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There are a few simple ways to nurture your child’s love of music. By doing these things – even years before formal music lessons – you can cultivate an internal motivation and desire to learn within them, making future music instruction much more likely to be successful and enjoyable.

Provide a Stimulating Musical Environment

When I was 5 years old, my parents took me to see Gilbert & Sullivan’s operetta The Mikado. I was hooked. They then purchased and played the recording at home, allowing the music to sink in more deeply. My five-year-old mind was particularly entranced by the song “I Am So Proud,” in which three characters successively sing a different melody, followed by the same three melodies being sung simultaneously. The song is capped off with the characters singing in unison at a blindingly fast tempo. I played the recording over and over, singing along (as I faintly recall) and memorizing most of the music and lyrics.

You might choose to play Beethoven or the Beatles, Coltrane or Coldplay instead of Gilbert & Sullivan. The point is to regularly expose your child to music, preferably high-quality music that has stood the test of time. If you can expose them to live musical performances too, as my parents did, all the better.

Get Rhythm 

Rhythm is an essential foundation of all the music that human beings make. Children are naturally rhythmical. You can keep this natural sense of rhythm alive in your child, and develop it in more musical ways, by showing your child how to dance to music, or by dancing with them. Or buy a rhythm instrument like a drum or tambourine, and encourage them to play it in time to a recording, or to a song that you sing with them. Or you might have a regular family percussion/dancing circle, combining several of these ideas.

Sing with Your Child

The other foundation of music is the voice. Many of the greatest composers recognized the vital link between singing and piano playing. Frédéric Chopin, whose music took the piano to a whole new level, advised his piano students to listen to the great singers of the day, so they could learn how to “sing” with their fingers. Béla Bartók, one of the great 20th century composers – and a virtuoso pianist and piano teacher – insisted that his young students learn to sing before learning to play.

By singing with your child you will foster her natural tendency to express herself, and cultivate her inherent musicality.

By exposing your child to great music, and fostering their natural tendency to express themselves rhythmically and vocally, you will establish a foundation for a lifelong love and appreciation of music, and nurture an internal motivation to learn music formally when the time is right.

Doug Hanvey offers piano lessons in Portland and teaches here at the Portland Piano Company.