Introducing classical music to very young children

For kindy I am following the Charlotte Mason approach of homeschooling... loosely. Mainly because the method really suits our current educational priorities. Creation, Literature, Art and Music are all greatly emphasised. Not just any old book or song or drawing though, there is an emphasis on quality and classics. This suits us to a tee. So as not to go in a different direction here, I will stick to the subject at hand.

Classical music. Love it or hate it, it has it's very firm, very accomplished, very cultured place in the world of music. If you do so happen to hate it, it is highly likely because you weren't exposed to it as a child and had never been shown why it can be appreciated. If this is you, do give it a second chance, while your at it you will be able to immerse your child into a whole new level of musical wonder.

Perhaps your the Classical lover and desperately hope and pray your children will also grow to love it! I am somewhere in between. Classical music isn't what I tend to play most often, but when I'm in the mood I will really really enjoy it. I never gave it much thought or time of day until I was about 19 and sat through a concert on TV which was absolutely stunning. I then began to appreciate and enjoy classical music. I would like for my children to enjoy it much sooner!

So how do you introduce a small child to Classical music?

Well first thing would be to simply play it. Whilst cleaning, or driving in the car, make sure that sometimes, often even, it is classical music playing. From the day my children were born they have heard the sounds of all kinds of music coming from mummy's phone. One minute it would be some oldschool Keith Green, the next it could be Jack Johnson, then out of the blue comes Debussy and Beethoven. Don't be afraid to crank some classics among your usual every day stuff.

From very early on you will find your child has favourites and strong dislikes. My 4 year old has loved "William Tell Overture" from the day she heard it at 1.5 yrs old. She has also very much disliked "Toccata in D Minor" from the day she heard it at 2 years old. To this day she starts to frown and asks me to turn it off if I play it. Not that I mind, I get images of Dracula in a dark castle with stormy weather in my head every time it plays anyway. (admit it, if you didn't before, you now know which song I'm talking about!)

The next step is to familiarise your little ones with the musical instruments that are found in an orchestra. Actually, any and all musical instruments. The Piano, Flute, Violin, Cello, Clarinet and so on. Because if your child has been limited to the top 40 countdown, nursery rhymes and ABCforKids greatest hits they probably only know drums and guitar! (okay so maybe piano too). You can do this in many ways.

We have a growing musical instrument collection. Some of them are just cheapie kiddy ones, such as a plastic saxophone, maracas and drum. But others are the real deal. We bought her a children's sized Xylophone from the music store for one of her birthdays (MUCH cheaper than a real big one but still good quality and in tune), and a nice Ukulele. We also were given one large drum from an old drum kit that she likes to go crazy on. We have an electric piano which I saved up for and bought as a teen and hubby had an acoustic guitar also.

Some other instruments you can get your hands on inexpensively from music stores or ebay are:

rhythm sticks
kiddy keyboard (or a real keyboard second hand is affordable)
miniature accordion ($15 kmart)

I am aware not all of these instruments are used in classical music, but, a love of music in general and something to play along with while the orchestra is playing off your speakers/TV makes it all the more fun!

See? :

Be sure to familiarise your children with instruments you may not have in your own home too. I don't think we will ever get our hands on (or the money for) a harp... but that doesn't mean our kids have never seen one before! At least on DVD! Your local library will have baby, toddler and children's DVD's which have classical music, concerts and instrumental discovery. The library also always have many classical CD's to lend out.

We have an old broken violin up on our wall, it is beautiful, perhaps one day we will get it restored. Until then it's a nice touch to our decor and something my daughter stops to marvel at occasionally. Surround them with the beauty of music any way you can.

Another way to expose your child to classical music and instruments, are the baby proms and cushion concerts. (WASO cushion concerts are the ones in WA) Google is your friend here. It's a wonderful experience for a small child to go to one of these concerts. My children will be attending their first one this year and wow is miss 4 excited! They are concerts for babies/toddlers/little kiddies with members of your states Symphony orchestra. It is a fun and lighthearted concert and at the end the kids can go and touch and see up close and try out all the instruments! If you are in Australia just look up your state orchestra for children's programs. As your child gets older you may like to introduce them to "adult" concerts or even a ballet.

I also recommend in the very early years, introducing your child to arrangements which are no longer than about 5 minutes long, as the attention span just wont hold for much more than that. Also to include songs that are easy to pronounce. Curly Girl is constantly asking "what's this song called" and If it is "dance of the little swans" it is easy for her to say and remember, pleasing her. But if it is "Prelude A L'Apres-midi D'un Faune" .... well.... she doesn't bother, and wants the song forwarded haha. In saying that I still do throw in decent songs with peculiar or more difficult names. She has become quite partial to "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" and is almost able to pronounce it (but maybe that's because her Opa is German). My point is, to be sure to include easy ones too, it encourages familiarity and fondness towards the music.

Steer clear of any composer-studies/projects until your child is 6 or 7. Or whenever they are ready. There is no need to go overboard. Mentioning who composed a song while it is playing is more than enough at this stage.
If your child seems interested in more, you can quite easily teach them about the way an orchestra is set out and each section of instruments (percussion, woodwind, strings etc). Alot of very young children aren't usually interested in music history but are very interested in classical instruments and the orchestra. Just watch a 2 year old copy the conductor!

Learning an instrument is entirely up to the individual. Curly Girl did a term of "Little Mozart" Piano lessons when she turned 4. Although she enjoyed it, she was not ready and couldn't focus. She seemed to memorise flash cards with music notes or symbols on them such as the crotchet. But the practical side of things was not happening. She wants to learn the guitar and the violin and at this age, the music schools don't encourage it or even provide lessons for guitar or violin for 4 year olds so, she will have to wait until she is 5. Children vary greatly with natural ability and interest. Listen to your child's preferences before you run to the music tutor and fork out $! It is an excellent skill to learn an instrument and learn it well, but never force lessons on a child, let them ease into it in their own time. Although knowing how to play an instrument and read sheet music is certainly a wonderful thing and can enhance an appreciation of all music including classical, it is not necessary. A child can still grow to love classical music. I am prime example. I cannot play an instrument to save my life but I LOVE music. Classical included. So do encourage it, but dont fret if your child doesn't show interest in learning an instrument just yet. There is plenty of time.

Lastly but definitely not least, is, HAVE FUN!! Ask your child "do you like this song?" "how does this song make you feel?" "Is it a happy sound or a sad one or an angry one?" "what instruments can you hear?" "is it a fast or slow song" and so on. Let them dance and hum and squeal! Let them explore the richly moving world of Classical music with their ears and their hearts.