Children are drawn to music because they are still living in their hearts and not in their heads. The more tools we give them to keep their soul alive, the less they will lose the sense of awe and unity they came with. Music starts where words end, is the most direct connection to the core of our being, and is therefore a basic need that every child deserves to cultivate and benefit from.
Being musically literate is more crucial then academics and much more time sensitive. Our mundane teaching of information and technical skills cultivates the brainy egoic mind and can be learned at any age. Mozart and Bach awaken the deep and sensitive being that we are; it nurtures the soul. Music is most impactful when absorbed as part of growing up so the child gains qualities that enhance all other endeavors.
“Researchers believe that musical training actually creates new pathways in the brain,” writes Diane Bales, Ph.D. “Researchers think the complexity of classical music is what primes the brain to solve spatial problems more quickly. So listening to classical music may have different effects on the brain than listening to other types of music.” Being able to hear classical music to its fullest, requires education and hands on experience.
Children who develop classical music skills often excel in academics. Musicianship also impacts a child’s ability to feel, connect, concentrate, and cultivates team-work. It nurtures sensitivity, responsibility, spatial ability, memory, listening, social skills and self-discipline. In addition, experiments show a calming effect of classical music and, in schools, a more peaceful demeanor and a reduction of bullying and other aggressive behavior.
We parents are gullible when it comes to talent. We tend to live our own dreams of glory through our children and fall into a competitive mindset.
Children sense it and will, unfortunately, go along the path of our dream, distorting or even losing their own.
Our culture considers music “extra curriculum” to be offered to a child who has talent. Yet, every child has music in her heart and needs and deserves music literacy. Would you teach only talented children to read, calculate, or exercise their body? In the early years, children learn languages of the body and the mind with ease and are by nature very artistic and rooted in emotional expression and creativity. Our society would be better off if every child’s was musically educated. Although it is never too late to learn, immersing in music as part growing up is what makes it so powerful for intelligence and emotional development.
Learning music does not mean becoming musicians. Everyone learns to write but only few become authors. Everyone learns to talk but a few are public speakers. It is the individual’s autonomic choice what he/she wishes to accomplish professionally. We give tools, not direction.
What kind of music is good for children?
For the tender, sensitive soul of the child I recommend music that refines and deepens the soul, not desensitizes it; music that is rich, complex, and causes the brain to expand. The music of the most advanced complexity and depth is the classics, starting with Bach and Mozart, all the way to the romantic era. Not only children benefit from the depth and spirituality of classical music, parents do too.
Music is like food for the soul and mind. A healthy organic diet is what the body actually needs and thrives on. Letting go of other “entertaining” foods may evoke resistance but it is for the best, and eventually the organic, real food tastes better. The taste buds’ preferences are shaped by the experiences we provide. Likewise, tonal, melodic, and harmonious “organic” music, is good for the soul and brain, and after a while, it feels so good that one loves it naturally. Musical “taste buds” change with experience, which is exactly the point; what the child listens to and plays, shapes the listening itself.
For those who worry about “diversity,” I am simply suggesting the climax of musical achievement for the optimal musical education of the child, in the same way that we choose to ride cars, fly airplanes, and have hot water at home. We don’t’ say, “We should also use a donkey to ride to town for the sake of diversity.” There is nothing wrong with acknowledging and using the results of development from wherever and whenever they are reached.
Including other music occasionally can be wonderful as long it is acoustic (no electronic instruments) and of the highest quality of melody and harmony based in the discovery of tonality, with rhythm that is rich but not dominating. This can include classical acoustic jazz, gentle lyrical pop music, ethnic music, and songs that please the ear and open the heart. In our family we danced to Mozart and Schuman piano concertos and symphonies, and in the car we sang both opera and Beatles in harmony as well as improvised in any style within tonal music.
However, overall, the classical music masters provide the young ear and mind the best foundation; a musical ear that is shaped by the best and creates the most brain development and emotional expansion. When I was pregnant, I played mostly Bach choral music and repeated the same music while each child was born (at home) and then added more music as they were growing up. We often sang in the family bed and then fell asleep with Bach’s cello suites.
Mozart said: “Music, even in situations of the greatest horror, should never be painful to the ear but should flatter and charm it, and thereby always remain music.” Music of this kind is the result of the great discovery of tonality, harmony, melody, and form.
Michelangelo was asked how he sculpted out of a giant stone and he answered that he just removes everything that wasn’t the sculpture. Likewise, masterful music is one where all the “wrong notes” and noise were removed and the melodic and harmonic beauty has been discovered. The great composers mastered unveiling this incredible tonal miracle.
Every child has music in her heart and needs and deserves music literacy. Would you teach only talented children to read, calculate, or exercise their body? In the early years, children learn languages of the body and the mind with ease and are by nature very artistic and rooted in emotional expression and creativity.
How children learn music
I do not recommend any formal lessons at an early age. Instead, I recommend to celebrate the joy of music with children, by listening, singing, dancing, and going to concerts. You do not need to be musically skillful to do that. Through enjoyable music games the child learns all the basic musical concepts and skills.* To enable this kind of learning, the child, ideally, needs a piano. I wish all homes had a piano and every child learned to play it, just the way every home has a books, paper and crayons, pictures on the walls, plants, blocks, a desk etc.
