Music to My Ears: Introducing Your Kids to Music

 Genesee Valley Parent - May 2010

Genesee Valley Parent - May 2010

Children are naturally musical. It's almost as if they have a sixth sense for music. Even babies as young as six months enjoy repetitive pitch and rhythm like clapping, slapping, humming, and hooting. And listening, singing, playing instruments, and dancing are great ways to have fun and be creative as a family. However, the benefits of music extend far beyond the sheer joy of making sounds. Researchers consistently link the study of music with cognitive development, school achievement, positive socialization, and personal success. The discipline of music requires children to develop attention to detail, cognitive organization, communication, pattern recognition, and cooperation–skills that foster success in all areas of their lives.

Broaden Your Child's Exposure to Different Types of Music

Most parents are familiar with a lot of great "kiddie musicians" like Laurie Berkner, Billy Jonas, and local favorite Mike Kornrich. Their CDs and DVDs are great for getting kids up and moving. If you haven't already, consider also introducing your children to music that isn't specifically for kids. Classical. Motown. Big Band. Even young children can discern changes in tempo, tone, rhythm, and style. Deepen your child's understanding of music through discussion with them.

  • What do you think the artist is saying with their voice or instrument?
  • What mood does that song put you in?
  • Let's draw a picture to match that song.
  • What color do you think this music is?

Both the Eastman School of Music and The Hochstein School of Music offer a fantastic variety of concerts year ‘round, and attendance is free to many of them. The Rochester-area is also rich with summer festivals, and all of them feature some type of music. Check out the summer festival guide for schedules. Most kids are just as comfortable singing and dancing in the park as they are in the family room!

Informal Music Instruction

Three keys to incorporating music into everyday life without formal instruction are: Notice, Play, and Personalize.


Notice the music in ordinary sounds. Chances are your children already do! They just need you to get them thinking of it as music. If you think of music as pitch and rhythm, you and your kids will notice music all around you.

Listen and compare everyday pitches like doorbells, car tires on a wet road, car horns, sirens, birds chirping, squirrels chattering, dogs barking, even rocks plopping into a pond.

Feel and discuss the rhythm of everyday life in the slap-slap of windshield wipers, footsteps up and down the stairs, marching, clapping, and rain dripping off the roof.

Play with sound.

  • Hum. Whistle. Sing. First one pitch, then another. Have your children repeat it back to you.
  • Tune your kids' ears to dynamics of sound. Sing a pitch very loudly, then very softly, and have your kids repeat it.
  • Sound a rhythm by tapping on the table or slapping your hands. March, stomp, shuffle a pattern; combine two or more patterns.
  • Imitate instruments with your voice and your body–"What does a maraca sound like?" (shusha-shusha-shusha). "What does a snare drum sound like?" (rat-tat-tat).


  • Make your own instruments. Gather some dried beans, an empty coffee can, a clean glass bottle, drinking glasses, water, and a wooden spoon, and you've got the makings of a maraca, a drum, a flute, and a xylophone right there in the kitchen. Make it a family band!
  • Children love to hear songs about themselves. Try changing the lyrics of a song they know to make it about them. With just a little bit of practice you'll find yourself doing it almost without thinking, and your kids will love it!

Formal Music Instruction

Formal music instruction is one way to bring music into your family. Orff and Suzuki are two popular music instruction methods for children of all ages.

Carl Orff was a German composer and educator who developed the Orff Method as a way of teaching children about music that is in tune with the way they develop. Orff recognized that children are natural "do-ers." He believed that children learn best by doing, and that children must first master a task or subject physically before they can understand it intellectually. Orff's essential philosophy was "Experience first, intellectualize second." Musical concepts are learned through singing, games, dance, movement, drama, and rhythmic patterns. Children are free to follow their internal sense of curiosity and progress at their own pace.

The Suzuki Method is based on the principle that all children possess musical ability and that this ability can be developed and enhanced through a nurturing environment. Dr. Shinichi Suzuki observed that all children learn to speak their own language with relative ease so he developed a method that applies that same natural learning process to musical instruction. Suzuki referred to the process as the Mother Tongue Method.

"Starting the child at an early age, immersing them in music, and parental involvement are among the important elements of the Suzuki approach," says Dr. Karen Hagberg, a renowned local Suzuki instructor who holds a Ph.D. from the Eastman School of Music and is one of only twelve Americans to have graduated from the Piano Department of the Talent Education Institute in Japan, where she studied for four years with Dr. Shinichi Suzuki and Dr. Haruko Kataoka, the founder of Suzuki Piano Basics. "Suzuki students learn to play before they learn to read music, just as we all learn to speak language before we learn to read and write," adds Dr. Hagberg. "In the same way that parents model language development, they are encouraged to participate in Suzuki music lessons and to fill their homes with music." Students of Dr. Hagberg and other instructors of Suzuki Rochester perform in group recitals multiple times throughout the year.

"I like the group lesson because I get to see my friends and we sing a lot. It's called 'solfege'," says Erin Bacchetta ("I'm four-and-three-quarters-old") who has been a student of Dr. Hagberg for a year and a half. She participates in a weekly group lesson in addition to private instruction once a week. Erin adds, "My individual lesson is… hmmm… it's harder but I like to surprise Dr. Hagberg when I play with two hands."

Erin's father, Dennis Bacchetta, says he is pleased to see the confidence and discipline developed through music lessons carry over into other areas of Erin's life, including academic, athletic, and social.

Sally Bacchetta is a contributing writer to Genesee Valley Parent Magazine. She lives in Rochester, NY.