Appropriate Music for Young Children
-The most appropriate music for young children is unaccompanied. When you sing with children without the distraction of an accompaniment they are better able to hear your voice and their own and make necessary adjustments in order to match pitch. If an accompianment is needed it should be a simple one. The guitar is actually a better instrument than the piano for a young child to sing along with (and it's easier to learn how to play).
-Music for children should be free of embellishment. It drives me crazy when I buy a CD of music for children and the singer slides around from note to note and adds unnecessary flourishes. Young children are still learning how to match pitch. Embellishments are distracting and confusing.
-Children's music should be played slowly. Music with a fast tempo is fun for dancing to, but when children are learning to sing, they need to be able to hear each note clearly. When singing with your child, slow down and let them hear each individual pitch.
-Appropriate music is of an appropriate range. There is research that has determined what that range is, but I hesitate to post that here because I have noticed a great variety in children's abilities. Some children have command of a whole octave and some have trouble moving up and down in a two note song. So here's my suggestion: don't use songs with a large range for whole class--keep the songs simple and the variety of notes small--for individual children, sing songs in which they can match almost but not all of the notes, thus expanding their range without going to far outside of what they can do.
Musical Exercises for Children
The two major areas for growth in children are: matching rhythm and matching pitch. Here are two exercises to practice both.
Clap out a small rhythmic beat and ask the children to copy you exactly. For example: tah, tah, tee tee, tah. This is a fun and easy exercise that doubles as a classroom transition.
Hold your hand out in front of you and have the children do the same. Tell them that their hand is a car on a roller coaster. Sing a note and have the children match your pitch, move your hand up and down like you're going over bumps on a roller coaster and make your pitch match the up and down motion. Have the children copy your hand movements while matching pitch. This same exercise can be done by moving the body up and down while changing pitch. Both exercises give the children a visual cue of what the voice is doing.
Also, check out the store for more classroom music ideas!