I’ve played my kids music since they were born. The first thing my oldest son B heard was the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and that was on his first day on this planet off a little boombox in the hospital room. I couldn’t think of anything better to communicate the beauty this world can hold. That was exactly four and a half years ago and since then there have been a lot more sounds. Yesterday, for instance, we took in Donovan and Fugazi, and both B and G seemed to appreciate them. Baby G ran up to me demanding I hold him and bounce up and down while B did some weird interpretative dance thing.
We also have a lot of instruments lying around the house, including three guitars that B has shown more and more interest in recently. Lately, he’s had me turn on the electric and situate it on his lap and then he plinks around on the strings while I strum the acoustic. It’s not too musical but I’m glad to see he’s trying to figure out how to use it. We also have a cast-off drum from an actual kit that sits on the floor and both kids like to bang on it, usually drowning out everything else. Again, not too musical, in fact kinda the opposite.
Then yesterday morning something remarkable happened. I was strumming the chords–all of A and E–to Brian Jonestown Massacre’s “Got My Eye on You,” a song we’ve been jamming to the last week or so, when B grabbed a small wooden hammer and suddenly banged out the exact beat–duh-duh…duh–to my strumming pattern. Then he did it again and again and I cheered him on. It was exciting having him driving the beat and being able to do something together like playing music, so much so that we did it again later that afternoon while G slept, unfortunately waking him. I simply handed the 16mo his bottle of water, sat him down in a chair and we went back to bashing out a crude rendition of an already crude song while G looked on in seeming appreciation. Now if we can just get him on keyboards we’ve got a band.
In general, I’m opposed to bragging about my two sons. Even though they constantly amaze me, I realize that all kids astound their parents. As a result, I’ve always rolled my eyes at the parent who holds up their kid’s crayon drawing as if it’s a Picasso. Despite what you see in it, it is what it is–the scrawl of a three-year-old.
That said, there are certain ways of separating the wheat from the chaff. Perhaps your five-year-old is already a standout at soccer or something like that. My oldest son B is only four-and-half years old but he has already separated himself in another way. He is cool, way cooler than any kid I’ve come across.
Some of this might depend upon your definition of cool. Much of mine relates to rock and roll and that’s where my son fits in. For instance, B can sing some of the lyrics to at least four Doors songs, and can tell you that their lead singer is Jim Morrison. He also loves the Gorillaz and walks around singing the refrain from their biggest hit, “Clint Eastwood“:
I ain’t happy but I’m feeling glad
I got sunshine in a bag
I’m useless but not for long
The future is coming on.
For a long time his chief jam was Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” but this was replaced by the Minutemen‘s “Little Man With a Gun in His Hand.” He even knows the name of this obscure punk band’s singer/guitarist: D. Boon.
Some of this is no doubt due to my influence. I’ve played him all this stuff, sure, but lest it seem like I’m programming B, there is a lot of music that he has turned away from. These are all songs that he has latched onto himself, just as he chooses elements of my personality and style he likes and discards the rest. For instance, he likes to leave his sunglasses on the neck of his t-shirt, just like me. I didn’t tell him to do that, he just picked up on it and employed it into his own personal style. I don’t mind the theft, especially since it’s all just part of his being cool.
I had one of the greatest things happen to me this morning. A couple of months ago my youngest brother gave me a small guitar amp and an old beat-up electric that I occasionally strum while baby G bounces in his jumper. Usually, four-year-old B–if he’s not at school–will sit and play with some of his toys.
In the last couple of weeks, though, he’s started to take an interest in a small classical guitar I have lying around and has adopted it as his “electric guitar.” After Mama left this morning, I threw B in the jumper and plugged in the electric and started to play a rudimentary version of AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” (itself a very rudimentary tune).
G did his usual bounce along to my playing but out of nowhere B announced he was grabbing his electric guitar and held the classical to his chest and with his fingers on the frets strummed along. He was sorta jumping and singing the chorus, I was head banging and laughing, G was pogoing up and down with a big smile on his face like he was either our hype man or in the audience.
It was one of those pure moments that make all the other stuff–the crying and fits and the poop and pee–all worthwhile. Thanks AC/DC.
I probably spend an hour each day–sometimes more–playing guitar while my now nine-month-old baby bounces along in his Fisher Price jumper. He appears to love it when I pick up the instrument and strum the first chords, in particular the pattern of one progression that is a crude take on the blues. I’ve played it for months and months it seems, but he always picks up on the rudimentary rhythm and bounces in time, occasionally he even sings–or moans–along. I always toy with different words, but this weekend stumbled across a few about G’s just getting some teeth. Any baby’s name would fit where his does, so feel free to adapt it to your own uses, I’ve got no copyright. The tab is below:
(E) Baby G, baby G, is (A) getting (open chord) some (E) teeth.
(E) Finally, finally, may (A) be (open) even (E) three.
That’s it. Play it over and over until you both enter a trance, you’re hoarse and your fingers hurt, and the baby’s about to sleep. It works almost every time.
Most mornings, I put baby G in the automated swing so he can go to sleep. At first, he usually fusses, but then I pick up my acoustic guitar, pull up one of B’s little desk chairs and strum for him. G immediately stops crying and stares into my eyes, listening as I usually just mess around, stringing a few chords together and singing nonsensical lyrics (although lately I’ve sung him Paul Simon’s “Was a Sunny Day”). That I have only remedial skill at the instrument and a flat, off-key voice doesn’t matter. Usually within five minutes the baby is passed out and then I can play with B and get us all ready to get out the door.
More than being useful, I also secretly hope it is inspiring some latent love of music in the little guy, that perhaps he will later pick up the guitar himself, and one day be standing on stage at the Grammys thanking his old man (although no one ever thanks their father, do they?). Even if that never happens, though, the guitar is still a big help.