How to Talk About Music

Talking about music, or any form of art, can be incredibly fun and rewarding, but it can also be a bit intimidating at first. The thing to remember is that everyone starts somewhere. Everything we know we had to learn at some point. And to help you learn, here are some tips and suggestions for talking about music for the first time.

Choosing music

When beginning a conversation about music, it’s good to start with a piece that holds your attention. Choosing shorter pieces of music can help kids focus more in depth on them. It also helps to include a lot of different types of songs so they can figure out what they like. Mix it up with different genres like classical, jazz, or folk. Here’s a playlist from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra of classical music for kids.

Keep room for other voices

Sometimes the words are hard to find, especially for kids. It can be helpful to ask questions, and supply words when they need them. But otherwise try to let them experience the music for themselves and form an opinion on their own.  

Take it one sense at a time

When first listening to a song, it can be helpful to close our eyes so it’s easier to focus on it. This can be especially useful for kids who get overwhelmed by sounds and other senses.  

You know more than you think just by listening

Start with ‘just the facts’ of the music. Does it feel fast or slow? Do you hear one instrument or many? Do any of the instruments sound familiar? Is the music generally lower or higher pitched?  

Drawings of musical instruments
What you’re feeling is also what you’re thinking

Music has a strong emotional aspect to it. Ask how the music makes them feel, or what feeling they think it’s trying to communicate. If they’re having trouble coming up with the words, you can use this chart to identify the feeling: 

Emotions Chart
Pull from other areas of knowledge

You can encourage them to use other senses and experiences to describe how it sounds or how it feels. Does a sound remind them of a smell or a taste? Does it remind them of being in a certain place or doing a certain thing?  

Every thought is worth hearing

There aren’t really any ‘wrong’ words to describe music by, especially when we’re first learning about it. If they use a word that doesn’t make sense to you, ask them more about it instead of trying to correct them.  

Try to understand what you like

Musical taste is different for every person, so try to avoid using terms like ‘good’ or ‘bad’. If they don’t like a particular song, help them figure out what they don’t like about it. Is it just unfamiliar? Does it make them feel something they don’t want to feel? Is there a sound that’s unpleasant? It’s okay to pause the song if needed, or listen a couple of times if they want to work it out. 

Above all else, be patient and have fun! Listening for the joy of it, without a plan to talk about it, is just as valuable as in-depth conversation.