Classes Spotlight: Music

WeBop at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Photo by Lawrence Sumulong

There are countless reasons to introduce your child to music from a young age. Not only has music been shown to improve memory and sleep quality, and reduce anxiety, but sharing the music you love with your child can be a special bonding experience, and jumpstart a lifelong love of this “universal language.”

To help you get started, we’ve gathered advice from local experts in several different genres of music, and included their recommendations to help your kids explore everything the musical landscape has to offer.

Musical Theater

Taking your kids to children’s shows and performances is a great way to pique their interest in musical theater, says Audrey Kaplan, the founder of Applause New York, an NYC-based performing arts program for all ages. “Take your child to children’s shows that are 45 minutes or an hour long—they’re all over the city,” she says.

Playing show tunes at home or in the car is another great way to get kids excited about musical theater. “The more that you have music on—even just in the background or in the car—it’s one of the best ways for kids to pick up on music that they’ll like throughout their lifetime,” Kaplan says. “We can see that with ‘Hamilton’; because parents and adults have loved it so much, they play it all the time. I’m amazed that kids can recite every single word of the album.”

Kaplan also emphasizes that your child doesn’t have to be a performer to fall in love with musical theater. “It has an incredible impact on people,” she says of the genre. “The shows that they see and listen to are something they love and will never forget. I don’t think it’s something only a performer can enjoy.”

Musicals to belt out: “Annie,” “Wicked,” “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” “The Lion King,” “Mary Poppins,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Mamma Mia”


Parents who want to get their kids rockin’ don’t have to play music that is made specifically for kids—you might be surprised to find out that your interests overlap with your little ones’. “Parents don’t realize they can put on the music that they enjoy,” says Michael Napolitano, the founder of the children’s music school Preschool of Rock and the front man of the kids’ rock band Michael and the Rockness Monsters. “You don’t have to have your children listening to children’s music.”

Napolitano believes rock can get young kids excited about music in general. “I think it’s engaging,” he explains. “There’s a reason people like rock and roll. The tempos, the drums, the thumping bassline. It’s led by rhythm.” Singing along to repeated choruses also helps with learning words, because catchy rhythms and melodies make them fun to listen to. “The rhythm is bigger,” Napolitano says. “A lot of nursery rhymes are melodic and beautiful, but there are no beats. In rock, the snare and bass drum are locking in with the bass guitar, so the rhythm becomes unmistakable to the child and they can start rocking to the beat, which is huge. Rocking to the beat is the first step in learning how to play an instrument.”

Bands to rock out to: The Beatles, My Morning Jacket, The Raconteurs


Hip-hop and rap might not seem kid-friendly on the surface, but with a little digging you’ll be able to find rhymes that your children will be learning in no time. NYC rapper and mom Concetta Kirschner—more commonly known by her rap name Princess Superstar, or by her new alter-ego, M.O.M. (under which she’s currently working on a kids’ hip hop album)—encourages parents to  go back to the 1980s to listen to some of the best hip-hop music. “It was a really amazing time for the genre,” she explains. “It’s really kind of kid-like and friendly and fun. Those kinds of [songs] are perfect, and kids take to it immediately.”

Kirschner also thinks rap is beneficial for children’s verbal skills. “I think it’s unbelievable as far as rhyming and word comprehension,” she says, describing hip-hop as “glorified nursery rhymes.” Kirschner has seen this first-hand with her own child. “I have a 5-year-old, and she’s grown up listening to this kind of music. She can make up unbelievable rhymes because she’s exposed to it. It’s amazing for linguistics.”

Hip-hop to freestyle with: Run DMC, Sugar Hill Gang, Grand Master Flash, Afrika Bambaataa


Both you and your children can enjoy the exciting rhythms and chords of jazz. According to Dr. Michael Albaugh, the director of WeBop at Jazz at Lincoln Center, the best way to get a younger audience interested in jazz is to just play it around them. “When you grow up around what your parents are listening to, it kind of becomes ingrained in you,” he says. “It’s that environmental association.”

The genre’s commitment to improvisation is also naturally appealing to children. “Young kids don’t have social mores laying down how they should improvise,” Albaugh says. “It’s a natural reaction to the way that kids want to experience things. The fact that jazz allows that creates more of a natural understanding than any other form.”

