Studies have repeatedly shown that children who are introduced to classical music at a young age are better students, perform better on standardized tests, and often develop a life-long love of music. Perhaps less clear, however, is how to engage your child with classical music in a way that doesn’t backfire or put both of you to sleep.
Classical music is often labeled as stuffy, boring, and old-fashioned -- a mischaracterization that is fairly easy to correct. These eight simple strategies will not only introduce your child to a world of beautiful sounds, but will engage your child with the beauty of music that can be found in life.
1. Turn on classic television.
Many people’s first exposure to classical music happened while Elmer Fudd was hunting Bugs Bunny. By listening to the iconic soundtracks of classic television cartoons, children were introduced to the sounds of Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Beethoven, and more, without even realizing it. Dust off those VHS tapes and share some classic TV with your child; don’t be surprised when you’re both humming along to the tunes.
2. Introduce the orchestra.
One of the best ways to engage your child with the sounds of classical music is to introduce the instruments that make the music possible. The musical story of Peter and the Wolf is designed to take children on a magical journey into a classic tale, while giving them an up-close and personal experience with the different parts of the orchestra.
Singling out the instruments allows children to identify the sounds they hear through the tale, making it easier for them to appreciate the music. Most libraries have a copy of the story, along with an audio version of the score, available for checkout, or you can find one at a local bookstore.
3. Practice active listening.
Even today’s television and movie programming has turned to classic sounds to provide elements of drama and intrigue. Listen carefully to the music used in today’s children programming -- what you hear may surprise you. Yo Gabba Gabba!, The Little Einsteins, and others have picked up the mantle of using classical music. Adding these soundtracks to your listening repertoire can be another way to bring the classics into your home.
4. Experience the sounds.
Many parents shudder at the thought of taking their young child to the musical performance of an opera or orchestra. If your child isn’t ready to sit through an entire performance, use the power of the internet to bring the performance to your child. Videos available on YouTube or other streaming networks allow you to watch parts (or all) of some of your favorite performances with your child -- without worrying about disturbing other audience members.
5. Connect the sounds to your life.
Pointing out ways that songs have impacted your life helps to establish connections with beloved songs and sounds. The Wedding March, Pachelbel’s Cannon, and Fur Elise are all familiar tunes that may have special meaning. “This song played at my wedding,” “Your aunt played this song on the piano,” and other casual comments establish the importance of music. It also helps children connect music to important events in their own lives.
6. Play together.
Not everyone is going to be Fred Astaire or the next great ballerina. Everyone, however, can appreciate the talents of those who can move gracefully and purposefully to music. Watch performances of dancers, and then turn up the volume and dance along. Children learn by doing, and music that makes you move is one of the best ways of learning to appreciate music. Strike a pose and then take your child on a spin around the dance floor in your living room.
8. Don’t force it.
In an effort to develop an appreciation for classical music in their children, many parents force-feed a steady diet of violins and oboes. However, this approach can backfire. When classical music becomes something else to do, instead of part of the larger picture of life, it is easy for a child to dismiss “their parents’ music.”
By incorporating classical music into everyday life, it weaves its way into the heart and mind of the child. In this way, it becomes something that is familiar and beloved, increasing the likelihood that they will appreciate the sounds later in life.
Musical tastes evolve over time, giving us new sounds to appreciate and enjoy. The timeless sounds of an orchestra, however, speak to each generation in new and meaningful ways. By introducing your child to these sounds, you are not only opening the door to beautiful music, you’re giving them the key to a language that resonates through the ages.