Engaging Young Children

All children are born with musical abilities and it is important to encourage these faculties early. Children love to sing songs, dance, and improvise instruments from pots and pans to sticks and leaves. Early music exposure and training for children has been shown in many studies to bolster a child’s fine motor skills, language and verbalization development, social skills, and even math and reading comprehension. While most children experience music and rhythm in everyday life, putting music in a structured context like a lesson can be challenging at times. Here are some tips for keeping your younger charges engaged and interested in what you’re teaching.

Encourage Improvisation

Have a student who only wants to play glissandos on the piano? Great! Ask them how they would play the glissando if they were happy. How about sad or scared? What if they were a cat, how would the glissando sound then? Once they’ve explored a few options, have them choose their favorite and add some simple accompaniment. Now you are both playing a song you just made up while building the foundation for harmonics and collaboration.

Get Moving

Use excess energy to your advantage and work on rhythm and coordination concepts.

  • Walk, tiptoe, or skip around the room and have them vary the pace (under running — safety first!).
  • Clap or tap on body parts (shoulders, thighs, stomach) in various patterns while verbalizing each movement.
  • Simply dancing to music is a great way to help children use their whole body to match a tempo or rhythm set from an outside source.

Verbalize Lesson Schedule and Include Breaks

Fifteen minutes can seem like a lifetime to a child and thirty minutes an eternity. Help younger students focus on specific tasks by giving them a timeline of the lesson. For example, “We’re going to play scales for the next five minutes and then we’ll take a two minute dance break!” Showing students how you plan to structure the lesson time will keep things moving and help children learn how to pace and plan out their own time.

Process Over Performance  

For most children, soloing with a symphony at age ten is not the end goal. Remember, each lesson will be different and some days just having your student play four measures is a success. Making lessons fun and inviting will keep younger students interested in learning and looking forward to each week.


Explore more tips and tricks to engage middle schoolers and how to teach adult students.