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It’s hard to imagine, but there really was a time when classical music was the popular music of the day. Haydn, Beethoven and the boys were the “rock stars” of their time. If music fans wanted to hear the latest and greatest music, they ventured to the nearest church to drink in the sounds of these classical greats.
Today, due to the pervasive nature of current popular culture combined with budget cuts in fine art programs at schools, too many children are growing up without any exposure to classical music and its developmental benefits. Parents are now realizing that if they want this exposure for their children, they must find fun and educational ways to integrate classical music into their family’s everyday routine.
This isn’t to say that popular music is not important for a child’s development; it certainly is. But what classical music offers that popular music lacks is the portal leading back in time via the composer. Children can learn so much about important historical happenings simply by learning a bit more about a composer. The textures, form and historical context of classical music provide a unique setting for learning. What’s more, listening and moving to classical and romantic-era music and identifying with the emotions being expressed can serve as a starting point for engaging children in discussions of their own feelings and emotions.
Beyond the specific benefits provided by classical music, exposing children to music in general is critical to their overall social and educational growth. One way to promote this growth is through music lessons. Families are a primary motivating factor in children’s decisions to study music, according to research by R. H. Woody. If music lessons are not an option – or even if they are – parents can instill music in a child’s life at home simply by incorporating it into daily activities.
Dr. Milton Allen is a popular conductor, clinician, speaker, author and tireless advocate on behalf of music education. He serves as an educational consultant for Music & Arts, the nation’s largest school music company, serving students, teachers and families through retail stores and school representatives since 1952. Specializing in sales and rentals of music instruments, instrument repairs and music lessons – especially for the beginning and student musician, Music & Arts now has more than 110 retail locations across 22 states.
Here are some do-it-yourself tips from Allen for parents on how to nurture your child’s appreciation for music:
1. It all begins by listening. Head to the library and check out recordings of classical music’s greatest hits. Another alternative is to check out old cartoons such as “Bugs Bunny” or “Tom and Jerry,” which often used classical music. Parents are also encouraged to make sure the car radio is tuned into the local classical music station. Even just driving around in the car listening to these classical tunes can help.
2. Encourage your child to move to the music. Whether it’s beating a pan or blowing on any kind of noisemaker, any rhythm or makeshift instrument will aid in the child’s development.
3. Remember to ask your child how the music makes him or her feel and what he or she believes the composer was thinking when creating the tune. Have your child draw a picture of his or her interpretation of the music or tell you how the music makes him or her feel.
4. Research some of the instruments used in performing classical music and, through directed listening, point out when those instruments sound during the piece.
5. Download one of the myriad apps available such as Vide Infra Group’s “Meet the Orchestra” to generate further interest in music as well as instruments.
6. Surf the Web to find some of the many classical music websites devoted to children. Many of these are associated with major orchestras, like the Dallas Symphony or San Francisco Symphony.
7. Finally, attend a live performance. Rather than spending a lot of money right away, start with a local high school or junior performance. If the interest is there, be sure to keep an eye out for a professional organization’s children’s concert.