Musical Activities

If music study is something you want for your child, you can prepare for that first lesson. No, you don’t have to read aloud from a music dictionary before he is born, but there are some activities you can begin at a very young age.

Very Early Activities

These would be from birth to about 1.5 years.

Play music for your child. Let him hear it in the home and in the car. Make it good music: classical music and fine jazz. I’d advise you to eliminate Top 40, rap, and other kinds of pop music; he’ll get plenty of that in the general culture so he’s a well-rounded listener. What he *won’t* get is the good stuff. Make sure you provide that at home. No matter how far afield he might go in his teen years, in the end he’ll come back to good music as an adult.

Encourage your child to move to music. Before he’s ambulatory, hold him and both of you walk or sway rhythmically to music. Later, the two of you can dance to what you’re hearing. Having the child create his own interpretation in dance fosters creativity and tells him that being artistic is a good and safe thing to do.

Family Activities

The first thing you need to do is bring an active awareness of music to your young child, starting at about age 2.

  • If you play an instrument, do so at least some of the time when the child is awake and aware of what you are doing. It’s the perfect time for your spouse to play some of the music games (see below) with your child so you can have some uninterrupted practice time.
  • Continue to provide opportunities for your child to move to music.
  • Go to the library and check out tapes/records to play at home. Choose a “composer of the week” or, better at this age, key your choices to an upcoming holiday. Check out books about the composer or holiday and use these for your daily read-aloud sessions.
  • Attend “concerts in the park” in your area. Sometimes city parks departments sponsor these, sometimes a local music organization. Kid particularly like the picnic/sit-on-the-ground aspect. Make sure your child understands that once the music starts he is sit down and not run around, no matter what other kids are doing. If necessary, leave between numbers if your child simply cannot sit still; he might be too young. Another option: bring a quiet activity such as a color book or small cars and let your child enjoy the music subconsciously while he does something else. (It’s best to leave between numbers, but if your little one is just too restive, leave as soon as it’s obvious he won’t make it.)
  • Investigate music activities offered in your community. There might be a sing-along hour at the library or a “make your own drum” program offered by the parks department.

Specific Music-Readiness Activities

Aural Memory

  • Clap a rhythm and ask him to clap it back to you. Keep it short and simple at first (3 or 4 claps). Lengthen in a week or so if it sounds as if he’s catching on quickly. You can do this at the dinner table, too, with each family member giving the child a rhythm to clap and “trying to trick” him.
  • Instead of clapping, tap on a saucepan with a wooden spoon (or use a drum or play xylophone or whatever is handy – -or make a drum from a round oatmeal box). Tap softly, loudly. Speed up and slow down. Make some taps louder than others.
  • Play the “Good Ears Game.” Give your child a series of commands (two at first, then increasing), such as “touch your nose, then stand on one foot.”
  • Sing the first line of a song (such as “Mary Had a Little Lamb”) and ask your child to sing it back to you. Ideally, he will start on the same starting note as you did. Vary this game by singing loudly or softly or suddenly singing one note extra-loudly. Speed it up or slow it down. Later, “trade lines” of a song: one of you starts with the first line and the other provides the second line, and so on.
  • Make up silly songs, based on a familiar tune, with each of you contributing alternate lines. For example, “Mary had a little lamb ” and “She fed it little bowls of ham.” This also helps develop a sense of symmetry as well as sharpen the ear for the sounds of words and rhymes.

Visual Memory

  • Line up three familiar items, such as a spoon, a ball, and a doll shoe. Ask your child to hide his eyes while you remove one item. Your child tells you what is missing. When he’s thoroughly confident with three items, increase to four and so on. He’ll let you know when “it’s too easy!”
  • Starting once more with three items, ask your child to hide his eyes while you rearrange the objects. Your child restores the original order. Move on to four items when he’s ready and so on.
  • A variant: while your child hide his eyes, you both remove and rearrange the objects. His task is to remember what’s missing and restore the original order.
  • Ask him to look at a grouping of three items (later more items), then close his eyes and tell you what he saw.
  • Buy some plastic magnetized letters. Use A-B-C-D-E-F-G only. Do the same three activities – – remove, rearrange, remove/rearrange – – with the letters. When he is very comfortable and if your cache of plastic letters allows, add a second octave: A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E-F-G and continue the game, explaining that in the music alphabet, after G comes A again. (Your child’s future teacher will bless you for introducing and drilling on this concept!) If you can’t find plastic magnetized letters, use Scrabble tiles, draw letters on individual pieces of cardboard, or look for wooden letters at a craft shop; what’s important here is concrete objects your child can pick up and handle (“manipulatives”).
  • Do the same with numbers 1 through 9. Skip zero and double-digit numbers.

These “games” are things that either parent can do with the child. Often one parent is more knowledgeable about music than the other, so these games are a perfect opportunity for the non-musical parent to share music readiness with the child.

The Beginnings of Reading Music Notation

You already have begun this with your alphabet and number activities. Expand on it:

  • For another deck of cards, make a deck with the four basic kinds of notes on┬áthem. On four of them, draw a whole-note (4 counts – looks like an egg). Make a half-note (2 counts) on four more (looks like an egg with a stem). On four more, a dotted-half-notes (3 counts – same as a half-note but with a dot following it), and the final four are quarter-notes (1 count – black note). Now you have four suits of four cards each. With these, play “Go Fish,” “Memory” (also called “Concentration”). “Hot Potato” (draw a potato on an extra card; the game is like “Old Maid” – – you don’t want to get stuck with the potato), or “[your child’s name] Is A Star” (draw a star with your child’s name inside; the game is “Hot Potato” in reverse – – you -do- want to get the star). Make sure you call each card by its correct name: “Do you have a 1-count note?” (not “Do you have one of these?”) and show the card. Business cards are excellent for this purpose.
  • If you have a board game such as “Snakes and Ladders” (called “Chutes and Ladders” by the commercial company), play it using these cards as the draw cards. In fact, any game that uses a die can be played with these cards as draw cards.
  • For another card deck, make the four suits a bass clef, treble clef, a double bar-line (at the end of the song), and a regular barline (dividing the music into units called measures).

Making these readiness activities into games sets the stage for your child’s music study as a family undertaking and as a pleasurable pursuit. Your child will always thank you for making music study available to him.

copyright 1996-2004, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
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