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5 Tips to Introduce Your Kids to Concert Music

Editor’s Note: We’d like to welcome Robert Greenburg as a LifeTales guest blogger. Mr. Greenburg is a composer, pianist and music historian based in Califnornia. He offers over 30 music courses, originally made for The Teaching Company’s Great Courses series, through his website. He also blogs on Patreon and his website.
Editor’s Note: We’d like to welcome Robert Greenburg as a LifeTales guest blogger. Mr. Greenburg is a composer, pianist and music historian based in California. He offers over 30 music courses, originally made for The Teaching Company’s Great Courses series, through his website. He also blogs on Patreon and his website.

Want to bring a little classical music in your home? It’s a great way to introduce your kids to music and a long history of artistic excellence.

But first, I humbly suggest you rethink the terminology.

Classical music = concert music

When you think of classical music, you’re really thinking of concert music. Many of the pieces in the standard repertoire was composed by European men between roughly 1650 and 1900. It’s also usually played in formal spaces like concert halls (hence the name).

While this music is often referred to as “classical music,” that phrase is about as helpful as “real imitation margarine.” Why?

When we name something a “classic,” we’re connecting it with the ideals and restraint of ancient Greek art, which immediately rules out the great bulk of concert music. A lot of concert music, often as not, is filled with sturm und drang or angst and exaltation. It’s not exactly restrained.

So, concert music it is.

Why should you introduce kids to concert music?

Concert music constitutes some of the greatest music humans have ever cooked up. As a musical art form, concert music informs, edifies, educates, entertains, inspires, and packs a toy shop’s worth of joy. Introduced at the right time, it has the power to stay with children for the rest of their lives.

Tip #1: Lead by example

One of the great truisms of modern parenting is that children are more likely to read if they are read to and if they see their parents reading.

The same is true with music. It’s incumbent upon parents to set an example by listening to concert music at home and in the car (the latter might require some negotiation, but it is my experience that it CAN BE DONE).  Don’t be afraid of playing the same piece over and over again; familiarity breeds affection.

(Having said all this, don’t play one type of music to the exclusion of all others.  The distinctions we have created between “concert music” and “rock ‘n’ roll”, and “jazz” and so forth are meaningless to children.  They tend to just like music – all music – which is how it should be.)

Tip #2: Embrace noise and buy some drums

You don’t have to go full drum-kit, but playing along with your little maestros is a fun family bonding activity (slip the earplugs in if you need to–we won’t judge). Photo courtesy of Matthijs Smit via Unsplash.

It’s a fact of existence that kids love noise and parents detest it. Yet, I recommend that you invest in some decent percussion toys and encourage your kids to “play along” with recordings and videos. Better still, do it with them.

Picking up a drumstick will make you an active, not passive, participant in the musical process. It’s also a lot more fun than you might think.

Worried about “insulting” Bach or Mozart or Beethoven with your talents? Friends, they’re long dead and beyond insult. Besides, is playing along with a recording any more insulting than the disco arrangement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony that was featured in Saturday Night Fever?  

I rest my case.

Tip #3: Introduce kid-friendly movies about music

There are dozens of kid-friendly story that model the role of concert music in modern life that are perfect for kids under six. My three-year-old son and five-year-old daughter love them.

Some examples:

Tip #4: Go to local concerts together

Take your kids to experience music at local events. Many cities and towns hold children’s concerts or musical events geared for families.

Outdoor festival concerts are even better, since they allow kids to run around and move to the music. Try to listen to the pieces on the program beforehand. Music literacy is very similar to written literacy.

A little bit of preparation, even a tiny amount, can pay off big time in terms of intensifying the experience for your kids. 

Tip #5: Get a piano

Bringing a piano into your home will increase your children’s exposure to music.

Don’t assume your instrument has to be an 8’11¾” Steinway “D,” which has a list price of approximately $130,000. A little spinet will do.

Put the piano in a place where the kids can bang away without making the rest of the family crazy. When it’s time for lessons (I recommend you start at age 6 or 7), the piano will be an old friend and not a new torture device.

Speaking of lessons—you’re never too old to start. Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa or Whomever should think about taking lessons and practicing together with the kids for a bonding experience like no other.  

Piano or keyboard?

A child practices piano skills while sitting at a Yamaha.
Piano or keyboard? Professor Greenberg has some feels about that.
Photo courtesy of Siniz Kim via Unsplash.

Don’t know much about pianos? It’s an instrument made out of wood, medal, leather and felt.

It breathes. It is real. Its mechanism follows the will of the player’s body.

An electric keyboard is made out of plastic and circuitry. It is not real. It does not breathe. In my opinion, they have no place in your home. 

Unsure where to start? Here’s a starter playlist  

Would you love to bring concert music into your home? Not sure where to start?

