music creates powerful memories within the brain. Singing a variety of hymns, folk songs, lullabies, and silly songs will not only train the baby to love music but will also bond the infant to the singer himself.
Parents further reinforce the baby’s blossoming music education when they sing along with the baby. My young daughter began singing before she could talk. She would wake up the family cooing melodies in her crib at only a couple months old. When we would join in her song, she would be delighted and sing even louder. Singing along with infants shows you appreciate their improvisation and their musical attempts, as they do yours. Parents build on this musical interaction when they play pat-a-cake, say nursery rhymes, and play other rhythmic and musical games with their baby.
Parents should play music often within the home. Marches and rousing symphonies can wake up a sleepy family in the morning. High-energy music can help active children move in rhythm to the piece. My son sometimes plays Bach or Mozart on his bedroom CD player when he is struggling with math; the patterns clear his thinking. I play calming classical guitar during the stressful evening hours before dinner to help calm dinner preparations and the final household clean-up when tempers tend to be short. Listening to godly sacred music before church services helps to turn our hearts toward worship. There are many ways a wise parent can use music to set the mood within the home.
Parents teach their children about music when they lead in singing to their Creator. Family worship should include a time of learning psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to God (Ephesians 5:19). As a family, we enjoy picking a hymn and learning the words together, discussing what the hymn writer meant by each phrase as we read it together. A few days later, I will hear the children singing great hymns like “Lead On, Oh King Eternal” and “The God of Abraham Praise” while doing their chores or riding in the van. Learning to memorize great hymns of the faith broadens children’s appreciation of good music.
Many reference materials are available for researching the background of hymns and hymn writers. Reading biographies of text writers like Fanny Crosby, Frances Havergal, and Isaac Watts inspires children to worship God in word and song. Reference books like Kenneth Osbeck’s 101 Hymn Stories and others are widely available in Christian book stores so we can easily read the history of some of our favorite hymns. As parents read these testimonies of God’s working in the hearts of great hymn writers of the past, they are building a love of good music in their children today.
Music and Culture
Parents can educate their children on the diversity of music by exposing their children to cultural events in their community. Most large cities supporting an orchestra hold free community concerts from time to time; these outdoor events are the perfect opportunity for young children to hear fun family-friendly music while eating a picnic and playing in the grass. Parents can also seek out low-cost children’s concerts by area symphonies. These will feature important educational programs like Tchaikovsky’s Peter and the Wolf or Britton’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra with narration, explanation of how to behave in an orchestra hall, and who are the important players in the group.
Other important cultural events that educate children include street performances during festivals. My children and I are looking forward to an upcoming Native American performance nearby put on by several indigenous tribesmen in their native costumes. Don’t overlook restaurants, either; when we eat Mexican, we prefer to be serenaded by Mariachis!
Whenever listening to music, whether in the family van, on the kitchen radio, while big brother is practicing the piano, or after a public concert, a music educating parent can discuss what the child is hearing. A very young toddler will describe what he is hearing quite simply: Is it loud or soft? Is it fast or or gentle? Can you pretend to play the instrument you hear? These questions help the child listen purposefully and envision the instrumentation, whether or not the child has the vocabulary to discuss the piece.
A preschooler may understand the difference between percussion (instruments we hit), wind instruments (instruments we blow), and string instruments (instruments we bow or pluck). He will enjoy pretending to play the instrument and may learn to recognize some common instruments by sound after a parent points them out. Preschoolers and early elementary students easily develop a fondness for music of the baroque and classical eras (Bach and Mozart’s contemporaries), finding their phrasing and repetition soothing. As the child grows in his use of language, he will develop an increased ability to describe the piece, imagining “what is going on,” “what the piece feels like,” or “what colors I hear.” Parents can encourage a love for music by playing their child’s favorite CDs often and encouraging music pretend play for both boys and girls.
An Appetite for Good Music
Music appreciation, like good taste in art, literature, or food, is a matter of exposure. Parents who expose their child to a variety of musical experiences during the growing years will see their child develop an appetite for good music. Soon, the child will begin asking for more, requesting music lessons, concert tickets, and his own CD player. Before you know it, your child will appreciate good music.
Yet growing children with an appreciation of music is actually a natural, unforced habit. Most parents listen to the radio on occasion, watch videos with a musical soundtrack, and give their baby and toddler musical toys. Families enjoy worshiping in a church that may occasionally put on a seasonal program; parents take their children to festivals or parades featuring marching bands; and siblings enjoy attending one another’s choral or band concerts. Music is a natural part of most families’ lives. Parents just need to recognize the learning taking place.
One word of caution: as a child grows up with this constant exposure to music, he will unconsciously meditate on the form and melody. My sister evidenced this by humming constantly during her preschool years. I have a child who whistles until I am distracted. Such unconscious music making is a sure sign that the child has been well-exposed to music, he has internalized what he has heard, and he has made it a part of himself. Rather than discouraging the humming and whistling, the teaching parent can bring attention to it, allowing the child to consciously notice the music in his head.
I don’t think it is any accident that with such a musically active home, both my sister and I chose to study music in college. My father is still setting a great example today, playing his trumpet in local orchestras in two different states. My sister is a professional pianist and music teacher. I am happy to rear four musically appreciative children who love to make a joyful noise … and carry on the family music tradition (I Chron 15:22). You, too, can rear children to love and appreciate music.
Lea Ann Garfias is a homeschool graduate and classically trained pianist and violinist. She has taught private lessons and classroom music for over 15 years. You can ask her your own music or home education questions at www.whateverstate.wordpress.com.
Published in Home School Enrichment magazine, Jan/Feb 2011.