Weegee(Arthur Fellig)/International Center of Photography
Weegee(Arthur Fellig)/International Center of Photography © Getty

Musical awareness: what to choose for my child?

Many of you may wonder how to raise your child’s awareness to music. Are you right or wrong to ask yourself this question? We bring up 7 points, with professional advice, to help you answer it!

While the evening story is spontaneously embedded in each rituals dedicated to the child from an early age, music is often the subject of many more questions. How to do it? When to start? How much should you get involved? We consulted with early childhood professionals and here is a digest of their advice.

1. Musical awareness: what for?

Raising children's musical awareness does not necessarily mean putting a violin in their hands by age 2. And especially not if the aim is to make a super soloist out of him. If the Chinese pianist Lang Lang started at age 3, he doesn't have very fond memories of it. Stick to awakening, awareness and discovery, and keep the learning for later: "Musical awakening is very important from the earliest age, but is not a goal in itself" explains Marie-Alice Charritat, president of the Martenot Kleber Centre in Paris, author of Bonjour Madame Musique! method “raising children’s awareness to music first means to make him float in a musical bath. Make him listen to music, sing with him, manipulate simple instruments. This will awaken all his senses to the musical experience."

Neurosciences support the arguments that professionals experience on the field: beyond artistic and cultural initiation, music is good for the brain. From speech and language to motor skills and concentration, the cognitive benefits are multiple and can last through a lifespan. Music is an important social and emotional link: within the family, between a mother and her child or within a class and a group of children. This is confirmed by Christelle Lubaki, director of the crèche Pimprenelle in Noisy-le-Grand, who launched early-age musical workshops in her institution. The crèche’s staff was trained and guided in this process by a specialist from the association Enfance et Musique. "We have found that babies that tend to stay on the side can be so absorbed by sounds that they forget social apprehension and can more easily get in touch with others.’’

2. Is there a good age to start?

No, musical awareness can be adapted to any age. Some specialists think that it is better earlier than later, like Portuguese musicologist and pedagogue Paulo Lameiro. He is one of the pioneers in musical awakening of very young children and the initiator of the ‘’Concerts pour bébés’’ project, involving professional musicians in crèches and making concert halls more open to babies. He is also the head of a training centre for early age music teachers. Paulo Lameiro encourages early musical initiation, benefitting the babies’ hypersensitivity to sounds: "Between birth and 18 months, the processing speed of a child's information is 300,000 times faster than ours. It is therefore the best time to provide him all the structural elements that will enable him to understand and eventually play music in the future."

The child’s extreme permeability is what will enable him to develop his perception, but also open him to the delights of hearing music, as Serge Cyferstein, head of the Paris Conservatory’s pedagogy department, points out. "Some neuroscientists explain the possibility of absolute ear through early musical stimulation: a child who has been exposed to music from the earliest years, especially during the language acquisition period, has greater chances to develop more musical skills later."

3. Does my child need talent?

In other words, is it necessary to find out if my child is good at music when he has just blown his first candle? The answer is no. Raising awareness to music from an early age requires, among other things, auditory and sensory awareness of the sound environment. "Each child, regardless of their age and level of involvement, will benefit from it. Some babies move and manipulate the instruments, others remain behind to listen, but they remain calm and by the look in their eyes, we see that they are present" explains Christelle Lubaki.

4. Is it a good idea to make music with your family if you haven't practiced much?

Forget qualms, because that’s the best place to get started! Music, unlike reading, doesn’t seem easily accessible to people who do not practice it. But this apprehension is not justified from the moment we realize that any child evolves in a sound environment even before birth, and that the voice of his mother is the first music that cradles him. The first musical awakening thus occurs spontaneously, within the family, through rhymes or lullabies. These early moments are important because they strengthen the bond between the mother (and/or father!) and her child, no matter how good the performance is!

So, without knowing, you have already taken the first step. You can continue to enrich your child's sound experience at home by introducing him to light musical instruments, singing or listening to recorded music. A word of advice: try to make him aware of noises, sounds and soft music rather than opting for Beethoven's symphonies. Don't forget rhythmic games, world music or contemporary music, any kind of music that opens your child's sound horizons is welcome.

Later (or at the same time) and if your child wants to, you can leave him in the good hands of professionals. But you will have already cleared the field...

5. What about the musical instrument?

For the first sound experiments, the musical instrument must remain a prop to arouse the child's sound curiosity. Small percussions, or instruments made from recycled materials, in nursery schools or kindergartens, are often used in musical awakening workshops. "As long as the child is not learning, the instrument is more of an awakening tool. From the age of three, when you can better structure learning around skills, the instrument can be introduced, but only through games" explains Serge Cyferstein. “The so-called active pedagogies - Suzuki on top - are based on the principle of collective and early learning of a musical instrument, but it has to be done well, otherwise it's cramming and it could  easily discourage the child" he adds. This being said, there is no reason why the instrument should be confined to musical workshop in crèches or kindergartens. And if you dabble in a musical instrument yourself, don't deprive your child of your knowledge, of course.

When your child is old enough to begin playing a musical instrument, always choose it carefully: nothing is more harmful than a poorly tuned plastic guitar. It is always better, even for toy instruments, to ensure that their sound reproduction corresponds to reality: otherwise, your child's sound picture will be utterly distorted.

6. At what age can I take my child to a concert?

In principle, you should be able to introduce your child to the experience of live music from the first months of life. In some European countries - such as Belgium, England and Portugal - baby-friendly concerts are more frequent. They are performed in a more intimate atmosphere with smaller rooms, adapted lighting, flexible or customizable programs that cater to the reactions of small listeners, as advocated by Paolo Lameiro. At the moment, such initiatives are still rare in France. The Orchestre Lamoureux in Paris is planning next season three dates of its Bébé Concert dedicated for children from 0 to 3 year olds: "This is a concept we discovered during our participation in the Folle Journée in Japan, and this is the second edition, explains Iris Labouret, in charge of communication and cultural actions. These are 30-minute concerts in which musicians and the conductor interact with babies and families, who are both on stage and on the floor, free to move around. Parents are invited to contribute by singing nursery rhymes or doing a little choreography, while the conductor who leads the dance."

7. What kind of awakening should I pick?

Musical awakening is on the rise. And this is a real chance as many crèches start to set up musical awakening workshops. If they are already part of these types of creches, all your children have to do is to attend one of these workshops! Generally speaking, awakening workshops are multiplying, especially in associations, but still remain of unequal quality: ‘’we are still discovering how to do it, even if the pre-school age is extremely conducive to musical awakening because one can begin to identify timbres, rhythms, play improvisation games, or approach first instruments. In France, the problem remains the training of professionals in early childhood, because awakening a child to music means taking into account a multitude of parameters that concern cognitive and emotional development, and therefore pedagogy and psychology as well as music itself.”

Some active methods - Dalcroze or Kodaly, for example - awakening workshops exist as well for very young children. They usually involve a collective approach, including body expression or singing for example. You can also opt for one-off workshops organized by numerous orchestras: the Paris Philharmonic, Lyon National Orchestra and Radio France ensembles all open their concert halls to children, usually from the age of 5.

Five years is the key to integrating musical awakening in most conservatories. Unlike the voluntary sector - which can offer both the best and the worst - conservatories guarantee qualified staff. In general, the first year is dedicated to singing, dancing, body expression and discovery of the first musical notions. It is also the age of the first stage experiences, because in general, the end-of-year show is open to the youngest as well.

You are listening to :