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November is Kid Music month. For this Thanksgiving week post, guest blogger Matt Heaton reminds us that it’s never too soon–and it’s never too late–to enjoy music together. Listening to music is natural during family gatherings. Here are some great ideas on how to make listening count, and how to bring more music to kids and everybody else.

Tapping into something bigger than ourselves and our own concerns is a great way to transcend turmoil. It can be restful and restorative; and it can offer fresh inspiration for solving problems and puzzles.

Now, more than ever, I’m hoping to instill a love of music in my kid. I’m a musician and my kid doesn’t play music (yet). He’s only six; but I’m hoping to get music going in a year or two. My non-musician friends also recognize the need for kids to find creative outlets. We all worry that there isn’t much music (or art or dance or storytelling) in the schools.

Beyond playing an instrument or singing with a kid choir, there are simpler things we can all do to curate a keen appreciation for music. Above all, step one is the most important one.

1) Listen to music
Perhaps this is obvious, but it’s worth stating: if you are at home or in the car with your child, have some music on. You might choose different music for background listening, and save other recordings for active listening.

Active listening means singing along, dancing, playing percussion instruments–really hearing the music and making it part of an activity…. Background music plays in the background while you are doing something else. (I’m currently listening to Julian Lage’s great album, Gladwell.)

2) Choose your own music
There’s a parent joke about being stuck listening to Barney the purple dinosaur singing his song on infinite repeat. But it’s not really funny (unless you like Barney). And it’s not really necessary to sit through countless plays of tunes that don’t move you. Enjoying music YOU like is the better approach: kids pick up on your enthusiasm.

Message in an ice cream sandwich, yeah!

When I first discovered Pandora, I tried using the “children’s music” stations for background listening. But I found I was hitting the skip button every three songs for so. Don’t let someone else pick your music for you; choose your own soundtrack!

3) All music can be children’s music
There is loads of great music for kids, and I named a few of my favorite titles in a recent post. But you don’t have to limit it to ‘kid music.’ Play (almost) anything you like! You never know when your child will pick up a piece of food and start lip syncing to your favorite Police songs! Jazz, Irish music, classical, surf music, retro pop hits, Indian classical music, bluegrass, hip hop…. all so great! Just make sure it’s clean and not overly aggressive for kids

4) Put your kid in charge
Our son has an old iPod touch (in a very sturdy fisher price case). We loaded it full of music for him, and he loves to scroll through and be in charge of what he hears. He is very fond of soundtracks; Star Wars, Planes, Ninjago–I think hearing these helps him imagine stories with the characters.

5) Go to concerts
Head out to live shows! Kid concerts are great. And if you have a favorite kid performer, buy his/her CD–and then go hear the music live! It’s the same thrill as the opening bars of “Hotel California…”

“Grown up” concerts are great, too. Clean, safe venues like Club Passim and Symphony Hall are all fine places to take kids. It’s okay if your young listeners aren’t paying rapt attention. They’re still taking it in, even if they are really wiggly and antsy. Sit near the back, so you can take breaks and walk around in the lobby. And if you feel done after 30 minutes, you can head home and still consider it a success. This is a long game, and it takes time for everybody to get accustomed to the live show experience. ANYthing you do is great.

Listening to music helps make MY day more pleasant. It makes my days grander and richer. It gives me something to look forward to. And it lends an extra dimension and beauty to the mundane and special moments. It can calm and inspire me to be generous, and to try to listen to other points of view.

Wishing you all a happy and melodious Thanksgiving! Let’s all listen more!!!

300-9295Matt Heaton has degrees in music performance and has performed Irish traditional music around the globe. But the 5-and-under set has been his most honest, open, and challenging audience yet. Matt is constantly inventing ways to connect with and learn from young people and their parents. His two albums for children (Happy You Made It and Toddlerbilly Riot) are humorous, educational, and show how how “kid” music can also just be GOOD music.

In the Boston area? Make sure to save February 26th at 10am, for Matt’s big Coolidge Corner show, where he’ll launch “Money Planet,” an album of fun and clever songs about money and economics!


Leap, Little Frog

a musician's musings on nesting, being creative, traveling, and parenting