Humans are born making music. Babies' first sounds, even their cries, can have a melodic and rhythmic nature. Scientists are now thinking that music predated the spoken word... that Neaderthals used rhythm and tone to communicate... then, eventually, some of these sounds were broken into what we think of speaking. If the human baseline, our home base, our natural staring point is music, it's no wonder that exposure to music for the very young can help a person have and enjoy a musical life.
Those of us in the "business" of making music with children and families know how important musical play is for a child's development. There are plenty of studies suggesting the links between music/music learning and other areas of competence like reading, writing and spatial abilities. Of course, we're thrilled this understanding is reaching the mainstream; but we encourage families to make music for music's sake. Even the ritual of a lullaby can make all the difference in a child's life (more on that in a moment...).
When children are exposed to music right from the start, they will begin to experiment with making music (we call this the exposure-experiment cycle). If you want your child to be musically competent, you must be musical with your child! They will not have perfect rhythm nor sing in tune, at first... but please don't say "oh well, I guess she's not musical" or "he must be tone deaf".
Music development is a thing that can be measured just like other types of child development and children just need time and exposure. If you want a child to speak, you need to speak to the child (and, with the first burbling sounds we would never say, "oh well, I guess he's not a speaker"); every child needs to crawl and toddle then walk (and, with the first stumbling steps, we'd never say, "she's just not ever going to be a good walker). It's the same with music! Being musical with your child will encourage him/her to be musical!
But you may think you are not musical... Have you ever sung in the shower? Danced in a club? Tapped the steering wheel along to the music on the radio? Do you have songs that you like and songs that you don't like? You are more musical than you think you are! Children aren't picky (until age 12- then, no matter what you do, you're embarrassing). The voice of their primary care-givers (parents, nannies, grandparents...) is the voice they quickly learn to listen for- and love! No matter your level of tone or rhythm perfection, when you sing with your child, your heart-beats begin to align.
This bonding is so crucial and carries throughout a person's life. Studies are finding that brain function challenged adults (think dementia and Alzhiemer's) may forget their personal histories, forget who loved ones are, lose the ability to speak, yet still remember and respond to a song (usually a lullaby) from their childhood. Music is a gift you can share with your children that will last their entire lives.
Making music at home, intimately with your child is most crucial. Finding places to make music in community is another great way to help you and your child find your musical mojo. Classes for the very young should be play based and musically rich. Hearing just one kind of music or having too-high expectations can be challenging to children, when put in formal lessons too early or only hearing one type of music can exhaust their enthusiasm. Being within a community of different ages is the way our forefathers and mothers learned the music of their/our culture. A class that has moms and dads, nannies, grannies and grampies, older kids, toddlers and infants most closely resembles our music learning roots, when making music was common within a wider community of people.
Music Together® centers and Music Together teachers hope to recreate this experience in "mixed age" classes, in which children ages zero to five years (and their participating adult care-givers) engage in the musical play and learning together. This is our most natural way of experiencing music, it is only recently that families have stopped making time to all share music together. In our classes, families share the musical experience in a fun and developmentally appropriate (to each age) way.
And the fun doesn't stop at the classroom door! You can take activities you try in class back to your home and play there. Each family receives a beautifully illustrated songbook and CDs- the songs they contain are the songs we play with for the 10-weeks of each session (there are nine song collections- three years worth!).
With centers all over the United States and in 41 countries around the world, Music Together is something you can take with you no matter where you go. All centers, worldwide, use the same song collection at the same time. Although a move may mean your child has some adjusting to do, he/she will find known songs and a familiar routine in Music Together classrooms. To use a musical term, it's a nice "bridge".
You are your child's most important musical advocate. If you demonstrate that music is important and fun, your child will learn that music is important and fun. And we hope you do.
Margit Griffith is the director and lead-teacher for Mystic Valley Music Together in Lincoln, MA. To find a Music Together center close to you, go to www.MusicTogether.com and click on the "Class Locator" tab.
Watch a demo of how it works!