Most parents want their kids to play a musical instrument or at the very least have a fondness and appreciation for music in general. But what’s the best way to go about that? How do you instill a love of music in your child?
I recently spoke with Aalok Mehta to discuss the topic. Aalok is a professional musician who has played extensively across the country and composed songs for film, television and stage (you can listen to his music by clicking on the “headphones” in the pic above). As a young father, he’s in a unique position to reveal some of the methods and techniques he uses to instill a love of music in his daughter, many of which he does subconsciously, without even thinking.
Here are 10 of his most recommended tips, in no particular order:
1. Stop And Listen To The World
Just like we’re taught to take a minute and smell the roses, you should take a minute to listen to the airplanes. Or the trucks. Or the blender. “Condition a child early on that those noises can be musical,” says Aalok. Helping them tune in with their ears is a great exercise that will deepen their appreciation of sound and help them find music in the everyday world around them.
2. Sing To Them
Research indicates that singing to your kids has a positive effect on stabilizing their moods when they are fussy as infants. According to Kimberly Sena Moore in Psychology Today,”Even if you feel like you can’t sing or you are tone deaf–that doesn’t matter. Your baby does not care. Your baby loves your voice and feels connected to your way of singing, regardless of whether you sound like Mariah Carey or a first-round American Idol contestant.” Aalok suggests continuing this practice beyond the first few years: “The idea that we sing to a baby and abandon that once they are toddlers or older children is silly to me,” he says. Continue it. Serenade your children with lullabies, sing happy songs to them on long car rides and if you play an instrument, play for them as much as possible.
3. Finish This Rhyme
This is a great game to play with your kids, where you sing a sentence to them and they have to sing a rhyme back. For example, you sing something like, “It’s time to go and get the milk,” and your daughter will think really hard for a minute and sing back, “Daddy, do you want some help?” Singing poetry on the fly like this gives your kids a flash of insight into the process of songwriting and a greater appreciation for lyrics when they hear them on the radio. It also challenges their vocabulary, and gives them a ‘competitive’ feeling as they try to come up with something clever for you as fast as possible. To see this game executed to perfection, look no further than the clip above, featuring Andre The Giant in the classic film A Princess Bride.
4. Listen To More Than Just Childrens’ Music
There is definitely a place for the Dan Zanes and Laurie Berkners of the world, but there’s no need to pigeonhole your child into just one genre like that. Consider expanding their musical palette as early as possible. Aalok recommends groups like Pink Martini, a throwback, Jazzy style band with lots of pep and great lead singer, or going in a totally different direction and playing them classical pieces like Chopin’s Nocturnes. If you are looking for some other recommendations, such as Harry Belafonte or Elvis Costello, check out our article “5 Incredible Albums Your Kids Will Love” by Matthew Eisenberg.
5. The Voice, American Idol & YouTube
The Voice and American Idol may not be your thing, but they’re a great way to get your children into music. Many of the contestants on Idol are practically kids themselves, 15 and 16 year olds with incredible amounts of talent, which makes them easily accessible and relatable. Even if your children are too young to grasp the reality competition aspect of it, they’ll probably enjoy hearing the variety of singers, both good and bad. “Youtube is also a huge resource,” says Aalok. “We have spent countless hours watching videos of kids singing and playing instruments.” For example, the video above is an insightful look at 11 year-old cellist prodigy Sujari Britt, and this incredible video shows a collection of child prodigies that are mind-bogglingly talented (check out the 7 year old guitarist at the 3:15 mark). Just remember, as always with you tube, you’ll want to make sure the parental controls are turned on.
6. All About The Bass
Help your child learn basic musical concepts by isolating different components of songs on your stereo. For example, turn the bass all the way down and let your kids hear the thin, tinny sound when a song is all treble. Then flip it and crank up the bass so they can follow the thick, rolling vibrations of a bass-line (Here is what “All About That Bass” really sounds like without treble). If a song has an interesting drum beat or a melodic guitar track that is going on in the background, point it out to your child and try to get them to hone in on that sound, to isolate it. This will familiarize them with the idea that in music, the individual instruments combine to form a whole song that is much bigger than the sum of its parts.
