By Beth Frack, Artist-in-Residence at Forsyth Country Day School

Several years ago, I taught music to a kindergarten student who was described by his classroom teachers and parents as unhappy, moody, contradictory and never excited about anything. That same year I gave him a solo in a school musical, and it was like watching a caterpillar turn into a butterfly. This child became confident and excited about everything. Suddenly, there was joy and happiness, and it spilled over into his classroom and home life in a very positive way. The teachers were amazed at thetransformation in this child, and they attributed the change to the joy that music brought into his life.

We have all experienced the transformative power of music — whether it’s a song that takes us back to a teenage romance or a symphony performance so beautiful it brings us to tears. As a writer and performer of children’s songs and an artist-in-residence at Forsyth Country Day School, I witness the power of music in young children on a daily basis. Not only does music create more positive interaction in the classroom, early musical training also helps the learning process by improving spatial and abstract reasoning. Over and over, research has demonstrated that music contributes immensely to the development of a child. As teachers and parents, it is our responsibility to help all children find (to quote one of my children’s songs) “…the beat of the song in their hearts so they can live life to the fullest!”

I believe that everyone has the potential for music and that a child’s musical education should begin at an early age. According to the Kodaly Method, an approach to music education developed by Hungarian composer and educator Zoltan Kodaly, children are most sensitive to music between the ages of 3 and 7. Therefore, preschool and elementary school are the key times to capture children’s interest and to inspire a love for music. During this time in their lives they are excited and eager to participate with a freedom of expression that seems to disappear as they get older. If their interest isn’t captured when they are young, they are much less likely to develop an interest in middle school, when music becomes more about academic theory, and other distractions come into play. Over the years, through much trial and error, I have found what works and doesn’t work to stimulate children’s interest in music.

Here are some ways to motivate and help a young child learn to love

-Take every opportunity to introduce music into the day.
-Sing with your child.
-Listen to music in the car.
-Let them listen to music when they are going to sleep.
-Teach your child the folk songs you grew up with. Remember “Home on the Range,” “Clementine” and “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad?” According to the Kodaly Method, since children naturally learn their mother tongue before learning foreign languages, they should learn their “musical mother tongue” or the folk music of their native language before learning foreign music.
-Be energetic — even when you are singing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” for the 100th time. If you are engaged and energetic — whether you are having music time at home or taking a music class with your child — there will be fewer behavior and boredom problems.
-Don’t lose ‘em to sports! Children get very busy, and many play multiple sports. Try not to let music get pushed to the side because it is equally important in developing a well-rounded child.
-Broaden your children’s horizons. As a teacher, I bring in musical professionals to teach hand chimes, African drumming and clogging. As a parent, you can involve your child in church choirs and hand bells or take them to see an African drumming performance by The Healing Force, a Winston-Salem-based group that performs workshops in African drumming, dance and storytelling.
-Take your child to musicals, concerts and plays. When you expose children to many different opportunities,they can discover what their love is.
-Be flexible! Often I see children who don’t like to sing get very excited about learning to play the recorder. Flexibility is key in learning styles, too. I was teaching a little girl piano, and she was having trouble with the hand-eye coordination needed for reading and playing music. She was getting frustrated, and I could tell she was practicing less often. So I changed my teaching method to help her learn by ear. It was like she became a totally different child and was able to learn and play difficult pieces.
-Don’t underestimate your child. Six-month-old babies in my Musicare classes are able to pick out the shakers, enjoy shaking them and then put them back in the basket. Kindergarteners can learn complicated songs and lines for a musical. Parents often don’t think their children are capable of doing “more.” They can.

Every day, I encourage and expect my students to try and accomplish great things. And every day they continue to amaze me. Whenever I see the eyes of children light up, as they are singing from the depths of their hearts, it fuels the passion within me to pass on to them a love for music.

This article was also published in the August issue of Piedmont Parent.