How to Teach Your Child to Love Music (Tip #3)


Photo: Matthew Marshall (

What happens when you have a dad who grew up in West Virginia and a mom who grew up in New York City?

You end up with an eclectic musical upbringing.

You learn to listen to bluegrass and mountain music. You savor the bowings of a fiddle, the strum of guitar strings, the twang of a banjo. But you also learn to appreciate the sound of an orchestra. You savor the call of the trumpet, the sweep of harp strings, the richness of the cello.

Bluegrass and classical–the two styles of music I was privileged to be around as a child–formed the Marshall sound. But the exposure to polar opposites in music did more than that: it taught me to fall in love with a variety of musical styles–and not just bluegrass or orchestral sounds. I learned to love a capella music and piano music and Celtic music and . . . you get the idea.

Often we choose to listen to music that we are familiar with, music that we connect with. Music has the ability to draw us in and provide comfort, and we gravitate toward what we understand and know. But sometimes we forget that music offers more than the sounds we are used to. We forget the world of music is vast and magnificent and enriching.

If your family tends to listen to only one style of music, I encourage you to expand your musical palette.


Try listening to an instrument that you are unfamiliar with, such as an oboe or French horn. Train your ears to recognize a dobro or mandolin. Notice how much work it takes for singers to blend their voices in a capella music.

By listening to different styles of music, not only can you teach your child to tell the difference between instruments and styles, but also you can open a door to further learning. What are the origins of those instruments? For instance, the mandolin resembles the ancient lute and is tuned the same way a violin is tuned. Did you know there are mandolin orchestras? (By now, I think you can guess that I am partial to the mandolin.) The mandolin is played in a bluegrass style in America, but its origins reveal another side to this diminutive instrument.

To make things even more fun, try mixing up styles and instruments. You probably would not associate a banjo with classical music or marches. But my brother Matthew plays classical songs and John Philip Sousa marches on his banjo. You could branch out, too, and connect an instrument with a style of music that you normally would not associate together.

My parents taught my siblings and me to appreciate the beauty of variety.

“God is a God of variety,” my dad used to say as he stood behind the pulpit. “Just look at all of the people sitting in the pews right here.”


The belief–that God can use any instrument we play, as long as it is played to honor Him–filled my life. All can be used to give glory to the God of the universe. Even if man designed the instrument: the white or black keys, the steel or nylon strings, the shape of the wood, the curve of the bell.

Your child’s life will be enriched, as mine was, by exposure to music’s variety. Maybe he will love the sound of a saxophone because you taught him to listen to it. Maybe she will develop a skill on the guitar simply because you played guitar recordings while you were making dinner.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s