7. Teach With Song
We use The Alphabet Song to teach the ABCs, Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes to review body parts, I Can Sing a Rainbow to teach colors… the list goes on and on. Educators have always used songs to help kids memorize facts and there are a variety of reasons as to why this has proven to be effective. For foreigners studying ESL (English as Second Language), singing pop songs has become an extremely popular way of learning our language. The fact is, teaching via music just works. You can make up your own songs for whatever it is you’re teaching, like this woman did with her kids for learning multiplication. Or you can check out some amazing sites, like Super Simple Songs, an awesome YouTube channel with over 2 billion views that has hundreds of well-made videos. Here’s their syrupy sweet video called “Little Snowflake” which has nearly 100 million views (and nothing to do with teaching via song, but is still ridiculously cute).
8. Make Musical Associations
Lots of songs sound the same or share similar elements. You don’t have to be a world class musician to realize that Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” sounds exactly like Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down”. (In fact, the publishers of the song eventually negotiated a royalty and co-writing credit for Petty. Check out the video above to hear a mash-up of the two). Teaching your kids to recognize these connections is a fun game to play and can really help improve their musical appreciation. For example, play them “Hey, Jude” and then follow that with “Penny Lane” and see if they can connect the dots that it’s the same band. Aalok often asks his daughter, “What does this remind you of?” when a song comes on the radio. “By the time she turned two, if a song was in a similar key or instrumentation as a specific Disney song, she would say, ‘This is a little bit like Rapunzel,’ or Mulan or Simba or whatever.”
9. Start a Family Jam Band
No matter what your musical ability, you should still try to jam it out with your kids every once in awhile. Get ahold of some instruments that are easy to get a sound out of, like drums, bells, shakers or even xylophones and harmonicas. If you play an instrument, you can lead the jam session — but even if nobody in the household plays a lick of anything, you can still get a hootenanny going. Simply turn on a favorite tune, crank it up and have everyone clap, bang, dance and sing along. The key here, says Aalok, is to go “full out and don’t be afraid to play the fool. Singing my little pony or Disney or whatever kids song at full steam ahead. And make it a point that everyone has to be involved. You can’t have one person in the room on an Ipad. It’s a group energy, full blast.” If you’re looking for a starter pack of instruments, try this highly rated collection of rhythm instruments from Amazon.
10. Take’em To See Live Music
Exposing your kids to live music is a completely distinct and separate experience from listening to music in your home or car. “The vibration is something that is different than the ones and zeroes of digital music,” say Aalok. “It’s effect on mood, brain, etc is more profound.” And this doesn’t mean you have to spend $500 to take your daughter to see T-Swift in concert. Whether it’s friends, local bands, festivals, carnivals, or the busker playing on the street, if you hear someone talented, stop with your child and listen for a bit. New York subways in particular are pretty diverse as far as the instruments that people play. “Our daughter first learned of the trombone in a subway stop and was fascinated,” says Aalok.
You don’t have to be a professional musician like Aalok to take advantage of these techniques – appreciating music is as much about what you hear and feel as it is about what you can play. When it comes to spending quality time with your kids, there are few pastimes as enriching, educational and enjoyable as teaching them about the magic of music.
Aalok Mehta is a NJ born multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, composer, sitar player, actor, and producer. He has performed in various venues from the Broadway stage in NY, to Los Angeles and Mumbai. He studied Indian Classical under the tutelage of Pt. Nayan Ghosh in Mumbai. He has performed and recorded with various artists from Grammy and Oscar winning AR Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire), to DEVO, Paul Oakenfold and Ray Mansarek of the Doors. He lives in Santa Monica, CA with his wife Anisha Nagarajan and daughter Aaliya.
You can check out Aalok’s music and credits here: