Children under 5 years old are usually too young to begin any formal music tuition, but it’s certainly not too young for them to get a taste of what it’s like to play an instrument! Babies and toddlers love noisy toys, and will enjoy the chance to play with anything that makes an interesting sound. Encouraging them to make noises, rather than telling them to be quiet, will ensure that they engage creatively with the simple instruments laid out for them. They will explore the different sounds they can make and, as they grow older, they will develop an interest in more sophisticated instruments.
Treasure chest of simple instruments
Build an appealing treasure chest, full of exciting simple instruments! Make it bright and eye-catching, and vary its contents regularly. Have it in a place that is easy to reach, and try not to impose too many restrictions on when your child is allowed to play with it. Allow it to become a normal part of their routine and play time, and their curiosity will lead to very musical things!
Things to include:
- Maracas – something that children can shake. Choose something with a narrow handle, which is easy for little ones to hold on to.
- Drums – children can hit drums with their hands or with drumsticks. Play rhythms for them to repeat, or ask them to tap along to a piece of music.
- Tambourine – kids can shake this as they dance around the room to their favourite music
- Bells – children love bells! Sleigh bells, especially, are great fun to play in Christmas songs
- Woodblock – great for imitating horses, these are also good for tapping a pulse or rhythm
- Whistle/recorder – they might drive you mad, but children will learn lots from experimenting with different pitches, and with how long they can hold notes for
- Harmonica – very tricky to play a comprehensible tune, but lots of fun can be had from trying
- Keyboard – one of the simplest tuned instruments to begin with, because a sound is so easily made. Children will love making up tunes on a keyboard and, as they get older, you can begin to show them some simple ones yourself
Playing with different simple instruments
Try the following games and exercises:
Tapping a pulse
Play a steady pulse, and ask your child to do the same. Try speeding up and slowing down, and encourage them to copy you. When they’ve got the hang of it, put some music on and ask them to continue tapping the beat on their instrument.
See how many different sounds can be created using just one instrument. Tap different parts of the instrument, use different levels of force, and use different body parts to play it!
Tapping a rhythm
Tap out a short rhythm on an instrument, and ask your child to do the same (‘call and response’). Gradually make the rhythm longer and more complex. You could also introduce an element of Simon Says, and reverse the roles so that you are copying them.
Ask your child to imagine they are different animals, and ask them to play their instrument in a way that represents who they are. Try these to begin with:
- Elephant – loud, slow, low
- Snake – hissing, slithering, quietly
- Puppy – energetic, yappy, loud
Be as noisy and inventive and creative as you can. Show them how to use each instrument, but then allow them the freedom to play them on their own – they may surprise you with their creativity. Communicate with them all the time, discovering more about which instruments they enjoy, and helping them to create the sounds they want to.