A Sampling of Jim McCutcheon’s Articles for Parents and Music Educators

The first four articles on this page originally appeared as part of a series in Family Life Magazine, Dayton Newspapers, Inc., during 1998 and 1999. These copyrighted articles are posted here with permission of the editor of Family Life Magazine.

The remaining articles are from a series Jim wrote during 2003-4 for American Kids Magazine. These copyrighted articles 
appear on this page with the permission of American Kids Magazine.

For more information about music education for children, or about lessons and classes offered by over fifty teachers at  McCutcheon Music, call the studio at (937) 435-2900 or Jim McCutcheon at home (937) 287-7755.

For information about classes for very young children at McCutcheon Music (newborns through preschool), visit www.musictogetherofsouthdayton.com.

Click here for info about Jim’s teaching of 3-6 year olds and 6-9 year olds at the Montessori Center of South Dayton.


Private Music Lessons for Kids by Jim McCutcheon


The idea of private music lessons for kids is the traditional approach to most instruments, but quite often a challenging project for parents, especially if they themselves are not experienced in music. The choice of a teacher, the best time to start, rules for practicing at home, and what to expect of the whole experience can be quite baffling to many parents.

For very young children, private music lessons are not necessarily the best way to start. Children 7 and younger can often benefit from classes which teach some very fundamental concepts of music such as a steady beat, fast and slow, up and down, loud and soft. At this early age, children also absorb a great deal of the teacher’s own attitudes toward music, so a teacher’s personality is very important in the selection process. Hopefully, skills learned in early childhood will be “automatic” when the child begins playing an instrument such as the guitar or piano, and at that point, the child will be able to focus all attention on the technique of the instrument.

As with many questions dealing with parenting, exactly when to start lessons requires some careful consideration. It varies a great deal depending upon several factors, including:

  1. the child’s mental and physical development: Can your child focus on an activity for more than two minutes? The first grade year usually marks enormous progress in a child’s ability to do many things associated with music lessons, such as listening, following directions, and paying attention to one thing for 15 to 30 minutes.
  2. which instrument the child wants to play: Some instruments, like the trumpet, are best started at about the 5th grade since they require a fair amount of physical strength to produce a tone. Instruments such as piano, guitar, violin and percussion are much easier for young children to play.
  3. the availability of a properly-sized instrument to fit the child: Many instruments, such as guitar, violin, and cello are available in sizes to fit very small children, even three-year-olds! Others, like woodwinds, are not, and the small size of a child’s hands and arms will definitely make it impossible to play even the simplest melodies.
  4. the availability of a teacher who has both the musical knowledge as well as the ability to interact with young children: A teacher for small children must have both of these skill sets, and many music teachers lack experience, training or desire to work with very young children.
  5. the availability of one or both parents to work with the child on a daily basis: Children benefit from their parents’ attention when practicing. Many styles of teaching music, such as the Suzuki method, even require a parent to play an active, positive role in the child’s daily practice sessions.
  6. family finances: Is the cost of lessons for a preschooler a workable expense for the family budget

Depending upon your family dynamics, one excellent indicator of a child’s readiness to take music lessons seriously is persistence in bugging parents about it over a long period of time. If your child has been asking “When can I start to play the…” for six months to a year, this is GOOD! By repeatedly asking for lessons, a child will reinforce the desire to learn an instrument.

Parents should not fear having to decide on the spot when a child asks about music. Rather, let your child know that music study is a real possibility. Go see concert which use the chosen instrument, listen to recordings in the background of your daily activities, and keep the possibility open with your child. If the interest is truly there, it will grow even stronger over time.



Bedtime Music by Jim McCutcheon

One of the easiest and most effective ways to expose young children to music is at bedtime. The lights are low, there is no distracting activity and the bedroom can be filled with beautiful music and the mind imagining all sorts of things.

Music listening can easily become a part of the bedtime ritual, and something which a child will look forward to with great expectation. CD players are priced very affordably and their sound quality is much better than the record players parents grew up with. The music can be set to play rather softly, and even at a soft level will be effective in covering up lots of distracting noises in the house which can keep children awake.

