Tuning Into the Benefits of Music Education
Lessons Improve Children’s Growth, Self-expression
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Miles and Miles of Texas Music -- If you want to introduce your children and teens to a wider range of Texas musicians, be sure to read our story, Tunes Across Texas: Miles of Great Music for Your Family’s Driving Trip.
In every culture since the earliest humans, music has been used to invoke spirits, tell stories and accompany rituals, from birth to death. Imagine watching the swashbuckling capers of Indiana Jones or the bittersweet farewell in E.T. without the music. The scenes might capture our attention, but never our hearts.

T-SIZE: 10pt; mso-bidi-font-family: Times">Music is the first creative art form in our lives to reach us in a profound way. There is an innate human response to sound, even in very young children. In the womb, babies respond to the rhythm of their mother’s heartbeat, while after birth, cradled in their mother’s arms, they learn to babble and imitate the dreamy cooing of her voice.

From infancy, parents can enhance their child’s musical readiness at home by:

FONT-SIZE: 10pt; mso-bidi-font-family: Times">• singing to babies and swaying rhythmically while holding them;

FONT-SIZE: 10pt; mso-bidi-font-family: Times">• giving musical toys, such as kazoos, triangles, bells, maracas, tambourines and xylophones;

FONT-SIZE: 10pt; mso-bidi-font-family: Times">• tapping out different rhythms on a drum or bowl and encouraging children to copy;

FONT-SIZE: 10pt; mso-bidi-font-family: Times">• acting out songs, such as “The Itsy, Bitsy Spider” and “The Hokey Pokey” with hand or body motions; and

FONT-SIZE: 10pt; mso-bidi-font-family: Times">• letting children march around the house with bells on their ankles or wrists.

The more active music-making a young child can do, the better. Award-winning children’s musician Laurie Berkner notes that when she was a child, she had music on in her house all the time. “And my parents sang to me,” she adds. “Before bedtime they would say I could have one book or two songs.”

Berkner urges today’s parents not to be afraid to sing to their children, and also suggests that children should come to music by following their own cues, and choosing the instrument that they feel drawn to.

FONT-SIZE: 10pt; mso-bidi-font-family: Times">Not Just for Fun

Exploring music together will also support the development of a young child. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) emphasizes the following as just a few of the benefits of musical play:

• It helps children express and make meaning of their experiences. Through musical play, children become aware, explore and make choices about musical sound. Musical play also provides a social connection for children as they sing, dance and make music with others.

• It builds learning connections. When an infant communicates with an adult by matching pitches as he coos and babbles, their musical conversation helps affirm and encourage his self-esteem.

• It stimulates a child’s creative abilities. Language connections occur as a child decides on words and rhymes for a song, plays her name on a drum, or moves to the expressive sound of music.

Learning to Listen

Although music is in our lives every day, children don’t become good listeners spontaneously. The key is to start young. Many parents and children find participating in introductory music classes, such as eurythmics, Kindermusik or Orff, to be fun and a good way to expose children to rhythm and singing.

Choosing the best program depends on whom you ask, but music educators agree that parent participation is critical. Kindermusik, for example, encourages parents to take part by giving them tapes and guidebooks for practicing songs at home.

ZE: 10pt; mso-bidi-font-family: Times">“Children are creatures of repetition,” says Kindermusik instructor Rachel Reef-Simpson. “The more they hear a song, the more it becomes a part of them.”

ZE: 10pt; mso-bidi-font-family: Times">Equally important, she says, is making it fun. So, at a Kindermusik class, children might make oversized musical notes out of black paper plates, perform in a make-believe orchestra or pantomime playing various instruments.

Other teaching methods, such as eurythmics, emphasize movement and improvisation, and might involve walking or galloping to music to “find the beat.” Likewise, the Orff method relies on rhythm-based activities to introduce children to music. In a typical Orff classroom, children recite nursery rhymes, poems or stories as they move, clap and play small percussion instruments.

Whatever the approach, the idea behind such programs is to combine listening, movement, improvisation and singing to encourage growth and self-expression. Music, after all, isn’t just a catchy tune and a good beat. It’s one of life’s essential ingredients. 

Taking Up an Instrument

When it comes to picking an instrument for your child to begin to learn to play:

• Give your child a say in choosing the instrument. Take her to a music store or look for instrument “petting zoos” where local music schools and performing arts groups allow children to try different instruments.

• Consider your child’s size before deciding on a particular instrument.

• Don’t fret if your child insists on drums. A beginner can learn everything he needs to know on a rubber drum pad. If he remains enthusiastic, you can always purchase a set of drums – and earplugs – later.

Picking a Program

• Take your cue from your child about when to start formal lessons on an instrument. Experts agree that if interest comes mostly from the child, chances are she will stick with it and have better results. Some programs, notably Suzuki, start children as young as 3 or 4 years of age. Others recommend waiting until the child is at least 7 or 8 years old and has solid reading and math skills.

