I find that there are two major seasons for kids’ concerts and school workshops, and they’re in the very beginning of Winter and the very beginning of Spring. I was lucky enough to work with kids in the 1-5 year range recently.

Maybe I’m biased, but playing for kids is one of my favorite things to do as a musician. They love to make noise, they are still exploring all of their senses, and they are totally free with their reactions. People who know me well will probably think “they act the way you say you feel about the horn.” They’re not wrong. ;)

Here are a few things I try to remember when I’m working with young kids, and I like to think they can apply to all ages:

Never tell a kid their answer is wrong.

No one likes to feel rejected, and if a little kid blurts out an answer that’s not what I was looking for, I never say “no” and move on to the next hand in the air. Now, I’m definitely not implying that you affirm information that’s not correct, because that’s dishonest to both you and the student. I think about why that answer might cross their mind, and it’s usually because they’re seeing something from a perspective that I haven’t thought about before, which inspires me. Other times, it’s because I’ve asked a question that’s too advanced or I haven’t explained myself well enough. I gently suggest the right answer: “I can see how you could hear that, but do you think it could also be this?” We can move on together, excited to discover the next moment, and they stay engaged because they feel valued.

Some kids need different approaches

My little boy loves to run, dance, and play; but if he hears loud sounds without video, or sees different people in places he’s not used to seeing them, it disrupts his sense of order and upsets him. He needs to have something to divert that negative energy, like drumsticks or paper, or some kind of electronic toy that makes sounds. It’s always good to anticipate that not all kids will respond the way you want them to, so if some simple percussion instruments or toys will give them a sense of comfort, just do it. Some kids might even want to touch the bell first, which I allow them to do after careful instruction. There’s always a lesson about how sound can turn into music, and that our days are full of music if we keep our ears open.

Music is a group activity

Making sounds together is the basis of all good music. It unites people for a brief moment in time, even if some of those people hate each other. Whether those sounds come from dropping things accidentally or clapping, there are many ways to make the little ones feel like they’re in it with you, even if they can’t understand the theory behind a scale or the overtone series. You’re creating the first exciting days you had when you first discovered music for a new generation, and what’s better than that? I also always thank them for letting me play, because playing my horn is always more fun when others are enjoying it.

Happy Spring, fill it with great music-making for yourself and for audiences of all sizes!