As a guy who makes a living reviewing music, I'm a big believer in making some with my family. Not because it might help our kids' intellectual or emotional development, but simply because it's fun. True, these days there's a lot of great music being recorded or played in concert by some very talented musicians. But not spending time making music on your own diminishes the value of listening to that music.
I'm the only person in our house who's had any formal musical training, and all that occurred before I got my driver's license. Still, there's a lot of music of our own creation floating around our house. I would be the first to say that we're not a house full of musical prodigies – there’s no Mozart on the couch here composing symphonies before reaching the age of 10. But music is slowly becoming second nature to us, something we want to do when we have free time instead of watching a DVD.
Here, then, are some things our family does to give our house a little rhythm. I have no degree in music, music education, or anything with the word "music" in it. But I can tell you… it works. If you don’t believe me, I dare you to try. Here’s how to get started:
- A lot. I doubt there's anything we've done that has had a greater impact on our musical lives. Your kids don't care if you sing out of tune – they don't even know if you're singing out of tune. But from the very start of their lives with you, they're learning that music can be a part of play time, rest time, and sleepy time.
- Sing even if it's not a singing time. Driving in the car? Make up a song about what you see as you drive, be it across town or across the country. Washing the dishes? Make up a song about the dirty dishes. Traditional folk songs turned everyday or special events into songs – there's no reason why you can't make your own folk songs.
- Dance. Dance to the "Nutcracker," the Beatles, or Fountains of Wayne. Dance to Dan Zanes, who's made family music-making a personal crusade. I think our kids now often associate music with movement, an association that is not only joyful but also healthy.
- Make music. You don't need a piano. You don't need a guitar or a ukulele. You really don't even need small instruments like tambourines, egg shakers, or drums. But if you’d like to have some, you can make egg shakers out of old spice containers and rice. And big plastic containers or pots with spoons work just fine as drums. (Having said that, for the cost of a couple CDs you can get enough small rhythm instruments and kazoos to outfit the entire family.)
- Listen to your own music. Just as it's important for your kids to see you reading your own books so they can see what it's like to read for enjoyment, they should also see you listening to your own music for your own enjoyment. Eventually it may become another thing you share.
In case you hadn't noticed, these suggestions may push you out of your safety zone if you don't feel like you have much musical talent. But as Dan Zanes has said, that's one reason he loves making music for families – new parents are doing things they've never done before every day.
In the spirit of making music, here are some songs for inspiration:
"Mama Don't Allow," Brady Rymer – There are many versions of this traditional song featuring all the different things that a particular mother does not permit, musically-speaking, but Rymer's version is particularly energetic.
"Pots and Pans," Bacon Brothers & Mickey Hart – Hart, who drummed for the Grateful Dead, gives one kitchen an energetic workout. Pots never sounded so good!
"I Got a Pot'n Pan Band," Sam's Rot'n Pot'n Pan Band – This song actually directs kids to get pots and pans to play along, so be prepared...
"Driving in My Car," Ralph's World – In case you don't feel comfortable making up a song about driving in the car, Ralph's World has an easily memorizable song you can adapt.
"Oh Me, Oh My," Raffi –This gentle song brings it home that you don't need a radio (or a CD, or an iPod) for music – you can create your own.
It doesn’t take big cash to create a musician, but it does take a certain atmosphere. Even if your kids never master an instrument, teaching them to make music – out of tune or not – is sure to bring some joy now and down the road. Whether they’re cranking up their guitar, or just their stereo.