I love playing music for my kids! We almost always have some type of music playing in our home and in the car. As a music educator, it’s a passion of mine that my children hear great music from all genres on a regular basis. I truly feel that we are putting our kids at a disadvantage if we limit what they listen to: while kids’ music is just fine, it leaves out so much great repertoire!
So I’ve put together a list of some of my favorite artists by genre, so that you can look into them with your own family. You can tie in various genres to the recipes you’re cooking, books you’re reading, places you’re going… the possibilities are endless!
And please tell me in the comments which artists you’d like to add to my list. This is just a starting place, and is in no way meant to be complete. That’s one of the great things about music, right? We all have our own tastes!
These suggestions are usually free from inappropriate themes and profanity; but of course, use your best judgment.
You probably have most of these, but if not, this is the best place to start if you’re looking to expand your music library! Simple melodies and child-friendly rhymes are sure to get stuck in your head (even when you don’t want them to). This list includes kids’ musicians as well as my top choices for those artists.
- Bryant Alden: The Duck Song; Tarantulas; I Gotta Pea
- Elizabeth Mitchell: You Are My Sunshine
- Eric Herman and the Invisible Band: The Elephant Song; The Tale of the Sun and the Moon
- Fred Mollin’s Disney Lullaby Album: Baby Mine (Dumbo); I Will (Beatles)
- Raffi: Baby Beluga; Mr. Golden Sun
- Sleepyhead Symphony’s When You Wish Upon a Star: Magical Music Box Lullabies: Can You Feel the Love Tonight?; Let’s Go Fly a Kite
- Veggie Tales: Pants; Pizza Angel; Monkey
This genre is our default; as a former band director, let’s say I have an ungodly amount of classical and band music. Some you might recognize from movies or shows; others are gorgeous and obscure. I’ve added my favorite works from each composer to give you a starting point.
There are lots of YouTube videos if you’re ready to teach your child about instrument families, too!
- Gustav Holst: The Planets
- Camille Saint Saens: Carnival of the Animals
- Sergey Rachmaninov: Flight of the Bumblebee; Piano Concerto Number 2 in C Minor
- Sir Edward Elgar: Enigma Variations (particularly Nimrod); Pomp and Circumstance
- Johannes S Bach: Goldberg Variations (look for Glenn Gould’s sets of recordings, at the beginning and end of his career)
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Eine Kleine Machtmusik; The Marriage of Figaro; Clarinet Concerto K622
- Ludwig von Beethoven: Pastoral Symphony (No. 6); Eroica Symphony (No. 3); Moonlight Sonata
- Claude Debussy: Reverie; Clair de Lune; La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin
- Leonard Bernstein: West Side Story
- Paul Hindemith: Symphony in Bb; Symphonic Metamorphosis
- Gustav Mahler: Fifth Symphony
- Sergei Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf (the one narrated by Gordon Sumner, aka Sting, is the best!)
- Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet; The Nutracker; Sleeping Beauty
- Igor Stravinsky: Rite of Spring
- George Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue; An American in Paris
American Folk Music
What comes to mind when you think of American folk music? For me, this genre is all about fantastic harmonies and simple acoustic instruments and timeless melodies, all passed down from generation to generation.
These are the artists whom I trust to teach my kids about what quality folk music is all about.
- Allison Krauss
- Bob Dylan
- Johnny Cash
- Peter, Paul and Mary
- Simon and Garfunkel
- The Okee Dokee Brothers
I’m a Texas girl so you know I wouldn’t skip my country category! Like every genre, there are wonderful (and horrible) country artists. These musicians have really high quality musicians and great voices. (It’s also my favorite genre for strong female vocals.) These country artists definitely have the power to make you smile and tap your toes. Don’t resist! A little steel guitar never hurt anyone.
- Sara Evans
- Tom Faulkner
- Shania Twain
- Rascal Flats
- Dixie Chicks
- Alan Jackson
Give your kids a taste for guitars and drum set! You might be surprised by some of the suggestions on this list. I prefer 80s rock myself and grew up with quite a lot of it, but I’ve attempted to make a good mix here of styles and decades.
