Switch Your Child On to Classical Music
As a music teacher and a classical musician, I often get asked about how to interest young children in classical music. What is the right age? What is the right music? Should I sign up my sure-to-be-child-prodigy for lessons? Should they be listening to Mozart? The simple answer is, there isn’t any ‘right’ age, time, instrument, or composer. Like so many other things, you just need to get started.
Before you run out and buy a piano or violin for your 2-year-old, consider that most children don’t have the attention span (or ability to sit still long enough) to start private music lessons before the age of six (although there are exceptions, and there are also some excellent instrumental methods for pre-school age kids). Instead, there are many other ways to start building your child’s interest in classical music. With some positive exposure to classical music in their early years, by the time your child is ready for lessons they will already have formed an interest in the music they might one day perform.
Here are five ways to introduce classical music into your child’s arts experience:
1. Add Classical Music to Your Home Playlist
When our daughter was young, we built playlists for her that explored a variety of musical styles—from nursery-rhyme tunes and some great kids’ songwriters, to classical, jazz, folk-rock, and contemporary worship. Adding our favorite genres not only exposed our kids to a wide variety of music, it also
saved our sanity (after all, there’s only so many repetitions of baby shark a parent can take!). Don’t be afraid to add some Classical music to your home playlist. The key is finding short and engaging classical pieces or excerpts, ones that hold your child’s attention or inspire that kinesthetic toddler to move and dance.
2. Dance, Draw, and Dress-up
Young children explore their world physically. So the music that engages them is often music that makes them move. It doesn’t matter if it’s classical, rock, pop, or jazz, so long as they can groove! Our daughter loved dancing to classics like the Overture from Carmen, or Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee.” She also loved dressing up, and would don her fairy wings for the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” or wrap up in a sparkly scarf to glide like “The Swan” from the Carnival of the Animals. If your whirling dervish needs some calming down time, grab some paper and crayons and let them draw and colour, inspired by a background of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major, or Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1.
3. Pair Picture Books with Music
If picture books are a big part of your child’s life, then why not read a book then listen to some classical music together? For instance, I’ve paired Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” with Candace Fleming’s “Honeybee”, Laurel Snyder’s “Swan” with the Waltz from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, Allison Sweet Grant’s “Leif and Fall” with “Autumn” (third movement) from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons Concerto, and “Maria the Matador” by Anne Lambelet with the “Bullfight” music from the Overture to Carmen by Bizet. After reading the book, kids will naturally listen for, act out, or create their own ‘story’ in the music. For extra fun, add a playful craft to your story-music time.
4. Go to a Live Concert
There is nothing more inspiring than a live music concert. Check out your local symphony, opera company, or community orchestra. Many of them have kids’ programs that cater to the under-six crowd, with a shorter program, interactive elements and an environment where it’s okay to move around or make some noise.
Some orchestras even offer a ‘meet-the-performer’ or ‘instrument petting zoo’ after the concert. Children over six years old are usually welcome at mainstream concerts, but kids might be more inspired if they see other kids performing. If this is a first-time experience, try attending a youth orchestra performance, a concert in the park, or see if your local high school choir or college orchestra offers public concerts.
5. Check out these Crossover Artists
Another great way for kids (and adults) to engage with classical music is through crossover artists—musicians whose performance straddles both the classical and pop scenes. Most symphony orchestras perform ‘pops’ programs; and there are lots of crossover artists that cover pop and rock tunes on violin, cello, or piano: Simply Three, Jennifer Thomas, or Lindsey Sterling, for example. There are also some inventive pop/rock takes on classical tunes—check out Pentatonix’ Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, for instance, or Laura Lace’s electric guitar cover of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. But a favorite go-to in our family has got to be the Piano Guys, who pair a classical music with a pop songs in their original arrangements for piano and cello. In fact, my daughter’s first love of Vivaldi came from their mash-up of Vivaldi’s “Winter” with Disney’s “Let it Go”—and they’ve got tons of other great pairings.
There’s no need to be a purist when it comes to classical music. After all, Mozart himself used popular melodies in his own ‘classical’ compositions–including the universal kids’ classic, ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ (Mozart’s Variations on “Ah! Vous dirai-je, Maman”). There are many creative ways to engage as a family with classical music. Don’t worry if you’re also new to the classical scene, by exploring music with your kids, you both might just find a new passion. Happy musical exploring!
If children are not introduced to music at an early age, I believe something fundamental is actually being taken from them.
– Luciano Pavarotti
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