6 ways to encourage your child to get into music
There are a range of attitudes and approaches parents can have when it comes to their children’s participation in musical activities. On one extreme, some parents see music as a distraction from more useful, practical pursuits that would strengthen their employment prospects down the line. On the other you have parents who are desperate for their child to exhibit musical ability – too desperate perhaps, resulting in over-encouragement and the stifling of any potential interest in music.
Any musical involvement is wonderful for a child for a variety of reasons. It teaches them how to interact with other children, how to deal with their own mistakes, how to practice and improve a skill, how to count, to cope in front of an audience, how to read a foreign ‘language’. For all the maths and languages and science I was exposed to, playing music was arguably the richest element in my whole education.
I was lucky enough to experience my own distinct musical journey, taking me through various instruments and genres, and culminating in a lifelong love – a need even – of performing and writing songs, in such a way that, shock horror, my “career prospects” are not only intact but enhanced.
Musical talent is not a rare resource only found in a small minority of children – it is something that any child can discover and explore if they approach it from a direction that suits them.
I drew on my own experience, as well as various research and conversations about raising creative children, to lay out six ways you can encourage your child to explore music.
1 – Have background music on in the car
I can still clearly remember the first time I heard Radiohead – sat in my dad’s car driving to town. It was different to all the classical music I’d been exposed to at school, or the choral music I’d heard on the occasional visits we made to church. The clangy, whiny but ultimately beautiful mix of sounds on their first album, Pablo Honey, piqued my interest from an early age.
Leaving a range of different music on in the background, whether it’s in the kitchen or the car or when you’re doing housework, allows your child to discover at their own pace and explore their curiosity without you pressuring them into liking a certain genre or style of music.
2 – Don’t focus too specifically on any genre
This follows on directly from the previous point. Every child is different – you cannot accurately predict what they will enjoy – and so it’s important to avoid the temptation of trying only to get them excited about the same music as you.
Not only does this give your child the best chance of discovering the music that resonates with them, it also has a practical impact on their wider musical development.
The best songwriters and composers draw on a wide range of influences to create something distinctive and unique to them.
If you love Oasis and only listen to Oasis, your songs will sound like Oasis songs. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, except insofar as you won’t ever create anything original. Similarly, if your child learns the violin and is exposed only to early classical music, they will struggle to explore their own creativity in any real detail.
Encourage your child to listen to everything by playing everything – even the music to which you’re less drawn – and ask them open ended questions about what they like and why.
3 – Take them to concerts, dance shows and other musical performances
As with the point above, you have no idea what will inspire your child to want to play music. It could be an opera, or a Korean breakdancing show or just a simple acoustic songwriter busking in the street.
There is plenty of affordable (or even free) live music out there to enjoy if you search for it.
If your child is able to see and experience music in its wider contexts – music in dance, music in theatre, etc – they will have greater opportunities to latch onto things they want to try.
4 – Tell your child about your favourite musicians and why you love their work
Enthusiasm in infectious. As long as you are giving them ample room to explore their own tastes, a healthy conversation where you display your own enthusiasm for the music you love should infect them with a desire to learn more.
I remember my dad telling me about Alvin Lee of Ten Years After as ‘the fastest playing guitarist he’d ever seen live’ and wanting to know more about guitarists and who else he thought was amazing to watch.
Too often we expect the people around us to see the beauty in things without actively showing it to them. By using our interests as a starting point – only a guide, not a fixed direction – we can start the conversations that will lead to more discovery.
5 – Encourage your child to sing
Singing is a wonderful gateway into the world of music for so many reasons. It teaches confidence, allows non-native speakers to communicate and express their emotions, improves basic skills like counting and literacy, and so on.
However, as Jane Wheeler, the singing leader for the British Council’s World Voice programme, points out here, our society’s perception of singing has shifted in the last hundred years away from singing as a collective activity – singing in church, singing at social gatherings – to a more rigid view of singing as the pursuit of the few – those singers on stage or on television. Unless you’re letting your hair down at karaoke or drunkenly chanting at a football match, you might well never sing (except in the shower, of course).
Encourage your child with the mentality that anyone can sing and indeed everyone should sing. It forms the first steps towards a deeper love for music and performance.
The age-old proverb still stands – if you can walk, you can dance / if you can talk, you can sing.
6 – Have them interact with other children in a musical environment
In choosing the right environment for them, let your child lead you by asking open ended questions. What sort of musical activity are they most interested in trying? Which concert or musical event did they particularly enjoy?
Once you understand what they’re drawn to, find a way of signing them up to participate with other children – whether it’s an orchestra, or a dance class or just mucking around with guitars in their friend’s basement (I opted for this one).
They can thus feed off other children’s enthusiasm and learn at their own pace. And ask them how they are enjoying it – it’s important that they’re not trudging to orchestra rehearsals against their will (I would know – I missed the 2003 Rugby World Cup final because I was reluctantly at rehearsal). That said, if they are participating in the activity they showed an organic interest, it’s likely they’ll enjoy it.
As always, thanks for reading and please leave comments below. Have you found other techniques to get your child interested in music? Do you have any questions you want us to tackle in the magazine?