Listening to Music With Your Kids

The reason Barista Kids asked me to write the recent post “Music Education is Essential” is a simple one: I am a certified Music Geek. My collection of CDs, LPs, tapes, and 45s reaches into thousands of recordings.

I spent a couple of years blogging about every album I own and only made it into the C’s before giving up the project as hopeless.

So when I became a father, music was high on my list of things to consider. My son was going to need exposure to good music (as defined by me!). But I was wary of pushing my personal tastes on him. In other words, he certainly needs to hear Miles Davis and The Ramones, but I had to accept that Bill Frisell and Mission of Burma might not be his cup of formula.

But what I feared most went by the names Raffi and Barney. I pictured long rides in the car, forced to enjoy cloying, saccharine kiddie music that wasn’t doing either of us any real good. “I don’t think there’s any big advantage to ‘kid’s music,’” says Leslie Lucas, director of Music Together of Montclair and Summit & Chatham. “I remember my child watching Barney, and I didn’t want to play him that stuff. We played him Santana, Miles Davis, Earth Wind & Fire, Michael Jackson, classical music, we exposed him to all of that.” Her point was that kids just like music, and if you make listening to music a fun, interactive family experience, it doesn’t have to be sung by a purple dinosaur.

I’ve been trying to mix it up for my son, playing records and singing songs from my collection, but I’m also building a little pile of children’s music made by bands I like: They Might Be Giants, the Baby Loves Jazz series (played by seasoned NYC jazz vets), Elizabeth Mitchell (who’s in grown-up band Ida) and Dan Zanes (formerly of the Del Fuegos) all make music for kids that doesn’t talk down to little listeners. The latter two often use simple folk tunes that have stood the test of time and have inter-generational appeal. “Folk music is our tribal culture’s music,” says Lucas. “There are a lot of basic folk songs that are usually considered kids songs, like ‘Skip to My Lou’ or ‘Pop Goes the Weasel.’”

I’m trying to tell myself that I don’t care what my son listens to, just so long as he listens. But no parent really means that: we all think our music is the only good music…but we also forget that we probably came to our music in purposeful opposition to our parents’ record collections. So for now, my one-year-old son is listening to Bob Dylan and Bonnie “Prince” Billy, The Clash and Coltrane, The Magnetic Fields and Mingus, Superchunk and Stevie Wonder, Talking Heads and A Tribe Called Quest, plus The Jonathan Schwartz show on weekends. He naps with his kiddie CDs on, and rides in the car listening to what’s on my iPod. Ideally, I’d love it if he eventually wants to listen to my music with me; but I’m really just going to be content if he’s listening to something and digging his music as much as I dig mine.

What sort of music do you play for your kids? And when do kids start defining their own tastes in music?

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  1. Ah, the thought of your little one listening to Will Odham’s “Death to Everyone” is precious!

    Better that than that “formerly of Del Fuegos” (who had ONE marginal song, yet are frequently described as “influential,” by some- which is a JOKE to anyone who listened to music in the 80’s) stuff the purple suited/freaky haired Zanes plays.

    Kids LOVE music and Brain, you make what I think is the most important point: exposure. I hate that “kids music” stuff because I find it reductive and simple (in a bad way). Rather, kids should just be exposed to music. Real music. Not music “designed” for them.

    That said, I also recognize that at some point kids have their own music they like. I’m cool with that (to this: Justin Beiber is for tweens and kids, that my college aged students or even some adults don’t like him is irrelevant), so while the little prof watches and sings along to Big Time Rush a group “designed” for tweens, I find it cute because it was HIS choice. (Though we counter it with a strong dose of 107.1).

  2. When my daughter was one or two year old my mother got her a “Wee Sing” cd. She loved it and I did not know any better. After 6 months of listening it I was combing the local libraries for cd’s. I gave the Wee Sing cd to a “friend” expecting her first who seemed to know everything about child rearing before having children.

    I discovered the same thing…. kids like music. If you have not already give the Putamayo kids cd’s a whirl. We think they are fantastic. We love “African Playground”, “Sing Along With Putamayo”and “World Playground” and “French Playground”. Another fun one I gifted to happy friends is “Peter, Paul and Mommy”.

    We have had some of the Putamayo kids songs playing during cocktail parties and people will ask us what cd is play because they love it!

  3. I have TMBG, Music Together, Lullabies from around the World, Laurie Berkner – and we like all of them. Yes WE! (We are the dinosaurs got me through a winter.)

    The kids also love The Beatles, Band of Horses, James Brown, Blondie, 4 Non Blondes, and so on. (They like musicians that don’t have B names, too.) A good Sousa march gets them going. As does Tik Tok, but let’s not mention that.

    When do they start defining their own taste? Well, both of mine are already vocal about what they do and don’t want to hear. They are more forgiving of music geared towards children, but they have their favorites there too.

  4. Every knows we love Dan Zanes in the Gilmore house. TMBG are also a favorite, as is Elizabeth Mitchell. My oldest has performed on stage with her and her family several times.

    We also loved Music Together when they were babies and we listened to those “kid” songs along side our hip hop, jazz, rock, alternative, folk, and R&B favorites. Because of that, my girls love all kinds of music.

  5. I have been listening to music with my daughter since her mother was 7 months pregnant. I have the ENTIRE collections of Putumayo, Putumayo Kids, and Ellipsis Arts Lullabies. And, of course, we listen to all of the jazz, swing, and symphony standards.

    I goal is to cultivate within my daughter not only a refined loved for what I consider REAL music, but also an embedded sense of, and appreciation for, all cultures. At 11 months old, she has already experiences, B.B. King, Sweet Honey in the Rock, and Michael Franti & Spearhead live in concert.

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