Instilling a love of music: it’s child’s play

It follows that parents with a love of music want to instill in their children a similar appreciation of music, but at what age should they begin? Two-year-old Samantha is clearly too young to take up the violin, and her brother, although three years older, is still eclipsed by a standing bass. How, then, do parents spark their child’s interest in music, whatever the genre? Are there any particular pearls of wisdom out there?

Make a joyful noise

Although toddlers and preschoolers may be too young to pick up a real instrument, it’s no secret they love making noise. Banging on pots, playing a toy xylophone or even clinking a spoon on a glass are all ways of experiencing and exploring dynamics; that is, the volume and sounds of music. Help your child wake up his favourite stuffed toy by playing as loudly as possible. Have your daughter to lull her doll to sleep by playing quietly. Encourage your youngster to explore body percussion: clapping hands, stomping feet or, if she can, snapping fingers. What qualities do hollow sounds have and how do they compare to sounds made by solid objects? Can your child clap along with a song? Encourage him to tap his foot along with the music. Help your youngster discover the pulse of a song by tapping your feet to the steady beat.

What sound can your child make by scraping a spoon across the side of a tin can, shaking a ring of keys, banging a pot or shaking a sealed container full of pebbles or sand?

Encourage questions and curiosity

Instilling a love of music involves growing your child’s listening skills. Choose a piece of music and invite her to describe what she hears. What does the music make her think of? What feelings does it evoke? Does it tell a story? Not only do such prompts foster your child’s listening skills, but they also develop her communication skills, abstraction and imagination.

When broaching these questions with your child, consider birdsong.

Why?

“Birds and birdsong because birds are something that everybody likes and that everybody has heard,” says Ana Gerhard, author of the children’s book Listen to the Birds. The thematic picture-book comes with a CD of 20 musical excerpts and includes lovely illustrations, descriptions of each bird, a glossary of musical terms and a brief biography of each composer from Tchaikovsky to Vivaldi.

Learn more about this product or order it now from Amazon.ca

Listen to Ana Gerhard describe in more detail the inspiration for her storybook.

Listen together

As your child’s curiosity and enthusiasm grow, carve out time to listen to particular pieces of music together, with a view to identifying individual instruments or families of instruments. You and your child will likely discover that different instruments play different roles within the orchestra, as illustrated in “I Am a Robot”, performed by the BBC Philharmonic. Members of the same musical family can be identified by their colour-coded T-shirts:

WoodwindsPiccolo, flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon
StringsViolin, viola, cello, double bass
BrassFrench horn, trumpet, trombone, tuba
PercussionCymbals, triangle, snare drum, bass drum, timpani, tubular bells

As you watch the orchestra perform “I Am a Robot”, have your child identify the instrument families according to the musicians’ coloured shirts. As the camera pans or zooms in, see if your child can recognize the instruments pictured in this illustration.

This is an illustration of the typical orchestra seating arrangement.
Notice how the individual instruments and their respective families are represented.

Individual instruments may even play a particular character within a story, as illustrated in Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and in the 1975 animated musical-comedy film Tubby the Tuba, based on the 1945 children’s story of the same name.

Peter and the Wolf

Described as a “symphonic fairy tale for children”, Prokofiev’s 1936 Peter and the Wolf was commissioned to introduce children to the individual instruments of the orchestra, namely

  • woodwinds: a flute, an oboe, a clarinet and a bassoon
  • brass: three French horns, a trumpet and a trombone
  • percussion: timpani, a triangle, a tambourine, cymbals, castanets a snare drum and a bass drum
  • strings: violins, violas, celli and double basses

More specifically, each character in the story is represented by a particular instrument and theme.

Peter: violin, viola, cello, double bass
Bird: flute
Grandfather: bassoon
Hunters: trumpet and trombone,
with gunshots on timpani and bass drum
Duck: oboe
Cat: clarinet
Wolf: three French horns

Peter lives with his grandfather in a forest clearing. One day, Peter ventures into the clearing, leaving the garden gate open. The duck that lives in the yard seizes the opportunity to go swimming in a nearby pond, where it enters into an argument with a bird. Debating whether a proper bird should be able to swim or fly, the duck and the bird are oblivious to Peter’s cat, which has quietly stalked them. Warned by Peter, the bird flies to safety in a tall tree, while the duck swims to the middle of the pond, out of reach of the cat.

