Do Children Need Music Just for Them?

By Kim Wallach

This posting was in response to a question addressed to the CMN email list: “Do we really need music that’s aimed at kids?”  There were many thoughtful responses, reflecting various perspectives.  Here is CMN Board Member Kim Wallach’s response.

I started playing music for children when I was in high school in the early 1970s. My last semester of college, I was hired to play music once a week at a nursery school. The night before my first day, I went around my hallway collecting all the children’s songs my classmates remembered.

By 1978, I was teaching music as part of a Moms and Tots program, learning as I went. What the children liked, I kept. What they didn’t like got thrown out. I learned that children like songs that repeat, and like to repeat those songs a lot. They like to practice language. They like humor. They like pretty melodies, and also, simple melodies. They like different instruments. They like hand motions and moving to music. They like stories, and they like to be able to add things to songs and change them as they go. They like surprise! They like it if you are having fun as well.

They like it if the song could be about them, and they like it if the song introduces them to something new and strange. They like songs that get faster and test their language skills. They like songs that get longer and test their memory. They also like beautiful, and dreamy. They like to clap and stamp. They like their names sung, except when they are shy, and don’t like their names sung.

If I like a song, the chances are pretty good the children I sing with will like it too. I agree with those who feel that the language and the subject matter need to be appropriate to the location, age and development of the intended audience, and it makes me cringe to see little girls dance and sing “sexy” songs. It is my choice not to play that music for students.

I actually prefer simpler arrangements for younger children so that they can hear each part, and each instrument separately, before hearing them combined. I remember being very challenged to try to figure out which part was the melody and which the harmony on Peter Paul and Mary records when I was a kid. On their concert album, they had an introduction to “Puff” that said, “It is the only children’s song we know that has all the important elements of every children’s song: simplicity, so that the child can understand the song, pathos, to prepare the child for later traumatic experiences …”

As children’s musicians, we have lots of different ideas about what the characteristics of children’s music should be – what we like, what we don’t like. I think there is a lot of room for lots of different kinds of music, for kids and for families and for adults, and if we are lucky, we find and get to play the music we like for other people who will like it, too.

2 comments

  1. I think there is room for both, music aimed just for children and music that adults and children share. We do have to make sure that children have music that sends them messages they can understand and grow from. As children’s musicians, it is important to make sure that message is delivered with music children will latch on to and want to hear over and over again. Some of the best music from my childhood that I remember came from Raffi and Marlo Thomas & Friends’ album, Free to Be You and Me! But I also grew up on The Mammas & Pappas,The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkle.

  2. Kim, that is really thoughtful and thought provoking. I haven’t done any systematic study or research, but I find that children also enjoy “classical” music. And it seems that your observation about simpler arrangements with uncluttered melody lines holds true for this music too.

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