Creating a Musical Home Environment

By Dr. Robert A. Cutietta

Dad and kids making music with pots and pans. Your child spends more time at home than any other place. This is especially true at preschool age, but even after kids begin school, home is still the predominant source of most experiences. It’s the parents’ responsibility to create the environment in the home, so it’s important that you include music in a meaningful way. Start by incorporating any of these simple steps into your daily routines.

1. Immerse your home in music. Whenever appropriate, have music playing in the home. It really doesn’t matter what type of music. Ignore the media hype that suggests only Mozart enhances your baby’s intelligence. There is no evidence to support that claim, and it limits other musical genres that your child may find particularly meaningful. Play music—any and all music.

2. Actively listen to music. While having music playing in the background is extremely helpful, it is also important for your child to attend to and interact with music regularly. You can do this by moving his or her hands or legs to the music with a young child, and sparking conversation and asking questions with an older child. Even preschool children can be responsive to topics such as, “How does this music make you want to move?” or “This music makes me feel like ice skating.” Conversing about what you’re hearing not only focuses your child’s attention to the music but also suggests that music is something that elicits a response.

3. Sing with your child. Singing with your child is an excellent way to help them internalize music. It doesn’t matter how well you sing as a parent, you can still sing simple songs. As with most things concerning young children, repetition is important. Singing a small number of songs on a regular basis will help your child learn basic melodies and rhythms.

4. Singing along with music, especially songs made for children, is a fun way for you and your child to spend time together. We are lucky to have so much quality music available for children.

5. Dance with your child. Dancing with your child is another fun way to encourage learning about music while spending time together. The ability to find and move to the steady beat of music is fundamental to all future musical ability, so practicing this skill through dancing is an excellent (and fun) way to facilitate its development. If your child is experiencing difficulty, don’t get discouraged! According to researchers, girls often develop this skill around three years of age, which is earlier than boys, who may still have trouble finding a beat well into kindergarten.

6. Make music together. As your child gets older, you can make a great impact on them by making music together. If they play the piano, you might consider a duet with them. If you play an instrument, you might play along with them as they sing. Any combination in any genre of music will send a strong message to your child about the shared joy of making music.

As a parent, you are a role model, and what you do is very important. Show how important it is to you to your child by incorporating any of the tips and music activities for kids listed above. If you play an instrument, regardless of your ability, play it for your child. If you love dancing, dance with your child. If you simply love listening to music, show your child how important listening is by actively modeling how you listen to music.

If you convey to your child that music is important to you, it becomes important to them and they’ll begin to pay closer attention to the music they hear. Developing a love and respect for music early on allows your child more time to connect with and find meaning in music later in life, and helps them learn rhythm and beat. Your role in this is easy: be a role model for your child and celebrate music!

Lastly, remember that music is one of life’s most meaningful experiences. It is a uniquely human experience, and as such it should never be forced on a child. Instead, make music a part of everyday life that improves everything we do. If you instill this value in your child at a young age, they will be grateful when they’re older as they continue to explore a relationship with music.

Dr. Robert A. Cutietta is the Dean of the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music. In addition to this wonderful article, he is the author of “Raising Musical Kids” and a popular speaker whose areas of expertise include the middle-school learner, choral education, learning theories and the psychology of music. Additionally, he is a highly regarded musician and educator with extensive knowledge about the full range of musical talent nationally as well as internationally.

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