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Music Exploration: Listen Up

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Enjoying polka at the German Fest
Our first step into the wonderful world of music is listening to it.  Not only is this a simple activity but it is appropriate for any age.  When it comes to children one of the biggest questions is what should they listen to?  My short answer is everything.

My preference is to use a mix of music created for children as well as traditional "adult" options.  Generally, music designed for children has simpler melodies and rhythms as well as easy to understand lyrics.  Often, it's the same characteristics that make some children's music less desirable for adults to listen to.  However, it is good to give them exposure to music they can easily digest.  Children's music has come a long way and there are some wonderful options that both children and adults can enjoy together.

There is also value is exposing children to the wide range of traditional music, especially those in the realms of classical and world music.  Ultimately, what you chose to share with your child is a personal decision.  As long as you are sharing music on a regular basis, there is no right or wrong.  Just don't be surprised if your children develop different preferences than yours.

I tend to prefer music options that offer some variety in tone with good quality instrumentation.  For this reason I tend to shy away from a lot of the standard child collections such as Twin Sister and Cedarmont Kids.  Sure you can get 40 bazillion songs for $2 but we all found them a bit difficult to listen to for any length given that all the songs blended together.

As for our household, here are some of our favorite groups/albums.  All recommendations are both child and parent approved.

Classic Children's and Classical
  • Kid's Club - Family Songbook The best sounding collection I've found of traditional kids sing-a-longs.
  • Go Fish - Party Like a Preschooler
  • Music Together - Family Favorites Music Together has a number of CDs available.
  • Maestro Classics  This series is wonderful.  Not only does it include fabulous recordings of classics, it includes narrations specifically for children.
  • Little Laureate Series  We have the entire collection.  Each set comes with a DVD which contains classical art set to classical music.  It also includes a CD of the music.  Not only does it a cover a good range of composers but the quality of the recording is exceptional, which is sometimes hard to come by with classical.  Unfortunately, it looks like they are difficult to locate now.

Specialty/Popular Children's Music

Education/World Children's Music

Pop Music Redesigned
Yes this is a kind of strange category but I wasn't sure where else to put these options.
  • Rockabye Baby - This line has turned popular songs into lullabies.  I find them relaxing yet with interesting melodies I'm familiar with.
  • Vitamin String Quartet - This isn't a children's group.  It's a strings quartet that creates renditions of popular artists.  Since there are no lyrics they can be used with children.  I enjoy the classical feel it brings to modern songs.  My favorite one is ColdPlay.


Obtaining Music
My favorite place to purchase music is Amazon.  I prefer to purchase MP3 albums and download the content, forgoing the physical CD altogether.  This is the most economical solution I have found.  Our current setup is designed to access our music digitally so it works on all levels for us.  I put everything we own on an iPod. We have iPod docs with speakers in key places around the house.  We also recently upgraded to a home NAS that is DLNA compliant.  Eventually, I'll stream using that.  Hopefully that doesn't expose too much of my techno-geek side.

There are situations where having the physical disc and case might work better.  I know some prefer to setup a listening station for their children with a CD player.  This allows them to choose what they want to play and when they want to play it.  If you do choose to put physical discs in the hands of young children, you may want to consider making a backup copy first.  My children have a Kid Tough MP3 Player that I loaded with their favorite songs.  It is used frequently.

Working Music Into Your Day
Music can be integrated into nearly any part of your day.  Upbeat music is a great way to energize everyone while soothing music can help prepare for naps and bedtimes.  It is also a great substitute for television.  We often like to have a dedicated dance time.  It's excellent for encouraging physical activity.  There are few places we tend to play music more than in the car.

As to uses for school, we generally use music during our closing circle time.  Math songs like Three Speckled Frogs or language songs like the Letter Sounds Song are popular choices here.  Occasionally, we will listen to world music as we explore geography.  There are various schools of thoughts on playing music during general work times.  At points I will play classical pieces from our composer of the month.  However, I try to limit it to 30 minutes or so.  I prefer that they are able to keep their concentration fully on their work. Careful observation will show you how your children work best.

Listening Live
The most powerful way to experience music by far is to watch it live.  I recommend looking for cultural festivals in your area.  These almost always include live music.  We generally get a large dose of polka music during October fest.  Coffee shops, fairs and farmer's markets are also likely to have live musical performances.  Check community papers and online listings to locate events.

Another option is to check with local schools and universities.  We have several in the area that offer free concerts from time to time, often performed by students studying various aspects of music.  I've been able to find a number of performances that last well under an hour, making it acceptable for younger children.  

Outdoor venues work great with children.  Our local symphony hosts several performances of this type during the summer months.  You can bring a blanket and a picnic while you enjoy the music.  This gives younger children a chance to participate while still being able to move around as needed.  Our city also hosts a major outdoor jazz festival once a year.

If you live in a area that has street performers, take the time to tour the area they frequent.  Allow your child to stop and listen for as long as they like.  My children get excited when they hear someone playing an instrument off in the distance and it can be a fun game to try to locate where they are.  Of course, if you child does enjoy a performance, please consider leaving a tip. 

Don't underestimate what your children may appreciate.  On one occasion we were fortunate to get discount tickets to the local symphony.  Elora sat through the entire production of Carmina Burana at the age of 4.  While that wouldn't work with all children, such as my son, she had shown a strong interest in orchestral music so we thought it was worth a try.

Hopefully you have gained something here.  If you have any suggestions to add, please leave a comment.  At the end of the series, I plan to finish with a post on reader contributions.  Our next installment will be on various ways you can play and dance along with music.

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