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Saturday, 8 September 2012

Raising a Musical Child

I’ve been thinking a lot about young children and music. At what age should a child begin to learn a musical instrument? And what are the goals of these lessons? And how can a child develop a meaningful relationship with music?

Most of the research I’ve read suggests that there is a critical window of opportunity (birth to age 7 or at the latest age 9) for children to internalize an understanding of music and pitch. In fact, according to Diamond’s book “Magic Trees of the Mind,” almost all musicians who have perfect pitch began to play an instrument before the age of 7. Additionally, research suggests that learning to play an instrument has many cognitive benefits. It helps children develop spatial and temporal sense, and it helps them identify and understand patterns. Since identifying and understanding patterns is the basis of math, researchers believe that mathematical and musical abilities may be linked.  And of course, there is no doubt that an appreciation of music enriches people’s lives. Like poetry and art, music too is a unique human gift that sustains and soothes the soul.

While it makes sense to enrol your child in music lessons from about age 6 or so, these lessons only become meaningful if the child also gains an appreciation of music and develops a meaningful relationship with music. Just as teaching a child to decode words is only one small part of raising a reader, so too is teaching a child to play an instrument only one small part of raising a musician. For the instrument to be meaningful, the child has to understand and love the magic of music, just as for reading to be meaningful, the child has to understand and love the magic of stories and books. But how does a parent create a musical home?

Here are some suggestions for parents:

-          Play music a lot, and make sure that your home is a musical place. It doesn’t matter what kind of music you play. In fact, it’s good to expose your child to a wide range of music.

-          Discuss music with your child. Just as dialogic reading (discussing books) is far more effective than simply reading a book aloud to a child, so too is dialogic music more effective than mere background music. Getting your child to listen carefully to the music and asking your child questions about what they hear and how it makes them feel is important. (Don’t overdo this though. Ultimately, the goal is enjoyment of the music. Listening to music should always be enjoyable for a child.)

-          Take kids to music and dance performances, especially ones designed for kids.

-          Dance to music together!

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