Even though jazz may not be as popular with younger audiences as current hits from Selena Gomez or Katy Perry, for example, jazz music actually shares many elements with current hits. “It still has a lot of the same underlying beats as the music that’s consumed by young people today,” Albaugh says. “Jazz has a little bit more of a unique musicianship to it that some other things today don’t have. It doesn’t carry the same kind of image that popular music has today, but I think that kids are starving for something that’s a little bit deeper and more meaningful.”

Artists to jive to: Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Count Basie


Much like jazz, folk music is a great medium for teaching kids about their own and others’ historical roots. Folk is traditionally passed down through generations, and often there is no written music. “A good start [to folk music] is to think about who your people are,” says Grammy-winning folk musician (and NYC dad) Dan Zanes. “Just ask about cultures, understand your own culture, and ask other people about their background. In my case it was England, and I went deeper into sea shanties and some of the agricultural and hunting songs from England. That’s the best way to find out.”

Since folk focuses heavily on singing in groups, children who love to perform might be especially drawn to the genre. When they’re singing both on their own and with parents, they can really connect to the music. “That’s much more meaningful for a child, to see and hear parents singing, and be singing together,” Zanes says.

Folk music can also bring people from all types of backgrounds together and listening to the same genre.
“The thing about folk music that I like is that it’s meaningful,” Zanes says. “It’s connected to people and it’s connected to heritage and culture, and it’s meant to be inclusive. It’s meant to be social.”

Musicians to sing along with: Woody Guthrie, Ella Jenkins, Lead Belly


Classical music offers young listeners some distinct advantages, such as allowing them to hear how different elements of music fit together. “One of the major goals as music educators is to experience active listening,” says Ingrid Ladendorf, an Early Childhood Advisor at the Diller-Quaile School of Music. “You learn to listen for specific moments in the music, to use your imagination to tell a story, and to involve people around you while listening together.” The many moving parts in a piece of classical music can train a child’s ears to listen carefully. “When something in the music captures our attention, it gives us the opportunity to listen intently,” Ladendorf says. “This is a learned skill, and one that impacts out daily lives in every way.”

To introduce kids to classical music, Marissa Curry, director of Diller-Quaile’s Early Childhood Program, suggests sharing musical experiences. “Attend concerts together, sing and play together at home or as you walk down the street,” Curry says. “All of those experiences prepare your child for a lifelong love of music, and help build a foundation for future instrument study.” Curry believes that parents are a child’s most important music teachers, and that kids will enjoy the music you like when you share it with them.

Pieces to play: “Carnival of the Animals” by Camille Saint-Saëns, “The Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi, “Water Music” and “Music for the Royal Fireworks” by George Frideric Handel, “The Magic Flute” “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Great Local Music Programs

Once your child is enamored with Mozart or Miles Davis, it’s time to help them learn to make music! Here’s a selective guide to some great programs in NYC.

For Younger Kids:
92Y 92y.org
apple seeds songsforseeds.com
Applause New York applauseny.com
Carnegie Hall Kids carnegiehall.org/CarnegieKids
Eastside Westside Music Together eswsmusictogether.com
Gymboree Music gymboreeclasses.com
Gymtime Rhythm & Glues gymtime.net
Hands On! handsonformusic.com
JCC Manhattan jccmanhattan.org
Kids MusicRound kidsmusicround.com
Kidville kidville.com
Little Maestros littlemaestros.com
MAGIC Activity Center magicactivitycenter.com
MusiBambino musibambino.com
Music for Aardvarks musicforaardvarks.com
Music Together in the City musictogethernyc.com
NY Kids Club nykidsclub.com
School for Strings schoolforstrings.org
TADA! Youth Theater tadatheater.com
TLB Music tlbmusic.com
WeBop at Jazz at Lincoln Center academy.jazz.org/webop
Willan Academy of Music willanacademy.com

For Older Kids:
92Y School of Music 92y.org
Church Street School for Music and Art churchstreetschool.org
Come Join the BAND! comejointheband.com
Diller-Quaile School of Music diller-quaile.org
Lucy Moses School at Kaufman Music Center kaufmanmusiccenter.org/lms
Riverside Music Studios riversidemusicstudios.com
Third Street Music School Settlement thirdstreetmusicschool.org
Turtle Bay Music School tbms.org