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4 Things to Know for Teaching Music to Kids

  • Marcia Washburn Home School Enrichment
  • Published Feb 20, 2015
4 Things to Know for Teaching Music to Kids

“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing.”  Psalm 100:1-2

Maybe you memorized this rich psalm as a child, as I did. But then, perhaps you were pretty convinced that your “joyful noise” was more noise than singing. Many adults are convinced they can’t sing. Often this is based on the thoughtless words of an adult who told them at a young age that they couldn’t carry a tune. So they have spent a lifetime thinking they can’t sing. The fact is, most children can’t sing on pitch alone until they are at least 8-10 years old. Younger children can sometimes sing in tune if someone else sings or plays along with them. It is the exceptional child who sings well without support during the early grades.

Regardless of their own perceived talent, most Christian parents are eager for their children to experience the joys of music. Making music opens the way for artistic expression, develops physical coordination, provides social benefits, and teaches self-discipline. And most importantly, music is a gift from God—one that we can take with us into eternity. Martin Luther wrote, “I truly desire that all Christians would love and regard as worthy the lovely gift of music, which is a precious, worthy, and costly treasure given mankind by God . . . next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in this world . . . This precious gift has been given to man alone that he might thereby remind himself of the fact that God has created man for the express purpose of praising and extolling God.”

But many homeschoolers have trouble fitting music into their school days. Time constraints, expense, and lack of confidence all contribute to the problem. Some choose private lessons or enroll their children in a choir. Both are wonderful experiences. But there are many ways you can bring music into your homeschool, even if you can’t carry a tune or read music.

Our Musical Heritage

Don’t let your children grow up without knowing the patriotic and folk songs of our country. Explore to find recordings of well-trained children singing such old favorites as “Billy Boy,” “Little Red Caboose,” and “O Susanna.” Be sure they know the words to “America the Beautiful,” “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and “This Land is Your Land.” Sing them in the car or when taking a break. Talk about the lyrics; help them see the humor in “the sun so hot I froze to death” in “Polly Wolly Doodle.”Research the stories behind the songs. Learn a common song in several languages.1

Musical Vocabulary

  • Dynamic markings are the means composers use to communicate how loud the music should be played. We use Italian terms for them, because the concept of writing music, as we know it today, was developed in Italy. Choose a song you know well, such as “Are You Sleeping, Brother John?” to teach the concept of dynamics in music. Make signs with cartoon figures demonstrating words such as pianissimo or mezzo-forte. As one child holds up a sign, everyone in the family must sing the song at that dynamic level.
  • To develop volume control, hide a small object while one child is out of the room. The family helps him find it by singing louder when he is close to it and softer when he is further away. Carry the learning over into daily life as you remind your boys that their inside voices should be mezzo-piano (medium soft) and to reserve their forte (loud) voices for outdoors.2
  • Tempo means time in music—how fast the music is played. Teach tempo markings while taking a break from your schoolwork. Sing “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” very slowly, touching each body part as you sing; this tempo is called largo. Gradually work your way up to presto, when you will be moving so fast everyone will fall to the floor in a pile of giggles.3

Musical Instruments

  • Collect or make musical instruments. Make a drum from an oatmeal box (much quieter than a saucepan and spoon!). Place dried beans between two paper plates and tape or staple them shut for the sound of maracas. Stretch rubber bands over a shoe box to make a stringed instrument to strum. Make sand blocks by gluing or stapling sandpaper on wood blocks. Put on some lively march music (try John Philip Sousa) and stage an impromptu parade.
  • Consider learning to play the recorder. This historic instrument is not difficult to learn. I once taught a dozen homeschool moms, many of whom had never read music or played an instrument, to play the recorder in one hour. Immediately afterward, I gave a follow-up lesson to the children, with moms present. The moms continued learning and teaching at home, and the children played a few pieces at their year-end event a few weeks later. A recorder and Recorder Time beginner’s book set can be found at for about $5.00. Perhaps your support group will want to do this as a group activity, but any homeschool parent with fingers and a mouth can teach her own children the rudiments.
  • If your child shows an interest in music after you’ve taught him what you can, offer him the opportunity to take private music lessons. Students learn to play alone and sometimes in groups, and can often bless others with their music. Piano is a wonderful foundation for learning other instruments or for voice. Research shows that music training, specifically piano instruction, leads to scores an average of 34% higher on tests measuring the spatial-temporal ability used in math, chess, science, and engineering. If finances are tight, perhaps the teacher would be willing to barter for baked goods or services such as window-washing or lawn care.

Odds and Ends

  • To teach attentiveness, clap a short rhythm pattern and have your child echo it back. Gradually clap longer patterns. Have him color or paint to the music sometimes. Toss a ball or beanbag (easier to catch than a ball) back and forth in time with the music. Have your child clap, sing, and march with music you have in your home. Talk about how the music makes him feel and what kind of moving he wants to do when he hears that music. Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals (I prefer the orchestra version) is a wonderful selection of short pieces for movement and interpretation.
  • Do simple dances that don’t require partners or large groups. Consider “Here We Go Looby-Loo,” “Hokey-Pokey,” or “London Bridges.”
  • Attend local concerts. Watch for mention of recitals offered by local piano and voice studios. Take advantage of youth concerts offered by local symphonies. Ask your Chamber of Commerce about other options.
  • Play quiet hymns and Bible choruses to greet the new day—they set the tone for worship so much better than the blaring of the TV. I like to collect recordings of Christian music played on different instruments—hammered dulcimers, mandolins, fife and drum, and even the bagpipes. Hearing these reminds me of the worldwide Church and the fellowship we enjoy with believers near and far.
  • Ask God, the Father of music, to show you how to bring music into your home. Soon you and your family will be “making a joyful noise.” 

Published on March 11, 2009

©2008 by Marcia K. Washburn, who holds a Master’s degree in music education. Check out her new Web site at for additional music education ideas. Watch for her latest book, Talent to Treasure: Building a Profitable Music Teaching Business, releasing in early 2009.

1,2,3The words to “Are You Sleeping, Brother John” (in several languages), illustrated definitions of dynamic markings, and illustrated tempo definitions, can be found at

This article was originally published in the Jan/Feb ’09 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. Get more great homeschooling help by downloading our FREE report entitled “The Secret to Homeschooling Freedom” by visiting