Concerned that a wolf might come out of the forest and attack, Peter’s grandfather admonishes him for going outside and playing alone. A defiant Peter declares that he has nothing to fear from wolves, but his grandfather takes him back to the house and locks the gate. Not long after, a wolf emerges from the forest. The cat scurries into the tree with the bird. Sadly, however, the duck, has come out of the pond and falls prey to the wolf.

Having watched all the goings on from inside, Peter fetches a rope, climbs over the garden wall and joins the bird in the tree. He then asks the bird to create a diversion by flying around the wolf’s head. While the wolf is distracted, Peter lowers a noose and catches the wolf by his tail. The end of the rope now tied to the tree, the noose only gets tighter as the wolf struggles to break free.

A group of hunters who have been tracking the wolf now come out of the forest, their rifles ready. Peter, however, implores the hunters to take the wolf to a zoo. The victory parade reassembles all of the main players—Peter, the bird, the hunters leading the wolf, the cat and, finally, Peter’s grandfather, still disappointed that Peter defied his warnings. At the conclusion of the story, the narrator states that those listening attentively can hear the duck still quacking inside the wolf’s belly, for it was swallowed alive.

Now that you’re familiar with the plot and each of the principal characters, sit back and enjoy this delightful 25-minute presentation.

Tubby the Tuba

Tubby the Tuba is the titular character in a 1945 children’s story for orchestra and narrator. Written by Paul Tripp and George Kleinsinger, it was popularized in a 1975 animated musical-comedy film and tells the story of Tubby, a young tuba discouraged at forever having to play only oom-pah, oom-pah.

Noticing Tubby seems down, Peepo the Piccolo asks what’s the matter.

“Oh,” says Tubby. “Every time we do a new piece, you all get such pretty melodies to play and I, never, never a pretty melody.”

“But people don’t write melodies for tubas,” replies Peepo. “It just isn’t done.”

How Tubby longs to dance with the violins! Mocked by the conductor and goaded by the French horn, the entire orchestra begins to laugh. After a disastrous rehearsal, Tubby, beside himself, makes his way to the river to wallow. There, he meets a bullfrog, who teaches him a melody and encourages him to try it with the orchestra.

At the next rehearsal, Tubby begins to play his own little melody. The violins are indignant. “Oh, that wretched tuba!” they exclaim. “He’ll disgrace us!” The trombone sticks out its tongue. The trumpets sniggered. The conductor, however, is most curious.

“Tubby, I’ve never heard a tuba play a melody before,“ he remarks. “Let’s hear the rest of it.”

Tubby begins to play.

“Why, how perfectly wonderful,“ say the strings. “Please, Tubby, may we sing your tune too?”

“How about me,” asks the xylophone.

“And me!” says the trombone.

The celesta and Peepo the Piccolo join in.

Eventually, Tubby’s beautiful tune wins over the orchestra, and all the instruments play.

Enjoy this presentation by the Boston Civic Symphony, led by music director Max Hobart and narrated by Jordan Rich.

Classical music has been used in various places within popular culture, from cartoons to full-length features films. Consider, for example, the Tom and Jerry episode “Snowbody Loves Me”, which features a number of works by Polish composer Frédéric Chopin. Watch as piano virtuoso Yannie Tan plays along with the classic cartoon.

Other examples include, but are not limited to

  • A Corny Concerto” features “Tales of the Vienna Wood” and “The Blue Danube”, both by Johann Strauss
  • Rabbit of Seville” is based on “The Barber of Seville” by Gioachino Rossini
  • Maestro Minnie” relates the foibles of Minnie Mouse as she tries to conduct an orchestra. Musical segments include excepts of Tchaikovsky’s “William Tell Overture”, Brahms’ “Lullaby”, “Flight of the Bumblebee” by Rimsky-Korsakov and “Hungarian Rhapsody” by Franz Lizst
  • You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” features Schroeder playing Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14, more commonly known as “Moonlight Sonata”

Making music fun also makes music accessible

As you can see, instilling a love of music does not necessarily have to be complicated. Such works for children, as well as activities that encourage kids to get singing, dancing and exploring sounds, make music both fun and accessible.

“Classical music has a reputation of being difficult to listen to, especially for children.” acknowledges Ana Gerhard. “I hope that people will discover that […] music is a very accessible art, that it can be fun, that it can be easy to listen to and that they can [reap] the benefits that it brings.”

What books or activities have you tried with your child? Does your youngster seem to prefer a particular piece, instrument or genre? Drop a note in the comments section and let others know about your musical prodigy!

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