Here are some wonderful performances of great works to get you going:

  1. Johann Sebastian Bach, Brandenburg Concertos; Trevor Pinnock conducting, on Archiv.
  2. Wolfgang Mozart, Symphonies Nos. 39, 40, & 41; Neville Marriner conducting, on EMI.
  3. Ludwig van Beethoven, Nine Symphonies; John Eliot Gardiner conducting, on Archiv.
  4. Camille Saint-Saens, Carnival of the Animals; Charles Dutoit conducting, on London.
  5. Sergei Prokofiev, Peter and the Wolf; Carlo Rossi conducting, narrated by Boris Karloff, on Vanguard.

Picking the Perfect Lullaby

No matter which lullaby you pick, the important thing is singing to your children

Ask any large group of adults what they most fear and their list will likely include:

  • Public speaking 
  • Heights, skydiving or bungee jumping
  • Singing in front of others 

While it’s entirely possible to live your life avoiding items one and two, having kids may push you to sing in public in ways you never thought you would.

The connections between music and other life skills are rich and varied. Scientists have long theorized that’s there’s a connection between music and math, for example, although Scientific American notes the exact nature of this relationship remains fuzzy.

Other associated benefits may include higher emotional intelligence, better social skills and a greater appreciation for tone and rhythm. 

Beyond the possible skill benefits and a general appreciation for music, hearing a lullaby can form iconic childhood memories. 

Whether your parents chose to sing pop songs by Joni Mitchell, The Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel, traditional nursery rhymes like “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” or camp songs like “The Wheels on the Bus” and “Old MacDonald,” you may yet have strong feelings to that music and hearing your parent sing it.

Singing is an activity that parents and children can enjoy at any age, and it can also be a key part of your bedtime routine. A lullaby can help set the mood for the end of the day and help your baby’s brain to understand that it’s time to relax and wind things down.

Where to begin? We’ve compiled some quick suggestions as you get started. 

Don’t be shy about singing a lullaby.

Particularly in North America, it’s very easy to internalize cultural rules about who is allowed to sing (people with “good” voices, whatever that means) and who is not (everyone else). However you feel about singing in other parts of your life, try not to let that judgement into this process. Singing develops your child’s bond with you. What matters is that you do it, not how you sound. As Ian Mendes has written for Today’s Parent, “If the sound of mom’s gurgling digestive juices helped baby doze off, then the bar is set pretty low for you as a singer.”

Work with your voice’s natural range.

If you can barely hum “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” then songs like “Memory” from Cats or Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” may not be the best choice for you. Longevity should be your guiding principle. When your child develops a fondness for your lullaby, it’s possible you will still be singing the same song 10 years from now. Have mercy on your vocal cords and pick a tune that you can sing easily and without strain at various volumes. (Seriously, have you considered “Ba-Ba-Black Sheep?” It works pretty well.) 

It’s okay if you don’t know the whole lullaby.

Can’t remember the weird second verse to “You Are My Sunshine”, which ends with the heartwarming line, “You have shattered all of my dreams”? No sweat. Your baby won’t care if you know a single verse or just the chorus. In some ways, it’s easier to choose a short song that you can easily loop when it’s 3 am and you’re gamely singing while pacing their bedroom in a vain attempt to get both of you some sleep. 

Ear plugs can be your best friend.

Keep a pair of earplugs handy if you’re got a fussy baby who’s fond of screaming along to your midnight (or afternoon, or morning) performances. You’ll still be able to hear yourself singing and it may help take the edge off.

Have a few back-ups for days when you “absolutely cannot sing that wretched song” one more time.

You’re going to get tired of singing the same song (trust us on that one). For mental variety, pick a secondary lullaby or two that are also easy to sing and toss them in now and then for you and baby. One of our team members used the classic song, “ABC,” as her back-up lullaby because it’s easy to sing at different pitches and speeds.

Pick an existing lullaby you like and make-up new words.

Want more of a challenge? Pick an easy song you like (“Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” maybe) and swap the words out. You can describe what you see in your baby’s nursery, talk about what you did during the day, or tell your baby about people in your family. Young babies won’t care, but it can be a fun game for you to play as they get older.

The Internet is your friend: Source the lullaby that’s perfect for you

Still not sure what to do? Pity the parents who successfully raised children in the dark era before YouTube and run a search. You’ll quickly find over six million examples of lullabies you can learn from a range of cultural backgrounds. 

Failing that, if you find your kid passes out to your improvised version of Feist’s “1234” or Beyonce’s “Halo,” embrace what works and do your thing. Sing to that child and fear no judgement! 

Thanks to technology, it’s never been easier to record an audio file or video of you singing to your child. Adding your lullaby traditions to a LifeTales story collection gives you both have a soothing memory to reflect upon as your children grow and your voice inevitably changes.

What were the go-to lullabies in your house growing up? What are they now? Have a suggestion for a different blog topic? Get in touch at hello@teamlifetales.com. We’d love to hear from you!

The photo, “White and Wooden Wall Decor,” appears courtesy of Charles DeLuvio.