[This article was written by Maryann Harman, founder of Music with Mar., Inc.]
In “So you think you can record children’s music?“, I wrote about how just because you are a musician doesn’t mean you can write children’s music. It seemed fitting to have that blog followed by “What Do I Need to Know About Child Development as a Children’s Artist?”
As with anything, you should know who you are working with. In the performance field, this is called knowing your audience. If you were a comedian, you wouldn’t tell male sexist jokes to a predominantly female audience. (Well, you may; it just wouldn’t go over well.) A teacher wouldn’t teach quantum physics to Kindergartners. And you wouldn’t sing a song that lasted more than 2 minutes to a young child. Now, I’m not saying that can’t be done. It would, however, involve a lot of props and movement. When it was over, their attention may have all been spent on that one song.
‘Children’s music’ is not just one big block.
There are many subdivisions of the genre based on various traits. Let’s break it down by age:
Infant — music for newborns
Toddlers — babies ranging in age from 12 months to 3 yrs
Pre-School — 4 and 5 year olds
Kindergarten — 5 and 6 year olds
Young school-agers — First & Second Graders
Older Elementary — Third through Fifth Grade
Here are the basics about how children respond to music:
1. A child’s attention span is equal to about one minute for each year of his life. In other words, a 2 year old can pay attention for 2 minutes, a 3 year old for 3 and so on. It is believed that once you are a concrete thinker (around age 12 or 13), you can focus for 22 minutes without moving. Movement and having the audience participate with you is important at all ages. With children, you have to get them moving a little bit more often.
2. Children love to laugh. The sillier the better. They like making silly sounds and silly faces and they like doing silly dances. When you are silly, they enjoy you even more because you tell them it is okay to act that way.
3. Choose your words wisely; they will repeat them. A child’s value system is in place by age seven. Your words will become part of their vocabulary.
4. Be sure they understand what your words mean. An interesting story to demonstrate this is my singing Little Bunny Foo Foo to my niece in FL. The bunny hops through a forest. She had no idea what I was talking about at the ripe old age of 2. If this bunny was hopping on a beach, she would have gotten that. It took me a while to make that realization.
5. If you are wanting to teach something, repetition is key. It takes a child 1200 times of exposure to a concept before it becomes a learned concept.
6. Parents will enjoy that their child likes to jump around and have fun with you. They also want to know that being with you (either in concert or on a CD) does not make them get hyperactive and out of control. Mix your songs up.
7. Children’s heart rates cannot sustain high energy as long as adults can. Their heart muscles are not fully developed. Again, mix your songs up – high energy, lower energy, a song while seated and then maybe back up again.
8. Expand your horizons. Use different genres and help to contribute to the child’s ability to be a wise music consumer.
9. Sing in a register children can sing along to. It is best to use notes between Middle C and B above Middle C. Babies hear higher tones better than lower tones. (This is why they respond better to female voices.)
10. Choose topics that are relevant, things that are part of their world. Spend time with children and learn what they care about, laugh about and react to. For infants, it’s all about bonding, smiling and listening to sounds. As they get older, their interests and abilities expands and so do your topic choices.
Always take the songs for a test drive. Children will show you what will work and what won’t work. I once wrote a song that had four repetitions. During the fourth rep, they started asking if the song was over yet. I shortened it to three. Now, they call out, “Do it again!” If you want to be successful, understand children. Hopefully, this is a good tool to set you on your way. I welcome feedback.
– Maryann Harman, BA Music/MA Education, Founder Music with Mar., Inc.
[Picture of girl with glasses from Shutterstock.]