Recorded children’s music, such as that produced by Playschool, The Wiggles and other performers, is fantastic for when you and your child want some entertainment, but do recorded soundtracks have a place in classes which bring children and adults together to experience making music? Does a CD curriculum have the same flexibility as music created by a teacher in class?

When adults and children create sounds to explore, they have an opportunity to take it in their own direction: to raise or lower the pitch, to speed up or slow down the beat. To explore music, they create themselves with their voices or instruments, to use their imaginations. With the prescribed tempo (speed) of a recorded soundtrack, the child has no opportunity to see what happens when they make the music faster or slower, when they change the beat from a slow, to a fast rat-a-tat-tat.

When children lead and adults follow, children gain power over the sounds they make with their bodies and instruments. A group of children playing on drums can set the tempo themselves and lead the adults to follow them. Even when the teacher’s voice leads, she’s able to be sensitive to the children’s imaginations as they explore ‘what can be done and what can be changed’, rather than following a prescribed, pre-set songlist.

Recorded music has a place in our lives, how else would we be able to enjoy full symphony orchestras flooding our lounge rooms with brilliant walls of sound, (I highly recommend Mars from the Planets by Holst), and Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody in all of is harmonic richness while dancing in our underpants in a Tom Cruise from Risky Business fashion, with or without a hairbrush microphone, (anyone, anyone? Too much?) but does prerecorded music always or even, ever, have a place when a child is exploring the sounds an instrument can create and how they can make music with it? Or when they are finding their own voice?

When they explore a shaker egg, even a baby will discover they can make different sounds depending on how they hold it and how fast or slow they shake it. When the child is bound by prescribed tempo and rhythmic patterns they don’t have the opportunity to experience what sounds they can make. Without the restriction of a recorded soundtrack, a teacher can follow the lead of the child and let the rest of the class to follow along. Or she can suggest (demonstrate) a different beat and see if the children can adapt to the change. When we allow children to follow an informed teacher instead of a recording, she’s able to set the pitch to suit their developing voices. This is imperative for good vocal health, and will teach singing, rather than droaning or shouting.

Recorded music can be wonderfully entertaining and allows us to enjoy favourite songs and experience a huge variety of instrumentation, genres, timbres and textures. It has a place in every home, every car. But it does not have a place in every music class.

When children come together to make music they can explore and bring their own experiences into play. Nobody is telling them how a tambourine must sound. Nobody is telling them what the bells can do. The child explores their voice and any instruments and takes their exploration further each time they use them. A high energy group of children might choose to bang the drums loudly and run around, on a quieter day everyone might want to lie down and have a relaxing experience of a song sung slowly. This kind of unaccompanied and play-based learning is incredibly flexible.

So when you’re thinking about music with your small children, explore the opportunities available but consider: do you just want to sit and sing along to pre-recorded music or would you like to explore the world of music you and your child can create together, guided by a teacher who is open and skilled to facilitate their exploration and development.

Don’t get us wrong, we’re not against children’s music, we are just a bit picky with what we think is worth exposing our own kids to. Here’s some really great music for children, that although it’s awesome, you still won’t find in our classes. But they’re fun, so check ‘em out!

Teenie Tiny Stevies (Went to their concert and wanted to join the band!)

Big Block Sing Song

Josh Pyke and Justine Clarke have this beautiful song, Words Make the World Go Around

Justine Clarke’s children’s songs

Holly Thosby’s album, See!

Eric Herman’s Cool Tunes for Kids, especially The Elephant Song

My kid’s picks are The Muppets doing Bohemian Rhapsody and Popcorn