What's the best music for babies? If you said singing "happy birthday to you" - and dancing and swaying along with it, you're on the right track. The secret: It's OK to pop in a Raffi CD - but then move like Jagger and accompany him with the gusto, if not the skill, of Adele.
To find out more about how and why you should get the little ones in your life to celebrate tunes and rhythms, Family Goes Strong talked with grandfather and composer Ken Guilmartin, co-creator and director of the international Music Together program and founder of the Center for Music and Young Children in Princeton, N.J. (originally funded with royalties from "Happy Birthday," published by a company his grandfather owned). Excerpts:
Why did people seem to sing and dance more in the "olden days"?
If you wanted music, you had to make it yourself. The performers would come through the village once in a while, but most of the time you'd whistle a tune, hum a tune. That's the way you had music.
How can grandparents (and parents) help little ones learn to love music?
If the model they give you is to sit on the couch and just listen, you aren't going to learn to sing. Those life habits come from the people who take care of you. Kids want to be like us. They imitate everything you do. If you want your children to read, read. If you want your kids to make music, be a music maker.
What if adults feel musical ability doesn't run in the family?
When we're born, we're [all] born as sounders and movers. You've got every little baby comes into the world with this tonal ability and rhythm ability, but then what happens to it? Part of understanding a child's music development is understanding your own. So many of us feel inadequate - maybe because our parents didn't sing to us, and we didn't have good models of dancing. We can't sing, we think we're tone deaf, Our culture hasn't understood in the last 50 years and more that we need examples of our loved ones dancing and singing and moving.
Should we play our favorite CD or a song on our iPods?
Put it on, but sing along and dance along. At least bounce the child in your lap. I think grandparents, my generation, rock 'n' rollers, hippies, we're a lot more apt to sing along and dance along than a lot of parents today. The problem that inhibits all of us is this feeling that we have to perform it. We think we have to be good. "American Idol" and all those shows perpetuate it. The performance model prevails so strongly in western, European-derived cultures as opposed to tribal cultures. Karaoke is a good thing! It's participatory.
How can grandparents, maybe even more than parents, help instill a love of music in young kids?
Grandparents are not as inhibited. We're not trying to be cool any more. We're not in the back of our heads still thinking we have to sing perfectly.
What's the best way to get little ones to think music is fun?
Make the model of doing something. Then the child gets the idea, oh, you make music, as opposed to passively consuming it. That's the most important thing any parent or grandparents can do. It doesn't matter if you're not good at it. If you sing out of tune, so what?
What about music lessons?
Before that they have to have their music babble stage - dance and sing and make silly songs.
Does it matter what kind of music little kids hear?
The most important thing is that you love it. If it's heavy metal, and that's what you like, OK. At least dance around and sing along to it. The best thing is variety. It's good to give more examples. A lot of Mozart and Bach and that old stuff was based on dancing. Think of minuets. You can move to it. You can certainly bounce to it. Find music that's rhythmic, that you can move to, even gently.
What if an adult can't sing or play an instrument at all?
You don't have to be a pianist. You can just clap your hands. We think of doing music as performing. Doing music is singing along while you're driving along the road and bouncing in your seat a little bit. It's so simple, and yet we've gotten so out of the habit. If you go to a concert, bring your child or grandchild. When you go home, pretend to be the band. Don't say, "I wish I could play the guitar for you." Pretend to play the guitar and sing. Put on the CD of the band, and sing along and pretend to play instruments.
To find out about programs near you that offer music for babies, look for classes at places like Music Together (in 47 states), the Old Town School of Folk Music (in Chicago), and Rock-a-Baby (at the 14th Street Y in New York City).
For more stories about family activities, read: