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Making Music with Your Child


by Kia Portafekas


Did you ever dream your child would be able to express himself through music? Or that you could help encourage him? Even if you have no musical training at all, you can bring the joy of making music into your child's life. No one knows the song that plays inside you better than you do. Right now, you can find your own creative voice and guide your child to find his.

Express your love for music by having a "songversation." Sing everything you want to say! You can try this with words, first, and then have a "songversation" using no words, only sounds.  Talk with your child about the music he loves. Ask him to play his favorite song even if it sounds like noise to you. Listen to what your child tells you about the images and feelings the song evoked. Talk honestly with each other.

Many parents encourage their children's musical creativity by enrolling them in music lessons. For some children, this strategy works. The music lessons introduce the child to the world of music and empower them to play or sing the music they like. For too many children, however, music lessons become a chore, an extension of school. The lessons become just another time when children have to sit still and listen, behave themselves, and act the way some grown-up wants them to. Instead of giving the gift of music, this kind of lesson can take it away.

Repetitious, predictable, and those grinding, step-by-step approaches most instructors use all too often leave a child bored. They take the enjoyment and spontaneity out of making music. The wrong kind of music lessons can leave children feeling "flat" -- and they begin to believe they can't create music without doing it a specific, structured way -- the adult's way. These children can then feel inadequate when they play a song unless they play it perfectly.

Other children enjoy music as an integral part of their lives. They feel comfortable expressing themselves by singing or playing. They feel confident of their abilities to learn a piece of sheet music or pick out a melody they have heard on the radio. These children grow up with fond memories of music and the rewarding roles it has played in their lives.

As a parent, you can encourage your child to enjoy music freely. You can present it as an empowering means of self-expression, rather than a set of rules to follow. Making music with your child gives parents and children the opportunity to express themselves in ways that words cannot. It is as natural as breathing. We are all unique, individual, creative compositions of life. Music is the key that unlocks creativity and opens the door to self-expression. This is the beginning of manifesting your creative curriculum of life.

Imagine a blank canvas -- no resistance, no limitations, only the willingness to be open. Listen to the sounds within you and around you. Practice using different senses. For example: Stop to smell a flower and imagine what sounds you hear. Share this "song of the flower" with your child in song, colors, and movement. Listen to a recording of a favorite song and paint your own image of a flower, without drawing the actual flower. Feel the rhythms of the colors move through you and let your imagination soar!

By sharing music with your child, you will be expressing your feelings, and as you do your child will learn that all feelings--even negative ones--are things they can easily handle and direct into positive and creative outlets. You will also be encouraging your child to collaborate, to create, to use their senses and imagination in new and exciting ways. You will be helping them awaken and express their own inner voice. As Pablo Picasso stated, "every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up."

A suggested riff from my book Making Music with Your Child is #24, "Enchanted Forest."

Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Imagine that you walk to the door of your room. When you open the door, instead of seeing the hallway or the next room, you see the most wonderful place. A meadow stretches out in front of you, and at the edge of the meadow is an enchanted forest. You leave your room and walk through the meadow. What do you see in the meadow? Are there flowers blooming or tall grass waving?

Can you see the insects and birds that live in the meadow? How does the meadow smell? Now look up at the sky. Does it look like it might rain, or is the sun shining? Is the sun high in the sky or is it about to set? Are there any clouds?

Walk to the edge of the enchanted forest. How do you feel about entering the forest? Does it look welcoming or frightening in any way? Notice the things about it that make you feel that way. When you are ready, look around until you find a path into the forest. The path might be large or small. It might be clear or overgrown. It could be made of rocks, sand, mud, or hard-packed earth. What does your path look like? Pause for a moment at the beginning of this path. If you wish, mark this entrance to the forest in some way. You may want to clear some branches out of the way or mark the entrance with a special stone-or you might want to pull branches over the path behind you, so that no one else can find the entrance. The forest is a safe place where no harm can come to you, but do whatever you want to feel even safer before you go inside.

When you are ready, enter the forest. As you walk along the path, what do you notice around you? Can you recognize any of the plants growing along the path? Does the sun shine into your forest or do the trees block most of the light? How does the path feel under your feet as you walk along?

Listen to the sounds of the forest. Some of the trees might make music as you pass. Are there animals in your forest? You hear something moving in the bushes next to you and pause for a moment. Does an animal show itself? Remember, this is an enchanted forest, so the animal might look or act differently than it would in our usual world. The animal might even talk to you.

When you are ready, continue on the path. Eventually, you come to a clearing in the forest. You are standing in the center of the clearing, surrounded by trees on all sides. What do the trees look like? What feeling do you get from the clearing? If you want, sit or lie down on the grass in the clearing, looking up at the trees.

Imagine that as you watch the trees they begin to turn colors. Because they are enchanted trees, their leaves become colors you have never seen before. These trees are the most beautiful you have ever seen.

As the trees change color they begin to sing to you. Lie on your back in the center of the clearing and listen to the song of the trees.

Let the song fill you with warmth and happiness. Let it heal you of your cares and worries. You may want to sing or hum along with the song or move gently to its rhythm. Listen to the trees.

When the song is finished you stand up again. For the first time you notice a big bucket, like a paint bucket, at the base of the biggest tree. You pick up the bucket and look inside. You see a big brush and paint, which is a swirling rainbow of color.

You dip the paintbrush in the paint and begin to paint one of the trees. The tree changes to the colors you like most. As you paint, the tree begins to sing a different song. Paint every part of the tree, from its roots to its leaves, as you listen to the new song you have inspired in the tree.

When you have finished move on to the next tree in the circle. Paint this tree with different colors. It also begins to sing and dance with you as you paint.

Continue moving around the circle, painting tree after tree, listening to their songs as you paint.

When you are finished, put the paint bucket down and stand in the middle of the clearing. As you say good-bye to the trees, they sing you one last song. You can still hear the echoes of the song as you turn and walk back up the path.

You retrace your steps to the meadow. From the edge of the forest, you can see the door to your room. Walk across the meadow and look back at the enchanted forest. Know that the forest is always there for you to visit whenever you want. Open the door and reenter your room. When you are ready, gently open your eyes.


About the author

A musician, composer, and teacher, Kia Portafekas has performed with the Bergen (NJ) and Westchester (NY) Philharmonic Orchestras. Her real passion, however, is working with children. Kia has taught in schools in the USA, throughout Europe, and the Far East. Her students have performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, other venues in and around New York City, and the Kerr Cultural Center in Scottsdale, AZ.  Kia's book, "Making Music with Your Child", was partially funded by NARAS, the Grammy Foundation. This book offers 100 activities using color, sound, movement, improvisation, and imagination to encourage children's self-expression and individuality.  You can reach her at



© September 2002

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