10 Ways to Teach Basic Music Skills to Your Children (Even If You’re Not a Musician)

After college, I taught K-8 General Music, Chorus and Drama for 4 years. When I had HipChick, I organized homeschool music classes for a while, and began teaching private piano and voice lessons from home.

Around the beginning of the year, parents usually start asking me about getting music lessons for their kids. I usually don’t take on more students in the middle of the year. Sometimes, they’ll get someone else, and sometimes they say they’ll wait till August, and I put them on the waiting list. There are several reasons your children might not be able to start lessons right away:

  • Lesson times are unavailable
  • You have monetary challenges
  • The child is not quite old enough
  • Your schedule is too packed
There are also several ways to start teaching basic music skills, even as a non-musician parent. I’ll outline a few things you can do at home to make sure your child is ready for lessons, gains music skills as a homeschooler, or just wants to have some creative fun. These suggestions are more for younger children (6 and under), but if your kids enjoy them, then go ahead with them.
Singing:
  • Do “sirens” with your voices, going as high and as low as possible. Make sure you and your child go into the “falsetto” or head voice when going high and don’t try to belt it out.
  • Draw waves on paper. Follow the waves with your fingers, use the siren voice to mimic the highs and lows with your voice.
  • Make sure your child hears CDs of other children singing. Sometimes, when kids only listen to adults or older teens singing, they fail to develop the upper range they would need to sing with a choir, and the ability to hear and match more than a few pitches. This is especially the case with popular music, as many of the melodies have a limited range.
  • Talk about the difference between high/low and loud/soft. Many kids confuse the two. For example, if you tell them to sing low, they will sing quietly. Experiment with speaking and singing low and loud, high and soft, and all other combinations.
  • Make up words to familiar tunes as you go through your day. “Hi Ho the Derrio” is a good one. “We’re putting on our clothes, we’re putting on our clothes, Hi Ho the Derrio…”
  • Sing or play a short melody, and ask your child to repeat it. Ear-training is an acquired skill, and is very important in any musical endeavor.
Instruments:
  • “Act out” a familiar story with the piano. Take, for example, The Three Little Pigs. As the pigs are leaving home, ask, “How do think their walking would sound?” The child might play a steady beat on one key, or alternate between the two. Have them experiment until they are satisfied with the outcome. Other questions to explore are: “How would the wolf sound?” “What would the straw house sound like, as it’s falling down?” “What about the bricks?”
  • You could ask what clouds sound like? Rain? Snow? The possibilities are endless.
  • If you don’t have a piano, any household items will do: pots and pans, spoons, toy maracas or rattles, anything that makes a noise.
  • Get a good quality recorder from a local music store. Recorders are usually under $10, and provide good training for other wind instruments. Young children may not be able to cover the holes and play many notes, but teach them to blow slowly and evenly until they make a pleasing sound. For older children (3rd grade or older), buy a basic recorder book, and learn with them. I directed a homeschool recorder consort (group) once, who played authentic medieval music very well. We played music to underscore a play set in a castle, and the kids were really proud of themselves.
There is much more that you can do, but I’ll stop there for now. The bottom line is: You don’t have to be an expert to start your children on the path of learning music!

What are some things you’ve done to explore music with your kids?

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