Five Tips to Expand Your Child’s Musical Ear

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Think about the most important moments of your life: chances are music was right there with you. Music adds color to our experiences and richness to our emotions. By exposing children to a variety of music from their youngest years, they become open to the unique joys and benefits that each unique genre of music has to offer. Below are five tips to expand your child’s musical ear that will set them up for a lifetime of listening!

1) Exposure, exposure, exposure

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Play different genres of music any chance you get. Pop on some classical in the car, play nursery rhymes during play time, turn on some jazz during dinner. The more that a child (as well as an adult for that matter) is around different types of music, the more familiar and enjoyable they will become. And don’t give up if your child seems averse to a new music style at first; it may just take some time before it becomes familiar as their brain learns how to process it.

2) Don’t just stick to “children’s” music

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Kids are smart and their brains are ripe for learning, and you should teach them about music accordingly. Recordings or CD’s geared towards children may have simplified melodies, basic harmonies, and not expose children to as large of a variety of characters, moods, or auditory concepts that would be present on a recording or CD not made specifically for kids. Seek out your friends who are knowledgeable about music that you are unfamiliar with and ask them their favorites. Try turning on a classical, jazz, or country radio station or TV music channel for a full experience of the genre. However, be aware that with certain types of music (rap or top 40 hits come to mind) you may need to do a bit more research to find artists in these genres that sing about topics or use words that are appropriate for your kids. But don’t fret, a quick Google search, here’s one on kid friendly rap artists for example, will bring up a number of great choices.

3) Take them to performances – all types

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Taking your children to musical performances will allow them to connect to the experience and culture of music-making and music-loving on a more intimate level. They’ll be able to watch as music is being made and see people react to it in real time. Bring them to different types of concerts and let them experience the full spectrum of musical genres. The summer is an especially great time for this, as outdoor performances abound. Perhaps pack a picnic and set-up a blanket at City Park Jazz for jazz, blues, and more. Come to Inside the Orchestra’s July 30th Tiny Tots performances to hear an orchestra perform everything from classical music to pop songs. Grab a seat in front of the stage at the Cherry Creek Arts Festival to hear bands of all types. Outdoor performances allow children to move, dance, and enjoy the music freely.

4) Speaking of moving to music: encourage your kids to move and react to the music in the way that feels natural for them

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Clapping, dancing, spinning, singing, whatever strikes their fancy. By being able to move and react to the music, children’s brains are better able to process and understand what they’re hearing, especially if they aren’t familiar with it. This is called musical audiation. Audiation in music is just like learning a language: it is the process of making sense of and provide meaning to sounds or rhythms that were previously unfamiliar to the brain, just like learning to speak for the first time. Read this interesting, insightful, and well-written piece on audiation and its importance in musical learning for children.

5) Encourage your children to play pretend as different types of musical performers

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We’ve all seen a child play the air guitar, why not air violin? How about air xylophone? Make a game out of it: turn on different types of music and have your children “perform” it for you. Not only will it familiarize them with different sounds, but it will allow them to assign meaning to what they are hearing. They’ll learn what instruments are typically associated with different performance styles, they’ll explore the emotional concepts present across genres, and they’ll be able to begin to use their body to express both the concrete and abstract ideas that are inherent to music and performance.

Now what are you waiting for? Go get that music playing!

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