There are several ways to obtain bedtime music. Many sale-priced CDs with excellent music are available for as little as a dollar or two, but select only the labels with the DDD marking – some of these sale-priced discs without the DDD are recorded from very poor-quality vinyl LPs, and simply sound as bad as the scratchy albums they’re made from. Discs or tapes given as gifts from family members and friends will remind the child of them while listening to the music, and reinforce the value the giver places on listening to music. There are lullaby discs available at most CD stores with peaceful music from around the world, in verbal languages your child may not understand, but sung and played using the universal language of music.

In our family, we went to the library with our first son and let him choose the albums he wanted to hear. Being 3 years old at the time, he chose them based on the pictures on the front! He got an earful of variety – music from around the world.

It is good to mix familiar music with some new and different music each night. When we used library recordings, we would listen to the new recordings for about a week each night so that some familiarity would be gained. At first hearing, one album of music from Africa startled my older son, then about 4 years old – since the music was so different from anything else he had ever heard, he thought the record player was broken, but later came to understand the wonderful drum rhythms he was hearing!

Occasionally I would stay in the room and listen to music with my sons. This was helpful especially when listening to instrumental pieces. I remember listening to Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” and naming the movements so they could imagine the different pictures being portrayed in the music, like the Promenade, The Old Castle, the Ballet of the Chickens in their Shells and The Great Gate of Kiev. Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite” is another interesting set of pieces without words – the “Trepak” (Russian Dance) is really fast and good for imagining the dancers – and don’t be surprised if your child falls asleep during the “Arab Dance” with its slow, undulating rhythm.

It is fun to see which pieces become your child’s favorites. One mother just told me her 5-year-old was listening to a violin recording and really liked it! Some children may go for the Raffi-like kids songs with words they can understand and relate to, but don’t limit the listening to that style of music only. Many children love Mozart, Bach and Beethoven every bit as much, especially after several hearings of one of their pieces.

So, after a nice bedtime story, let music tell its own story to your child. 



The Beat Goes On by Jim McCutcheon

Youngsters listen to everything around them. Hearing is one of the first senses to come alive in the womb, and the mother’s steady, constant heartbeat is a sound that the child learns well. After birth, recordings of a heartbeat are often used for the calming effect the sound has on babies.

From birth onward, a child’s auditory perception sharpens and all kinds of interesting sounds are absorbed, from the soft sounds of rustling leaves, bed sheets and purring kittens to the exciting, loud sounds of fireworks on the 4th of July.

Children are very perceptive to spoken languages at a very young age, and studies have shown that listening to foreign languages at an early age can help them learn the unusual sounds of that language later in life. The music of a culture is usually related to its spoken language in many ways. Children, like sponges, soak up any musical sounds they hear and learn about them.

One thing that distinguishes music from most of the other sounds they hear is the beat, the element of music which you feel when you’re tapping your toes or clapping along with a song. The steady pulse of music is one of the first things a child can learn, and it can be done at a very early age.

There are many ways to experience the beat with your child. I’ve seen Moms and Dads holding babies and rocking them back and forth with the beat while listening to music – this simple activity teaches the baby a relationship between music and movement. Parents can sing or chant nursery rhymes with their babies and bounce them on their knee or hold their hands and move to the pulse of the music.

The beat can be experienced any time music is present. Children will imitate clapping hands, patting knees, tapping feet – anything that makes a little noise. While riding in the car, our kids used to love patting their hands on their car seat, keeping the beat while music was playing.

There is a difference between the beat and rhythm. The words of a song are sung in rhythm, while the beat is very steady and always pulsing. For example, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” has syllables that fall on the beat, but the words pause at the end of each phrase while the beat goes on. In “The Farmer in the Dell,” the beat falls on “far-,” “in” and “dell.” If a song has words, children usually try to clap on each syllable, and this usually is not the beat. When a child can sing in rhythm and clap on the beat at the same time, you can tell that a new level of accomplishment has been achieved.

To do rhythm at home, it is not necessary to go out and buy any equipment, although there are many percussion instruments available which have very interesting sounds. It is fun to improvise drums with objects found around thehouse. Empty Pringles cans work very well, as do metal cans that have plastic lids. The clear plastic boxes with reclosable lids often used in foodservice also make great drums. Children learn to experiment with all the differentsounds these cans can make, depending on where you strike them (the top, bottom, sides or corners all sound different) and what you strike them with (pencil erasers, spoons, fingers, toothpicks).

Playing rhythms with a child is really fun, and it doesn’t take a lot of musical talent. Happy drumming! 



