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Family Interview:

Children & Music

How do you incorporate music into your child’s day?

Music is incorporated into their day through traditions as well as by self-direction and request. For example, we listen to classical music at dinner every day and every Saturday we make pancakes, so we have a special song for that ("Flapjacks" by Recess Monkey). Additionally, the children have a CD player in their room and a stack of CDs (some bought with them in mind, but most are just what we had) that they may play anytime they like (they've reached the age they can operate it themselves). Sometimes they'll close the door and have a spontaneous dance party together, no parents allowed. Music is also part of their bedtime routine. They've outgrown us singing to them at bedtime. Since they share a room, they take turns choosing a CD to listen to. They also have access to an old MP3 player with speakers and are permitted to use the iPad to stream music (although both of these require adult assistance). 

How long have you been incorporating music in this way, and how have you seen your child’s relationship to music change in this time?

My aunt operated a daycare for over 30 years so I inherited several children's CDs from her. My best friend is a nanny and recommended some CDs as well when we were creating our baby registry. We put a CD player in the children's room when our eldest was a year old and that's about the time we set up the MP3 player too (since it's a bit more mobile). Playing classical music at dinner was something we started a few months before our eldest turned two. The classical music had the earliest impact. Both children can identify the various instruments and listening sparks their curiosity more than other genres. Our eldest zeroed in on the violin as her preferred instrument before she even knew what it was. After asking us to identify the instrument, we offered to show her pictures and videos of people playing the violin (including children). For her third birthday, she asked for violin lessons. She still sings the songs she learned in class, regularly listens to the violin practice CD, and tells us she is going to play the violin when she grows up. We found her violin teacher through the Suzuki Association of the Americas. Our younger child recently decided his favorite instrument is the cello.

What books, CDs, classes, or other tools have you used to expose your child to music?  Which do you most recommend?

We have a lot of children's musical instruments in our house and the collection continues to grow. While some are truly toys (e.g. a Fisher Price grand piano), others are miniature versions of actual instruments (e.g. the foam violin our daughter got from her class and a small piano). A few months ago, while I was looking at buying additional place mats, our eldest spotted a piano one and requested it. Our daughter loves to "play" the piano on it. We've also shown her on the miniature piano how the notes match up to the place mat and how she can put the notes together to play songs. Of course most of the play with the instruments is completely unguided and we're in a phase where their "concerts" consist of banging on the drum, xylophone and as many other instruments as they can manage at once!


The libraries offer a lot of music programs and the children have been attending them all their lives, starting with story times that incorporated music. They've also attended instruments of the world presentations and various concerts. It was a concert that introduced us to one of the children's favorite CDs: "Green Golly and her Golden Flute". It's basically Rapunzel re-imagined and introduces the flute and several classical pieces (e.g. Chopin's Minute Waltz, Felix Mendelsson's Spring Song). Our two year old's favorite CD right now is "Peter and the Wolf." Through the library's collection we also learned of the Beethoven's Wig series. These CDs put words to classical songs (including - as you might expect - a song about how big Beethoven's Wig is set to his 5th Symphony). 


I subscribe to the City of Alexandria's event emails (you manage the subscription through your library card), which often alerts us to concerts and other family friendly events with music. Additionally, the Alexandria Citizen's Band (which practices at the Del Ray Methodist Church) has concerts throughout the year and you can subscribe to their calendar through their website. We've also taken the children to middle and high school student concerts. The City of Alexandria has calendars that you can subscribe to - I subscribe to the one that lists upcoming concerts in the Old Town Market Square.


Do you model music appreciation?  What role does music play in your life?   


Like many people, we both listen to music frequently and have certain kinds we like to listen to for certain activities. For example, if I'm listening to top 40, I'm probably in the kitchen while classical is most likely to be playing while I'm working. This models to the children our preferences as well as the many purposes of music. We also talk to them about the music such as what our favorite parts are, which words we like, and the kinds of emotions different songs elicit. 


What is your goal in exposing your child to music in this way?  


Honestly, we didn't have a planned goal. Rather, it was just natural to integrate music into their lives. We started playing classical music at the dinner table because I had bought a MP3 album of 100 pieces on Amazon to stream at work (this was before Prime included music) and we wanted to add to our dinner tradition with music, candles, and everyone having specific tasks to come together for the meal (someone feeds the dogs, someone else sets the table, etc.). I also think it's common to want to establish family traditions and music is one way we've done that. Music creates a wonderful bond and we've found it especially helpful when dealing with difficult situations. It's beautiful to watch our eldest start singing a song to our second child when he's sad, for example, because she knows it's one way she can help him feel better. Upon reflection, there are many benefits to listening to music that we never expected but are grateful for. One example is the patience and focus it has instilled. Recently, we were at a friend's house and our daughter noticed a children's drum set tucked behind some furniture. She politely asked the host for permission to bring the set out. Once it was, she played alongside the several other children drawn to the new toy. Ultimately though, she waited them all out, and then went and found a child's chair, set it up in front of the set, and performed a solo for at least 20 minutes.


In a similar vein, what role do you hope music plays in your child's life, looking ahead to adulthood? 


Music is a powerful thing. We hope our children realize that power. It can transform your mood, take you on a journey, spark your imagination, help you focus on a task, make you relax, get you jumping on your feet, connect you with those around you and so much more. It is a unique refuge. If they pursue the violin and cello as they say they want to, the additional benefits of that skill in terms of confidence, endurance, passion...they're endless! (Perhaps it is worth noting, neither of us play instruments.)

Is there anything else you would like to share?


While we noted that we listen to a variety of music, we didn't explain why. We often use music as a way to take turns and to demonstrate that no one family member's wants trumps another's. For example, when I am cooking dinner, I get to choose the music, because I'm the one working. When we're on a long car trip, we rotate who gets to choose the next CD. This way everyone gets to listen to their favorite at some point, it often exposes the kids to new kinds of music (Dad especially likes to throw in curve balls courtesy of satellite radio, like electronica), and they learn to respect the wishes of others. Occasionally, one family member may ask the person who has just chosen the next CD to choose another for some reason, and often the latter will, out of respect and kindness to the former.


We have Amazon Prime and the music app on the iPad. The children love to explore new music this way (admittedly, it's one of the few things they get to do with the iPad so I'm sure that's part of the draw). With guidance, they are allowed to go through the Prime catalog and play songs and find new favorites. Additionally, I've used it to play classical music for them that highlights a single instrument (e.g. Yo Yo Ma selections are responsible for our son switching his favorite instrument from the violin to the cello). 

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