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The Sound of Music

Enhancing your child’s music education during Music in Our Schools Month and beyond.

Local musicians and music educators say parents can encourage and inspire children’s musicality with simple activities at home.

Local musicians and music educators say parents can encourage and inspire children’s musicality with simple activities at home. Photo courtesy of the Heights School

From the powerful sounds of a high school band to the soothing melodies sung in a kindergarten music classroom, local music educators are using the month of March to raise awareness of the benefits of learning music.

In fact, the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) designates March as Music In Our Schools Month, and local music educators echo the significance of the annual celebration.

“Research suggests that parental involvement in a child's music activities can not only pique a child's interest in music, but it can positively impact motivation and achievement in music.”

— Brian C. Wuttke, Ph.D., director of music education, George Mason University

“The reason Music in Our Schools Month is so important is because it heightens awareness … that school music programs help provide important and healthy musical alternatives to the sometimes disturbing messages that children inadvertently hear in the … music they may encounter in popular culture,” said Brian C. Wuttke, Ph.D., director of music education at George Mason University in Fairfax.

Even if formal music lessons are not an option, local musicians and music educators say that parents can encourage and inspire their children’s musicality with simple activities at home. “Research suggests that parental involvement in a child's music activities can not only pique a child's interest in music, but it can positively impact motivation and achievement in music,” Wuttke said.

So how can parents support a child’s musical talent or interest? “I think playing music with your kids would be the number one way to enhance their musicality,” said Elizabeth Lasko of the National Association for Music Education. “Of course, a parent may not play an instrument, but there is always singing.”

Lasko encourages parents to allow children to experiment with instruments. “As kids, we used to sing with our grandmother’s player piano,” she said. “Singing with recorded music is another option. Learning songs from different eras and genres can open up new worlds to kids.” According to Lasko, inexpensive percussion instruments like shakers or tambourines can help children develop rhythm while having fun.

"Music education is as important as math and science because it is all related," said Kevin Strother, Ph.D., Music Department head, The Heights School in Potomac, Md. “Without the arts, education is incomplete and the student is not whole. Without music education, math and science are not seen in a complete picture. How else do you teach a student to think and create? With the arts, music and other forms, we can teach our students to think, create and imagine.”

Shannon Melideo, Ph.D., chair of the Education Department at Marymount University in Arlington, says exposure to music should be a priority. “[It] is critically important,” she said. “Sure, you want them to listen to ‘your music’ as a parent, but listen to as much diverse music as possible and talk about it informally.”

Lasko agrees and encourages parents to look for local performances that are designed for young audiences. “Lots of children love to attend musical performances that are geared toward their own age, especially if there is fun interaction between the performers and the audience,” she said. “Many communities offer inexpensive performances. Some [are offered] at schools. Seeing kids their own age or slightly older perform music can be very inspiring for children.”

Parents don’t even have to leave home to find musical inspiration. “For young children, simple, everyday household items can be used to make a functional musical instrument that the child can decorate and compose a song on,” said Wuttke.

He added that parents should encourage their children to participate in school music programs. “Praise the student for their efforts,” he said. “Ask the student to sing or play a song on an instrument they are working on in school for family members.”

Finally, technology offers convenient options. “There are many iPad applications, for instance, that are musical in nature and help kids learn about different instruments and how to record music,” said Lasko.