As parents we often make a fundamental error when we start to train our children to play a musical instrument.
We focus almost exclusively on rote memorization and muscle memory.
Yes, it is essential to read music and know which keys or strings to push and pluck, but it also critical to be able to really hear and appreciate the sounds being made. It is critical to train the ear.
A painter must have a keen eye for beauty and a chef must cultivate discriminating taste. So too must a musician be able to develop his or her ability to hear.
The really good news is that children start to do this on their own with little to no help from us. Banging on boxes, clanging on pots, and whistling through straws are all great ways that kids start to explore sounds on their own. As a parent the noise drives me crazy, as a person responsible for my kid’s education I can see the importance of letting them experiment and learn.
The even better news is that it is incredibly easy to help a toddler or preschooler get to the next level in their ear training without having to invest in expensive equipment or forcing them to sit still at a piano. Sure, I’d love to have my kids bust out some Mozart on the ivories, but realistically they are still too busy getting covered in mud and remaking a home for the earthworm they just found…..so I use this activity instead.
Train The Ear Activity
What You’ll Need
- Clear bottles
- (water or soda bottles work well – I used the smaller 6 oz bottles which work best for little hands)
- Stuff to put in the bottles that makes a neat, distinct sound
- We used:
- measuring spoons
- rolled oats
- jingle bells
- We used:
How to Play
First just let the kids explore and play with their new noise (I mean music) makers!
If this is as far as you get it’s still a win!
Have identical containers of each item and shake them under a bag, a blanket, behind a door, etc.
Let the kids guess which item made the sound. Let them experiment with the containers until they find the right one. Keep giving them a sample of the sound you’re making until they can make it too.
For older kids or those with crazy awesome talent, up the ante by combining two sounds or using the bottle to shake out a simple rhythm.
Add a Book to Learn about Sounds and Individuality
This activity goes well with Hoot and Peep by Lita Judge. I’ve found that reading an on topic book with our activities really helps my kids cement basic concepts. Hoot and Peep is a beautifully illustrated children’s book for ages 3-5, although my 2 year old is also a fan. It features one of our favorite animals in the whole wide world, an owl! Hoot is a big brother to Peep and Peep is super excited to be able to stay up late with her big brother and start making owl sounds. Hoot is super excited to teach Peep how to Hoot, but Peep has other ideas about what sounds she wants to make. Hoot and Peep provide a great example for siblings on learning to respect each others difference and being able to enjoy each individual’s unique sound.
Learning to recognize instruments, pitches, melodies, rhythms and other basic elements of music is called ear training.
“Playing by hear” or being able to mimic back a snippet of music that someone else has just played or performed using your instrument or voice is an example of exercising ear training.
Many assume that teaching the eyes to read notes and the fingers to move over keys or strings is enough, but ear training is critical for a musician to be able to critically listen to his own work. It is essential that a musician be able to move beyond rote memory and movement and truly listen to what his or her audience is hearing. As parents, we are in a great position to help our kids develop this skill early and practice it often! Even if it does sound like a lot of noise 🙂
As an added bonus training the ear is also important in early reading as children learn to differentiate and assimilate different letter sounds.
Once you play drop me a line and let me know what you put in your bottles!
Happy ear training!