Music Parenting 101: Expand Your Kids' Musical Horizons While They're Young
Luckily, I started when they were just pups. Because I discovered something on our recent vacation: The large window of musical influence that I've exerted over my kids all these years has shrunk down to almost nothing.
We take a driving vacation every other year, and in past years, I've been able to dominate the music in the van, mainly under the old "he who drives shall pick the tunes" rule. In order to promote open family communication, and discourage competing noise levels, I've agreed to leave the volume down, and the kids have agreed to stay off the headphones. I've used these opportunities to introduce tons of great artists and albums to the kids.
But I couldn't pull it off this year. All musical hell broke loose.
The boys are 15 and 13. In spite of my very best efforts (see theTwo Albums Before Bed Rule
), they increasingly listen to crappy pop-rap and dance. They are lyrically stimulated by songs about asses.
My daughter is 11, but she's been musically hopeless forever. She never had a chance. My wife show-tuned her straight down the rabbit hole of music blandness . . . filled with echoes of ProTools (listen for the switch at the beginning of the Simpsons video), bad covers, and group sing-alongs. Call it the High School Musical wing of Wileysworld. First it was Disney. Then, The Voice. Now, America's Got Talent. I can round the corner in my house and be accosted by horrendous over-singing at any moment.
All three of the children challenge my authority with regularity these days (providing loads of in-the-moment annoyance and ironic column fodder).
They wanted to listen to their own music this time.
Obviously, my hypocrisy can only go so far.
So it was either share the speakers and subject myself to one of my highest levels of hell (shitty music being played all around me), or cave in on my "no headphones" rule.
Obviously, my musical torture can only go so far.
Hello, headphones. Goodbye to one of my best opportunities to apply musical influence.
My Boy Was Just Like Me I've always known it would be this way. Known I'd have to influence them when they were young.
Because I remembered how it was for me.
When I was young, I didn't even know what a genre was. I'd listen to anything. I either liked it or I didn't.
Then I became "music aware" in my teens. Sort of like self-awareness, with the same sort of creatively restrictive results. Pushed by peer pressure, expanded options, and exploration (as much as one could explore in pre-internet North Dakota), I started to separate "good" and "bad" types of music, and give them a chance -- more importantly, not give them a chance -- according to that awareness.
Which basically resulted in the following youthful philosophy: It either rocked or it didn't. In true testosterone-filled teenage boy form, that was about as much thought as I put into it. Rock, good. Not rock, junk.
And I didn't just determine who "rocked" by how they sounded -- but by how they looked. MTV was exploding onto the scene, so I had plenty of opportunity to judge. Once the boys and I had determined that "those guys are toads," that was it. That group was done.
I was a beer-drinking, jean-jacket-wearing hoodlum -- so that ruled out a great deal of music. Guys in makeup? No thanks. Bizarre videos? Forget it. Too much keyboard and not enough guitar? It sucks. (Okay, I still tend to agree with that one.) Strange band name? Probably weirdos.
With each non-acceptable qualifier, the list of potentially awesome music shrank.
Lucky for me, I moved to a big city, joined the music business, and realized this constricted view hurt me. (Not only as a music fan, but as a member of society.)
An Open Musical Mind Is a Beautiful Thing Still, youthful habits die hard. It took me years to re-expand, and that was only with massive perseverance and the help of hundreds of ornery, diverse record store geeks working to cure me. (Translation: forcing me to listen to their music.)
Eventually, I found other genres, went back and took another look at rejected bands from my youth, and expanded my musical horizons beyond 99 percent of the population. The rewards of that expansion pay off daily (both as a music fan and a member of society.)
The same can't be said about most people. Once most people shrink down that musical window, it stays that way. The stuff that makes it through the window before it shrinks usually has a place in their brain's jukebox forever . . . But there's no place for anything new or different.
You may have heard, or maybe even uttered, the phrase, "Today's music sucks."
That's the sign of a nearly closed musical window.
It happens to almost everyone.
A Child's Mind Is an Open Book
I didn't want it to happen to my punks.
So with the relatively small period of potential influence in full consideration, I've spent my fatherhood years trying to flood my kids with as much musical diversity as they could handle. Guys, girls, jazz, blues, fast, slow, rock, classical. Whatever I could find within the boundaries of child-appropriateness.
To my delight, they've handled a lot.
The idea was to help them build a musical foundation. To give them a better appreciation of the art . . . through a wider, more diverse, more accepting love of music of all types. Call it music morals if you will (and I do -- because again, that phrase applies as a music fan and as a member of society).
My goal was to build the foundation before it was too late and the shrinkage began. That way they could weather the closed-minded storm, emerge with an even greater love of the art, and continue to explore on their own.
Hopefully I've done enough, because as the trip revealed, the window has narrowed considerably already.
I probably won't know until they get past their stupid, er, teenage years.
I do know this -- while we were driving, although I did hears the sounds of dance-rap and Zac Efron, I also heard things like Paul Pena, Pink Floyd, Elvis, Howlin' Wolf, Donald Byrd, and Was (Not Was) blasting through their headphones (even Tatum) -- so there are some signs of success.
It was enough to keep me parentally motivated . . . and looking for opportunities to add to the foundation.
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