But I Can’t Teach My Child Music!

Use the Tempo Game to help children understand terminology that describes tempo—how fast music moves. Musical tempo markings, beginning with the slowest, are Largo (LAR-goh), Lento, Adagio (uh-DAW-zhee-oh), Andante (awn-DAWN-tay), Moderato, Allegro (uh-LEG-groh), Vivace (vih-VAW-chee), and Presto. Write the tempo words vertically on a poster. Then sing a simple song, preferably with motions, beginning with Largo and singing faster with each repeat of the song until you reach Presto. Our favorite song for this activity is “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.”7 By the time you’ve sung it eight times, everyone falls to the floor in a pile of giggles. This is a great break-time activity between academic subjects.

The Clapping Game is fun and teaches attentiveness. One person claps a short rhythm pattern and the others try to duplicate it. You don’t have to be able to read music to clap a rhythm—just make one up. Gradually lengthen the pattern. One mom gained her children’s attention to change activities by clapping a pattern for the children to echo.

• Investigate music notation. Study a page of written music together. Borrow a hymnbook from your church or library, if necessary.

Notice that music is written on horizontal lines and spaces called a staff. Notes are the symbols that tell you which pitch to play and how long to hold it. Notes will always have an oval-shaped note head. The more you change the basic note head, whether by adding a stem (straight line) to the side, blackening the note head, or adding flags or beams to the stems, the less time the note is held. Thus, notes that have white note heads are held longer than black ones connected by many lines across the top. When the note head is higher on the staff, the music is sung or played higher in pitch.

Excluding those at the very beginning of the staff, symbols on the staff that don’t have note heads are called rests. Rests may look like rectangular blocks or squiggles. Rests tell the musician not to play or sing during those beats.

The notes are named alphabetically as you move upward on the lines and spaces. We only use the first seven letters of the alphabet in music: A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. If you wish to learn to name the notes, purchase a set of music flashcards from your local music store.

This introduction to music reading is enough to get you started as you look at the music while singing along with a CD. You will be surprised by how quickly you begin to see the relationship between what is printed on the page and what you hear on the CD.

Many families become quite skilled in a cappella singing (singing without instrumental accompaniment), just by singing hymns together during family worship times. Pretty soon some of the singers figure out harmony parts and begin to make exciting music together.

• Share your music with others. Grandparents, nursing home residents, church members, and others are blessed when children sing for them. Share your music with those who need encouragement. You need not have a polished performance—just learn some songs and invite your audience to sing along. We have found that people who can no longer remember how to speak, due to dementia, can often still sing along with the hymns and songs that they learned in their youth.

It is a wonderful gift for children to study music with a professionally trained teacher, but don’t cheat them, or yourself, of the joy of making music together on your own. Select an activity or two to try, and pretty soon music-making will be a regular part of your day.

Marcia K. Washburn homeschooled her five sons for nineteen years. Marcia holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music education and is the author of Talent to Treasure: Building a Profitable Music Teaching Business. This article is based on excerpts from her new E-Book, Teach Your Child Music Even If You Can’t Read a Note, available at www.marciawashburn.com/MarciasMall.html.

 Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.


1. See www.weesing.com/booksAudio.cfm for book and CD sets for under $10. Sung by well-trained children’s voices.

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