Helping Your Child Build a Recording Collection by Jim McCutcheon

Kids love to collect things – bugs, leaves, sports cards, just to name a few. More and more kids are starting their own collections of music, and they can talk about it with the same authority they have when quoting a baseball player’s batting average or ERA. That’s pretty amazing!

When I was growing up, I remember having access to a few recordings that I would listen to over and over again for hours. Some belonged to my parents, some were my big sister’s. When I finally had the money to buy recordings, I started my own collection. This article will attempt to make some suggestions on beginning what may well become a lifelong connection with music listening.

Many recordings feature settings of well-known children’s songs, which work great for toddlers. Beyond age three, there are many CD/cassette releases from talented musicians who also write songs for kids, such as John McCutcheon (norelation to the author) and the duo of Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer (a favorite of mine is “Air Guitar”). Songs which tell neat stories and teach positive values abound, and are usually set in a folk or soft-rock style which kids can easily follow. Other recordings actually teach things about the music being played, as in my own “Guitar Man” recording.

For orchestral listening, some version of Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” is a must for a youngster’s collection. A narrator tells the story in between orchestral music sections which feature different instruments playing musical themes which belong to the different characters. Many versions have been recorded, featuring narrators such as Star Trek’s William Shattner (Captain Kirk) and Patrick Stewart (Jean-Luc Picard), as well as a rather creative version by the rock star Sting. Violinist Itzak Perlman has also recorded a very nice version. Actually, you can’t really go wrong selecting one of the many available.

Another set of recordings that are wonderful for kids is from the “Classical Kids” label from Canada. There are at least five in a continually growing series of musical biographies about some of the world’s greatest composers, including Bach, Beethoven, Vivaldi, Tchaikovsky and Mozart. They tell historically accurate stories of the composers’ lives from a child’s point of view and intersperse the narrative liberally with musical performances of the composers’ best-known works. What a great way to educate kids about the world’s greatest music! Even as an adult, I enjoy listening to these recordings. Classical Kids has also begun to release videos of these stories.

Other classical music which children enjoy would include opera overtures by Rossini, such as the William Tell Overture, which a lot of grownups know as the “Lone Ranger Theme,” or the overture from “Barber of Seville.” Kids alwaysrespond to the fast action in these overtures, the booming crescendos, and the frequent, clear contrasts in the music. Since the themes in these pieces are very singable, it is common to hear children humming them after they’ve heard the recording just a few times. Kids singing Rossini? Pretty cool!

Many local stores have areas specifically set aside for children’s recordings. The selection is often quite large, as at Borders Books & Music on SR 725. Most children’s recordings exist in both CD and cassette format. As your child assembles a collection of recorded music, keep in mind that seeing music performed live is essential for a complete musical experience. Even with excellent sound quality available on CDs, it cannot compare with the real thing.

Throughout the school year at Memorial Hall, the Dayton Philharmonic has several programs geared to youngsters, including a Family Concert Series called “Do-Re-Mi” as well as three Young People’s Concerts. During the month of March, the DPO also schedules several Magic Carpet Concerts held at sites throughout the Miami Valley. Ticket information can be obtained at 224-9000. Other area arts agencies, such as the Centerville Arts Commission, the Dayton Jewish Community Center, and the Washington Township Recreation Center sponsor one or more children’s concerts in their annual series. Call your local arts group for information about their musical activities and to be placed on their mailing lists.


From American Kids Magazine, April, 2003:

Choosing a First Instrument – Where to Start? by Jim McCutcheon

If your children are enjoying an environment that is musically stimulating, you will probably find them strongly attracted to one or more instruments which they feel they would like to play. I am often asked by parents, “What would the best choice for a first instrument for my child?” The answer lies in a combination of many factors which are unique to each family considering entering the world of music-making.

One important element is the age and size of the child. In general, band instruments are best started in the fifth or sixth grades because instruments such as flutes and clarinets are simply too big for small hands and arms, and those instruments are not available in smaller sizes. Other band instruments, such as the brass family, are physically difficult to play and require a lot of wind which children under the age of 10 or 11 are incapable of producing.

