An Offbeat Guide to Kids’ Music

It usually happens at the most inopportune times. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and it will start. Or I’ll be sitting in a meeting and find myself doing it. I’ll be humming “The Itsy Bitsy Spider or“The Bear Went Over the Mountain. And as any parent knows, this can be a disheartening experience, because once those notes pop into my head, I know I’m doomed to hours of singing those timeless, albeit mind numbing, lyrics.

To try and avoid such a fate, I am always on the lookout for good children’s music—constantly playing new CDs for my two-year-old daughter Katharine, hoping the two of us can continue building a library of music she enjoys and I don’t mind listening to ad nauseam.

Finding good music is subjective, of course. To me, a good CD is one that both Katharine and I like, but that I don’t mind listening to if she leaves the room. There are certain characteristics commonly found in children’s music both kids and adults will appreciate.

Even if a CD’s primary audience is children, the musicianship and production should not be any less than that found on an adult album.


Well-crafted, entertaining lyrics capture a child’s attention. Innovative lyrics can take several different approaches, including offering a view of the world through children’s eyes. The silly song “No by They Might Be Giants could have been written by any toddler after spending a day with Mom and Dad:

“No is no
No is always no
If they say no it means a thousand times no
No plus no equals no
All no’s lead to no no no…

Sometimes a songwriter finds just the right combination of sounds to tickle your toes and make you want to giggle or dance. In “Let’s Go To Goosy Galpa by Ben and Leo Sidran, a funky jazz beat emphasizes the silly sounds of Tegucigalpa, Machu Picchu and Cuernavaca. The beat breaks down what could be complicated words for kids into fun sounds they love to repeat.

David Grisman and Jerry Garcia’s version of “Jenny Jenkins takes a laid back approach to a traditional song, and their silly syllables and rhymes draw kids in, getting them to sing along.

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