Parents know instinctively that a lullaby can be one of the best ways to soothe a baby and help it fall asleep. But how often have they given thought to who wrote its music?
Johannes Brahms’ “Wiegenlied: Guten Abend, gute Nacht”, more popularly known as Brahms’ Lullaby, is often the song of choice on a child’s music box. Meanwhile, it is probably thanks to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s twelve variations on “Ah, vous dirai-je maman” that we can all hum the tune to “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”.
Classical music isn’t just for adults
From our earliest moments, classical music is all around us. Some composers wrote music specifically for children. Claude Debussy’s collection of six piano pieces, Children’s Corner, and Serge Prokofiev orchestral suite, Peter and The Wolf, are well known while Camille Saint-Saëns’ musical menagerie, Carnival of the Animals, has been adopted by school teachers everywhere to introduce their children to the world of classical music.
Children’s experience of classical music should not be limited to these compositions. We make the mistake of assuming that most of the classical repertoire is too complicated for children. But at no point did any classical composer suggest that their music was beyond a child’s understanding. Even the youngest are able to say how a piece of music makes them feel: sad, happy, excited, even a little scared. They may not have the analytical skills of a musicologist, but they can immediately get to the heart of what music is all about.
How classical music helps children
Learning to share your views with others is a skill that demonstrates empathy and emotional intelligence. But classical music can help children build other types of IQ too. The “Mozart Effect” showed that listening to classical music could increase spatial intelligence.
Mastering a musical instrument will improve one’s dexterity and fine motor skills while listening to, reading and playing music is, for some, the equivalent of a whole brain workout: the best possible way of strengthening communication between the right and left hemispheres. Performing in front of others can help children overcome their fear of social situations.
Why classical music and not pop music?
Marc Neikrug, a contemporary classical composer argues that listening to Schubert and Schumann, amongst others, is the perfect antidote for one of the major concerns of our times: our shortening attention spans.
Classical music may indeed have benefits over popular music for the development of children’s minds. The repetitive nature of popular music, both rhythmically and melodically, is part of its appeal. But classical music, in comparison with modern jazz or Schoenberg serialism, is just as accessible. It shares the same harmonic rules as popular music, but it tends to do a little more with its themes; by modulating a motif into a different key, improvising a variation or inverting the accompaniment and the melody, there is an inherent variety of ideas in classical music that popular music struggles to compete with. Put another way, classical music thrives on the element of surprise; popular music on the tried and tested.
We can never be quite sure when we hear a piece of classical music for the first time where it might decide to go. So we keep on listening. Young children, unencumbered by conventional ideas or current trends, are always eager to discover new things. The sheer variety of classical music can provide the ideal accompaniment for their journey of exploration into the world around them.