Family's Influence on Children's Music Learning

Written by Shankar Mahadevan Academy on 05 March 2015


What is Musical Intelligence?
The term ‘musical intelligence’ comes from the theory promoted by Harvard professor of neurophysiology, Howard Gardner, in his landmark book Frames of Mind. The theory of multiple intelligences (MI Theory) suggests that people do not possess various degrees of one general intelligence but that each individual possesses a portfolio of various intelligences, some greater than others. Among the seven separate intelligences, music intelligence (which is inclusive of listening skills), is propagated as a separate intelligence which Gardner deemed equally deserving of development. Individuals with high music intelligence "think music" with greater clarity and are affected more deeply by music, in an aesthetic sense, than those with less music intelligence.
The importance of catching them young: What the experts say...
Establishing the importance of musical intelligence and the need for its development, we come to the all important question of the age from when musical intelligence takes root and develops. Various studies have shown that early childhood, (0-6 years), a period of rapid change and development, is the most critical period in a child's musical growth. 
Edward Gordon, in his book, Learning Sequences in Music: Skill, Content, and Patterns, also identifies early childhood as the period of developmental music aptitude. During primary music development, children create a "box" or mental representation to unscramble the aural images of music. This multifaceted, complex mental representation known as "audiation" is paramount in importance because it is basic to all types of musical thinking and future musical growth. 
The role of the family in enhancing musical intelligence during early childhood
It is important to examine the role played by the immediate family (parents, grandparents and caregivers) in enhancing the musical intelligence and listening skills of a young child. Consider the study undertaken by Kelley and Sutton-Smith. Titled "A Study of Infant Musical Productivity," and published in Music and Child Development, the researchers studied three first-born baby girls from their births till two years later. The infants selected were being reared in families with three contrasting musical backgrounds. One set of parents were professional musicians, another set were musically oriented but not practicing professional musicians, and the third set was not musically oriented - and hence made fewer musical choices in their child-rearing practices. The result the researchers saw was clear. The differences between the family that was not musically oriented and the other two families were startling in that the two children who experienced richer musical environments were considerably more developed in their music behaviours.
Edward Gordon, also states that the child's musical aptitude is vulnerable to positive or negative influences through both instruction and environment. This is because music potential or aptitude, which is based on the complex construct of audiation, is in a state of change. Without sufficient stimulation and exposure, a child has little with which to experiment and learn through his or her musical play. Gordon identified the most typical negative influence on developmental music aptitude as ‘simply neglect’. He felt that the inborn potential for musical growth may actually waste away, without a stimulating environment such as the immediate family’s involvement with music. 
Nurturing musical intelligence: How you can help develop your child’s musical intelligence?
Since the family has such an important role to play in the development of the child’s musical intelligence, what can you as a mother, father, grandparent or caregiver, do to help a young child grow in this area? Dr. James Levine, Director of The Fatherhood Project® at The Families and Work Institute in New York City and author of the Working Fathers: New Strategies for Balancing Work and Family, has a few ideas to offer. In his article titled “Develop your child's musical IQ”, he offers the following suggestions:
Sing to your baby. Research shows that babies as young as two months can detect a melody. Moreover, babies can differentiate between a father's voice and a mother's. Pitch and rhythm are the two most distinct elements of music. When your child hears different voices singing, she gains practice in actively discriminating between different pitches.
Use your car time. Carry a supply of children's music in your car and sing along with your children while you drive. As your child gets older introduce other genres like show tunes, jazz, and classical music. Music helps while away the hours on long car trips and soothes impatience when caught in traffic. Children enjoy the togetherness of this activity.
Make music together. Among the Anang, a highly musical tribe in Nigeria, fathers fashion special drums for their toddlers. Pass out some wooden spoons or chopsticks; tap out a beat with your child on some wooden blocks or a countertop. Put some dried beans or rice in a can to make shakers, and move around with your child as she shakes the rhythm to whatever song is playing on the stereo.
See some live music together. Take your child to see live musicians perform. The concert does not have to be fancy or expensive, just one that will shows your child music is an activity that, with practice, can lead to real accomplishment.”
Additionally, you can also enroll your child for early music education programs such as the one pioneered by the Shankar Mahadevan Academy - Grow with Music. An online initiative started with the aim to provide quality Indian Classical lessons to children and adults alike, the academy offers a specially structured curriculum that starts from 2.5 years till 14.5 years. The Academy, founded by noted singer and music composer, Shankar Mahadevan, was established to provide world-class music education available to people online, in the comfort of their own personal spaces. This aspect works well; especially for children who might otherwise be too shy to open up in front of other kids in a group.
Shankar Mahadevan very strongly believes in the role played by families towards fostering musical intelligence in children. In an interview with Rekha Shah, he says, “Today, the best thing one can gift a talented family member, relative or friend is an opportunity to learn music. And since my music academy is online, it has the potential to really grow and take our music across borders and boundaries.”
Using Music as an agent for better bonding with your child
Forging an emotional connection with your child early on is critical to setting the foundation for a healthy relationship. With time being a premium, fathers have to work a little bit extra to make sure that they set some “we time” with their children. Traditionally, mothers get to spend more time with their children and the father’s role is restricted to involving the children in sports that too once they have crossed the age of 8. Music is one activity that the fathers can engage in with their children right from the time they are a few months old.
Taarant, in his 2002 study explores how music contributes to the development of collective identities. Music can be a fantastic tool in forging a great relationship with your children and spending quality time as a family. Here are a few ideas on how to “bond with music”:
Put together a list of “your songs”: Sing these songs together, Dance and even use them as background music while you are playing a board game together. You can start with a couple of songs and teach your toddler to sway to the rhythm of these songs.
Make music listening a daily ritual: Spend at least 5 minutes alone with your child before you put her to bed, singing and listening to music. A lot of research over many decades have time and again proven that the use of music as a family ritual contributes to strong emotional bonds.
Use music in developing a structure to your child’s day: Even if you are not present physically during the day with your child, identify a few songs for various parts of the day. Familiar songs can be a source of comfort and reassurance. Also fond memories associated with the time you spent while listening to the songs can calm your child.
Create your own song: Music is a wonderful tool for self-expression as well as creativity. Fathers can create their own special song for their child and sing it to them. You can also compose a song that is totally yours with your child.
The bottom line
In summary, the family holds a large responsibility towards the development of music intelligence and future musical understanding. Immediate family members including parents, and grandparents, in addition to caregivers and teachers can do a great deal to provide the necessary stimulation through musical experiences to nurture the young child's music abilities.