If you have little ones in your life there is no doubt that you are very familiar with the fact that from the moment they are able to grasp an object, that they are driven to bang, shake, and throw it on the floor. They do this to learn, not to give us headaches. By acting on objects in these ways, they are gathering important information about their environments, what their bodies are capable of, and the properties of the objects themselves. While our favorite little scientists are collecting all of this important data, they are experiencing the pure joy of creating sound.
Music and the exploration of instruments can be a powerful tool that helps children develop thinking skills as they experiment with cause and effect. For instance, on the most basic level, they can see that when they tap a drum with a mallet that it makes a sound. Additionally, they can learn to pay attention to changes in sound, noting for example that certain keys sound deeper than others. Exploring musical instruments also helps children learn how different instruments work and the sounds they create.
When it comes to introducing young children to instruments and musical concepts, free exploration really is the key. As the adult partners in play, our first goal should be to respect and satisfy children’s need to make noise. When the child reaches a certain point where they are ready to take their learning to the next level, our role becomes to guide, not lead, them toward expressing themselves musically. Here are some ways to support your child in their musical explorations:
Mimic what the children are doing – Play!!! Have fun! No need to talk, just show them that it is fun to experiment with sound.
Model – Without giving them directions, show them! Then extend an invitation for them to try.
Provide Feedback – “Wow! You made a really loud sound when you hit the drum like that!” “You were playing that tambourine very fast. Can you play it very slow?”
Playing around with instruments or even pots and pans can also support children in developing an awareness of rhythm, phrasing, tempo, and other elements of musicality. Try these open-ended questions to help deepen their thinking:
What do you hear?
Is it loud or soft?
What happens if we play it very gently?
What happens when we play it a little harder?
What happens if you use your hands instead of a mallet?
What does this music make you think of?
How does this music make you feel?