- Van Halen
- The Beatles
- Def Leppard
- Jimi Hendrix
- Lenny Kravitz
- Jefferson Starship
- The Beach Boys
- David Bowie
Instrumental Jazz Music/Jazz Band
Jazz is one of my favorite genres for unwinding my mind and brightening my mood. I’m a musician by trade and was fortunate enough to have attended the University of North Texas; their jazz program is out of this world, or one of the best in the world to be precise! Attending their College of Music was life-changing, and I still reap the benefits today.
As my kids get older, these jazz artists will inspire lessons about everything from form to improv. This section is without vocals; the next category will be jazz with vocals.
- The University of North Texas Lab Bands (with One O’Clock being the best one)
- Wynton Marsalis
- Louie Armstrong
- John Coltrane
- Thelonius Monk
- Chick Corea
- Claude Bolling
- The Dave Brubeck Quartet
Vocal Jazz Music
This category has to be one of my favorites! I’m completely in love with the jazz genre, and the right vocalist can turn a tune up to a whole other level. I’ve added classics from the early days of jazz, all the way to contemporary artists. Your kids might recognize some of the songs from movies like “Finding Dory”, and hopefully they’ll be humming along to more timeless jazz songs before long!
- Etta James
- Billie Holiday
- Frank Sinatra
- Nat King Cole
- Harry Connick, Jr.
- Norah Jones
- Dave Brubeck
- Diana Krall
- Paul McCartney (look for the album Kisses on the Bottom done with Diana Krall)
- Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
Gregorian Chant Music
Yes, I do have chant. Quite a lot of it, actually! It’s absolutely mesmerizing, even if you’re not a Catholic who’s always wanted to learn Latin (like yours truly!). Chant is great for homework time, or just for calming oneself. Try it when you’re meditating or doing yoga with your kids, too!
- The Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo
- The Daughters of Mary
- The Choir of Benedictine Nuns at the Abbey of Regina Laudis
Hip Hop/R&B Music
Some of it is old school. Some of it is newer material. All of it is fantastic. I love the strong female singers in this genre, too!
- Boys II Men
- Al Green
- Stevie Wonder
- Destiny’s Child
- Vanilla Ice
- MC Hammer
This is often the “music that doesn’t fit anywhere else” category; in this case, you’ll find artists old and new with catchy tunes. I turn to these artists when I want to listen to something upbeat and kid-friendly.
- Taylor Swift
- John Mayer
- The Police
- Owl City
- Nine Days
Soundtracks in All Genres
These soundtracks come from movies, shows, and games; they encompass multiple genres, but I wanted to give them their own destination for the purposes of this article. Some of these albums are my top-played music of all time! Notice that some are instrumental and some have vocals.
- Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood
- Despicable Me
- Finding Nemo
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
- Jurassic Park
- Kingdom of Heaven
- Master and Commander
- Mary Poppins
- Midnight in Paris
- Monsters, Inc.
- Sense and Sensibility
- The Phantom of the Opera
- The Terminal
- Tron (remake)
- Viva Pinata
- Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Letting your kids listen to music in another language is great! You might be surprised at what they pick up. Even just hearing the syllables and pronunciation is beneficial. I’ve listened to some of these artists for decades, and they still put me in a great mood!
- Ricky Martin
- Los Lonely Boys
- Los Lobos
- Juan Gabriel
- Vicente Fernandez
- Carlos Santana
Let’s end my suggestions with something really fun: dance music! (Don’t call it “techno” or you’ll sound old.) This music has a steady beat and is usually really predictable and divisible by four, so it’s great for choreography or just working on movement.
- Daft Punk
- Dirty Vegas
- DJ Earworm (you can download his music for free on his website)
- DJ Encore
- Paul Oakenfold
Tah-dah! This list can certainly help you to start building a bigger, more diverse music library which the whole family can enjoy. And I think that you may even be surprised by some of your favorite new finds!
But please let me know in the comments about some other artists or albums that you love to listen to. I’m addicted to acquiring new music and I really like playing new stuff for my kids!