How to Get (and Keep) Your Kids Excited About Classical Music

Listening to classical music makes kids smarter? True or not, lots of parents say that when their kids are introduced to classical music, they enjoy it just as much as other kinds of music.

You’ve already exposed your children to classical music. “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” is a Mozart melody and “Brahms Lullaby” is, of course, by Brahms. Many parents have asked us how to introduce classical music beyond the treasured nursery rhymes. So, here are ten tips for how to make the music of Beethoven, Bach and company not just fun and enjoyable for your kids, but for you too.

Start With Music You Like
When you like a piece of classical music there’s a good chance your child will like it too. If you don’t know many, you might have to do some listening first to find music you’d like to share. To get started, there are loads of collections of great hits filled with pieces that you probably already know.

Mix It Up
Classical music isn’t the only music that’s good for your kids. When you play the classics mix them up with some pop, rock, blues, country, R&B and jazz or whatever kind of music you like. Kids don’t need their music put into categories for them. If they are exposed to different styles, their favorites will include a variety of music.

See Music
The majority of music people hear is recorded. But everyone gets a heightened appreciation of music when they see it performed. When you go to a concert hall you’ll hear the music, you’ll see and feel it come alive. The presence of an audience influences and helps shape the performance. Most symphony orchestras have programs for children that introduce them to composers and their music, and give them a chance to meet musicians, see a variety of instruments, and, of course, experience a concert hall.

Identify Instruments
Many composers have used instruments in ways that will make it fun for children to learn and identify instrument sounds. Vivaldi used a viola to evoke a barking dog in “The Four Seasons,” and in “Peter and The Wolf” Prokofiev employed instruments to represent characters in a story: an oboe plays a duck, a clarinet a cat, a flute a bird, and the French horns are a dangerous wolf. Once you and your children can identify these instruments, find pictures of them, try to pick them out in other pieces, and talk about how they make sound and what feelings the sounds evoke. And plan to go to a concert hall to see and hear the instruments “in person.”

Make Connections
Point out that classical musicians are a lot like musicians of today. Mozart and Mendelssohn both started their musical careers and became extremely famous at a very young age, just like LeAnn Rimes, Britney Spears and Stevie Wonder. And one hundred fifty years ago the composer and pianist Franz Liszt dressed up in costumes as outrageous as Elton John, Liberace and even Ozzy Osbourne. This is a just a start – you’ll be amazed at how many more similarities you can find.

Dig In
Stories, facts and anecdotes make music more fun. Have you heard the one about Brahms falling asleep while he was listening to Franz Liszt perform in his own home. And on that same subject, Joseph Hadyn wrote a symphony that kept people awake at the concert hall – it’s his famous “Surprise.” Dig even deeper into the lives and music of the composers, and things surface that provide more insight into their work. Once your children know that Dvorak was a big fan of African American spirituals and Native American songs, they can start to hear these influences in his music. And when they can identify the childlike qualities that pervade so much of Mozart’s music they can understand why a great pianist once remarked that, “Mozart’s music is easy for children to play, but much too hard for adults.”

Take Music Lessons
Learning to play an instrument can be a great way to heighten the enjoyment of classical (and all kinds) of music. Many great composers including Tchaikovsky, Bartok and Bach wrote music for children and students. And there are many great classics that can be played by beginners and intermediates. Both you and your child will become more familiar with music theory and performance practices when you play an instrument. And remember – many of the great composers were also teachers, and all of them started out as students.

Listen With Them
Whether it’s in the car, at home, or in a concert hall, listening with your children and then talking about music is a great way to engage both of you in the classical experience. After you hear a piece, try to hum one or more of the themes, or pick out the instruments you hear. You’ll be surprised how fast your children will build a repertoire of pieces you both know and like when you listen together.

Make Up Songs
Once you start to learn the melodies of the great classical masterpieces, it’s really fun to try to make up words that go together with them. Any words are ok – singing along with the melodies of classical music about anything at all will involve you more in the music. And you’ll probably start to hear things you weren’t aware of at first.

Do It Again (Repetition, Repetition, Repetition)
Many pop songs become popular simply because people hear them over and over. Same goes with the classics. The more you play them, the more familiar they become. Chances are your kids will not only like the repeated pieces more, but will begin to appreciate them in different ways as they continue to listen. When the great cellist Pablo Casals was in his nineties, he reported that for eighty years he had played the same piece by Bach every morning, and he said, “The music is never the same for me, never. Each day it is something new, fantastic and unbelievable.”

Reprinted with permission from Parents’ Choice Foundation”. © Parents’ Choice. 
www.Parents-Choice.orgRichard Perlmutter is the creator of the Beethoven’s Wig music series,