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Music Can Help Brain Development: 5 Ways to Nurture It at Home
  • So you want to give your toddler a head start in music, but you’re not sure what they need, to build that strong foundation. Should you put them into piano or singing lessons now? Or maybe get them one of those teeny tiny violins and start playing straight away? 

    Stop right there! Let’s have a look at the ingredients first that go into creating a great musician because it’s more than just reading notes from a page. 

    A great musician must be able to listen and understand what they are hearing. He can ‘hear in his mind’ how the music will sound. He has rhythm — he can ‘feel’ the passage of music through time. He may end up playing an instrument, but if he begins by using his voice, then the instrument becomes an extension of self. Finally, a great musician connects emotionally to his music, to other musicians, and to his audience.

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    Notice we haven’t talked at all about finger dexterity or reading notes. That’s because these are technical functions of music that can be learned at any time. It’s the broader concepts we need to nurture in the early stages of music learning; the technique can come later. 

    The most important thing we need to foster in our kids is a love of music — it has to be FUN. A child will practice what they enjoy doing, and we all know that repetition leads to success. So let’s have a look at the five points we’ve mentioned and discuss what we can do to build our children’s foundations in those areas. 

    1. Develop a good ear by providing active listening exercises. 
    Ask children to listen and then ask questions about what they have heard. These exercises should be simple and then get more complex over time. For example, start by asking children to identify an animal sound, and then after practice, they progress to identifying various instruments playing in an orchestra.

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    2. Build a "musical mind" by asking your child to use her ‘inner voice’ and imagination.
    How? Use a familiar song like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and stay silent for a word or a line. Then ask them to sing it in their mind. 

    3. Teach rhythm through physical activities. 
    Catching a ball and skipping rope, even walking, all require rhythm. There are many exercises where children can develop their sense of rhythm as they clap, pat or stamp along to the music. Copying and creating different rhythms are also great activities. All children love to dance, so encourage them to move their bodies to music at every opportunity.  

    4. You don't have to buy your toddler a musical instrument yet. 
    A child’s voice will always be her first instrument. And if she is taught how to use her voice to understand basic concepts like high and low and loud and soft about musical sounds, it will give her a great musical head start. Exercises that ask children to sing and say their name as well as singing familiar nursery rhymes and songs is a great way to begin. It also builds their confidence ‘speak up’ and use their voice to make themselves understood.

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    5. Show your child what it means to make a connection.
    The connection is our ability to ‘listen’ and respond. Asking children to become aware of their feelings when listening to music is an exercise that helps develop emotional connection.

    Ask children to move their bodies in different ways in response to different types of music. Then ask how it makes them feel. It’s an excellent way to expand their vocabulary past ‘happy’ and ‘sad’ and to use more descriptive words like, "This music makes me feel ‘excited’ or ‘calm.’" 

    So if you want to get your child’s musical education humming along start with the big concepts like high and low, loud and soft, fast and slow.  Teach them to clap in time and sing as much as they can and they’ll be on a fast track to success when they begin learning an instrument.   

    This piece was submitted by Amy Baker, a piano, woodwind and early childhood music educator with over 25 years experience, who holds online weekly music classes for children ages 2 to 4 years old.

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