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Classical Tune Time


Going beyond Hannah Montana.


It's often said that music has charms to soothe the savage beast.

Sure. Sure. Sure. What about fussy children?

Michelle Snyder has developed a program to introduce children to classical music. Her selections include music for relaxation, play, studying and getting ready for bed.

"I remember seeing The Nutcracker as a child," says Snyder, now an academic adviser at Brigham Young University. "In developing the music program for children, I thought how Tchaikovsky's music affected me the first time I heard it. I wanted to share that wonder and delight with others."

The trick is to find music that's engaging, but not overwhelming for children – Beethoven's Fifth Symphony didn't make the cut. For accomplished listeners, Snyder's selections may read like the Top 40 Hits of Bach, Chopin, Debussy, Mozart, and Saint-Saens, but this misses a basic point: for most children, the music is a new experience.

"Classical music can help children focus or relax," Snyder says. "I think children are intrigued by classical music and want to learn more about it. Most begin to show interest between ages six and eight."

The texture of classical music is much richer than popular music and gets the wheels of a child's mind turning. Mozart is light and playful – upbeat but intricately detailed and not mindlessly repetitive. Before long, kids will ask questions about the music, the instruments and the composers.

Classical music also spares children (and parents) the pretense and corruption of much popular music. Madonna puts on a great show and is a brilliant self-promoter, but her sophomoric take on life is a yawner. There's no need for kids to hear Bay City, Michigan's famous daughter warble "Like a virgin/Touched for the very first time."

Snyder developed Well Tempered Music, the classical music program for kids, in the fall of 2006 while working at KBYI, the student-run radio station at the BYU campus in Rexburg, Idaho. The program was, ahem, an instant classic.

"A lot of people wanted to learn more about the music," she says. "The university appreciated that its campus radio station tried to connect classical music with entertainment. The faculty was very supportive. Parents responded positively."

Researchers say children derive many benefits from early exposure to classical music, including:

  • Play leads to growth. How a child plays can shape that growth. Classical music sparks curiosity and develops a child's cognitive skills.
  • Some researchers say children are born rhythmical after living in the womb for nine months and listening to their mother's heartbeat. Exposure to classical music stimulates learning and, some believe, fosters the development of the "hardware of intelligence."
  • Following a series of notes, especially a detailed sequence found in classical music, stimulates the left hemisphere of the child's brain. This is the same section that's stimulated when reading or working a math problem.
  • Listening is a key element in a child's cognitive development. Classical music develops a child's listening skills and may help prepare children to understand richer content in other fields.
  • Music provides a framework – and you don't have to know allegro (fast) from adagio (slow) – to catch it. Understanding the development of complex issues within a framework can be the foundation for discipline needed in future studies and all aspects of adult life.
  • Children, especially younger kids, may have difficulty expressing their emotions in words. In music, they are able to make their happiness, sorrow or frustration understood.
  • Listening to music can be a family activity. Different members will hear and respond to the selection differently based on their age and life experience, but Mozart's "A Little Night Music" or "Clarinet Concerto" (K. 622) is music for the whole family.

Classical music is available from many online sources, including Barnes & Noble (BKS) and (AMZN). Or buy used CDs on eBay (EBAY).

For a playful afternoon, Snyder's recommendations include Offenbach's La Belle Helene, Mendelsson's Octet for Strings and Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker.

To relax in the afternoon, she suggests Ravel's Pavane for a Dead Princess, Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 14, and Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1.

To set the mood for studying, Snyder recommends Dvorak's Serenade for Strings and Slavonic Dances, Chopin's Nocturnes and Debussy's Clair de Lune.

At bedtime, she recommends Bach's Orchestral Suite: Air, Saint-Saens' Carnival of the Animals, and Schubert's Ave Maria.

Before you know it, your child will be listening to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony – and that will be an ode to joy for any parent.

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