Jackson, the Music Maker

My children, now 25 and 29, had music around them growing up. I sang and played guitar and their father played his favorite ’60s songs on the piano. We had a music area in their playroom and they played ukulele, drums, and shakers with us whenever. My son’s son, Jackson, now over a year old, also has music around him. His father Coray plays bass guitar, a little piano, and the video game Rock Band. His mother loves to sing Disney tunes, sings in a chorus from time to time, and sings the songs Jackson especially likes. Jackson has several musical toys and instruments. He goes to Music Together on Saturday with both parents, and Coray often bounces him and sings “Fly Eagles Fly” (the Philadelphia Eagles Fight Song). Coray swears that this quiets any potential tantrum. This is ideal: he sees both parents pursue music they like, and he experiences them singing and moving with him—and enjoying it.

Recently, Coray was home alone with Jackson feeding him supper. He couldn’t get him to eat so he began singing about their suppers. Jackson squealed, giggled, and eventually ate his food! Coray says the song goes like this:


Chorus (while stomping loudly back and forth across the kitchen):


Verse (while jumping at Jack with arms in the air on the “YUM”s):


. . . and back into the chorus until Daddy gets tired!

My grandson has a few instruments, and his mother keeps them in the music corner with the piano and Coray’s electric guitars. When I visit, I used to improvise wildly on the piano for Jackson, then play a tune or two, then wait to see what he would do. When he was 6–9 months old he would often sit very still and play one key repeatedly with his index finger, bending it at the knuckle. I was fascinated. I expected him to pound the keys to see what happens. He did that, too, and would alternate between playing with one finger and playing lots of notes.

Now that Jackson is one year old, I don’t play first. When he walks to the piano, I lift him up and put him on the bench and sit behind him. He takes the lead, reaching far to the right to play the high, ringing notes, then far to the left for the low notes, then in the middle, then hitting a lot and stopping, then playing with one finger. He has this piano routine and he plays a version of it every week when I babysit. This past week, however, he did something completely different. He played a lot of notes with both hands very fast, then froze—his hands off the keys. I think he also held his breath and looked at me dramatically out of the corner of his eye. Again, he played furiously then froze and looked at his audience. This went on for a few minutes. I finally joined in playing along with him, following the conductor. He was so clearly communicating—he’s not talking much yet, but he sure can control the flow of energy!

Jackson especially likes the mini-maracas, and the drums come in second. We can play through a whole Music Together CD trading around on different instruments or dancing. Even without the CD, I’ve noticed that Jackson plays with his instruments for long periods of time. Why not? He, like every other child, loves music—and the music that he makes is no doubt inspired by “Beer and Manwiches,” his mother’s singing, and his grandma’s piano experiments. He has many opportunities to make real music with real instruments and people who love him.

What you can do with your baby or toddler:

  • Sing about whatever needs doing, especially if the child is fussy.
  • Make up a rhythmic chant with your child’s name in it to accompany any activity.
  • Find, make, or buy some instruments and play along with CDs.
  • Sing, chant, or play without a CD, following your child’s lead. Imitate whatever your child does.
  • Invite other important adults or young people to share their songs and instrumental skills with your child—there can never be too much music! (Don’t forget the sixth-grader learning a new instrument, or the babysitter who sings pop songs, or the cousin who just made it into the marching band, or the middle-schooler practicing for a talent show. All of these older people will be important music-making models for your child.)
  • Sing, chant, and play with freedom. At this age your child is an adoring audience and partner!