How to raise a baby who loves music

Written by kathryn walsh
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How to raise a baby who loves music
Your level of musical talent doesn't affect your baby's experience. (m-imagephotography/iStock/Getty Images)

The youngest babies I have worked with consistently respond to the voice first - mine, my assistants’, my guest opera singers and beatboxers - like we have magic powers; the power of singing and of the musical cadence in speech is utterly intoxicating for them.

— Elizabeth Haydn-Jones -- Founder and director of the School of Rock-a-Bye Babies

"I see it, every time: the younger a baby is exposed to regular, engaging music, the earlier and more confidently they do things," says Elizabeth Haydn-Jones, a musician and the founder and director of the School of Rock-a-Bye Babies. "I have worked with several children from only a few weeks old until four or five years, and their overall development in terms of their musical ability and overall development preceding and beyond music - language abilities, motor skills, and social behaviours - is always advanced compared to their peers. Joy and smarts: it can’t get any better." Filling your child's life with singing and instruments is the best way to help him grow up into a rock star, concert pianist or just a lover of music.

Sing, sing, sing

Even if your singing voice sends animals running and rattles the dishes, your baby won't judge you. So belt out your favourite tunes and murmur quiet lullabies to your little one throughout the day. Sing to your child during a bath or while changing a nappy, suggests Caroline Crabbe, general manager at Jo Jingles. When he babbles at you, sing his "words" back to him. Hold him and dance or bounce to the rhythm of your songs so he can feel that movement.

"We model everything for our children, good and bad, so if we want them to engage with certain things we have to demonstrate why they matter," says Haydn-Jones. "This is first-class modelling for our children!"

Using props will help you engage your child with song, says Crabbe. Sing "Old McDonald" as you hold up your baby's stuffed animals as demonstration, or use images to illustrate your tune. You might simply show your baby pictures -- say, of a rainbow while singing "Somewhere over the rainbow" -- or look for picture books based on popular nursery rhymes.

Incorporate instruments

"If I had a penny for the number of mothers and fathers I have worked with over the years who have said they wished they had continued playing insert instrument here as a child, I would be zillionaire!" says Haydn-Jones. If you've got anything within reach that plays music, use it. "Dust off the clarinet from your youth and let your baby hear a squeak or two. Get your old drum kit and let them make some noise after you show them a rhythm... Just show your baby that music is something special as this will model it as being something they should explore further."

If you never even mastered the plastic harmonica, you can still introduce your little one to instruments. Haydn-Jones recommends choosing ones that have lots of vibration, such as finger cymbals, bells and any instrument with strings. "Young children can generally hear a lot more overtones than adults," she explains, "so the amount of vibration and the number of tones being played at once is usually very engaging."

Crabbe recommends any kind of percussion instrument for little musicians, and they don't have to be elaborate. Pick up a cheap tambourine or some small bells, or transform household staples into percussive objects. She suggests filling a bottle with dried peas to use as a shaker. You can also turn over pots to use as drums or bang lids together as cymbals -- your baby will be delighted, though you might end up with a headache.

Join a group

Joining a mother-and-child music group increases your social circle and gives your baby access to instruments, songs and musical styles you might not be able to give her. Look for one that caters to infants and features live music. "There are a lot of classes and groups to choose from these days and it can be easy to think that because they are ‘music’ classes and have some elements in common that they are all created equal," says Haydn-Jones. "They are not. Live music is far superior to recorded music and finding a group with a passionate leader where there are live instruments for your child to listen to, move with, and explore themselves will be a priceless start to his/her musical, physical, and social development."

Seek out music

There's a wide musical world out there. Discover it with your baby at your side. He's not ready for formal concerts until he's old enough to sit quietly, but he might enjoy the sights and sounds of a free concert in the park. Sit on the outskirts so you can leave discreetly if necessary. Join the mailing lists of local children's musicians so you'll be notified of concerts in your area.

Seek out music wherever you can find it. While visiting with older children, ask them to sing your baby their favourite songs or demonstrate any instruments they play. Duck into music shops to look at the instruments. Pick up toys that play lullabies or instrument sounds.

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