The Foundation for Teaching Music to Children: Why Music?
Let me start with credentials. I’m sure there are others with loftier ones, but I have some. I have four children, first, male, 17, then three females, 14, 11, and 7. All of them play two instruments and sing. We don’t sing as well as we play and I’m hoping to work more on that with the last three. Each plays piano, then my son plays trombone and the three daughters play violin. The middle girl plays violin and viola. The oldest three are in symphony orchestras. The oldest two last year played in Young People’s Symphony Orchestra. The third child played in Berkeley Youth Orchestra. The two oldest played this summer at the Sydney Opera House in Australia, featured orchestra in the Australian International Music Festival. My son has been principal trombone of three different orchestras and presently is at YPSO. He has a call-back audition at the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra for later this month. The oldest three play in our church services every Sunday morning and evening. I’m on the board of the two before-mentioned orchestras. My wife teaches piano lessons and each of the four children started with her before moving to another teacher.
Now that you know my credentials, I also want you to know that none of them matter. What matters is that God is obeyed and worshiped. And this brings me to the purpose of this first post on teaching music to children. You need to have a good reason for your children to play instruments or you will likely fail at teaching them music.
The Reason for Music
The reason for musical instruments is the reason for music. To understand that reason, I ask you to consider Psalm 150.
1 Praise ye the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power.
2 Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness.
3 Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp.
4 Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs.
5 Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.
6 Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD.
Praise the Lord. That’s our purpose for music. Here you can see in Psalm 150 that He is praised with musical instruments: stringed—psaltery and harp, wind—trumpet, and percussion—loud cymbals.
Directed to God
In the Bible, music is directed to God.
2 Praise the LORD with harp: sing unto him with the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings.
3 Sing unto him a new song; play skilfully with a loud noise.
Where is the music directed in this text? The harp is used to to praise the Lord, so the instruments by themselves can be used to praise the Lord. Then we have “sing unto Him” and “sing unto Him.” God is the audience of our praise. We’re playing to and for Him.
4 Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise.
5 Sing unto the LORD with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm.
6 With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the LORD, the King.
We sing unto the Lord with instruments. The composition of the song is offered to the Lord, the actual notes, not just the words. All of this considers how great He is and what He deserves with praise.
1 Praise ye the LORD. Praise the LORD, O my soul.
2 While I live will I praise the LORD: I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being.
We sing praises unto our God. The praise is directed toward God. Our only consideration is whether He likes the praise. We adjust our “tastes” to His.
Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;
The singing (vocal) and making melody (instrumental) are “to the Lord.” This is New Testament too.
In every single instance that we are given a direction of music, which is 90 or so times in Scripture, it is to the Lord. We direct it towards Him. This is one reason that it doesn’t matter how big your church is, you should sing to God. You shouldn’t be embarrassed to produce the best possible music with a crowd of 25 there. It isn’t being directed to the crowd. Granted, they are taught and admonished as a byproduct, but it is offered to God as worship. Hebrews 13:15 is another great New Testament verse on this:
By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.
This is a quote from Hosea and there it is translated from the Hebrew the “calves of our lips.” What we offer God in praise is as much or more worship as an animal sacrifice that was presented to God in the Old Testament sacrificial system.
The Quality of Music that Goes to God
With that purpose, we have in particular quality of play that we must gain.
Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised.
God should be praised greatly, immensely, that is, in the best way humanly possible.
Sing unto him a new song; play skilfully with a loud noise.
We should play skillfully to God. That means we have to become skilled on the instruments. The best music should not be played for entertainment, but out of praise and worship.
Praise him according to his excellent greatness.
The nature of the music we play to Him should be in fitting with His greatness. That means it should be great music, the greatest music in the world should be written for Him, not to get a grammy.
What Knowing the Purpose Will Do for Teaching Children Music?
To become good, children need to practice. Most children don’t like practice. They often don’t practice well. As parents, we know why they are playing, so we are motivated to discipline them in practice. No one should allowed to be horrible at music when the music is about God.
Your children will get to glorify God with music, which is why they’re even living. As they are converted and grow as Christians, they will want to glorify God themselves. That will give them a motivation to get better. It will also guide their decision making about music.
Since the music is for the Lord, that will guide their choice in music, even in what groups they will become a part of. None of my kids will go the jazz route. They don’t want to either. Pop rock doesn’t fit the purpose of the music. Discernment also means balance. To worship God, you don’t practice your instrument for five hours, but not read your Bible, pray, or evangelize the lost. God will allow you to be as good as He wants you to be in your praise to Him.
If you have this purpose for music, it will change the kind of music you will use, perform, sing, and play. We don’t play the goofy entertainment oriented music around the house. It doesn’t fit what music is about for us because it isn’t what music is for. We almost exclusively listen to the kind of songs that will give us a taste for the greatness that God deserves. We want models around to spur that kind of quality in our play as well.
If your children become really good at playing an instrument or singing, they might be able to make money through the music. That is not why they are playing. It’s OK to make the money, but the child who isn’t as talented will still have the same reason to play well as the super gifted player. When we play in church, we take it more seriously than symphony. God deserves our best.
If you have the right purpose, you can be the best player in the world and still be humble. You are very small compared to the One you are playing for. You are humbled to even be allowed to send music to His presence. You also have a reason to be the best in the world. God deserves the best. You might not be the best, but why not try for Him?
Before you set out on some path to teach music to your children or others, you better stop first and find out why you are doing it. If you are not doing it for God, then I suggest you stop and do something else. Don’t be another musician that is in it for himself. Don’t train your children to be that way either. Like everything else, God gave us music to enjoy. He didn’t give us man’s perversions of what is right. When the going gets tough, what will help you keep going is the glory of God. Always keep that at the forefront of everything that you do.