Three Sneaky Music Lessons for Older Children

Offer some “Mood Music” to direct or inspire pretend play

I offer this suggestion with Classical Western music in mind, but that is by no means the only source of mood music. In the 19th century, “programmatic music”, music that was composed with a specific story or idea in mind had its heyday, although there were plenty of examples preceding this development, and programmatic music is still composed. Pieces like The Sorcerers Apprentice by Paul Dukas, or The Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saens are in this category. My son is OBSESSED with space, so we listen to Holst’s The Planets. Usually, he just wants to hear something he calls “Jupiter music” (but he’s two and a half so it comes out DUPIHPER MOOSIC?! Very cute) so I’ll put Jupiter on. Or he’ll ask for Mars, Uranus, usually all of them, repeatedly. The music doesn’t have to stay on for long, nor does your child have to finish the whole piece or even the movement for it to be a great little music lesson.

Fun story time: toward the end of my time in college, my aunt and cousins came to visit me. My older cousin’s piano teacher had introduced him to The Carnival of the Animals, and he was OBSESSED. He brought a print out of one of the animals and had me sight-read it (badly!) for him, and played a little of what he’d taught himself. It was way over his (lol and my) head, but this illustrates to me that we should never prejudge what someone will enjoy. I personally grew up LOVING Stravinski’s The Rite of Spring. That may be because I loved dinosaurs and Disney’s Fantasia portrayed the end of dinosaur era to this music, BUT! It is also a ballet (not a very child-themed ballet, however!), and as dance music it might inspire very interesting play or dance or discussion.

Poetry Time

Spoken language has its own rhythm, pace, dynamics, cadence and pitch. We don’t think about it much, but altering any of these attributes can drastically change the meaning or appreciation of a passage, whether it be of poetry or prose or a text message from a friend (hilarious, but inappropriate for all ages :lol:).

Poetry is a great place to look at the rhythm of language (although that’s not the most important aspect of every poem). Children’s poetry, especially. I can think of Doctor Seuss, Shel Silverstein, and this diverse group of other poets. Here’s another really fun poem, especially for grades 3-5.

Start by reading the poem out loud a couple of times. Identify the natural rhythm of the poem by following the syllables, stresses, and even the lining. Note on lining: plenty of a times a line change doesn’t mean a stop or pause. It might be a slowing of pace or to add stress or open to some other interpretation. To make the rhythm more apparent, tap and speak it. Walk the rhythm or silly dance to a silly poem. If it doesn’t seem natural, it’s probably not. To get you started, I’ve provided a poem below with pretty clear rhythm, but even a poem that doesn’t strike you as rhythmic might have other musical elements. It might be melodic or play with pacing. So start with any poem and explore!

Dinosaur Diets, by Jane Yolen

Stegosaurus fed on ferns,
The sauropods on pine,
Tyrannosaurus ate them both
Whenever he did dine.
So he is not invited
Very often out to lunch
Because he chose upon his hosts
To munch
and crunch
a bunch.

Explore Music styles and artists with your child(ren)

I had a piano student not too long ago who looooooved Taylor Swift. Could sing the songs, listened in the car, on and on. The parents joined in listening, too. It was a group activity. I don’t know exactly how much the parents enjoyed this music, but I commend them on joining in, because I think music, as a form of communication, is a communal activity. There is real value in listening to music as a group, and I think it can provide good check-in time for parents and kids, as well as introduce children to new music their parents and siblings enjoy.

I remember my dad putting records of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young on when I was very, very young. I grew up loving that music! I didn’t know what it was that I had heard for years. But when I heard it again I recognized it right away (true story: that’s how The Princess Bride was for me, too). There’s no shortage of age appropriate music you can enjoy as a family. Some of my favorite artists are: the Punch Brothers, Nickle Creek, I’m with Her, Weezer, U2, The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel. The list goes on, and you shouldn’t feel like my suggestions are the only ones or necessarily the best. There are definitely songs by these artists I wouldn’t necessarily play for my child until they’re old enough, but musical taste is grown and developed, not automatic at birth, so I encourage you to play music you enjoy around your kids, and to give them the same courtesy of introducing their music to you.

Listening to music is really the most fundamental of musical skills because the entirety of producing music is based on connecting what you hear in your head to the physical and technical motions you need to learn in order to recreate it. Regardless of how comfortable you feel personally singing or making music, you can listen and discuss what you hear alongside your child, and know that you’re providing a lot just in doing that. Last, but not least, whether or not you try or find success in any of these ideas I’ve provided for you, you’re a good parent, and you are doing enough.

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