The traditional first instrument for children has been the piano. Pianos are very good for teaching the layout of the notes used in music. They are also very rewarding to play because each note requires a fairly simple movement of only one finger. In contrast, a guitar requires a finger on the left hand to do one thing and a second finger on the right hand to do something different, just to play one note. Woodwind instruments use combinations of fingers along with breath and control of the lips and facial muscles, and just getting a nice note to come out is an achievement for a beginner. On the piano, it is much simpler – youngsters can get one or even two melodies going at the same time, and this is quite a payoff for their beginning efforts!

On the other hand, a dependable, working piano represents a sizable investment of money and floor space in the home. To sound good, it also requires tuning once or twice a year, something which needs to be done by a professional piano technician. It is possible to save some money by renting, but after delivery charges and rental fees for a few months, that amount of money could largely pay for another kind of instrument.

The piano is not the only choice for a beginning instrument. Over the past few decades, advancements in pedagogy (the methodology of teaching something) have resulted in much success with children beginning to play music on string instruments, such as guitars, violins and cellos. These instruments are available in fractional sizes that will fit very young children, and those children have access to increasing numbers of professional teachers dedicated to teaching them.

It is very instructive for both parents and children to take advantage of opportunities where children can try out instruments themselves. Ideally, families can attend special programs where their children can try out a variety of instruments under the guidance of specialists who teach those instruments. Often, a child whose heart has been set on learning a particular instrument plays it, finds it difficult to produce a note and decides to try something else.

Finally, it is important to understand that it is most important that children learn about music in a way that is positive and that they receive support and encouragement for their efforts. Many children change instruments as they grow up, but even then, all is not lost – playing one instrument always makes the next one easier to learn.

Jim McCutcheon, M.M.Ed., works with children across Ohio as “The Guitar Man” and with his wife, Debbie, has operated McCutcheon Music in Centerville since 1988.


Choosing a Music Teacher   (American Kids Magazine, June, 2003)

Some advice for parents by Jim McCutcheon

Many professional services which we use require practitioners to be trained, tested and licensed before they are allowed to perform those services. In fields such as medicine, law, public education and plumbing, we are fairly certain that we will receive quality service.

Unfortunately, this is not the case with private music teachers. Anyone who has the desire to teach private music lessons may hang out their shingle and advertise whether or not they have any training or experience. Since it is up to parents to do some research when seeking out a teacher, I thought of several pertinent questions which will be helpful in the process:

1. What is your professional history? Learn all you can about degrees, master classes attended, performing experience, etc.

2. What is your experience teaching students the age of my child? Find out how the teacher feels about working with children this age. Especially for young children, does the teacher have the appropriate vocabulary, expectations and spirit to really connect and stimulate the child’s interest in making music.

3. What are your goals with students like my child? Find out how these are achieved. Listen for the words “fun” or “enjoyment” in the teacher’s answer.

4. Does the child have any input into the pedagogical process? Is the teacher willing to be flexible if a student really wants to learn a particular song?

5. Do your students ever perform in recital? Find out how often they may do this, and whether it is mandatory for students to perform.

6. Are parents allowed to observe the lessons? In my opinion, children under the age of 12 benefit greatly from having one or both parents attend each lesson. So much usually happens during a lesson that the student can forget important points made during the lesson. Parents who have taken notes can gently remind the student of those points later in the week during practice times.

7. What are the parents’ responsibilities concerning practice?

8. Do your students have the opportunity to perform for judged events such as Federation Festival or Piano Guild? Music teachers whose students participate in this type of activity have knowledge of the motivational incentives that annual events like these add to the learning process. Because of the specific goals required by these events, those teachers tend to be fairly organized because their students need to be ready for higher levels of achievement each year. These teachers also tend to be more integrated into the larger musical community in their area, which is another healthy sign.

9. Do your students have the opportunity to play music with others their age? This is especially helpful for guitar and piano students who are usually soloists who miss many musical learning experiences that occur when playing music with others.

10. What is your cancellation policy? With today’s busy schedules, it is important to work with a teacher whose schedule will be compatible with your family’s schedule. An important part of private music study is the regular weekly meeting of teacher and student. Some absences are unavoidable, because of illness, emergencies or other commitments, and it is important to know how these will be handled. Is there any flexibility on the part of the teacher to meet at a different time during the week if a particular lesson time cannot work?

11. Would you be willing to meet with me and my child before starting lessons? If you are still not quite sure of your choice by speaking over the phone, much can be gained from even a short face-to-face meeting.

