Sometimes parents struggle with ideas about how to get their kids into music. But, it doesn’t have to be a struggle. Take it from Michael Napolitano, founder, and leader of Michael and the Rockness Monsters. In the following exclusive essay, Michael gives us some tips about how you can spark your kids’ interest in music, plus some background on what got him here. As an added bonus, you can watch the new video for “Woodpecker,” one of the delightful original songs by Michael Napolitano.
Here’s what Michael says about his road to music and how to get your kids into it, too.
When your father works as a full-time musician visiting the office with him means sitting at his drum kit, or at a Hammond B3 while watching your ‘Uncles’ jam on the keys, riff out on the saxophone and fingers dance on the trumpet.
To my mother’s dismay, my father’s champagne sparkle 1960’s Rogers’ drum kit (famously known to all drummers ever) sat shining in the basement’s fluorescent glow calling out to me. Thirty years later this story repeats itself as my children venture to my basement studio to wail on the drums, the tabla, and Fender Rhodes.
Thanks to these experiences I created a rock children’s band Michael & the Rockness Monsters and the world’s first Rock-n-Roll music program for preschoolers – Rockness Music. Now in our tenth year, we visit thousands of children, and offer “parent and me” music classes, enrichment classes in schools as well as birthday parties and rocking shows!
My father never pushed music on me as a child, I gravitated there on my own. Unknowingly I followed his footsteps by not pushing my children like some over-anxious tiger parent. I believe pushing one towards musical performance can truly backfire as I am living proof. My experience with an angry and spiteful piano teacher in my youth left me never wanting to learn the instrument. In fact, it wasn’t until I graduated from college that I taught myself piano.
How does one inspire their child to play music? How do you do this without pushing too hard and furthermore pushing them away from music? Well, I hope I can help.
Monkey See Monkey Do
If you play anything, even a few chords on the guitar, a note on the harmonica or the beginning of Canon in D on piano, let your children see you play. If you play, they will play. If you take them to a music class, participate in the class. I teach music classes every day and am astonished to watch some parents engage more with their cell phones than their child. Don’t be a party pooper and put your phone down! Sharing the experience is half the fun and much of the lesson.
My parents purchased me a record player at age 3, which I destroyed many times. I, in turn, purchased my daughter’s many different record players, Bluetooth speakers and other music listening devices over the years. Now that they are a bit older, I purchase them vinyl records of the artist’s that they admire and respect, regardless of whether I am a fan of Taylor Swift or not. Help them build their collections so that they can easily access their music themselves and spend quality time with it
Find the right teacher. This is harder than it sounds. There are independent teachers who will come to you, or you to them, and then there are music schools/music stores. Whichever you choose, just make sure the teacher makes the lessons fun. Boring, regimented lessons can turn the pleasure of learning to play music into the most boring activity ever.
Don’t start too early
We started our girls with piano lessons at age 5. I think, for my younger daughter it was a bit early. Each child is different. I’m not saying my younger daughter is not as musically inclined, but she is less linear. By giving lessons too young there is the chance of squashing imagination, and creativity. If the teacher does not understand your child and recognize what your child needs to succeed and enjoy the craft you’ve chosen the wrong teacher!
Many parents ask me – “my daughter is 4 and loves the guitar, can I get her guitar lessons”. My answer is always, no! Your child is too young to comprehend the separation of left and right hands to play the guitar. When playing the guitar you can not really see your hands. This is why I recommend a piano or keyboard. The children can see their hands and it is a percussive instrument. In our preschool music programs, we concentrate on drumming. This is how I started playing music and I truly believe dancing and drumming during preschool years is a gateway to musical performance. I highly recommend drums for baby and toddler years. If you are interested in offering them a guitar I always recommend Ukuleles – there are only four strings, they are nylon (softer on the fingers) and you can purchase one for under $50.
I’m happy to say that I do play music with my children. They sing harmonies and backups on Michael & the Rockness Monsters’ new record Monster’s Ball (hear them here on the album’s closing track “Les Lumières De Paris”). We also have a set of material they love to sing together. They choose songs, we work them out and exchange verses. Even though we have this musical relationship they sometimes push back and don’t want to play with me. This can go on for months. I do not push back. I sit patiently on the ledge waiting for them to open their minds back up to music which they eventually do. Remember, don’t force it, music comes naturally.