broadening music education - Bubbablue and me

10 tips to improve music education for children

Music has always been a big part of my life. As a child I learnt three musical instruments played in orchestras and music school from the age of 9 and took part in area orchestras and post university, a swing band. Although I no longer play apart from an occasional (appalling) tinkle on the piano, my love of music generally comes through my dancing nowadays.

Listening to music

I’ve always had an eclectic taste in music. Whenever my mum drove we were only allowed her music in the car which meant classical, 60s pop, musicals, and maybe a bit of Simon and Garfunkel or Dire Straits. The rest of the time I was a bit of a pop queen. How could you not be, growing up with Wham, A-ha and Madonna. As I grew up my tastes became more eclectic and I listen to pretty much anything as long as it’s got a tune to sing along to, or a good beat for dancing.

But a lot of the music I hear at home is rock, rock and more rock. N has turned into a rock kid thanks to the influence of his dad and making lots of new discoveries on YouTube. They play a lot of old rock, the kind of stuff that generally I was listening to age 14, Bon Jovi and Guns and Roses, along with everyone else in our year group at school. We mostly grew out of it but my other half is still listening to the same music 40 years later.

Thankfully N does get to listen to other music with me, either in the car, concerts on TV, or occasionally at home when I like to listen to music as I cook. He can be quite scornful of a lot of music on the radio and he moans about me listening to Radio 2 because he says it’s for old people, but he is partial to a bit of Bruno Mars, Pink, Little Mix, and Taylor Swift since seeing her play at one of the biggest music concerts last summer. N loves live music as well and while I’ve never been to a proper gig, we have been to a few festival and outdoor concerts, and had the chance to listen to some great artists like Tom Chaplin, Bryan Adams and The Shires.

I see my role in his music education as trying to broaden his appreciation of music. I have to admit that AC DC and Foo Fighters have some good music, now I’ve had it drummed into me over the last 3 years. But to me it’s so important that children listen to a range of music and can appreciate what different types can bring to different people.

broadening music education - Bubbablue and me

Music education

N really enjoys music and luckily school has a few chances for them to really get immersed in it amongst the normal curriculum. Last year he started playing recorder and that has continued into year 3. He quite enjoys it, although I don’t get the practicing at home anymore because they’re not allowed to bring their recorders home. He doesn’t seem to want to practice on my old one.

The choir is what he really enjoys. At home he sings all the time, whether it’s proper songs or making up his own lyrics to any old music he has in his head. He joined the choir at the end of year 2 and I really didn’t think he’d stick it out because he’s not usually keen on organised sessions. But he’s stuck at it and really enjoys it. Next week he’s going to be singing in a schools concert which he’s so excited about. The OH thanks it’s ridiculous. But if choir is a way I can get N to learn more about music and learn to use music himself as an instrument, then I’m glad he’s found something when he enjoys and wants to continue.

School also provide instruments lessons and there’s a variety of instruments they can choose. Despite many conversations with N about opportunities and different options he’s still not agreed to try one. The one that he came nearest to most recently which is a new offering, was the saxophone. I used to play the sax so I can provide him with an instrument to play and he has his front teeth which is the proviso for children taking up the instrument. But in my opinion he’s just too small to be playing an instrument that heavy for the next couple of years. Maybe we’ll rethink come age 9 which is when I started clarinet.

Given that piano is only my second instrument and (moving to the 3rd when I took up the sax), I’d rather piano was the first instrument he learnt. It gives such a good grounding in all types of music. But apart from asking me to teach him, he’s not interested in formal lessons. Unfortunately if I tried to teach him he’d get bored.

For the moment (and unfortunately for my ears) he’s happy enjoying his rock music. I can’t quite understand why children are so keen on rock music.  I suppose they learn their music love from their parents. The great thing about YouTube is how good it is for discovering new music, and alternative versions of tracks. N loves a rock version of Toto’s Africa, and he’s also got other rock versions of other non-rock tracks.  I think being in the choir and absorbing lots of music online and through concerts from the red buttons we’ve recorded, helps with N’s learning

Introducing children to music

If you want to introduce your children to music there’s so many different ways you can do it compared to when I was child.  Especially if you’re in or near a city you can find music lessons and workshops being run by universities and orchestras. There are often county music services who offer music lessons and music schools for those who learn an instruments.

With music more of a minor subject on the school curriculum it’s harder to find the full range of music lessons being offered. You’re more likely to find child-friendly instruments like the ukulele and rock or band sessions and less orchestral instument lessons available which means children lose out the opportunity to join orchestras.

Trying get N to choose an instrument to learn, I’ve been thinking of his love of rock as well as thinking of instruments that could be played in a variety of different musical settings to give the best chance of playing in different groups, and keeping his options open. For example learning the guitar means you can easily move from classical to jazz or rock music. At one stage he fancied playing the drums which is fine as long as you’re learning general percussion at the same time. Because you’ve got so many more options open to play both orchestral as well as in bands.

10 tips for getting your children into music

1, Play music around the house and in the car from when they’re a baby

2, If you have the opportunity, take them to baby music sessions. They learn to appreciate music through listening to professionals play, learning more about the structure of music in tempos, and listening to type different types of instruments. Try places like Rhythm Time for babies and toddlers which is great for teaching them about rhythm and the different things that make a piece of music like loud and soft, fast and slow.

3, Take them to concerts and workshops. There’s so many family friendly offerings nowadays and many of them do informal open sessions before the actual concert to prepare the children and help them understand what we’re going to listen to.

Try local arts centres and theatres as well as local universities who might offer these. For example in Oxford they run cushion concerts on Sundays for two different age groups rotating around different instruments each time. And we’ve also been to Warwick Arts Centre for Christmas concerts and before that you’ve been able to meet the musicians and have a go on different instruments and learning to conduct for example.

Paddington's first concert

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4, Give them the opportunity to learn an instrument. It doesn’t have to be expensive to learn as often schools will offer recorder through their curriculum and other musical lessons from peripatetic teachers which do cost, but can be cheaper if you have group lessons. Personally I would always go for a private lesson but groups are an option if you want to keep costs down. Nowadays you can also hire musical instruments until you know the child is going to stick it out.

5, When listening to music at home set up drum kits with boxes and saucepans and let the kids play along with music they’re listening to. It might be painful for your ears but they will learn a great deal as well as having a great time. And you’ll be able to see if they have a sense of rhythm in beating along.

6, Let your children see and hear you enjoying music. Dance and sing around while you listen and get them involved.

7, Appreciate all music around you. Talk about what you’re listening to, try my musical bingo listening out for different musical instruments and just generally make music part of your day to day life.

8, Set up musical playlists of your children’s favourite music and keep adding to them. Whether it’s on music streaming services or YouTube give them the choice to make their musical choices even if you’re not a fan.

9, I’m a big advocate of just introducing children to proper music and toys rather than children’s versions of them, But music like Kidz Bop helps make children see that music for is for every age and not just for adults.

10, Make music a game. Guess the intro, set up music quizes or song bingo. With products such as Echo and music streaming, it’s easy to make up games and play different playlists.

Music gifts

take my hand we'll make it i swear

Having children enjoy music does giving loads of options for birthday presents though. Band t-shirts, fun musical instruments and obviously methods and tools for them to listen to music. It’s just a shame that so many band t-shirts are all black and grey which is a little bit dull for children.  Let them shout out their love for music – N loved his old ACDC t-shirt and now has a fab one with a Bon Jovi quote on.

Check out my previous music education and exploration posts and see how I introduced N to different music themes when he was younger.

Do your children enjoy music? How have you been able to encourage them?

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