It’s common today for parents to want their children to be musical, and understandably so! It’s a wonderful thing to take in the music made by your child, be it at home, church, school, or anywhere else. For parents who are not musicians, however, how should they go about raising their kids to be musical? Do they have to wait until their children are school-aged and hope the music teachers are good? Do they need to seek out private music lessons for their young children? Isn’t there a simple, inexpensive way to instill a love of making music outside a “music program?”
A simple solution
Let’s start with the answer: The best way to instill a love of making music and, over time, an ability to do so skillfully, is to sing in the presence of and with your children. In other words, turn off the music on your phone, TV or car stereo, open your mouth, and start singing around your kids. You don’t need a piano, a guitar, or any other instrument. God gave each of us an instrument that we carry around with us wherever we go. It’s time to use it!
Ok, I’m in! What’s next?
When it comes to teaching little children to sing, there are two initial goals we need to keep in mind. Both of them are straightforward and don’t need any training. They are 1. Using singing voice, and 2. Keeping the beat. Let’s break them down in that order.
- Singing voice: It’s common for children to shout when we ask them to sing. They know there is a difference between speaking voice and singing voice but they haven’t yet mastered what it sounds like nor how to make it happen with their young vocal instruments. Sometimes, the adults in the room regard this phenomenon as cute but often it ends with the same adults yelling “Ok! That’s enough!” Parents can help children move toward a more beautiful sound—and greater sanity for themselves—by modeling “singing voice” and encouraging their children to use their voices in this way rather than shouting. This is a skill that will serve them well for the rest of their lives. Children younger than two can figure this out with a little bit of time and patience on the part of mom or dad.
- Keeping the beat: More than melody, rhythm is a phenomenon that is experienced physically. When a song comes on in which we like the beat, we tend to tap along with some part of our bodies, often unconsciously. Parents can encourage their children to become aware of the physicality of rhythm by tapping the beat on their bodies whenever one is present. If your children are in church with you during the musical worship, pick them up and tap the beat on their legs or arms while you hold them. If they’re sitting your lap while music plays in the background, tap their knees with each beat. If you’re going for a walk and you hear music, tap your thumb on their hands while you hold them. All of this will make them aware that rhythm is the scaffolding that holds together the other elements of music such as melody and harmony.
Start in familiar territory
Once you’ve started the process of using singing voice and keeping the beat, you’ll need some songs to sing! Children need a rich body of music to fill up their lives and the good news is, we don’t need to open up Apple Music or Spotify to find good tunes. Most of us remain familiar with the songs of our childhood and we can bring them back into our daily routine.
Nursery rhymes such as Mary Had a Little Lamb, The Itsy Bitsy Spider, and Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes are easy and fun for every child. Patriotic songs such as The Star-Spangled Banner, My Country ‘Tis of Thee, and America, the Beautiful are great to sing at a variety of times each year. Timeless hymns such as Holy, Holy, Holy, Praise to the Almighty, and This Is My Father’s World have beautifully crafted texts that can shape and enrich the budding faith lives of your children (if you’re interested in getting a good hymnal, here’s a new one that is excellent).
For quality Christian children’s music, Keith and Kristyn Getty have three albums as part of their Getty Kids Hymnal series and Randall Goodgame’s Slugs & Bugs is a growing library of tuneful and fun songs to memorize Scripture (with some plain-old silliness thrown in every few songs!).
The key is to make this a normal, every day part of your family’s culture and not a special set-aside “singing time.” For example, singing on Sundays is great but singing should not be reserved for Sundays. If you have any hesitations about singing in front of others, try not to share them with your children. Even small comments like “I’m not a very good singer” can encourage them to make unhealthy comparisons with others. For all they know, you’re as good as Luciano Pavarotti or Aretha Franklin!
Side note: Dad needs to participate
Sadly, in our culture, male singing has become an increasingly rare phenomenon. A strong singing culture at home has to be instigated by both mom and dad. This is especially true if your family has boys at home. Dads, as your son grows, he will be subjected to cultural forces that discourage him from singing. Prepare him to push back by providing him with a strong example of singing at home—you!
Singing at RCA
At Rochester Classical Academy, we are creating a culture of singing. During our Grammar Stage (PreK through 5th grade), RCA students learn an enormous number of facts through songs and chants. We also have plenty of dedicated music time throughout the week during which we learn many of the tunes mentioned above and lay the foundations for reading music.
Our particular method of teaching music parallels the way we teach language and over time our students will not only be able to read musical notation, but improvisation and composition will be a regular part of every child’s experience (not just the “music kids”). We aim to send students out into their families, churches, communities, and the world, equipped and excited to bless people with the gift of beautiful music.
Learn more about RCA
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