Holidays provide a chance for listening, singing and playing together

By Laura Yeh

The holidays provide a wonderful and natural opportunity for parents to introduce their children to music and the joy it can bring all their lives.

Christmas carols and other seasonal songs are meant to be sung and generally have a narrow range of notes, making them easy to play on simple instruments that young kids can learn. Families can listen to music together as they cook, decorate and wrap gifts. Babies and toddlers enjoy listening to all kinds of happy holiday tunes as a beginning to their music education. For tots, this can be the start of a stimulating new world.

Kids who learn to play a musical instrument use their brains in ways that boost their ability to learn in school. Music lessons and practice require them to use problem-solving skills as they break down complex passages into smaller parts, identify difficult parts and come up with solutions.

Music lessons and practice also help boost kids’ confidence, patience and persistence — character traits that help them in all areas of life, but not all families can invest the time and money required for lessons. For these families, the ocarina is a great first instrument.

The ocarina is a pocket-sized wind instrument that dates back thousands of years in cultures around the globe. Kids can generally pick out simple carols and folk tunes on the ocarina without the formal lessons required to learn to play more complicated instruments.

The ocarina also has a soothing sound that is great for small children and parents! It is different and unique in a way that kids are inclined to find it calming, whether they are playing or listening. It can also be very upbeat if kids want to play songs like Jingle Bells or Frosty the Snowman. Younger kids in particular love peppy music, singing and dancing with parents and having fun.

Parents and kids can also practice and learn together. This is one of the great opportunities of music whether families are singing, playing or even just listening: a time for families to be together in an unhurried, relaxed way. This is especially welcome during the busy holidays — a time to slow down and be together instead of running to the next activity.

Some kids will go on to become accomplished musicians, making music and performance a first love in their lives. Others will enjoy a more casual experience, picking up their instrument and playing just for the joy, relaxation and creativity of it. Either way, parents who share their love of music with their children give them a lifelong gift.

Here are some tips for parents who want to introduce their child to a musical instrument:

See which instrument excites your child. Taking your child to a concert is a great way to introduce a number of instruments at once. If they like a particular one, take them to a music store or someplace they can touch and try it. If they are not enthralled with a particular instrument, show them others until you find one that sparks their interest.

Find your child’s favorite style. Don’t be disappointed if classical violin or piano is not your child’s favorite. They can get the same benefits from learning various different styles of music. The idea is not to be too narrow or limiting but to let your child explore.

Make music part of your home life. Kids that have come to me from homes where families don’t sing often learn a lot slower than those from more musical families.

If mom has been singing to a child since infancy, the child will have a more developed sense of pitch and timing. Music is like a language. If you are really immersed in it, constantly listening to it, you are going to pick up the language much more quickly than by studying it as a separate part of your life.

Make the timing right. When a child can begin learning an instrument depends on the instrument and the child. For violin I recommend most students start between 3 and 5 before they have school and other activities vying for their attention. Depending on methodology, 4 or 5 is a good time to start learning piano or guitar. Students need to be a bit older for most wind instruments — about 7 for flute, about 9 for clarinet. The exception is the ocarina, which can be started as young as 3. Of course children can sing starting as babies.

Be involved with your child. It’s important for parents to be involved with their child’s music practice. Younger children especially won’t know how to practice without some parental guidance. Kids often want to play through a song – if they get stuck at a certain spot, their inclination is to go back to the beginning. Parents can help by encouraging them to work on the difficult parts separately, and then put them back into the song.

Laura Yeh is a performer and music educator trained in the Suzuki method of instruction who teaches violin and ocarina at the St. Louis School of Music to children as young as 3 and adults. Laura and her husband Dennis have collaborated with ocarina makers around the world to produce new models of the ocarina. They have designed and produced many unique and innovative ocarinas sold by STL Ocarina ( ).

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