The idea of teaching children music can be intimidating—especially if you’ve never had formal training or even any kind of music background of your own. But it doesn’t have to be! And it turns out that teaching your child the basics of understanding music might be even more natural than many of us think.
To help demystify the process, we reached out to Mickey Richards of @homeschoolingmyboys. A music teacher turned homeschool mom of four, a music educator, and a homeschool coach. She has taught over 1,000 kids how to play and read music, and now she is helping parents to incorporate music in their home.
If you missed the LIVE, you can view it here. Just want the highlights? Here are six things we learned during our chat with Mickey.
Teaching music can feel scary because it taps into your vulnerability.
The same way performing music requires stripping away walls and putting ourselves in a vulnerable position, teaching it can often have the same effect. The struggle can be compounded if we’ve had difficult experiences with music teachers, who can sometimes overcomplicate the process or add in a level of pretention that makes music feel inaccessible. The good news? Families have been making music together for centuries—long before anyone ever thought to study it.
Teaching music should start by simply folding more music into your life.
Mickey recommends letting your music “lessons” grow from something you are already doing. Do you sing bedtime songs? See if your child can echo the verses. Love having afternoon dance parties? Demonstrate clapping the rhythms as you get your groove on. By tying music vocabulary into your life, learning becomes holistic and natural.
So now you’re paying more attention to music…now what?
Play games! Play-based learning works just as well for teaching music as it does for other subjects. (It’s also very helpful for many neuro-divergent learners.) For example, start by asking your child (or demonstrating how) to change the words to a favorite song or nursery rhyme. As they sing their new words to a familiar tune, you’re actually teaching them the basics of composition! Or, have them make up their own tune. Children are usually much more uninhibited than adults, so take advantage of that innate confidence through song.
Bring music into the other subjects you’re teaching.
Many of us don’t realize how naturally music can blend with more academic subjects, like math and reading. For example, as you read books with repeating lines, create a rhythm or sound that you and your child can play every time a line is repeated. (For example, you could pat on your legs, clap, or play a small instrument, like an egg shaker.) Or, ask your child to add music to the book by asking them what they think something would sound like. Whether they’re adding sound effects for a traffic scene, the wind, or an animal, you’re actually teaching them more about composition (while tying in motor skills and putting them in the driver’s seat of the lesson!).
Music can also play an assisting role with other subjects that require memorization, like multiplication tables or the steps of the water cycle—simply put them to a familiar song or nursery rhyme to help boost your child’s retention!
You don’t need to be a beautiful singer to teach your child about songs.
One of our favorite tips from Mickey? A play-based music activity she calls “layering.” Start with a simple rhyme, like “Engine, engine number 9, going down Chicago Line.” Next, ask your child what they think the train sounds like. Have them repeat the sound over you saying the words. If you have another child present, ask them to add in an environmental sound, like a bird. Repeat the rhyme with each child saying their “part.” It might sound silly, but you’ve just taught your child the basics of creating a three-part “harmony”! You can also build on this activity, asking them to draw out the parts (encourage them to draw them each on their own line like a piece of music!) and even sounding out the lyrics to write them down.
If my child is interested in learning more, what are my options?
When your child expresses a desire to learn an instrument, it will likely require enlisting the help of an outside source. If private lessons aren’t an option, look into apps that gameify the learning process and provide feedback quickly. If you do plan to put your child in private lessons, Mickey also recommends taking a few months of lessons yourself. Mickey recommends this because music is a language. Just like it would be difficult for a child to learn a language they weren’t immersed in, it will be hard to ride out the struggles of learning a new instrument if they feel like the only ones speaking that “language” and living in that world.
Want more from Mickey? Visit the link in her Instagram bio for two free downloads to help children learn music, or check out her contributed article here for more tips on how to teach music without private lessons.