• Choose between group and private lessons. Beside the cost factor, weigh the value of having peer group support versus the one-on-one attention a child gets in private lessons.

• Find the right teacher. Seek recommendations from music stores, the music teacher at your child’s school, or friends and relatives.

• Take your child to meet prospective teachers. Finding the right match is critical. Note the teacher’s temperament and enthusiasm. Young children usually respond to a teacher who is warm and friendly. As your child progresses, she can switch to someone more demanding.

Parents’ Role

Music educators agree that parents’ ongoing participation is critical to children’s long-term success with music.

• Never force music on a child.
Do not be disappointed if your child’s interest wavers. He or she may decide to switch instruments occasionally. This is a natural part of the exploration process and it will make the child’s musical talents more diverse.

• Encourage goal-setting. It’s much better to practice something 10 times than to practice it for 10 minutes.

• Treat practice like homework. Keep it consistent. Provide a comfortable, quiet, well-lit space and make a designated time for practicing every day. Don’t relegate it to the basement.

• Avoid correcting every mistake. Provide positive encouragement.

• Stay involved. Try not to miss your child’s musical performances and always be supportive and acknowledge his or her accomplishments.

The value you put on music lessons will be picked up by your child. If she senses that you don’t think much of the whole thing, chances are she won’t either. If you freely switch lessons or practice time to fit in other activities, it sends the message that the whole undertaking isn’t very important.

Children who take music lessons learn more than just how to play an instrument. They learn discipline, perseverance and the satisfaction that comes from doing something well.

Music Project Benefits Texas Schools

Like students elsewhere, Texas children who actively participate in the arts are more likely to be recognized for academic achievement than their non-arts peers, even though Texas spends less on the arts than any other state.

Texas All-State music students consistently score more than 200 points higher on the Scholastic Aptitude Test compared to the state averages for their peers, reports the Texas Music Educators Association, indicating a strong correlation between students excelling in music and excellence in other academic areas.

Yet Texas ranks last among the 50 states in spending for the arts: 18 cents per person, compared to the national average of 95 cents per person, according to the Texas Commission on the Arts.

The Texas Music Project, which is selling two music CDs featuring Lone Star State musicians, was launched last year to help strengthen music education in Texas schools. Proceeds from the CD sales benefit schools through grants distributed by the Texas Commission on the Arts.

“Don’t Mess With Texas Music,” the project’s first CD, was released in September 2003, featuring a mix of blues, country and ballads in the Texas singer/songwriter tradition by artists including Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Clint Black, the Dixie Chicks, Asleep at the Wheel, W.C. Clark and other performers.

The Texas Music Project recently released its second CD, “Don’t Mess With La Musica de Tejas,” featuring Latin/Tejano performers such as Flaco Jimenez, Randy Garibay, Los Lonely Boys, Jay Perez, Ruben Ramos, Los Desperadoz and others. Proceeds will benefit music education programs in schools with a high Latino student population, organizers say.

Both musical collections are available wherever CDs are sold, at select H-E-B and Starbucks Coffee locations, and online (see Resources).  


Americans for the Arts --  -- A leading nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the arts in America and particularly preschool arts education.

Music Teachers National Association -- 513-421-1420; -- Offers a free Directory of Nationally Certified Teachers of Music.

National Association for Music Education --
703-860-4000; -- This non-profit organization addresses every aspect of music education and works to ensure that every student has access to quality music education.

Texas Coalition for Quality Arts Education – 713-572-2870; – Promotes quality fine arts education in the state; includes information on TEKS fine arts requirements.

Texas Commission on the Arts – 512-463-5535; – Information on grant and award programs, including the Texas Music Project and the Texas Cultural Endowment Fund.

Texas Music Educators Association – 512-452-0710;  – Professional group open to music teachers and supporters; includes information on TEKS fine arts requirements.

Texas Music – Order “Don’t Mess With Texas Music” and “Don’t Mess With Las Musica de Tejas” CDs.


Keys to Successful Music Lessons, by Nikki Landre, Barron’s Educational Series, 1996. This how-to guide covers everything from recognizing talent to picking the right instrument for your child.

The Mozart Effect, by Don Campbell, Avon Books, 1997. This classically trained musician makes a convincing case that music is more than entertainment and can even heal body and soul.

Your Musical Child: Inspiring Kids to Play and Sing for Keeps, by Jessica Baron Turner, String Letter Publishing, 2004. Comprehensive look at music’s impact from pregnancy through adulthood, learning styles, helpful list of resources.

Miles and Miles of Texas Music -- If you want to introduce your children and teens to a wider range of Texas musicians, be sure to read our story, Tunes Across Texas: Miles of Great Music for Your Family’s Driving Trip.