Family Music Time
Recently my librarian handed me a copy of the book All Together Singing in the Kitchen and said, “I think you’ll like this.” Talk about an understatement! I was so excited by this book; although I already considered us a fairly musical family, I gleaned so many helpful and inspiring tips from the Nields sisters. (Not to mention that the CD included with the book has helped us survive several painfully long car trips!) I’d like to share a few ideas that will hopefully be inspiring if you too, are just starting out on a family musical journey
Listen to music . . . lots of it! This one is rather obvious, but I love that the Nields say that there’s no need to feel obligated to listen to children’s music that you despise (think “I love you, you love me…”). There’s plenty of “adult” music out there that is suitable for children, and lots of children’s musicians that both kids and parents can enjoy (think Elizabeth Mitchell, Dan Zanes, They Might Be Giants… and the Nields, of course!). Expose them to music that you love. And as wonderful as it is that we have access to so much and varied recorded music, nothing can compare to the experience of watching and listening to live musicians. Outdoor concerts are a great choice for kids, as it is usually okay for them to be talking a bit and running/dancing around. Also, outdoor concerts don’t tend to be quite so loud and damaging to young eardrums. But there are plenty of other ways to experience live music. School and community band concerts, marching bands, church choirs, Christmas caroling, open-mikes at a coffee shop, street musicians at a farmers’ market, or, perhaps best of all, an old-fashioned hootenanny in someone’s home or backyard (if you’re lucky enough to be musically inclined and/or have friends who share your inclination).
Let them play! Give your children access to a variety of real musical instruments. Depending on their ages, some children may need supervision to learn to properly and respectfully handle their instruments. My daughters have a basket of instruments that they may access at any time, mostly percussion items like egg shakers, jingle bells, clickety-clackers (as we call them), a tambourine, and a xylophone. They also love harmonicas, which are fairly indestructible. We have other instruments in the house that they are allowed to strum and experiment with when an adult is helping them.
Pretend instruments can be as fun as the real thing. Kids don’t necessarily need real instruments to enjoy a jam session. Pretend instruments, particularly of the homemade cardboard variety, can be just as fun for them. My older daughter loves the “microphone” she made at our library’s story time: it’s an embellished paper towel tube with a small Styrofoam ball wrapped in tissue paper stuffed in one end. How about a shoebox guitar? Getting creative in re-using household items is half the fun—and who knows, it may even lead to an unlikely musical career, as it did for the young men in the band The Garbage Men.
Create a family canon. I’m a compulsive list-maker, and one of the lists I keep is a list of songs we like to sing to/with our daughters. I felt significantly less nerdy for doing this after reading that the Nields do it too, only they call it a “family canon.” I keep this ever-evolving list in a binder, along with lyrics I’ve printed out for the songs we don’t know by heart (yet). That way we’re never at a loss for something to sing.
Make up your own songs. Songwriting doesn’t have to be a daunting task. There’s no need to start from scratch (unless of course you’re trying to make a career as a songwriter). First try altering the lyrics to a familiar song. Then perhaps try making up your own lyrics set to a standard tune (like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” or “Happy Birthday”). Or start with someone else’s words (like a favorite poem) and try making up a tune for it. Make up little songs for the things you do throughout the day, like getting dressed, washing hands, tying shoes, etc. Songs can help ease transitions; I made up a song (to the tune of the “rug time” song from Sid the Science Kid) that I use to get the girls to come to the table for lunch. Our girls’ favorite thing is when we make up songs about them or using their names. We have a special birthday song that my husband made up, to which he writes a different verse for each daughter on her birthday, with the chorus always remaining the same.
Memories related to music tend to be powerful and lasting. Whatever your age, level, or ability, music is a gift that can bring joy and light to the days of every person in your family. So start making some music memories today!