Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Violinists in Diapers?

Dr. Suzuki insisted that "everyone can learn to play violin." To him, this meant even very young children, as young as 2 or 3. I started learning violin before I was 3 from a hard-core Suzuki violin teacher who had studied in Japan with Dr. Suzuki. My mom remembers me going to lessons in diapers. However, I was no Sarah Chang, who knew the Bruch violin concerto by age 6. I must have taken years to get past Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, because by the time I was 10, I was about at the same level as kids who had started at 7. I don't really know what benefit I got from starting that young. I suppose playing the violin is more a part of me since I can't remember a time when I didn't do it. However, I think there are other ways to ingrain music into young children besides paying for lessons for them. Playing music for them and singing with them will make music a part of their lives.

I do teach the Suzuki method, but I am not a purist, so I don't teach children any younger than 5. I tried to teach a 4-year-old once, and found it too difficult to keep his attention for a whole lesson period. I think it is easier on parents, teachers, and children to hold off giving them formal lessons until they are school age.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Baby Einstein: A Help or Hindrance?

Many of you have heard the debate about educational videos for kids, especially about their effect on very young children. Time Magazine came out with this article in 2007 detailing a study at the University of Washington saying that babies between 8 and 16 months old who had watched baby videos scored 10% lower on lanuguage tests than babies who had not. The reason for this is that watching videos takes away from the time babies can be interacting with adults. However, this study says nothing about the effect of the classical music in videos like the Baby Einstein ones. All of the music in the Baby Einstein videos is classical music, played in a music box style to make it interesting for children. My kids have learned many classical pieces from their Baby Einstein videos. I love to hear them humming the Blue Danube waltz or see them light up when they hear Beethoven's 5th Symphony. My conclusion is that if you choose to have your children watch any videos, as I do because I have 3 children close in age and occasionally need to find things to keep them entertained, it is good to let them watch something that will expose them to classical music.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Yes, It's Goofy, But It Is a String Quartet

I must share a little song my kids have taken a liking to. It's called "Violin", from They Might Be Giants' children's album "No!"

At first, my adult mind tried to make sense out of the song, without success. My kids enjoyed it immediately, and I realized that kids are just easily amused by nonsense. However, there is a bit of value to this song beyond its sheer entertainment value. The instrumentation is in classical string quartet style. It will also put the word "violin" on your kids' tongues, and perhaps inspire them to play one.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Music Appreciation with Movie Soundtracks

One thing kids like to do is watch movies. Since they will most likely spend a good deal of their time doing this, you might as well make that time into a time for music appreciation. Try to find some movies that have well-written soundtracks. One that my kids enjoy is The Land Before Time. James Horner, who wrote the soundtracks for movies like "Titanic" and "A Beautiful Mind," was the composer for the first seven "Land Before Time" movies. I have only seen the first one, so I can only vouch for its quality. The soundtrack is exciting, and thoughtfully draws from children's classical pieces like "Peter and the Wolf" and "A Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra."

Another fabulous soundtrack that my children have found enjoyment from is that of "The Village." Older children might enjoy the movie, but my young ones love the smooth violin sounds of the soundtrack. They also got excited when it got to the scary parts. I told them it was "monster music." It's good for them to notice when music creates moods, like scariness.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Peter, a Wolf, and Thomas the Tank Engine

I loved Prokoviev's "Peter and the Wolf" as a child, but didn't expect my 2-year-old to be interested in it for a few years. However, we heard it on the radio one time and he loved it, so I bought the CD for him. He still listens to it with fascination a year later. Here it is, with Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra and Carnival of the Animals (we don't have this CD, but it is now on my list of CD's to get). "Peter and the Wolf" helps kids learn the instruments in the orchestra, and it also helps them pay attention to melodies, as each character has its own melody played by a different instrument. After my son had been listening to "Peter and the Wolf" for a while, he began to notice on his own that the characters in the "Thomas and Friends" episodes each have their own theme tunes. "Hey, that's Edward's song," he pointed out one day, and upon listening I realized that that tune did play every time Edward was puffing along the track. EmilytheCutiePie has most of the themes on YouTube with videos of the engines. Show these videos to your Thomas-obsessesed child so he knows how the themes go, and then have him notice whenever one of them plays during the episodes.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Getting kids excited about classical music

I started playing violin when I was 3 years old, so classical music has always been a part of my life. My parents fostered my interest in classical music by playing it frequently in our house. I enjoyed that, but some of my more memorable experiences involving classical music were when we did more than just listen to it. My mom would play "In the Hall of the Mountain King" by Grieg for us, and called it "The Sneaky Song". She would chase us around the house as it played, starting slow and quiet and ending in a frenzy of shrieks from us kids as she caught up with us. Here's a video of Grieg's piece.

Another piece we liked was "Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" by Benjamin Britten. We made up a whole story to it, involving orphans, fairies, and princesses, which we would act out as the music played. The video to this is in two parts on Youtube:

If you have never heard Britten's piece, I would recommend it to everyone, not just young people. It is a set of variations on a theme by Purcell, each one played by a different instrument or section in the orchestra.

Of course, classical music is full of pieces which can encourage a child to use his imagination. So many of them tell stories or create scenes. I am still on the lookout for a CD which puts some of these pieces together for children.