Making Music with Babies and Toddlers

Making Music with Babies and Toddlers

Making music with young children supports overall brain development and helps develop music and language abilities. Active music invites a child to participate in and respond to the music, rather than passively listen to it.

Children benefit when they hear an adult’s voice live, and are able to observe their facial expressions and movements of the mouth, tongue and breathing. This in-person connection models musical expressions that the child can imitate.

Here are tips to help young children develop their music and language skills.

  • Use vocal sounds instead of the words of a song (ex: baba, looloo, doodoo, meemee, etc). Sounds make it easier for young children to learn the melody and rhythm of the song without getting confused with all the words.
  • Move to the music with scarves, showing the pulse, form and changes in the music. No flowing scarf? No problem. Try a dishtowel!
  • Tap a steady beat of a song with rhythm sticks, or chopsticks or pencils.
  • Play along to recorded music with small handheld instruments, or make your own instruments with household items, exploring the sounds they make.

A child’s response to music will vary depending on their age.

  • Babies less than one year old will move their bodies in response to music. They might rock, bounce, kick or wave. You may notice wide eyes looking at the source of the music, and the baby sucking or moving their tongue. The baby may babble and coo in response to music, sometimes more at the end of a song, and may match the pitch of the song.
  • One-year-olds will also babble and may move their voices up and down with the song. They may move fast or slow as the music changes, and play with instruments or props with a steady beat. 
  • Two-year-olds will more accurately imitate the rhythm and pitches and be able to sing short parts of songs. They will make steady movements that are often not in sync with the music, such as tapping, clapping, dancing and swaying.
  • Three-year-olds can sing lyrics of a song and offer creative ideas for songs and movements. They can keep a steady beat with more accuracy and add physical activity to the music such as marching, jumping, twirling and tiptoeing. 

Can you find a few minutes each day to share a musical moment with your child?

— Mary Kelly is a Yellowknife music teacher with a Masters degree in Community Music.

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