Music to your ears - Encourage children to fiddle around


"I bought me a cat, my cat pleased me,

I fed my cat under yonder tree.

My cat says fiddle eye fee."

Aaron Copland's charming tune, complete with animal sounds, is hard to shake.

Featured solist Corey Evan Rotz performed it during the annual Maryland Symphony Orchestra's Salute to Independence last weekend at Antietam National Battlefield.

My kids and I have had fun with the lyrics, hummed the tune and laughed a lot about the experience.

If you were not among the estimated 35,000 people who attended, you missed a great opportunity.

Sharing music with children is such a joy.

I want my kids to appreciate various musical experiences, and I wonder at times if I'm doing enough for their musical development.


Because music and language are learned in the same part of the brain, music is a vital part of childhood development, says Jessica Baron Turner, author of "Your Musical Child: Inspiring Kids to Play and Sing for Keeps."

"We should do this for our children when they are little. It gives them a whole beautiful mode of communication," says Turner, who teaches elementary school music in Santa Cruz, Calif. "If a parent opens the door early, there's no resistance in the child. It's great fun and enriches the parent-child relationship."

For young children, music programs should include these components: movement, play, interaction, percussion, ear training and learning music to sing together, Turner says.

If all that seems overwhelming, just sing, play and learn together as you go.

And remember this admonition from Turner: "Children don't care if parents are out of tune."

Start with rhythm

"Rhythm is essential, and rhythm comes before melody," Turner says.

Try playing this game with your child:

Sit facing each other. Begin to pat a steady beat with both hands on your knees while singing a childhood song. Ask your child to match the steady beat while patting his knees. Move the tapping from your knees to your shoulders, and back to your knees. Once your child can maintain a steady beat, ask him where he'd like to put the beat. Then you follow, or "mirror," his lead. You may be patting the top of your head or the tips of your toes, and that's OK.

"If the parent validates the child's creative choice, the child will be overjoyed," Turner says.

Write - or rewrite - a song

Help your child to change one thing about a familiar song.

For example, you could ask: "Where else besides a farm would Old MacDonald like to live?"

Instead of a farm with pigs, you may be singing about a swamp with snakes.

Be prepared to giggle, because this could become really silly.

Overcome stage jitters together

Don't push - simply encourage - a child to perform.

Teach him to breathe deeply and slowly before a performance. This will keep him calm. Tell him to visualize what his hands are supposed to do.

A few weeks before a recital, videotape the child playing the piece when no one else is in the room. Allow the child to watch the video, which will help him make changes if necessary.

Practice, practice, practice

"Some children stall out on practice because they feel isolated," Turner says. "Don't put them in a room behind a closed door."

Play around with the practice routine. Mix up the order in which you do things.

Work with an egg timer. When it dings, practice is over.

For information about Turner's book or teaching information, go to on the Web.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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