How do you teach music to your children? What do the fine arts look like in a homeschool situation?
Possibly as many parents are intimidated by the idea of teaching the fine arts as those who are intimidated by the idea of teaching math beyond the fourth grade level. This needn’t be so. As a matter of fact, if you have Internet access and a nearby library, the fine arts should be an enjoyable, maybe even exciting, subject for everyone in your family to study.
In this post, we’re going to focus on music.
It’s not all classical
If you’ve read up on Classical homeschooling or the Charlotte Mason method, you’ve likely gotten the impression that the only type of music worth exposing your children to is classical music. Nothing can be further from the truth!
I won’t downplay the beauty of orchestral music, or how wonderful learning to pick out individual instruments in an orchestra is for developing listening skills. I am aware of the studies that have been done on how classical music positively affects brain function, and enjoy having some on when I am drawing or just want to relax.
However, if you restrict your children to just this one type of music, you are restricting their learning of different cultures. Music is, after all, one of the defining elements of all the various cultures. Jazz and blues music, for example, originated from the black American culture. Bluegrass comes out of the mountains of southeastern states such as Kentucky and Virginia. Rock and Roll comes from…uh…well, somewhere in California, maybe? No, Detroit! Wait…Minneapolis?
Maybe that one’s a bad example.
But you get my drift. There’s Celtic music from Ireland, mariachi music from Mexico, German folk music, Reggae from the Caribbean… There are dozens, maybe even hundreds, of different genres of music. Everybody doesn’t like every kind of music (I don’t care for blues or heavy metal, for example), but most people like listening to a variety depending on their mood and/or what they’re doing.
Have I convinced you to play a wide range of music for your children? Great! So, let’s talk more about the actual educational aspect.
Two words: YouTube and Pandora. With YouTube, you can look up specific genres of music, or particular songs, as you go. With Pandora, you can either set up a station that will play a variety of different styles of music, or set up a dozen stations, each of which plays a certain style.
Decide on two or three days a week that you are going to invite your children to sit down and focus on some songs for thirty minutes or so. Choose a style of music to listen to, and listen. YouTube is great to start with if you can find videos of real performances (as opposed to animations or static lyric videos), because then your children can see what kind of instruments are used in creating a particular style of music.
Want your child to learn the different instruments in an orchestra? There are several on YouTube; simply do a search like, “orchestra instruments” or “instrument families.”
Either way, after listening for a while, ask your children what instruments they think they heard. How did the music make them feel? Did they like this genre of music? Why or why not?
Young children will usually enjoy doing actions, like fingerplays or silly dances, for child-oriented songs such as those based on nursery rhymes. Encourage children of any age to move to the music if they like, or draw a picture that goes along with the music.
Learning an instrument
I don’t believe in forcing a child to learn to play an instrument just because “it’s good for them.” However, if someone in your family is musical so that you already have an instrument or three lying around, and your child expresses an interest in learning how to play it, I believe you should do what you can to fulfill that interest. Perhaps the family member who plays can give them lessons. You may be able to afford a private music teacher. Undoubtedly you will be able to find YouTube video beginner tutorials for a wide variety of instruments.
What if there are no instruments in the house? Should you go out and spend several hundred dollars on some for the sake of giving your child the opportunity to get interested in them? No. Instead, take several field trips a year to a music store. If a child doesn’t care about playing an instrument, she’ll lose interest in the trips quickly. But if she does, you’ll probably know by the third or fourth trip. And whoever runs the music store will probably be able to point you in the direction of finding a second-hand instrument (craigslist, anyone?) and/or a teacher. If you cannot find a local private tutor, make an appointment with the band or orchestra teacher at the nearest high school and see if they’re interested in making some extra money by tutoring your child.
What about reading music, rhythm, and all that other stuff they teach in school?
Unless your child is planning on pursuing music as either a hobby or a profession, there is no reason to put him through the torture of learning to read music, or to teach him technicalities like beat versus rhythm. If you think your child should at least know what a musical staff looks like, and what all those block flag thingies (the notes) on the spaces and lines are, then you can breeze through that in fifteen minutes. I’m sure there are kid-oriented videos the explain the basics of sight reading online, as well. But the fact is, even if a child waits until age fifteen to learn to play an instrument, and has had no prior teaching of all the technical jargon or sight reading, she will pick it up with relative ease once she begins taking lessons.
In other words, don’t sweat it!
Summing it all up
Turn music into lessons, and you’ll turn children off. Even children who love to sing may begin to lose their enthusiasm if their parents turn it into a tedious subject.
Listen to different genres of music. Watch videos, Talk about the instruments. Talk about the sounds. Dance. Clap. Draw or fingerpaint while the music plays.
In other words, enjoy music with your child in authentic ways, and don’t force him to sing or play an instrument unless and until he wants to.