As a parent, it’s easy to focus only on the things we can do at home and think that schools will take care of the rest. We focus on getting our kids to church, keeping the house clean and making sure everybody is bathed and fed. We leave it to the schools to teach reading comprehension, math skills, science, music, etc. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with this, but schools all over the country are struggling these days. And while education administrators agree that they should keep up with reading, math and science, most school systems are tossing music and art programs under the bus when budget cuts roll around.
This means that it is up to us as parents to make sure that our children get a good musical foundation.
A lot of us remember being forced to practice the piano or another instrument when we were children ourselves. Some of us really loved that time and still put in the time to keep our musical skills honed. Others insist that it was time wasted and hate the idea of putting their kids through the same “torture.”
This article is for those parents.
For a long time scientists believed that music was a purely human invention. This is because the earliest musical instruments are much “younger” than other forged things like weapons and cookware. Now, though, there is evidence that music might have actually been around longer than modern humans. Scientists have found evidence that early humans called homo heidelbergensis, which predates even Neanderthals, have the same fragile hyoid bone that modern humans have–the same bone that makes language and singing possible. Human ancestors even older than that had voiceboxes low enough to have had at least some form of rudimentary oral communication and singing ability.
The short version: music and singing have been around longer than we have. It might even be what helps separate us from those who are, according to evolution, are pretty biological close cousins. Music is literally in our nature. It is not just nurture.
Even if you’re more of a creationist than an evolutionist, it’s important to understand just how vital music is to human development. According to a great article in the Washington Post, in addition to the fine motor skill development that learning an instrument provides, scientists have found links between music and our emotional and mental development. The more time kids spend learning music, the better able they are to control their emotions, their anxiety levels, and attention levels.
It’s ironic, then, that so many people think of music as a luxury instead of a necessity and that it is the first thing schools cut.
So what do you, as a parent, do to help your kids learn music–particularly if you are not a big fan of practicing an instrument or singing?
Start playing more music. Don’t limit yourself to the music that’s played on the top 40 station on the radio or a specific Spotify playlist. Start exploring different types of music with your kids. Listen to music from different decades, centuries and even parts of the world. Download a few world music playlists to keep on your phone. You’ll be surprised by how many different types of music you actually like once you start exploring. Plus, being open to different musical styles and traditions will make it easier to choose what kind of music lessons your kids should take.
Find a good teacher. That’s step one. Your kids will sense your reticence to the subject, so it’s important to balance that out with a teacher who really loves music and knows how to help kids love it too. This is much easier than it used to be. Sites like LessonRating.com allow people to rate and review teachers the way they would on sites like Yelp. You can also ask around at your local schools and colleges to find out if any of their music students are interested in giving lessons.
Get into a routine. Build music (listening, lesson and practice times) into your daily routine. For example, after dinner, turn on some music for a half hour or so while everybody cleans up. Set aside time for practicing the way you do for homework and lessons. If your family gets into the habit of accommodating music, appreciating music won’t be too far behind.
Finally, listen to your kids. It might take time to hit upon the instrument or musical style that they really love. If, after six months, your kid still really hates the piano, suggest switching to guitar (or ask what instrument he or she wants to learn). You don’t have to commit to a lifetime of an instrument. Pay attention to what they’re saying about the instrument and their lessons and adjust accordingly.
(This is a post by Sara Stringer)