Learning the answers to these questions will definitely help you make a wiser decision concerning this most important choice in your child’s musical education.

Jim McCutcheon, M.M.Ed., works with children across Ohio as “The Guitar Man” and with his wife, Debbie, 
has operated McCutcheon Music in Centerville since 1988. 

For information about American Kids Magazine, visit www.4americankids.com . 


Music to the Tiniest Ears (American Kids Magazine, July, 2003)

by Jim McCutcheon

Parents are often amazed when they see advertisements for music lessons for babies! They have visions of babies who can barely sit up taking a traditional piano lesson, which of course makes little sense. That is not what really happens, and in this article, I will try to clarify the process of learning music that occurs in babies.

In the womb, hearing is one of the first senses to come online, and therefore sounds such as the mother’s heartbeat and speech form the first concepts of the child’s experience of its environment. These sounds are not only heard but remembered as well. It is a well-known fact that playing a recording of a heartbeat in a nursery will help calm restless babies because it is a very familiar sound to them.

There are many stories of mothers playing or listening to music while pregnant, and there is evidence that this music was heard and remembered by the babies they were carrying. In my own experience, when my wife was carrying our second son, we attended a nephew’s band concert – and my wife felt a definite response to the band’s drum section – every time they played, the baby started kicking! We decided to play classical guitar music for him in utero through headphones placed on her abdomen, and he came into the world very familiar with guitar sounds, and this began a lifelong enjoyment of guitar music!

Parents can teach musical fundamentals to their babies through fingerplays (such as “Eensy, weensy spider) and by songs sung while the baby is bounced on the parent’s knees. The eminent music educator John Feierabend has noted that over the course of the last century, these two important ways of interacting with children have all but disappeared in our musical culture. In an effort to revive this, GIA Publications has published several of his books, such as The Book of Bounces and The Book of Wiggles & Tickles. He has also recorded CDs including “Ride Away on Your Horses: Music, Now I’m One!” and “Frog in the Meadow: Music, Now I’m Two!”

Lee Ann Kinner, a Dayton area music educator who, among many other musical activities, teaches classes for children 18 months to three years of age. She is certified in several styles of children’s music education including Orff Schulwerk, Dalcroze and Kodaly, each of which is worth a search on the web. She says, “Children are never too young to experience music – during the ages of 6-18 months, the dendrites in the brain are most receptive to stimulation, and they are connected to language development. This is the time when they should be most actively stimulated not just with listening to music but with accompanying patting, rocking, and other movements. Research shows that small differences, such as rocking the baby forward versus sideways actually stimulate different areas of the brain.”

Lee Ann’s weekly classes are geared to educating the children as well as their parents, who are encouraged to attend. Parents then become the teachers for the rest of the week, with new ideas and new ways to play with (and teach) their babies. Parents need no previous musical experience – just an openness to learn and a desire to share this beautiful art form with their children.

Jim McCutcheon, M.M.Ed., works with children across Ohio as “The Guitar Man” and with his wife, Debbie, has operated McCutcheon Music in Centerville since 1988.

For information about American Kids Magazine, visit www.4americankids.com


Fall – A Time for Learning Music  (American Kids Magazine, August, 2003)

by Jim McCutcheon

As fall approaches and our lives begin to march in step with the regularity of school schedules, setting aside some extra time for learning music is a very positive way to add something important to your child’s life.

In school, music offers a chance to be part of a group that is working to accomplish something to the best of its ability. It is very much like a sports team except that everyone who wants to play gets to be on the team. Students in musical groups such as choir, band and orchestra generally have good grades and developed social skills, as well as a large network of close friends as they progress to middle school, high school and beyond.

Most public and private schools offer general music classes as part of the regular curriculum. These classes are usually designed to stimulate a child’s interest in music as well as to lay a foundation of musical fundamentals which will make other musical activities easier to learn. In most schools, general music classes meet once or twice a week, enough to lay a foundation which should enable most students to begin playing an instrument or sing in tune.

If a school system has a band or orchestra program, it usually starts around the fourth, fifth or sixth grades. Music teachers at the school have most likely made their younger students aware of these possibilities through giving concerts at school assemblies and in the music classroom. For parents, it is good to be aware of exactly what your child’s school system offers in the music curriculum up through high school, since opportunities for interested students may vary widely. For example, most school systems offer a band program of some sort, giving children the opportunity to play woodwinds, brass and percussion instruments. A smaller number also offer orchestra classes in which children can learn to play the violin, viola, cello and bass. An increasing number of schools are offering one or more jazz bands at the middle and high school levels, and many young musicians become very motivated to perform in this distinctly American style of music which uses rich harmonies and fosters creative improvisation. Basic guitar classes are also being added to the general music curriculum as well.

