Exposing children to music from a young age has many benefits. It can help to develop a child’s coordination, balance and fine motor skills. Musical activities can also promote communication and social skills as well as confidence and self-esteem. And music can provide essential bonding moments and as valuable lifelong techniques for relaxation.
We spoke with Bernadette Talese, an Inner West Mum and the founder of Allegro Childrens Music in Burwood which offers Do-Re-Mi classes for children, about the importance of surrounding children with music right from the beginning and the role of music in her own life. Here’s what Bernadette had to say.
‘As a child growing up in New Zealand, I was surrounded by music. My parents owned and regularly played a vast collection of vinyl records. My mother played the piano and even to this day I benefit from her amazing library of printed music. My father was often experimenting with different instruments, so along the way we acquired a guitar, an accordion and even Scottish bagpipes! I had a ukulele and even a toy zither. At school there was always plenty of singing and dancing. We did not have a lot of money but our parents valued music as an important part of our culture and education.’
‘As both a professional piano teacher and an early childhood music educator, I have always encouraged a love of music in my own children. Each of my four children had the benefit of attending early childhood music classes. They were encouraged to try any instrument which took their interest. This became a challenge with my eldest child eventually learning flute, saxophone and clarinet simultaneously whilst also being tutored in music composition during high school! She is a very gifted high school music teacher now. My other children were more inclined toward string instruments, mainly the guitar but violin for a while too, and one also studied singing. They all continue to enjoy music as a creative hobby. Music has also been a very sociable activity for our family with the children being involved in various choirs, bands, orchestras and other music ensembles. I also sing with Aurora Australis Chorus which is based in Concord and is part of Sweet Adelines Australia (and International). This is my creative outlet and it is definitely very sociable too!
‘Music is so important for many aspects of a child’s development. Musical movement activities can help with both psycho-motor and neuro-muscular development. This is important for coordination and balance as well as fine motor skills. Speaking and singing go hand in hand with developing communication skills, and I have personally witnessed children in my classes who have started to sing first and subsequently started speaking. Music also has a very important role in developing a child’s social and cooperative skills as well as being beneficial for their confidence and self-esteem.
‘The benefit of parents singing to, and later with their child from the earliest stage cannot be overestimated. Even though you may not think that you have a good singing voice, your child will think it is beautiful! When your child is very young, rock them and gently pat the beat as you sing. Dance with your child too. As they grow older, invent your own songs together and play with homemade or improvised “percussion instruments”.
‘Joining an early childhood music class with your child can be confidence boosting and sociable for both you and your child, in addition to the educational benefits. Some people choose to start when their child is around six to nine months old, while others prefer to wait beyond a year of age. It is important to do what feels right for you and your child.
‘Children have an innate sense of beat and it is important to nurture this natural tendency toward music during the early years while they are most receptive to it. Some music will encourage a child to sing, other music may be good for them to tap or shake an instrument in time with, and then there is music which will make them want to move and dance. The least complicated music is often the best and if it leaves you humming or tapping your foot in time, then that is a great thing. Above all, it should be music that you enjoy sharing with your child! It is also important to provide music and sounds which are simply for listening. For example, encourage your child to take in the sounds around them, such as a bird chirping, a frog croaking or an insect buzzing. These are enjoyable musical experiences which have a positive and calming effect.
‘A good age to start learning an instrument depends partly on the maturity of the child, partly on how much the parent is personally dedicated to the idea, partly on what type of instrument is chosen, and partly what the approach to teaching the instrument will be. The right age to start learning an instrument for one child may be completely different for another. The most important thing is that the child wants to learn an instrument!
‘Keep in mind that some instruments may be physically difficult to play if a child is too young because their arms and fingers may not be long enough or the required techniques for breathing, fingering, bowing or strumming may be tricky to coordinate. Having said this, it is important to note that many instruments are available in a range of sizes or with alternative parts which can make playing easier for a child.
‘The instrument that I recommend that children begin with is their own voice – it is easy to carry around, it doesn’t cost anything and learning to use it well promotes musicality, social activity and physical and emotional good health.
‘For me, the most enjoyable aspect of teaching music to children is seeing the joy and sense of accomplishment on their faces when they experience new things or develop a skill. Children are such a gift and I believe that it is their right to enjoy all the benefits that a high-quality music education can bring.’
Some tips to encourage a lifelong love of music in your kids
- Remember, it’s never too early to expose your child to music.
- Sing to your baby, rock and pat your baby as you sing, dance with them too.
- As your child grows, make up songs together. Don’t be self-conscious about your singing voice. Your young child will not judge!
- Create your own homemade or improvised ‘percussion instruments’.
- Expose your child to a wide variety of music, including traditional nursery songs, uplifting music with a steady beat as well as quieter, soothing music. Bedtime can be an excellent time to incorporate music into your child’s day.
- Respect your child’s need to listen to or sing their favourite songs many times over!
- Encourage your child to ‘tune in’ to the sounds of nature.
- Join a high-quality early childhood music class. Allegro Childrens Music offers do-re-mi Music for Children classes from 0–8 years which are endorsed by the Kodaly Music Education Institute of Australia.
- If your child shows an interest in learning to play a certain type of instrument then it is wise to start them on something which is similar but less expensive than an orchestral instrument. If your child is interested in woodwind instruments, then consider starting them off with an ocarina or a recorder. If your child is interested in guitar, begin with a ukulele. You can even get one for yourself and learn with them!
- If you would like to introduce your child to the piano it is most economical to buy an electric keyboard first. Be sure that it is ‘touch responsive’ and possibly able to accommodate a plug-in damper pedal later. The touch will be very different to an acoustic piano but then so will the price! A compromise would be a good-quality digital piano. It still has a different touch to an acoustic piano but the sound quality is getting better all the time.
- Remember that a child needs to be physically as well as emotionally ready and prepared to practise their chosen instrument. Sit with your child when they practise and cheer them on.
- Show your children that you love music too. Share your favourite music, past and present, with your child.