Photo Credit: Greg Kessler
Grammy-Winning rocker Dan Zanes has a completely addictive new family album out -- Little Nut Tree, which includes elements of everything from folk to West African music. (We're a little obsessed with the cover of the R&B classic "Down in the Basement.") After catching the show/dance party at the NYU Skirball Center, we hit Zanes up for his best tips to get kids excited about music.
Belt it out -- even if you think you can’t carry a tune. "Before my daughter was born, I spent so much time thinking about the very first CD I would play for her," says Zanes, who ended up choosing a song by the Jamaican group The Melodians called "Little Nut Tree" -- now the title track of his new album. "I was so focused on recorded music, but I think it’s a more meaningful experience if kids can listen to their parents singing or playing instruments. My father was probably a terrible singer, but I can clearly remember the songs that he sang around the house."
Get up and dance. Zanes always encourages kids and parents at his shows to stand up: If your kids see you enjoying music, they will, too, he says. "My biggest dream is to become a good dancer, but it wasn’t something that was around in my life growing up. I never ever saw my mother dance," he says. "Kids watch what we do -- and the more we hold back, the more they will."
Think outside the Beatles. "I know a lot of people who default to Beatles records," says Zanes, who grew up listening to Lead Belly and Pete Seeger. "Here in the U.S., we’re so focused on English, but music can help your kids learn that we can sing and speak in different languages." Zanes regularly has tracks on his albums in other languages and one album -- Nueva York -- is in Spanish.
Help your kids pick up an instrument. Whether it’s the banjo, bongos, guitar, or the spoons, you can help your kids learn to love music if they can experience it in different ways. Don’t feel like ponying up for private lessons right now? Check out the Family Band Workshop and get free music instruction on a variety of instruments from Dan Zanes himself via video. "I want to give everyone the tools that I know," he says. "That’s from the folk tradition -- one person passes it on to another."
Listen to it live. If you’ve ever taken your kids to hear live music, then you may have witnessed firsthand how even kids who can’t sit at the dinner table for ten minutes can become transfixed when they hear live music. "I used to take my daughter to the South Street Seaport [in New York City] to hear a group called The New York Packet sing a cappella sea songs," says Zanes. "She would be engaged for an hour at age three or four. That would never fly on a CD."
Share music with your kids. In the era of iPhones and Nanos, it’s easy to tune out the world when you listen to your favorite tunes, but it's important to listen to music together, too. "Music is a social glue that really brings us together," says Zanes. "There’s nothing that you can ever do with an iPod that compares to what happens when people sit together clapping their hands or stamping their feet."