What music should I play for my baby/toddler/young child? Should the music I play for my little one change as they get older?
When my children were very young I would sing a lot of nursery rhymes to them; we attended a parent/baby music class which involved a lot of children’s music; and I used to play the radio a lot. The radio was mainly for music I liked, especially in the car as my babies fell asleep in the car and I wanted something for me to listen to. I also wanted the children to hear lots of different types and styles of music, and felt that just having the music on at home or in the car was a great time to do that. Some of my friends were surprised that I would put radio 3 or Classic FM on to listen to when playing with the children, rather than just nursery rhymes or similar music.
Parents and carers have a huge influence on their children’s musical tastes. For a while, at least. Once they hit adolescence, children start to break away from their parents’ musical tastes to form their own, and to help with bonding with their friends (that is a subject for another day). However, those experiences with their parents’ or carers’ choice of music in their formative years does affect the music they will listen and enjoy to in adulthood.
Listening to music together is a very good activity to promote bonding with your children. Sharing, listening to, dancing to or singing along to music is a great communication tool to employ with your children, right from their earliest days.
Obviously, the reaction to or response to music will change as children get older. They will be more able to express an opinion on the music you are listening to together. I have tried to get my eldest to do things like tell me what certain pieces of music have made him think of (does it inspire a picture in your mind), or paint a picture inspired by the music, but he hasn’t been quite ready for that. It is only in recent months that he has started to join in with describing a scene he says is inspired by the music.
I don’t think there is, really, any music that is not appropriate for children to listen to. You may want to watch out for language used in some songs, or if watching a music video together, watch out for the imagery used. But with the music itself, there isn’t anything that children should avoid, even music that seems quite complicated.
When you listen to a new piece or style of music, your brain works hard to understand it, to start to learn what to expect from the music; and your brain forms new connections in doing this. In children this is happening all the time. Music exercises the whole of their brain and is of huge benefit for children in developing neural connections in their brain. When they hear the same piece of music for a second time, their brain is better able to anticipate what it will sound like and what they can expect to hear. The more they hear the same piece of music then the more familiar they will be with it, and so the more they will like it.
So nursery rhymes are fantastic to help children learn as they have very simple melodies, very simple harmonies, and very simple words with simple meanings to them. However, there is no reason why young children should only hear nursery rhymes. Even very young children can listen to and enjoy complicated pieces of music, and of course as they get older the music will have more and more interest for them. I have played pieces by Stravinsky, Mozart, Florence Price, Fiona Apple, Bjork and many other composers to my children. My husband loves jazz and is far more keen on opera than I am, so he listens to a lot of jazz and opera while they are playing together.
I would encourage you to play whatever you like listening to whenever your children are around. Your love of that music will be infectious, and may even influence their musical tastes in adult hood. At the very least it may provide your children with a very happy memory of you listening to music together.