Musical activities at school provide students with wonderful learning opportunities with professional teachers, but the class settings often cannot address each student’s individual needs. That is where private lessons can make a significant difference. Students who study privately with a qualified and experienced teacher usually spend more time with their instruments and develop many aspects of their musicianship to a higher degree than those who do not. In a private lesson, the teacher can focus totally on the student’s performance and teach precisely to that particular student’s needs in terms of technique, tone, and reading skills as well as phrasing and interpretation. Private teachers usually help their students with their school band or orchestra music assignments, and also give the students different music to read and study. Studying privately usually gives students opportunities not available in public schools, such as the opportunity to perform solo recitals and participate in judged events such as the annual National Federation of Music Clubs Festival and Piano Guild auditions.

Private lessons usually help students achieve their musical goals, which often include a desire to be leaders in their sections of band or orchestra at school, or to become soloists with their rock band. For information on choosing a private music teacher, you may refer to the June 2003 issue of American Kids Magazine, or find the article at my website and follow the link to “Articles.”

Jim McCutcheon, M.M.Ed., works with children across Ohio as “The Guitar Man” and with his wife, Debbie, has operated McCutcheon Music in Centerville since 1988. 

For information about American Kids Magazine, visit www.4americankids.com


Music Therapy – For Kids in Need  (American Kids Magazine, September, 2003)
By Jim McCutcheon

When we think of music in our culture, we usually think of it as entertainment, or perhaps as an artistic activity that stimulates both our children and ourselves. Music has another important function which is becoming widely known: music therapy.

As stated on the American Music Therapy Association website, “Music therapy is the prescribed use of music by a qualified person to effect positive changes in the psychological, physical, cognitive, or social functioning of individuals with health or educational problems.”

What exactly does a music therapist do? Says Professor Susan Gardstrom, director of the music therapy program at the University of Dayton, “We listen to music (for relaxation, for stimulation, to structure movement experiences. etc.), we create music (through the immediacy of improvisation or the more thoughtful, generative process of composition), and we sing and play music that has already been written (sing-alongs, choir chime groups, combos, etc.). Each method places a specific set of demands on the client, and each has unique benefits in stimulating development. For example, a child with a speech disorder would benefit more from singing than listening. A child with a physical disability may need to play instruments that require coordination and endurance in the affected area. A child with cancer may need to improvise on instruments or create a song in order to express feelings. It’s an individualized process.”

“Music therapists work with people of all ages, including neonates, young children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly,” says Gardstrom. “Settings include hospitals, schools, residential treatment facilities, psychiatric clinics, prisons, nursing care facilities, rehabilitation clinics, and community-based programs, to name a few.”

To prepare for this profession, music therapy students at UD pursue a four-year course of study as music majors who follow a curriculum designed to help them prepare for work with incredibly diverse populations, with whom they get practical experience in the field at local hospitals and schools. Upon graduation, they enter into an internship (over 1,000 hours) after which they take examinations to become board-certified. Programs offering advanced degrees in music therapy are also offered.

For many children, music therapists present activities that are used to strengthen nonmusical abilities that are important for daily life such as communication skills and physical coordination. They are often hired in schools to provide services listed on the Individualized Education Plan for mainstreamed special learners. Music therapists also work in private practice.

One of the biggest misconceptions about music therapy is that the client or patient has to have some particular music ability or talent in order to benefit from the activities. Professor Gardstrom recognizes “the musical child inside all of us that strives for expression,” and a good music therapist can bring that to the surface even if music has not been an active part of a client’s life.

Some of the most exciting music therapy work is being done in neonatal wards at hospitals, where it has been proven that its use has resulted in very positive outcomes for the babies, such as increased weight gain and other physiological factors. Says Gardstrom, “It also offers an opportunity for parents of premature infants to nurture their babies at a stage where traditional activities such as holding and breastfeeding are not yet possible.”

