Cultivating a taste for music at a young age

If you want your children to enjoy music, begin early to create a musical atmosphere in the home. Waiting until they are sent to nursery school is a waste of valuable learning time. It is easy to start their musical education yourself. You will enjoy the experience as much as the children will, and your efforts will be well repaid.

I started music appreciation with my twin daughters before they were able to talk. My schedule was very busy, but since little children have very short attention spans, it worked out beautifully. In the beginning I would put soft, lovely music on the record player when they took their naps.

By the time they were two years old, they would crawl up on the piano bench beside me and listen quietly while I played Brahms's ''Cradle Song'' or Mozart's ''Sleep and Rest.'' As they listened they would sway back and forth to the rhythm of the music and gently rock their dolls. Often we had fun matching tones; I'd sing a ''loo'' to them and they would sing it back to me. Up and down the scale we would go, singing ''toot-toot,'' ''choo-choo,'' ''mew-mew,'' and ''bow-wow-wow.''

Our piano was a help, but it was by no means a necessity. Without a piano, you can use a small xylophone or just your own voice, which is usually better than you think it is. It isn't necessary to be a musician yourself to encourage your children to be musical.

Soon we began to accumulate our instruments. It seemed important that the children should learn to enjoy making their own music, as well as listening to the music of others. I wanted them to gain confidence in their ability to produce sounds on many kinds of instruments. Small, inexpensive drums, chimes, bells, mouth organs, and a xylophone became part of our music fun-time. I had only two rules that I followed in choosing these toys: They had to be durable - not easily broken - and they had to have clear, true tones.

It was surprising to me to find that so many inexpensive toys had beautiful tones. Rather than choosing toys of ordinary play value, I would select those that had special features: a top with a lovely, singing sound, a toy flute with one fine, clear note, a drum with a deep, resonant boom.

By the time the children were three years old, they could play many little tunes on the instruments, much to their delight. They would march, sway in time to the music, and clap. Often, as I played lilting, joyous melodies on the piano , they would make up their own dances. They liked songs they could dramatize, and especially those that were funny. Children love humor and have real appreciation for songs such as the ''Peanut Man,'' ''I'm a Little Teapot,'' and ''Itsy-Bitsy Spider.''

With two small youngsters and a baby to care for, we continued to limit our musical activities to short periods, and to odd moments of free time. Usually we spent 10 or 15 minutes before nap or bedtime singing together. The children were allowed to go to the piano at any time during the day to play softly - so the piano would enjoy it, too. Frequently, tinkling tunes would come from our music room (a corner of the dining room), and little voices, gaily humming and singing , gladdened our home.

We continued our informal music times until my daughters were ready for kindergarten. It was rewarding to me to learn from their teacher that they were outstanding in music and in rhythmical activities. Their freedom of expression at home carried over into their artwork, also, and they excelled in creative storytime periods.

Since they seemed ready for formal music lessons at this time, I watched their reactions to records of instrumental music. It was easy to see that one child listened to violin music with delight, while the other twin said it hurt her ears. She especially liked to hear piano concertos. After they had heard records of many other instruments, I asked which ones they wanted to play. Without any hesitation, they told me. So they began their violin and piano lessons.

Music does come naturally to children if they are given the opportunity. You will be delighted by their interest and enthusiasm when music-lesson-time comes.

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