Every Child Is a Budding Composer

Belinda Takahashi, Ph.D.
July 29, 2018

Whether or not your child is destined to be the next Mozart or Mendelssohn, all children share a natural love of music and the ability to create it on their very own. Children are firebrands, lead by their hearts and natural curiosity without inhibitions or notions of what's tasteful and what's not, what's wrong or what's right. Professor Barry Cooper, from the University of Manchester who has investigated more than 100 child composers from music history says, "Children, less impeded by taboos, often have original and attractive ideas and some of the greatest composers went on to develop their childhood ideas in later life."

From the get go, it is obvious that children are inherently creative and musical.  We've all seen babies light up and smile, toddlers shake and wiggle, and preschoolers get up and sing to their favorite songs. But, children can take their natural enthusiasm for music one step further by actively participating and creating their own music, becoming composers themselves.

Creating original music is not only empowering, it can be a wonderful springboard into a world of creativity promoting self-expression, problem solving, good communication skills, teamwork, and an appreciation for the arts.  As Leonard Bernstein once said, "Music can name the unnamable and communicate the unknowable."

Here are ten suggestions to help your child unleash her inner composer.  

1. Put Hands and Feet to Work!  

Put on some music and have your child express his reactions through movement. Ask him to dance in a way that best reflects the mood of the piece. See how his movements change when the music changes.  Interpreting music through movement will help him to become a more thoughtful listener and an active participant in the musical experience.  

2. What Do You Hear?

Is the song fast or slow? Is it happy or sad? What types of instruments does your child hear?  Are the sounds low or high? Deconstructing a piece of music will allow your child to have a better understanding about the compositional process and serve to demystify it.  Provide your child with a vast array of musical styles and acknowledge her preferences (even if they're not your favorite).  Children already have an understanding of simple concepts that may surprise you.

3. What Story is the Music Telling?

Put on a piece of music that is instrumental only. Have your child make up his own story based on the music that he hears. For example, maybe the pizzicato strings are raindrops and the quick flute lines are butterflies flying from leaf to leaf. Maybe a low tuba sound is a hungry bear in a forest searching for food. Composition is about telling a story and expressing ideas through sound.

4. Join the Band!

Break out the drums, pots and pans, or hum and sing. Even have your child make her own instrument out of things in your home like rubber bands, tins or boxes. Put on some music your child loves and encourage her to pretend she's on stage performing with the group. She will feel more directly involved in the music making process.  You can pick up an instrument yourself (regardless of your musical aptitude) and join in!  This will offer tremendous encouragement for your budding composer.

5. Musical Expressions

Have your child come up with a word and have them express that word through music. For example, the word "cat" might conjure up a playful rhythm, the sound of a meow, or the quiet of an afternoon nap. Whether on a piano, tambourine, glockenspiel, kazoo, or even a wooden spoon and a pot, allowing children to express their ideas through sound is a wonderful way for them to communicate, regardless of their instrumental abilities.

6. Hum about the Zoo

Composers find musical inspiration from their own life experiences and interests. Have your child hum a tune or create a rhythmic pattern on a drum about what it felt like taking a trip to the zoo or how she felt on her first day of school.

7. Pattern a Performance

To start, have your child sing or play a three note musical pattern. Repeat it back to your child. Continue with a new musical set, gradually increasing the length of the pattern. This will help establish your child's musical idea. To encourage thoughtful listening, reverse the exercise and have your child play back or sing your musical pattern.  

8. Peanut Butter-Free Jam Session

Sit in a circle with your family or friends, each with his own instrument. One person should lead by playing a brief musical idea alone. One by one, each person in the circle can add to the piece until everyone is playing simultaneously. See where this leads and decide how the piece should end. Encourage players to listen carefully to each other and build a composition together.

9. Melody Makers

Begin with a musical idea—a familiar melody or an original—like Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star. Then, by changing the rhythm, dynamic, tempo, instrumentation, and/or pitch, see how differently you and your child can make that melody sound. The possibilities are limitless. What makes composition so interesting is what the composer does with an idea not just the idea itself.

10. Music Is Everywhere

Like pioneer twentieth century composers John Cage, who believed that music exists everywhere and can be made from anything, and Harry Partch, who created his own set of unique instruments, encourage your child to start noticing the sounds and noises around her. Whether it be barking dogs, honking horns, rustling leaves, or even brushing teeth, sound and music are everywhere. Have your child become more aware of the patterns, dynamics, rhythms, and melodies that these sounds create and how they can be woven together like the instruments of a symphony orchestra. Help your child come up with untraditional ways to make music like flipping pages in a book, shaking a bean in a can, or zipping a zipper. These are ways for your child to create music without any training and to start them on the road to becoming the next generation of pioneer composers.

Originally published in 2011. 

An Emmy award-winning and internationally recognized composer, Belinda has been immersed in music since her childhood.  Starting as a concert pianist, she turned to music composition at age 10.  She received her bachelor's degree at Oberlin Conservatory and later went on to the Eastman School of Music, where she was awarded the sole spot for a full graduate fellowship and received her M.M. and Ph.D. in Music Composition.  As a university professor, she has taught Music Composition, Music Theory and Orchestration at various universities including the Eastman School of Music, Rochester University, Drake University and Montclair State University.  Belinda is a recognized authority and sought after speaker on children and music.  She is currently ranked as the #1 "Mompreneur" by Babble.com and has been interviewed for her business and creative acumen in publications such as Time Magazine, Venture Beat, Forbes, Fast Company, among many others.  She is a seasoned media producer having managed over 100 people and co-creating the Juno Baby and Juno Jr. brands. The Juno Company represents the culmination of her lifelong devotion to music, experiences as a mother and love of children.


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