My oldest son, I am told, is a very talented artist. He's been taking classes with adults, at his teachers' suggestion, since he was 11 years old, and this Fall, he auditioned to attend LaGuardia High School.
The reason I say I am told he's a talented artist is because, frankly, I have no idea whether or not he actually is. I know nothing about art, and so I guess I'll just have to take other people's word for it.
It's the same with music. I absolutely know how important music is to a child's intellectual and cognitive development. But, I know nothing about music, and so I didn't pursue it with any of my three kids. (This, however, did not stop my middle son from developing an interest in ballet and even appearing on stage at the MET. Was he any good? I don't know.)
However, according to Susan Darrow, Director of Educational Services at Music Together, “Research shows that all children are naturally musical. Just as they are born with the potential to learn to talk and to understand language, every child also has the potential, from birth, to learn music. Nurturing this innate talent early in life provides a solid foundation for later success with traditional lessons. Many parents and caregivers are unsure just how they can nurture their children’s inborn musicality, since they feel they are “not musical. Adults can contribute significantly to the enrichment of their child’s music development regardless of their own music abilities. They are a critical part of the process! It is not important whether or not a parent can ‘carry a tune’ or if they sing ‘off-key.’ Having fun with music—singing and dancing with your child, clapping around the kitchen, marching in the grocery store, belting out a song in the car—these are the real ‘lessons’ for young children. And the best part, of course, is that anyone can do it!”
After making such a bold statement, Music Together then goes on to bust the top four myths about parents making music with their children (so there go all my excuses):
MYTH: “I can't carry a tune. If I sing with my child I'll teach her to sing off-key, too.”
TRUTH: Children do not learn the skills of singing from their parents and caregivers. They learn the love of singing. When you sing with your child, you are teaching them that singing is something important to you and that it is worth doing, whether or not you do it “the right way.” In fact, despite their best intentions, parents who don't sing to their children are doing the opposite of what they want to do: they are teaching their children not to make music. Children will learn to sing accurately simply through exposure to music in their environment and by having the opportunity to experiment with making music on their own.
MYTH: “I want my child to be musical, so he has to start instrument lessons before it's too late.”
TRUTH: It is never too late to begin formal music lessons—but it can definitely be too early! Young children have to play with music, before they learn to actually play music. A child is ready for formal instruction when he has achieved what Music Together calls Basic Music Competence (BMC), the ability to sing in tune and move with accurate rhythm. Asking a child to learn to play the piano before achieving Basic Music Competence is like asking him to read a book before he can speak. We have found that, with exposure to a rich music environment throughout the early years, children in Western cultures may reach BMC by age five or six. Without the early exposure, BMC may not be attained until much later, if at all, which will make formal music instruction more difficult and less enjoyable. The best thing parents can do to support musicality in young children is to sing and dance with them as often as possible and to provide as much opportunity for them to play with music as possible. With this kind of natural support, a child will develop skills to enjoy and succeed at instrument lessons when the time is right.
MYTH: “Listen to my baby's sounds—he's trying to talk!”
TRUTH: Babies are born as musical beings. Your baby may be trying to sing, not talk. In infancy, early “talking” and early “singing” are one and the same! Babies play with all the sounds they hear, both language sounds and music sounds. When you talk to a baby and stop, the baby will likely try to “talk” back to you to keep the conversation going. When you can recognize a baby's first attempts at singing, reinforce this by echoing his sounds: sing his “song” back to him.
MYTH: “My child hates the sound of my voice. He tells me to stop singing!”
TRUTH: Children do not differentiate “good” singing from “bad” singing until they are at least school-age. For young children, singing is just singing. Toddlers and preschoolers do, however, like to experiment with what they can and cannot control, just like when a child drops a toy repeatedly, wanting the parent to pick it up over and over again. The child is experimenting with cause and effect and observing personal power in action. Similarly, children often ask parents to stop doing things in an effort to exert their control—and singing happens to be one of those activities!
Darrow says, “In separating the truths from the myths, we hope parents and caregivers can better understand the critical role they play in supporting their child’s music development. Parents can rest assured that simply by enjoying music with their children, as early as possible, they can have a profound effect on how their musicality flourishes. Creating a musical family begins at birth and can last a lifetime!”
For more, visit www.musictogether.com
And if it turns out your child is actually a prodigy (regardless of your own abilities), consider having them audition for NYC's Special Music School, either in Kindergarten, or the new High School!