Let the Music Play

I am a fan of great children’s music artists.  Hap Palmer and Raffi are a delightful mixture of musical and educational genius!  And so I hope you won’t get me wrong when I say that I don’t think that’s the only kind of music children should listen to.

Music designed for children has some great aspects, the lyrics, timing, even the key in which it is written is designed to appeal to children and encourage their participation.  But there are so many different kinds of music in the world, and children should be exposed to it!  Add to that the fact that a change of pace is often good — for the littles and the bigs as well!  As long as the lyrics are appropriate, and the children respond to it, almost every genre can have something to offer.  Here are some suggestions for “non-traditional” children’s music that have become popular with some of the littles I have worked with!

The Beatles.  They’re classic.  There’s just something universally appealing about their music.  “Here Comes the Sun” is one of my favorites to use with young children, because the lyrics contain so many early reading sight words.  It’s almost as though George Harrison were writing the song for kids!  As I taught first grade, I had a collection of laminated song charts from which the children would sing, and then they would do activities, pointing to or circling specific words and letters.  “Here Comes the Sun” was by far the favorite!

Soundtracks.  John Williams is an indisputable genius!  His soundtracks are musically rich and emotionally charged.  Try using his and other musical scores from movies for movement activities!

Jazz.  Don’t overlook this unique musical style!  Artists like Ella Fitzgerald and Louie Armstrong can have a lot to offer our little ones!  The music is creative and emotionally evocative.  The  mellow mood of many of these songs can also have a soothing effect for all its listeners!

The Great Works.  There’s been more of an emphasis in recent years on getting children exposed to the great works of composers like Vivaldi, Beethoven, and Mozart.  This movement is good, and listening to this type of music can do great things for children, though it’s not the magic pill some describe — read more about that here.  When sharing this type of music with children, focus on its beauty, on the way they can move to it, the types of instruments that are being used, and how it makes them feel.  Avoid using watered-down versions of these masterpieces.  Some albums sold as “classical music for kids” is simply an electronic version of the melody.  Part of the great benefit of listening to this type of music lies in the weaving together of a variety of instruments, parts, and dynamics.

Share Your Own Favorites.  I remember going to concerts back in college and jumping around, dancing with the crowd in the student union building as an accomplished local artist, Peter Breinholt and his band played.  Fast-forward about 15 years and that artist is now my neighbor.  I have to laugh to myself now as I watch the children from my neighborhood jump and dance like my friends and I used to “back in the day”.  Pete’s music is always family friendly and appeals to all ages.  I’ve yet to see a child who doesn’t get up and dance to his song, You Wear Flowers.  (You can listen to it –third one down on the samples here.  Find more info here.) 

I’ve been lucky that my children enjoy some of the same artists I do, along with Pete, there are many other acoustic artists like James Taylor and Jack Johnson that we can share together.  Lately my husband has been sharing some of his favorites in the classic rock category with our oldest as well. 

It’s fun to bond over some of your own favorites and talk to each other about what you like.  I know much of my own music preferences come from the fact that I listened to many of my dad’s favorites growing up.  Mama Cass, Cat Stevens, James Taylor, and CCR are still some of my favorites.

Set the Stage.  While it’s great to share a variety of musical styles with young children, keep in mind of course that the lyrics need to be appropriate for their age, but also consider the tempo and energy of the music and consider the influence it has.  Children are HUGELY responsive to the energy of music.  If you’re looking for some quiet play time, the William Tell Overture may not be the best pick!

What are some of the “non-traditional” favorites you share with your little ones?

Top photo by emr1991.
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Filed under Article, music and movement activity

11 responses to “Let the Music Play

  1. My boys love Mates of State and really love it when we put on a little bit of ska for them… it’s so fun to run and dance around to!

    • Great tips! My husband and I were just talking about finding some world music to play for our toddler…any thoughts on a collection of kid-friendly music from around the globe?

      • notjustcute

        I was given just such a CD a few years back as a baby gift! It’s called “World Music for Little Ears: Authentic Lullabies from Around the World”, distributed by Ellipsis Art. Hope that helps!

    • notjustcute

      Ska – great suggestion! Who wouldn’t get up and move with that playing?

  2. Shawntanet Jara

    LOVE Ella Jenkins!

  3. just the other day Imagine by John Lennon came on and my son asked “what is that song called” he likes songs by peter paul and mary (puff the magic dragon) and lots of traditional folk (sally’s music circle which is designed for kids but not just cutsey kids songs). trout fishing in america is one of my favorite kids’ groups.

    I have lots of other songs we play – though I do have a kids section on my ipod sometimes its just not going to happen (we are driving across the country right now and I need something else to keep me awake sometimes:) and he deals…it does make me pay better attention to the lyrics when we are in close proximity – of course he seems to really want to listen to the ones with the more questionable lyrics

  4. Allyson

    At our house we try to focus on music that the whole family can enjoy. I think this is incredibly important. I don’t like the idea of playing the wiggles to my child (because I am told that is what he will like) and then sitting with him mindlessly clapping or doing dance moves to music that I find irritating. I try to find music that we can all enjoy together so that we are teaching him a love of music. He can feel the buzz when a good song is played and we all love it. He is 20 months old (a golden age) and he listens and responds to the music in a way that shows an appreciation, for example he really enjoys the end of a song especially if it is draw out a little. We listen to a lot of Dan Zanes, Elizabeth Mitchell, Leadbelly songs for children and any blue grass we can find. He has a set of maracas, a ukulele which he loves to strum and pick and a harmonica which he adores. We sing and bop around the house together, its great!

    • notjustcute

      I think you’re right — children can tell when a good song is played. Too often “children’s music” becomes a watered-down cheap imitation of good music. There are some great children’s musicians out there, but there are some really bad ones too! I think it’s always great to expose children to music that is really rich in quality.

  5. Allyson

    By the way thank you so much for a fantastic blog! I get so much out of your posts and everyones comments. Allyson

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