I am a fan of great children’s music artists. Hap Palmer and Raffi are a delightful mixture of musical and educational genius! And so I hope you won’t get me wrong when I say that I don’t think that’s the only kind of music children should listen to.
Music designed for children has some great aspects, the lyrics, timing, even the key in which it is written is designed to appeal to children and encourage their participation. But there are so many different kinds of music in the world, and children should be exposed to it! Add to that the fact that a change of pace is often good — for the littles and the bigs as well! As long as the lyrics are appropriate, and the children respond to it, almost every genre can have something to offer. Here are some suggestions for “non-traditional” children’s music that have become popular with some of the littles I have worked with!
The Beatles. They’re classic. There’s just something universally appealing about their music. “Here Comes the Sun” is one of my favorites to use with young children, because the lyrics contain so many early reading sight words. It’s almost as though George Harrison were writing the song for kids! As I taught first grade, I had a collection of laminated song charts from which the children would sing, and then they would do activities, pointing to or circling specific words and letters. “Here Comes the Sun” was by far the favorite!
Soundtracks. John Williams is an indisputable genius! His soundtracks are musically rich and emotionally charged. Try using his and other musical scores from movies for movement activities!
Jazz. Don’t overlook this unique musical style! Artists like Ella Fitzgerald and Louie Armstrong can have a lot to offer our little ones! The music is creative and emotionally evocative. The mellow mood of many of these songs can also have a soothing effect for all its listeners!
The Great Works. There’s been more of an emphasis in recent years on getting children exposed to the great works of composers like Vivaldi, Beethoven, and Mozart. This movement is good, and listening to this type of music can do great things for children, though it’s not the magic pill some describe — read more about that here. When sharing this type of music with children, focus on its beauty, on the way they can move to it, the types of instruments that are being used, and how it makes them feel. Avoid using watered-down versions of these masterpieces. Some albums sold as “classical music for kids” is simply an electronic version of the melody. Part of the great benefit of listening to this type of music lies in the weaving together of a variety of instruments, parts, and dynamics.
Share Your Own Favorites. I remember going to concerts back in college and jumping around, dancing with the crowd in the student union building as an accomplished local artist, Peter Breinholt and his band played. Fast-forward about 15 years and that artist is now my neighbor. I have to laugh to myself now as I watch the children from my neighborhood jump and dance like my friends and I used to “back in the day”. Pete’s music is always family friendly and appeals to all ages. I’ve yet to see a child who doesn’t get up and dance to his song, You Wear Flowers. (You can listen to it –third one down on the samples here. Find more info here.)
I’ve been lucky that my children enjoy some of the same artists I do, along with Pete, there are many other acoustic artists like James Taylor and Jack Johnson that we can share together. Lately my husband has been sharing some of his favorites in the classic rock category with our oldest as well.
It’s fun to bond over some of your own favorites and talk to each other about what you like. I know much of my own music preferences come from the fact that I listened to many of my dad’s favorites growing up. Mama Cass, Cat Stevens, James Taylor, and CCR are still some of my favorites.
Set the Stage. While it’s great to share a variety of musical styles with young children, keep in mind of course that the lyrics need to be appropriate for their age, but also consider the tempo and energy of the music and consider the influence it has. Children are HUGELY responsive to the energy of music. If you’re looking for some quiet play time, the William Tell Overture may not be the best pick!
What are some of the “non-traditional” favorites you share with your little ones?