To learn more about music therapy, you may contact the American Music Therapy Association (http://www.musictherapy.org), the Ohio Association for Music Therapy (http://community.cleveland.com/cc/oamt), and Professor Susan Gardstrom at the University of Dayton Music Department (937-229-3936).

Jim McCutcheon, M.M.Ed., works with children across Ohio as “The Guitar Man” and with his wife, Debbie, has operated McCutcheon Music in Centerville since 1988. 

He also teaches at the Montessori Center of South Dayton.  

For information about American Kids Magazine, visit www.4americankids.com


A Very Merry Melody (American Kids Magazine, December, 2003)
By Jim McCutcheon

In every culture, music is an integral part of most holiday seasons. It enriches the experience of the holidays by incorporating messages into the lyrics of songs and by our associating familiar melodies with past holiday experiences. Clearly, music is a holiday tradition celebrated by many.

For example, in our household we know the Christmas season is upon us when my wife puts on the scratchy Christmas LPs we have listened to for many years now. This time of year, many families have music-centered traditions ranging from caroling to attending a Nutcracker performance. Children especially identify with the sounds of the season.

Our extended family has a number of young grandchildren and we have been building a tradition at family gatherings for a few years now. At some point in the evening, I sit down on the living-room floor, pull out my guitar and tune it up. The children, now ages 4 through 7, gather around immediately with looks of expectation on their beautiful faces. They begin to sing holiday songs together, and they take turns strumming the guitar while I finger the chords. Parents and grandparents gather round and enjoy watching us make music. The children, uninhibited about hamming it up, usually get up off the floor, dance to the music and put on a show to everyone’s delight.

After dinner, we often sing holiday songs, a cappella or with simple rhythm instruments for accompaniment. The children have absorbed these musical experiences over the years and it has become a tradition that we all enjoy.

Does music-making together sound like an impossible stretch for your family? Over the past 50 years, with the growth of audio and visual media production, Americans have in general been listening more to music rather than creating it. After all, it is much easier to put in a CD and listen to professional choirs and orchestras perform holiday music, as opposed to actually making the music.

It is important to understand that you do not need a professional musician in your family to make music happen at gatherings. For example, holiday songs can be accompanied on the guitar after only a very few months of study and practice. With or without basic instrumental proficiency, the most important thing in a home setting is that children are included in the music making, and that everyone has fun doing it together. You might supply your children with bells to accompany a hearty rendition of Jingle Bells or search for basic household items that could double as an instrument. Starting when children are very young, say, two to five years old, is a definite plus because at that age they love all musical activities, even the simplest ones. They are not at all critical of the technical aspects of the performance. They are connected to what the music feels like, and the experience of doing it with their family, not caring at all if the singing is concert quality, or even in tune!

Traditions have more meaning when families actually do things together. This year, try music!

Jim McCutcheon, M.M.Ed., works with children across Ohio as “The Guitar Man” and with his wife, Debbie, has operated McCutcheon Music in Centerville since 1988.

He also teaches at the Montessori Center of South Dayton

For information about American Kids Magazine, visit www.4americankids.com



Musical Web Sites for Children (American Kids Magazine, January, 2004) 
by Jim McCutcheon

For interested parents, the web offers many excellent musical sites for children. In this article, I’ll share several of my favorites with brief descriptions of what can be found there.

For kids 1 to 10, visit http://www.kinderplanet.com/music.htm. You’ll find several instrumental accompaniments for songs that you can sing. For a fun word search of instruments, visit http://www.thepotters.com/puzzles/music.html.

Do you have a favorite childrens music performer and would like to learn more about their performances and recordings? Visit the Kids Music Web (http://kidsmusicweb.com). There you’ll find lots of links for childrens’ musicians and the opportunity to order a free email newsletter.

The Children’s Music Web (http://www.childrensmusic.org) is an excellent site for both parents and children. Kids can listen to childrens songs in live audio, and then vote for their favorites – that’s one way the CMW evaluates artist submissions for the awards it presents regularly. This site is very interactive for children and highly recommended.

Are you looking for a free source of childrens songs? Visiting http://freekidsmusic.com should whet your appetite for the music of many artists, whose works are showcased there. As they state on the site, “all the kids songs you find on this site are free: listen, download, play them on your computer, or burn them to a personal CD for boombox or car listening. Why is this wonderful kids music free? The children’s music artists who post their songs here want to introduce you to their music so they’re giving you some of it for free. After all, if you like what you hear here, you might want them to come sing in your community or you might want to buy an album or two! Unlike the MP3 theft you’re hearing about on the news…these are legal, free MP3 downloads.” The site also has a section on artist bios.

