Does music need to be "dumbed-down" for kids? The answer became quite clear to me and my husband as we observed how our own child responded to complex melodies and varied musical styles in the first months of her life.
When I embarked on the recording of my children's music CD ("Wake Up & Go To Sleep", Artsong Music) shortly after my daughter was born, it didn't occur to me to create a happy little watered down collection of songs made just for young listeners. The songs simply evolved as the experiential narrative of a new mom.
My husband, jazz guitarist and composer Pat Kelley, arranged and produced the CD bringing his rich diverse musical experience into play and giving the CD a broad stylistic range. Our daughter Katie seemed delighted by the whole project, which took four years to complete. She even contributed song writing and vocal performances.
It was only later, when the CD was released and people began to listen, that we discovered how much parents were moved by it. We have received many thanks for creating music that is a pleasure to listen to alone and with children.
Children have a more innate ability to absorb music than most adults. At a young age they have minds that are open to everything rather than filled with influences telling them what they should and should not like. Our daughter feels joy listening to Mozart, Hawaiian music, The Beatles, or Glenn Miller. Music only requires an open mind to find enjoyment in its beauty.
The earliest experience of music is in a child's first cry. Crying has tone and is the earliest sound that expresses emotion. For many infants, the next experience of music is the intimate songs a mother sings as she rocks and soothes her baby to sleep. Indeed this is a mother's own sound language that is completely unique to her and her baby. These may be some of the most meaningful and bonding moments of the mother/infant relationship.
But where do you go from here? If you begin to expose babies to myriad musical styles, you can witness early responses. Even in the early weeks of life, a baby will respond to complex classical works. Our daughter at three weeks old reacted to a Rachmaninoff piano concerto, eyes searching, facial changes pronounced. Clearly these sounds had a dramatic and positive effect. After having been very active kicking and fussing, she became still, seemingly enthralled in the music.
By exposing kids to a variety of musical styles, they begin to develop their response to what moves them to sing and dance, or be calmed, and even what turns them off. Critical listening can start early. And by exposing them to varied music they will develop the ability to appreciate many different styles. Your kids are completely open and ready to absorb anything new. There is no reason to limit what they hear just because you might think they are too young to understand it. Great music does not require understanding to be enjoyed and absorbed on the most organic level.
Sometimes music helps children express what they aren't able to articulate. In the earliest days, it is often simply the sheer joy of singing and using the voice that enables a child to begin to develop a love of music. Singing just feels good, both emotionally and physically to a child. Dancing or moving to music is a natural expression of rhythm, which is part of life. Encourage your children to sing and dance and they will be more free and expressive.
As you explore the world of children's music, also introduce the music you like to your kids. This can be a time for both of you to explore new musical styles such as jazz, classical, bluegrass, blues, funk, and a variety of world and ethnic music. If you aren't sure what to buy, visit your local library. Most libraries have a very good section of CDs in a broad range of styles. Ask the librarian for suggestions. Try checking out a different style CD each week. Of course you can browse the Internet and visit your favorite on-line music stores. Many sites offer downloadable music samples.
Music is at the heart of a child's spirit. In our CD "Wake Up & Go To Sleep" we celebrate that spirit and the preciousness of childhood. We make music for fun and for interaction. Music should inspire little souls to think outside the box!
As your children develop a musical vocabulary, let them take you along for the ride.
Attend outdoor concerts where kids can dance and run around to the music. Many venues offer free concerts in the summer, in a variety of styles. Get Jammin' with your kids. It's a blast!
Let music fill your children's hearts with joy, and in return it will do the same for you.
About The Author
Francie Kelley is a singer, songwriter, art dealer and mom. Her CD "Wake Up and Go to Sleep" is the winner of a prestigious 2003 Parent's Choice Award and is available on Amazon.com and CDBaby.com. For more info about Francie and her music, visit http://www.franciekelley.com