Since our program is divided into sessions, every Music Together family makes a conscious choice 4 times per year, to continue or not. After 1-2 sessions you’ve learned dozens of songs and activities, have used all the different instruments and props, and have gotten the gist of what the program offers. Perhaps you’ve noticed that some of the children in your class are actively singing and dancing along, clearly enjoying the class, and others – perhaps yours- are mostly just watching, or are restless, clingy, or more interested in the truck out the window. So the question you ask yourself is real- is there a good reason to stay any longer or did we get enough of what we wanted out of this class?
This question is complex as it starts with your intention when joining Music Together, but then goes beyond to something more that you might not have considered. Did you simply want to spend some quality time with a friend or meet new ones? Add structure to your week or have something to do when it is cold outside? Perhaps articles about how music supports language or social-emotional development encouraged you to enroll your child in preparation for preschool, or you noticed your child's responsiveness to music and simply wanted to let them enjoy playing different kinds of instruments. All these are solid reasons to join, and one or two semesters in class likely check this box, so why do so many stay in Music Together for years- sometimes completing the full 3-year rotation of song collections, some even revisiting those first song collections? There is something more to it, it is personal and it’s powerful, and it depends entirely on you.
The families who stay enrolled, session after session, are those who are seeing something happening at home- they are seeing evidence of their child learning and responding in new ways, and they are experiencing changes in their family life and their parenting. Regardless of what they initially came for, the parents who re-enroll their children repeatedly have consciously decided to listen to the music, use the song activities, and interact with their child in musical ways at home regularly outside of class. By doing so they get very personal glimpses of the power of music at work. Their family life is enhanced, and they see how music is helping them be the parents they want to be. They are excited about the growth they are witnessing in their child’s development, and this spurs their desire for their child to get the fullest benefits of music during the time of biggest impact (0-5 yrs) - when the brain is developing so rapidly.
Parents who think of the program as just the class and are less tuned into the idea of bringing the music together experience home are less inclined to continue in class, most likely because they have far fewer opportunities to recognize those sometimes-fleeting signs of music learning in their child. They haven’t yet experienced the power of music at work in their parenting or maybe they tried it but it didn’t work immediately. Musical parenting is more of a lifestyle than a magic bullet. When children associate the musical interaction with love, affection, and calm – or fun and silliness- and it becomes a routine for your family, that is when you can harness it in a difficult situation. Sometimes it is a lack of confidence as a music maker that can be a barrier to parents trying out musical ways to parent, or maybe some parents simply haven’t tried it yet. Part of the motivation to become so involved and take the music together experience home is dependent upon the parents’ understanding of how to use the music in parenting, but motivation also comes from the knowledge of how children develop musically and how learning unfolds over time.
I have written other articles about how music learning supports all learning and how to support it, so I will just reiterate this essential truth- that YOU are the most effective teacher for your child, because of the parent-child bond. So, whether you can sing in tune or not, your musical model will give them the motivation to play and experiment with their voice, with instruments, and dancing, and the more they do it, the more they will learn and benefit. And just like language learning, music learning starts with reception. Knowing a bit about what is going on during music interaction with you can add to your appreciation of the value of a live musical model.
Music is complex- there is a lot to take in: sounds and silences, pitches, voices, timbres, tonalities, melodies, levels of beats, patterns, tempos, dynamics, and much more. In class and at home, a child’s receptive system is in high gear, listening and watching. The ability to express music builds over time, with repeated opportunities to observe, days, and weeks to listen to the music. In time they will start to experiment and practice what they have heard and seen in class and what they see and hear you do. With each new exposure, they will experience and understand differently and more deeply.
Likewise, with each new session and new music, they will build on their understanding of music, unconsciously or consciously comparing what they are hearing to what they have learned before. They might notice that a song has similarities to another from last semester and while they won't know it is because both are in Phrygian tonality, that doesn't matter - it is the experience, not the labels that matters at this stage. They are learning the nuances and richness of music, they are categorizing music by attributes and ways songs are the same and different. They are experiencing emotional reactions to music and learning that different music evokes different feelings, which is the beginning of learning how to regulate their emotions. Some songs make them feel comforted, other songs make them want to dance. They learn to choose and ask for music to give them that feeling or they learn to ask for a song that they know leads to playing with you, using music to communicate. There is so much more, these are just a few examples.
Music is a way of knowing, almost like another sense, and likewise, knowing music deeply fuels a passion for it- one that lasts a lifetime and gives you continuous comfort, fulfillment, and something to look forward to. Being a music-maker is part of being human, and this is the gift you can give your child.