With a “real” job as a professional website designer, Pat Kinderman’s labor of love is her website, Embracing the Child (http://www.eyeontomorrow.com/embracingthechild/music.html). Studyweb.com calls it “one of those few web sites that can truly be called ‘unique.’ It engages educators and advocates on a thoughtful, creative level…and openly aims to inspire its visitors to approach children and the challenges of working with them positively.” While the main thrust of the site is literary, there are pages on music and dance containing some very thoughtful recommendations. There are also many links of interest to parents.

A very encouraging use of the web is epitomized by the Childrens Music Network (http://www.cmnonline.org), a nonprofit association that has been in operation since the 1980s. It now has members across the United States and Canada, and their stated philosophy is, “We recognize children’s music as a powerful means of encouraging cooperation, celebrating diversity, building self-esteem, promoting respect and responsibility for our environment, and cultivating an understanding of nonviolence and social justice.” Their membership includes a variety of adults and children who “meet and stay in touch to share songs and ideas about children’s music, to inspire each other about the empowering ways adults and young people can communicate through music, and to be a positive catalyst for education and community-building through music.”

These sites are only a few of many resources available for parents who are interested in feeding their children quality music. Happy surfing!

Jim McCutcheon, M.M.Ed., works with children across Ohio as “The Guitar Man” and with his wife, Debbie, has operated McCutcheon Music in Centerville since 1988. 


Singing to Your Children
By Jim McCutcheon

Many parents these days are quite interested in their childrens’ musical development, but sometimes feel that their own musical skills are somewhat lacking. Parents often do not realize that professional music training is really not necessary to instill a love of music in their children – it is much simpler than that!

When our parents and grandparents were growing up, there was a lot more music-making in the family. Parents regularly shared music with babies in the form of finger-play (“Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the door and see all the people!”) and tickling games (“Shoe a little horse, shoe a little mare, but let the little pony go bare, bare, bare!” while patting a child’s foot rhythmically and doing the tickle on the last “bare”). These kinds of games can still be played and enjoyed, and since the text is spoken, not sung, most parents can confidently perform the text with a sense of rhythm and fun, which is mainly what the young child is ready to absorb. Books full of these kinds of activities are available from GIA Publications.

“I am often asked by parents what they can do to help their child with music and more specifically what they can do to help improve their child’s singing voice,” says Julie Swank, a music education professor at the University of Dayton. “I tell them it is simple. Just sing with them and to them. Often a sheepish response comes next. A father might tell me that he is afraid to sing because he feels that his voice might not be a good model. Young children do not know if a singer is singing in tune or not, but they do know if their parents (specifically their fathers) sing or do NOT sing. This action of singing or not sends a message.”

Children model many of their parents’ behaviors. I have noticed while teaching guitar that parents who do not sing will more likely have children who are uncomfortable when asked to sing even a single note, and these children usually require a great deal of coaxing and cajoling to begin the process of learning how to control their voice. Once these children start to sing, I have found their progress to be quite similar to children who are comfortable when asked to sing, so it really is not a matter of inborn talent as much as finding a teacher or a situation which can help the child get over the initial hurdle of singing in the company of others.

Should we as parents be concerned that our singing might not be of the highest quality? “In the home,” says Ms. Swank, “much leeway is given to family members because the experience of sharing an intimate moment involving a song overrides the presence or absence of musical accuracy. I am not sure when children realize that other singers (such as their parents, teachers, etc.) are off key. I can report that by January, after discussion, demonstration and examples, most of my kindergarten students can tell me when I sing “too high”, “too low” or “just right” – like the story of the Three Bears!”

My advice to interested parents is to find your own voice, and learn to be comfortable with it. After all, Bob Dylan, Rod Stewart and many others who are considered to be great musicians do not possess what most of us would call a beautiful voice, and yet they are very expressive singers. If you are concerned about how you sound when you sing, remember that singing is a learned skill, very much like shooting a basketball through a hoop. Most of us possess a voice that is much better than we imagine! Getting honest feedback from an understanding voice teacher or choir director can give you some good ideas and direction in developing a wonderful musical instrument – your voice!