When parents of a baby or toddler learn I teach music, they almost always tell me that their child loves music. They tell me about the child’s excitement when listening to favorite songs and describe musical behavior like singing or dancing that astounds them — all signs of the complex musical skills that young children possess.
Research shows that newborns can remember songs and sounds heard before birth, and babies can show musical preferences and perceive details in music. By age 2, they can sing, dance and experiment with sound sources. Early childhood is an optimal period for musical development and early engagement with music can set the foundation for a life of music making.
YOUR CHILD’S FIRST MUSIC TEACHER
The most important person in your child’s early musical life is you. Parents can encourage musical development by creating an environment full of singing, movement and support. Regardless of how you feel about your own musical abilities, you can offer your child a strong start to a musical life and have fun together while doing it!
Here are some tips to start your child down a path of lifelong musical enjoyment and participation.
- Children benefit most from person-to-person musical interactions. So, dance, snuggle or sway along to a recording — or turn it off and make your own music.
- Sing often! You can make up songs or sing favorites. Establish time each day devoted to singing, as you would for reading together.
- Try stopping a song your child knows in the middle and then wait for a response. Giving them spaces like these often encourages them to chime in and start singing.
- Move and dance to a wide variety of music with your child. There’s no need to feel confined to “kids’ music” —your child will love experiencing other sounds and styles too.
- Encourage your baby or toddler to explore their own voice. Echo their sounds and encourage them to echo yours. Make sounds that are high, low, quiet, loud and so on. Bring attention to sounds in the environment and encourage your child to imitate them as well.
- Be sure to praise all musical attempts and remember that these musical efforts might be very personal and from the heart.
- Weekly music classes with your baby or toddler can be a special treat and another way to encourage musical growth in addition to music making in the home.
- Model comfortable, free musical expression so your child learns that music making is fun, easy and especially nice when shared.
Singing, listening to melodies and rhythms and coordinating movements with music are skills fundamental to later musical accomplishments. Creating a musically rich home environment will support developing musicianship with no need to rush into instrument lessons.
Once your child is school-aged, advocate for and support high-quality school music programs led by qualified music teachers to build on the strong musical foundation you have provided.
Diana Dansereau, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Music Education at Boston University where she prepares music teachers and conducts research on the musical capabilities of young children. She is Chair of the National Association for Music Education’s Early Childhood Music Special Research Interest Group, and Vice President and Editorial Chair of the Early Childhood Music & Movement Association.