Want a great way to inspire young musicians? Take them to see a live musical performance. Whether it’s a concert in a performance hall, a school music program, or a student piano recital, it can be a great learning experience to watch others making and sharing music. Make sure it is also a great experience for you and everyone else at the concert by choosing an appropriate first concert experience for your child, then preparing and helping them understand what will be expected of them.
At What Age Can Children Go to Concerts?
This depends on the child and on the type of concert. I remember going to the symphony at 8 or 9 years old, and it was (sorry, Mom and Dad) a little bit boring. Not that I didn’t enjoy it at all, but two-and-a-half hours seemed a very long time to sit quiet and listen to orchestra music. Parents need to think carefully about what kind of musical experiences they take their kids to. You want your child’s first impression to be a good one.
Many orchestras give child-friendly concerts. For example, the Portland Baroque Orchestra gives Young People’s Concerts which are shorter in length with pieces selected to be enjoyable by a younger audience. After the concert, the audience can visit the stage and ask the performers about their instruments. When I took my sons to one of these concerts, one hour was still a little long for Eli (a wiggly six-year-old at the time), but Isaac (8), managed very well. Both of them enjoyed seeing the instruments up close afterward. Overall, I think it was a positive experience for both boys, and a great introduction to concert going.
A pops concert could be another good first concert experience for children, especially one that features familiar movie music. To help you choose other classical music that children will enjoy, read this article. If you do take your child to a longer concert, understand that you may need to leave at intermission rather than taxing your child’s attention span to the limit. Consider working up to more formal concert experiences by first attending music performances put on by the choir, band, or orchestra at your local schools.
Developing Good Concert Behavior
We don’t always think about the important role that the audience plays in the success of a concert. If everyone in the audience is quiet and attentively listening, the performers see and hear that everyone is focusing on the music, and that actually helps the performance. Good concert behavior allows everyone to enjoy the experience to the fullest.
Here are some steps to prepare your child to be on their best concert behavior:
- Talk it up beforehand. Say, “A famous pianist is coming to town and I’d like to take you to hear her play,” or, “We’re going to your brother’s high school band concert on Friday. It will be really exciting to hear him play with all the other instruments.”
- Practice listening to music together. You could even listen to some of the music that will be played at the concert. Put on a recording and ask your child to join you in quietly listening to the music. Afterward, talk about the music. How did it make you feel? What instruments could you hear? What parts did you like best? Did it seem like the music was telling a story?
- Discuss the rules of concert behavior. These are very simple: when other people are performing, listen, stay put, and don’t make any noise until the piece is over.
- Let your child know that if they have to talk or go somewhere for any reason, they should wait until people are clapping between pieces. Agree on a silent reminder you can use if you need to help your child be quiet. You also might like to agree on a treat as a reward for good concert behavior.
Before the Show
- Come armed with tissues and cough drops (unwrap only during applause).
- Arrive early.
- Visit the restroom before the show begins.
- Choose seats where you can leave with minimum disruption if needed.
- Review the rules.
- Turn off any electronics.
During the Show
- Be a good example to your child. Sometimes grownups have a hard time following the rules too.
- Applause might be a good time to let your child know you’re pleased by how well they’re listening quietly to the music.
- Be prepared to take your child out if they are disturbing others, or if they express to you that they’re getting tired.
After the Show
- Talk about the music you heard, what you enjoyed, how you felt, what your favorite part was, and what stories the music told you.
- Celebrate good concert behavior with hugs and praise and maybe even a treat.
- If your child wasn’t able to follow the rules this time, let them know you’re confident they’ll do better next time. Be sure to wait an appropriate amount of time before trying again.
Enjoying Music Together
Attending a concert together as a family can be a wonderful experience. From watching siblings perform in school concerts, to their first trip to the symphony, thoughtfully choosing musical experiences for your child and then laying the groundwork for good concert behavior can begin a lifetime of enjoying the arts.