5 tips for orchestrating a young child's music learning

The new year is a great time to add music learning to your little one's schedule. Here are 5 fun and easy-to-follow tips to help young children maintain their music learning resolutions.

By Dr. Robert E. Johnson

Music educator

Dr. Robert Johnson is Co-Director of Curriculum for the Music Intelligence Project and The Tuneables. Dr. Johnson received his Ph.D. in music education from the University of Michigan and was a professor in music education for over 25 years. He has advanced the cause of early childhood music education by teaching music to hundreds of young children, composing age-appropriate songs, offering courses to prepare teachers, conducting research, and offering workshops for parents and caregivers of young children.


The new year is a great time to add music learning to your little one's schedule. Here are 5 fun and easy-to-follow tips to help young children maintain their music learning resolutions.

1. Plan a 15- to 30-minute “listen-to-music-with-my-child” session at least once a week.

  • Listen to short musical compositions about 1 to 1½ minutes long. We offer a list of suggested songs and compositions called  “The Young Child’s Personal Music ‘Playlist’ (Repertoire): A Context for Learning” on www.musicintelligenceproject.com.
  • Be involved in the listening. Move to the beat, name instruments that are heard, and recognize changes in the music, such as loud or soft, fast or slow, higher or lower, and smooth or bouncy.
  • Become very familiar with one classical composition by listening to it every week (e.g.  Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” [first movement], or Haydn’s “Surprise Symphony” [second movement]). Mention the title of the composition and the composer’s name each time you listen. This familiar piece becomes an important benchmark in the young child’s music education.

    
2. Learn 5 to 10 songs to sing with your child at least once a week.

  • At first, choose songs with simple melodies and easy lyrics  (e.g. "Hot Cross Buns," "ABC Song," "Baa, Baa Black Sheep," "Mary Had a Little Lamb," "Ring Around the Rosie," "Itsy Bitsy Spider").
  • Sing songs in a pitch range that's high enough to get children into the “singing” voice and out of the “talking” voice.
  • Sing along with songs on recordings.

 

3. Engage your child in a substantive music learning program designed for young children.

  • Choose a program that engages children in active participation through accurate models of musical performance.
  • Choose a program that guides the development of increasingly complex concepts of the elements of music.
  • Choose a program that develops rhythmic and singing performance skills.
  • Choose a program that gains and holds the child’s attention with exciting music and attractive visual images.

 

4. Plan a family marching time for everyone to keep the beat while listening to music.

  • Choose music with a strong beat (e.g. marches, songs with heavy accompaniments, easy rock style).
  • Choose music with beats that move quickly. (Children have difficulty timing their movements to slow music.)
  • Lift the knees when marching to make a clear step on each beat.
  • Take turns with adults and children leading the parade.

 

5. Start building your child’s personal playlist.

  • Choose recordings of 10 children’s songs that provide good vocal models for the child’s singing voice (e.g. “The Tuneables Music Box: I Love Music”).
  • Choose recordings of 5 classical music compositions.
  • Provide several opportunities a week for children to hear these recordings.
  • Add one new song and classical music composition to the list each month.