A common response is, “But we can’t afford a piano… or, we have no space for it.” In my observation music is more important than some of our furniture or other items in our homes. A second-hand private seller piano can cost anywhere from nothing to a few hundred dollars. If you realized how important this is, you would put the piano instead of the couch, move things around, or place it such a way that it creates a dividing “wall.”
I do not recommend electric pianos as they emit high EMF radiation and do not allow the child to learn to control the tone. Electric pianos also have an automated chords and rhythm systems that once the child discovers, she could lose motivation to discover on her own.
For the Love of Music–Not for Accomplishment
Striving for excellence is crucial but only for its own sake; to make the music more touching and beautiful. Have a commitment to your child’s love of music and not to a competitive accomplishment. We parents are gullible when it comes to talent. We tend to live our own dreams of glory through our children and fall into a competitive mindset. Children sense it and will, unfortunately, go along the path of our dream, distorting or even losing their own.
I knew a world-renowned pianist who was struggling emotionally and very insecure on stage. When doing therapy, he discovered that he never lost the anxiety provoking presence of his mother, even while he was on stage, “In my mind, my mother is with me on stage, like she was when practicing at home.” (quote is approximate.)
When I tell this story to audiences, there is always someone who, driven by today’s competitive trends, says, “But if she didn’t push him he wouldn’t be this amazing pianist.” My answer has two parts: First, if of his own free will he wouldn’t have been a pianist, then he is much better off not being one, because then it was never his path. Living life to please others is tragic and the emotional price is enormous. His emotional freedom is much more important than any achievement. Secondly, we don’t know that he wouldn’t have been a pianist or a musician. If music was truly his passion, then without his mother having such a penetrating presence in his mind, he may have blazed his own musical path and likely become happier and an even better, more fully expressive musician.
You may be sure that your child loves her lessons or recitals and if she is free, she may indeed. Yet, it is easy to be fooled; children may seem happy when they accomplish things, and we might believe that they love the lessons or recitals, when what they really love is to please us and be the sunshine of our dreams. Dependency on parental approval wrecks havoc on one’s emotional wellbeing and self-reliance in all areas of life.
Such a dependency on external approval thwarts the child’s connection with herself; her inner being collides with her need to please others. Depression and anxiety are some of the most common results of such inner confusion. Achievements have no value, only the child’s integrity with herself matters. Music can support the child’s sense of belonging and beauty without becoming a race towards an external goal.
Once a child has acquired the basic skills and joy of music within the family and with friends, lessons may become the next step. Children have no idea what “music lessons” means. They often get excited without realizing where this “ride” may take them. If we insist that they stay with a class that is not exciting to them anymore, they feel trapped and will hesitate to take lessons or commit to anything next time. We must not let our ego or finances (we paid for the semester) override the child’s inner guide.
To keep the joy of music alive you can find a “fun teacher” that nurtures the joy of music. However, if a child does show a serious interest in music, he will eventually need rigorous lessons that require discipline and responsibility while cultivating the love of music and the joy of mastering it.
After half a year of violin lessons, at age seven, our oldest, Yonatan, played Bach and was enjoying it, yet, he was done. He said, “I just wanted to know how a box of wood can make such a gorgeous sound. Now I know. I don’t need more lessons.” And so he stopped the lessons and never touched the violin again. Later he played piano and clarinet. He was never coerced to continue but enjoyed the benefits of musical education.
When our two younger sons asked for lessons, I said, “OK, I will ask around about teachers,” and, I did nothing. I didn’t show enthusiasm or interest and didn’t inquire about teachers. I waited. I waited for a repeat nag, the kind you get when your child wants ice cream or a toy. I waited to be sure that they were driven by their own passion and not by a need to impress me or anyone else. When a second and third reminders came, “Mom did you call a cello/violin teacher?” I said, “Not yet.” They nagged day after day. Passion was present. I had to make the call.
When the children started lessons, I told them that I will pay for the lessons, sit and write notes at each lesson and support their musical needs. I also clarified the commitment: “It is your responsibility to practice daily and to be ready for each lesson,” I said. They were free to try just a few lessons and say, “No, I don’t like it,” or, “I want to try a different teacher or a different instrument.” And, most importantly, they were free to quit. I was serving them on their path.
It is crucial that a child does music for himself and not in response to parental aspirations. Enjoy music with your children from pregnancy through adulthood, for the sake of it and for no other reason than to nurture the mind and soul and to celebrate its magic.
* Referring to specific learning music games created and offered to parents by Aldort.
Author: Gussie Williams
Naomi Aldort is the author of, Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves (available on Amazon). Parents from around the globe seek Aldort’s advice by phone, Skype, in person and by listening to her CDs and attending her workshops and webinars. Her advice columns and articles appear in parenting magazines around the world. Naomi Aldort is married and a mother of three flourishing young adults. For information on phone/Skype sessions, Recordings, Videos, Events and Free Newslette