Recently I was asked an interesting question about whether traditional songs were better – more therapeutic – for children than the parents’ choice of rock and pop.
The most important thing is that the children are exposed to music so it’s fine for them to like what their parents like. If that means they only get to hear rock and pop, well then, that’s better than nothing because we all need music of some kind in our lives.
A lot of rock and pop songs will probably stay around for a hundred years and become part of “the tradition”. If the poetry of the lyrics reaches out universally, if the tunes are good, if the rhythms are catchy then there’s no reason why rock and pop songs can’t be great songs – as many are. Personally I have many favourite songs from these genres.
On the other hand, rock and pop songs are often associated with video clips and children can too easily be exposed to performers who dress and move in ways that are highly sexualised. There are lyrics that are violent, overtly sleasy or that condone drug use. And there is a culture of high egotism that presents young children with role models that are spiritually and culturally bad for them – not at all therapeutic!
So although we can argue for the good and the bad in exposure to rock and pop, these are two genres out of a world of music so for children to get stuck in popular culture would be a lost opportunity.
So why have I chosen mostly traditional children’s songs and nursery rhymes? I guess I have three main reasons.
First, so that they can be shared across generations and also with other children. They are the children’s repertoire and should be respected for surviving. When children spend time with grandparents, older aunties and uncles or family friends they can share the joy of singing songs they all know.
Second, because the lyrics are better suited to early childhood. Most rock and pop lyrics are about adult ideas. Children – and adults for that matter – will sing anything even if it makes no sense! It’s better to have lyrics you can discuss and find the meaning.
My final reason for choosing mostly traditional songs is that they appear in the tutoring books when a child first learns to play an instrument such as violin or piano. This gives them the advantage of “knowing” the song in their head (inner hearing) before they learn to play it.
The parents have probably forgotten the songs they learned in childhood until they hear you sing them – then they might say “Ah, I remember that song, I loved it when I was young.” And they will enjoy singing it all over again as it floods them with memories of their own childhood.
My final word is that not all the songs in the Musical Child programs are traditional. Sometimes, we can’t find a traditional song that fit the activity. So we write songs in the rock, pop and rap veins to suit a rich driving concept. However, the lyrics and sentiments are always appropriate to the tenets of education for early childhood. And in each lesson plan we always include some listening or dancing to instrumental music chosen from the wider world of musical genres.
What do you think?