Listening to classical music with your toddlers can boost brainpower.
Not theirs. Yours.
As a parent of a child under the age of 5, I know you can only spend so much time listening to “We Are the Dinosaurs” on repeat before your neurotransmitters suffer irreversible damage.
But if you can get your young kids into classical music, you can swap out that Laurie Berkner for some Beethoven from time to time, say during a long summer vacation drive, and earn your brain a musical respite. And they’ll be primed for more interesting musical taste down the road.
The key is to start with the kind of orchestral works your toddlers are most likely to get into on their own. That means short, melodic and upbeat.
Here are 10 kid-tested pieces of classical music to try.
1. Carmen Overture, Georges Bizet
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The plot of Carmen, one of the most popular operas of all time, may be R-rated, but the wordless overture is fun for all ages. Alternating between military pomp and a romantic melody, the piece is perfect for marching around the living room.
2. In the Hall of the Mountain King, Edvard Grieg
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Grieg later admitted that he hated this piece for its cheesiness, but that’s exactly why your kids will love it. My daughter and I pretend we’re sneaking into the troll king’s castle during the slow start then running away during the brash finish.
3. William Tell Overture, Gioachino Rossini
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Rossini’s final opera was supposed to be a serious drama, but these days it’s mostly remembered for an overture used as the theme song to the “Lone Ranger.” Kids will like the fast-moving catchy melody, which suggests the feeling of riding on horseback.
4. The Flight of the Bumblebee, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
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This is another classical work that kids immediately understand because it is so literal. The speedier modern interpretations, especially, bring to mind a bumblebee, the kind of everyday insect that kids have probably seen firsthand.
5. Radetzky March, Johann Strauss I
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When Austrian military officers first heard this upbeat march, they began spontaneously clapping, a tradition that is kept alive by audiences today and on most recordings. It may take younger kids a while to learn to clap on the beat, but they’ll enjoy figuring it out.
6. An Der Schönen Blauen Donau, Johann Strauss II
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The junior Strauss’ most famous work, known in English as The Blue Danube, has the stately air of a fancy ball. If your toddler can’t get enough of the coronation day dance in Frozen, this will be a popular song to listen to while twirling around the house.
7. Hungarian Dance No. 5, Johannes Brahms
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Thanks to his famous lullaby, Brahms was probably already your child’s favorite classical composer as an infant. This Hungarian dance, particularly in the peppy orchestral versions, will make him popular in the toddler years too.
8. Hoe-Down, Aaron Copland
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The final section of Copland’s Rodeo ballet is great for toddlers who like to troop around the house in a cowboy hat talking about Sheriff Woody and Jessie the Cowgirl. Their attention may wander at times, but the central riff returns soon enough.
9. The Barber of Seville Overture, Gioachino Rossini
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If you’re middle-aged, your first experience with classical music was probably seeing this piece performed by Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. Even without the slapstick visuals, there are enough fun moments in this piece to keep young kids engaged.
10. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
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Though not as danceable as some of the other songs on this list, Mozart’s famously light piece is engaging and energetic. Toddlers who have already gotten into orchestral music through the rest of this list will appreciate it.
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