by Marisa Torrieri Bloom
For the past two years, I’ve hosted musical play dates for both of my toddler sons, now ages 2 and 3 and a half. It’s one of the BEST experiences I’ve ever had, and always a riot, as 1-year-olds, 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, and 4-year-olds all have their own adorable little quirks when it comes to experiencing music and participating in a musical play date.
Here’s the best part: While I am a guitar teacher, you don’t have to be a guitar teacher to host a musical play date!
All you need is to know how to play a few songs on guitar, and possess a lot of enthusiasm (and patience, but you probably already knew that!). Your preschooler will be so grateful and happy — and you will instantly become the coolest mom ever. Plus, you’ll feel good about contributing your musical talents and energies to a worthy cause.
Ready to get started? Follow these steps, and go!
Step #1: Pick Your Tunes. Whether you like Beyonce, Bach, or Black Flag, your toddler has widely different musical tastes (think “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”). Chances are your little one’s short list includes “The Hokey Pokey,” “Ba Ba Blacksheep” or “The Wheels on the Bus.” After giving it some thought, make a set list of at least five songs.
Step #2: Download the chords and lyrics. The good news is that most nursery rhymes and kids’ songs can be played with basic chords like G, D, and C. I use the Ultimate Guitar app on my iPhone to search for guitar chords, and use the version with the highest stars. But you can also search for sites like this one.
Step #3: Buy lots of cool shaky things. The best way to engage preschoolers in music is involve them! My favorite thing to bring to school is egg shakers because they are about $1 each (and toddlers of all ages love them). Melissa & Doug’s Band-in-a-Box set also comes with lots of cool stuff for older toddlers, like cymbals and maracas. Whatever you pick, make sure you get enough percussive pieces so everyone in the class has one to play or shake.
Step #4: Set a date. I always play my gig in the middle of April during the Week of the Young Child, but most schools are open to you playing during activity time, so long as you let them know your plans and how you intend to execute said plans. Unless you want to blast AC/DC during nap time, you’ll probably get a positive response.
Step #5: Get ready to rock. As you would with any gig, practice, practice, practice! You might know “Itsy Bitsy Spider” backwards and forwards, but if you don’t practice singing and playing it at the same time, you could find it a little tricky to perform. If you feel rushed in the morning to get ready, pack your tuner, shaky things, and set list in advance. And after you arrive at your kid’s school, relax! Take a seat and pass out the egg shakers or tambourines or whatever. And remember — even if you bomb this set, they’ll still love you for playing their favorite tunes and singing along. I’ve never met a kid who didn’t laugh at a wrong lyric or off-key performance!
Bonus tip: You might want to print out the chords and lyrics to popular kids’ songs that aren’t on your set list. My first year hosting a musical play date for my son Nathan’s school, I got a request for “The Hokey Pokey.” I was caught off guard, and ended up playing the entire tune in the key of “G” (the kids loved it anyway) and altering my voice to match the key.
Then again, nothing prepared me for my most recent musical gig at Nathan’s class, where one of the 4-year-old boys insisted I play the “Paw Patrol” theme song! Even though I hear the song at least 20 times a week, I had no clue what to play. Still, because I just smiled and went with it — strumming the key of E-minor while singing the theme song — the kids applauded and laughed!
—- Marisa Torrieri Bloom is a writer, guitar teacher, mom, and the founder of Rockmommy.