Music and kiddos are a natural match. The right tunes can set a positive mood and remind parents to dance and sing while going about the endless daily chores. Games of freeze dance get giggles rolling, kid-size musical instruments engage little hands, and there really is nothing cuter than a young toddler bopping along to some happening tunes.
Could there be any pitfalls when it comes to kids music? Well, yes.
First of all, there are copious amounts of kid’s music based on characters with high-pitched, squeaky voices. Then there are songs that rely on tinny synthesizers instead of real instruments, and songs with scant content and repetitive phrasing designed to hook your kids. In short, unless 12 different versions of the ABC’s as sung by 3-year-olds happens to be your jam, much of what is out there has the potential to drive you batty.
Secondly, experienced parents know that when kids find a song they love, they want to listen to it over and over and over. And over. Really. Their tolerance for the same song far exceeds the number of times my dog can chase his tail in a circle before lying down. This is actually a good thing, as little ones internalize rhythms, lyrics, and musical styles. But parents, be forewarned! If you are going to incorporate music into your child’s life, make it music you like too and aim for variety! You’ll still get tired of it when they get stuck on one song, but you’ll be more likely to engage in music with your kids, and those sticky moments will become much more bearable.
Fortunately for all of us, plenty of talented musicians have had kids of their own and taken note of a dearth of good kids music–and they have fixed the problem! The list of musicians who made their way in the adult world before delivering a nod to kids includes Jack Johnson, Lisa Loeb, Jewel, Canadian band Barenaked Ladies, and Chris Ballew who first became known as the lead singer for The Presidents of the United States of America before reinventing as Caspar Babypants.
Ballew has since turned out 19 kids albums, including two albums of Beatles’ covers, new versions of old favorites, such as Shortnin’ Bread, and his own catchy, original tunes. Ziggy Marley also has an album called Family Time, for those who dig reggae, and the high-energy latin funk band Ozomatli released OzoKidz in 2012. Their song “Germs” is particularly relevant to our present moment as we attempt to explain Covid-19 to kids.
Ozomatli’s bilingual music appeals across cultures, as does the softer and socially conscious music of the group, Sol y Canto. Fans of Hip Hop should check out Alphabet Rockers, who also bring a social consciousness to kid-level without sacrificing musical sophistication. Lucy Kalantari and the Jazz Cats are sure to get everyone moving as she rocks the ukulele backed by clarinet, stand up bass, and occasionally her own little boy on cello.
For a more earthy feel, Elizabeth Mitchell spans folk, country, and world music. As a children’s musician signed with Smithsonian Folkways, Mitchell delivers modern versions of down-home classics such as You Are My Sunshine, as well as her own inspirations. She collaborates with the likes of Levon Helm among others, and occasionally covers artists including Jimi Hendrix and David Bowie. Her most recent album does all this in Spanish.
The duo Renee and Jeremy also give us unexpected covers that delight when you realize how well they work as mellow harmonies for kids (the Red Hot Chili Peppers song Give it Away for example–who knew?). Their originals calm the souls of parents and kids alike.
These days, you are most likely streaming music from your favorite web source. Any of the aforementioned artists would make a great seed for a kid-centered station that won’t drive you crazy, so don’t just click on the first station labeled “kids!” A little effort goes a long way when ensuring that everyone will enjoy the show.