5 Tips For Choosing Songs your children will learn from and love

Music to Engage, Educate and Entertain Children

As a music educator and a mom, I am extremely excited when I hear high quality children’s music. A well written song can educate, entertain and engage children physically, cognitively and emotionally. It’s magical to observe this connection in my own child and in the kids I teach at Set the Tone

Here are my top five criteria for selecting music at Set the Tone:

  1. High quality song writing - (lyrics with positive messages, sentimental or fun, singable keys for kids, imaginative)
  2. High level of musicianship of the performers - (both singing and playing instruments)
  3. Variety of music tempos and dynamics (music for dancing, music for relaxing etc…)
  4. Can be used to teach a musical concept such as pitch, rhythm or dynamics
  5. AND maybe most importantly… enjoyable for both kids and grown-ups…

Because let’s face it, a favourite song is like a favourite book…you WILL be hearing it over and over and over again. 

Which leads me to this series of blogs where I am going to interview artists, review and discuss some of my favourite music selections for children. 

First up is the wonderful Nova Scotian Duo - Donna & Andy who are celebrating their 20th year of performing together. Full disclosure here, Donna was my associate teacher many moons ago when I was learning to become a music teacher. I have been following her growth as a song writer and entertainer and have had the good fortune to host Donna & Andy at a few of my schools. Donna & Andy have created a wealth of music for kids that meets and surpasses my criteria. At the end of the interview is a link to their site where you can download some of their music for FREE as part of their 20th anniversary celebration. 

1. Why do you think music is important for young children?

Music is what makes us human. It is a way to share thoughts, feelings, mood, movement, etc. Music is a language children feel and understand on a physical and instinctive level. Teaching children to make music with their voices and bodies is empowering.  Music helps organize things, helps us remember things, gives us information and allows us to pass on history and traditions. Music is fun!

2.  What inspires you? Tell us a little about your creative process.

I love to watch the world around me. I watch people. I listen to a variety of music. I try to imagine how people feel, things that tug at the heartstrings, things that amuse me and make me laugh. I often watch for things that are unique or out of the ordinary, or looking at ordinary things in a new way. I like to write music that is positive, especially when writing for children. I love beautiful melodies and harmonies. The melodies that I write are often the kind that “stick in your head” which is sometimes not always appreciated!

3. What is your earliest musical memory from childhood? 

My earliest musical memory from childhood is sitting at the piano with my mother and starting piano lessons. With a mom who was a piano teacher and two older sisters who were already playing the piano it was a natural fit to follow in their footsteps. I remember the red cover of the piano book and the song was an exercise to practice thumb and index fingers of both hands. There was also a song called The Birthday Party.

4. When did you begin “formal” music training? What did it entail?

My formal music training began at age 5 when I started piano lessons. I took lessons from my mother until I was around 8 years old. At that time I started with a local music teacher. When I was 12 years old I started violin lessons and by grade 9 I also took some voice lessons. In grade 9 I was a member of the community orchestra that rehearsed in a community a 45 minute drive from my house. When I was in grade 11, my violin teacher founded the Nova Scotia Youth Orchestra and I joined that ensemble as well. My parents were dedicated to my musical pursuits as well as those of my four siblings. They spent many hours driving us all to and from lessons and rehearsals. They were very happy when I got my driver’s license and I was able to manage my own transportation. It meant they needed to have a vehicle at my disposal, but at least they had a chance to stay home once in a while! 

5.  Do you have a favourite children’s performer? 

Both of us agree that our favourite children’s performer would be Fred Penner. He is creative and imaginative and he doesn’t talk down to the children for whom he sings. Once we started singing for children it was our great pleasure to meet Fred and go out to dinner with him. We have had several occasions where we have been able to meet and chat with Fred and we consider him a gem among our musical friends. 

6. How did you create musical experiences with your own children? 

I, Donna, had three boys who were not as interested in music as I was. It just wasn’t their “thing’. My oldest son, Benjamin, is really the only one of the three who I would consider is interested in music at all.  He played French horn in high school and he played his horn on one of our Donna & Andy CDs. Two of my three boys also sang on the first two CDs we recorded. It was fun to include them and a few nieces and nephews in the recording process.  Benjamin also sang in the Acadia Youth Choir the year they premiered of my songs. I bribed my youngest son to stay in band by getting him two guinea pigs. Nathan only spent one year in band and I think we had those guinea pigs for at least five years. That wasn’t such a great deal.

Benjamin eventually picked up the acoustic and bass guitar and is a fine player. We (Donna & Andy) did a CD release concert and Benjamin played bass and guitar for our concert. It was a real pleasure to have him play with us. I asked him if he needed music. “Nope.” When I asked him how he knew what to play, he replied, “I have heard all your songs all my life and I know how they go.” 

Now I have grandchildren who love to sing and play music with me. Maybe I just had to wait 30 years.

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7. What advice would you give parents for choosing music for their children?

Choose music with lyrics that are appropriate for children to internalize. They will listen to their favourite songs over and over and often sing along with gusto. If the songs they listen to on a regular basis have inappropriate messages, poor language, etc. that is what they will internalize. I would also try to choose songs that are in keys that are the right pitch for the child to sing along with good vocal models. 

Sing with your kids or at least expose them to music that they can sing!!!!! Provide them opportunities to make music – it won’t hurt them if they don’t continue, and it may provide them with a lifelong skill that brings them much joy (or it may only provide them with a guinea pig for a few years….:) 

To download complimentary music from Donna & Andy please click here.

Want to explore the magic of music with your child? Set the Tone is offering a new session of group classes for children ages 6months-4 years beginning on April 4, 2017. For more information, click here