Three Sneaky, no prep, Music Lessons

To do with your young child

Sneaky Lesson 1: Silliest Vocalizations

Vocalizations are the building blocks of singing. Choirs and solo singers of every level warm up and practice techniques through abstract sounds produced in the voice box, mouth, with the lips, nose, involving hand motions or placement on cheeks… I can’t possibly list all the varieties. A couple vocalizations that are accessible and fun for little kids are recognizable sounds, like hooting owls, choo choo!, whale sounds (think, Dorey from Finding Nemo), meows, arooos/arf arf, low and drawn out mooooooooo’s. You want to pick sounds that use the full range of the voice, high to low, so if you find yourself more on the “speaking” side of an animal sound (which is a great voice to warm up, but not the only one), shimmy back over to a high-pitched hoooo hoooooo, letting your tone drop like an owl. Silly ‘conversations’ with a toddler, or just practicing animal sounds together while playing or reading about animals is a sneaky music lesson.

If you’re not in the habit of making silly sounds with your kid, I suggest choosing an already-silly moment. Playing with trains is a good time for whistle sounds and rising and falling pitches. Pretend play with animals: make the jungle noisy with all the different animals and take turns ‘adding’ animals to the game. Follow up some tickling and giggling time with a sudden, very silly sound, like buzzing your lips or saying words whale-style.

Sneaky Lesson 2: Ritual Songs

As a musician myself, I basically always sing to my son. I’m pretty sure I was singing to myself constantly before I had him, so now it’s a little less weird because I do it for a silly tiny person instead of a silly big person :cool:. I sing a short, bouncy song for going home, a number of cleaning-up songs (including a really simple one I learned from the local Kindermusik teacher), the same three lullabies at nap and night time (interspersed with other songs on occasion), and most recently, a WASHING WITH SOAP song. With my son potty training and washing hands after pooping being a BIG DEAL, I improvised a really silly “Soap after poopy” song. Literally I just sing those three words with different rhythms and melodies and oh my does my toddler LOVE that song. He sings fully chest voice along and is SUPER excited to wash his hands.

Because I’ve been singing so much to my kid, he is definitely farther along in his musical development. We’d put him to bed around 18-24 months, and hear him trying to sing “twinkle twinkle”, just on “ah ah” because his mind had decided pitch matching and singing was a bigger priority than words. [Seriously, I went to his 2 yo appointment worried he was behind in language… but he really was just prioritizing other skills!]. Now, when we sing Twinkle Twinkle or ABCs (same tune), he’ll sing along with me, “scooping” up and down over the pitch I’m singing. That’s practice finding and matching pitch, and it’s stretching his vocal chords and giving him increasing control over them, a prerequisite to singing. But here’s the biggest point to ritual: the singing doesn’t have to be “good” (a completely arbitrary designation anyway!) to be instructive, fun, and nurturing.

Sneaky Lesson 3: Dance Party!

Dance party time is great at any age 6 years old and under. Obviously different kids feel differently about dancing, but babies and toddlers usually love it! Bouncing to music you like helps with rhythm which is an important part of responding to aural information. The music of your culture is a language of sorts and babies absorb it just the same way they’re absorbing your spoken language. For toddlers, lead the dancing sometimes, mimicking the emotions in the song. If it sounds sad, overact being sad, happy, excited, and so on. I definitely don’t dance with my kid every time (he really loves to dance… it gets old… don’t make yourself dance when you really don’t feel it!), but when I do, imitating my son’s moves is great interaction and a sneaky little music lesson!

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