You may be thinking “how does a baby learn the piano?” But is that really what goes on in a baby music class?
Babies are innately musical and have been exposed to rhythm long before they were born. Through attending baby music classes, parents and children can learn to navigate the sensory world they live in and develop lifelong skills.
Babies are extremely musical creatures. They have been exposed to rhythm since the time their pulse starts (around 21 days gestation). When we hear the term “he marches to the beat of his own drum” it is literally true. Everything in that baby’s body is developed around the beat of his pulse.
Inside the womb is also a rhythm symphony. There is the mother’s heartbeat and her breathing, not to mention the lilt of language and the beat of music that can be heard from outside the womb.
Rhythm and music is all around babies for months before they are even born.
The role of sound in learning for every human being can’t be under-estimated. The way in which we process sound determines all sorts of things like muscle tone, coordination, speech and language, even how we do everyday tasks like brush our teeth and cut with scissors. It is through rhythm and movement that children (especially babies) interpret the world and make neural connections for higher level learning.
What Age Should My Baby Start?
Many parents think that they should be seeing evidence of babies interacting with music before they should start formal music sessions. They might see their baby bopping to some music at 9 months of age or rocking themselves at 11 months of age.
Having taught early childhood music for over 30 years and lectured about it for the past 15, I can tell you that the earlier the better. I would not be taking any baby to any outside experience before they are 6 weeks of age because it takes that long for the immune system to come onboard, but anytime after that for face to face classes is a great time to start.
Even before then, there are virtual classes available (I teach them for a great option for newborns while Mum is still at home) which allow the safety of home but allow learning to start.
There Are So Many Baby Music Classes Out There. How Do I Choose The Right One For Me?
Not all baby classes are created equal and there are a few things to consider before choosing one for your baby:
Has the educator had experience with tiny babies?
Teaching a baby that is 2 months old is entirely different from a baby that is 8 months old. You need an educator that is aware of a young baby’s limitations, can observe and modify activities for you and your baby specifically, and give good guidance as to how you can extend the learning at home.
Does the program have a history you can trust?
I see many programs pop up that last a few months, some a year or so then close down. They are written by individuals who decide they want to teach and run classes but don’t have the expertise or knowledge behind them to write developmentally appropriate programs.
Does your teacher educate you about your baby’s development and how you can help in the process?
You need to find a program that runs on the philosophy of child-centered and that the parent is the best teacher. At this age, the educator should be a facilitator, guiding you and your baby to success.
Process not performance.
You want a program that is process based, not performance based. Babies need time to explore and to process their world. They don’t have auditory filtration processes in place yet and their brain processing is much slower than ours.
That can lead to becoming dizzy if you spin them too fast or hurting their hearing if the music is too loud. Choose someone who understands the learning is a process, not a performance that has to be completed through an activity.
Babies need excellent quality music.
Choose a program with good quality music with rich arrangements, not just simple nursery rhymes. Many think that babies can’t comprehend complex musical structures, but the opposite is true. Their brains thrive on the structure and patterns of arrangements that have depth and complexity to them.
Choose a program with natural sounds rather than synthesized sounds.
Rich orchestral tones not synthesized reproductions of orchestral pieces, a variety of singing in different ranges (children, men and women) and music in a range of styles. Babies need variety in their auditory diet just as much as we do!
The class must incorporate music and movement.
Movement is essential for a baby’s brain to make neural connections and adding music to the activity ignites all areas of the brain.
Do they repeat activities over a few lessons?
Programs that boast a constant change of activities and “never doing the same activity twice” are gears towards adults not babies. Babies need lots of repetition to make new neural connections strong and to retain the skill learned.
Activities that repeat and extend in complexity over a few weeks is what will help your baby to learn.
Does the program provide parent tools for at home?
More than just a CD, does the program provide parent education on early childhood development so you can learn why the activities you do in class are beneficial?
Does it provide you with guidance and activities you can do at home to extend the learning 24/7? Once again, this provides the necessary repetition to see better gains in skills.
What Are the Benefits of Baby Music Classes?
There are huge benefits of baby music classes, many of which you wouldn’t even attribute to music sessions. Some of them are:
- Socialization for baby. Babies are really social beings and love being with other babies. They delight in the sounds and facial expressions of their peers and learn a lot from listening to and looking at them. It is a great time to teach “gentle hands” and other concepts, all while in the safety of a class where other parents can help navigate those learning processes.
- Socialization for you. Having a baby can be a lonely time. Attending a regular baby music class gives you the opportunity to make friends, organize playdates outside of class and form relationships, many of which stay for life.
- Bonding time. For the 45 mins a week, your focus is purely on your baby. You can dance and rock together, play and laugh together and bond through shared experiences. That one on one time is really important, and something that may even be able to be shared by having Dad attend some sessions. They don’t get the same amount of time with children as Mothers do, so it may be an opportunity for bonding between Dad and baby too.
- Auditory experiences. Sound is vital for your child’s learning. Using movement with music is even more powerful. In a baby music class you have the opportunity to be more targeted with your exposure to music and to fine tune those experiences for learning.
- Movement is the key to all learning. Baby music classes are all about moving. Group dances, free dances, moving up and down to the music or a rhyme, rolling, clapping, exploring their body. Research have shown that there is additional benefit in doing this as a group with others, not to mention more fun!
- The musical skills learned as a baby (especially in the first 3 years of life) they keep forever. You aren’t just learning things for the hear and now, you are setting up your child for success for years down the track.
- Building brain connections. Music and movement are the best way to build your baby’s brain and you can also learn how to use music to calm the brain when they are stressed.
What Should I Expect in a Baby Music Class?
It is not uncommon to think about musical experiences based on your own past experiences. For instance, if you learned piano as a youth, you might be wondering how classes teach piano to babies.
Baby classes are developmentally appropriate and as such, will use non-tuned percussion instruments that are baby safe (specifically manufactured for babies from birth). These might include, bells, scarves or shaker type instruments.
Just because your baby might not play other instruments it doesn’t mean they won’t be exposed to them. In my baby classes I bring in my violin, my flute and my ukulele so they can hear different timbres.
You should expect movement, and as they can’t move on their own, that means you will be moving with them. This can be as limited or extravagant as you like (and as your baby likes) and can be adapted to your likes and needs. This may take the form or a circle dance, free dancing or movement or simple movements for lap bounces or other activities.
Babies link language with it’s meaning through movement so there should be lots of moving high when hearing high music or saying “high” etc.
What If I am Not Musical? What If My Baby Isn’t Musical?
This is a common question and one that you don’t need to worry about. You probably don’t know it, but if you can brush your teeth and walk, you are using rhythm in very complex ways. Rhythm is a very large part of musicality. You can already keep the beat and it doesn’t take much to learn to keep it to an external source if you are listening to music.
All babies are musical as I have talked about so the important thing is to use the time to be together. Focus on one another and just be in the moment. Anything can be modified, and you will find you learn a lot about music in the process.
Do I need to Sing in Baby Music Classes?
Your baby loves your voice. Period. I don’t care if you think you are tone deaf, they love your voice. It is comforting for them to hear you speak and research has shown that if you sing to your baby (even if you think you can’t sing) it helps their development. You can’t teach a child to sing out of tune if you don’t sing out of tune. So dust off those vocal chords, crank the music up and sing, sing sing!