Music Progression Table

Our music progression table was developed in 2014, as a result of nearly 10 years of early childhood music delivery and research.

This methodology combines specific music education techniques developed by Dalcroze (movement to rhythm), Kodály (singing by pitch), and Orff (rhythmic instrumental play) with developmentally appropriate activities.

This approach is designed to provide ideas of activities and actions that may be used with each age group, drawing on the interests and passions of each age. More specifically, we created a handy table based on the activities commonly used in children’s music groups. And each level is conveniently organised by colour, making the progression clearer.


Language Work

Communication is essential to our success as people. From birth, babies recognise that language and gesture convey meanings, and children work hard at trying to understand what is going on around them in order to understand where and how they fit in to their world. Younger children are particularly attuned to cues from body language, and it is these brief, tell-tale cues that give children the confidence to trust the different adults in their lives.

We can help their transition from body language to spoken language by working with them – starting with songs about pointing, developing to funny jokes, and even using old fashioned words and language to show how versatile language can be.

Completing The Song

This musical technique is taken from a memory technique, where the last thing heard is more memorable. Even younger children begin to learn songs by joining in with the last few words, and then the last few lines of a song. Many factors influence a child’s ability to remember, so this skill is not a hard and fast rule for all children by any means, but it is one of many approaches that can be taken in teaching new songs.

This particular technique involves stopping abruptly as a means of allowing the child to continue without placing any performance pressure on to the child. One example is when singing, “Old MacDonald had a farm”, and then leaving the child to fill in the next bit: “E-I-E-I-O”. Another is call-and-response singing.

Listening Work

Listening is an inherently musical skill, and is more to do with the ability to pick up on vibrations, whether through the ear or the body, as people would do with hearing impediments. Listening is an important skill because it tells us without direction, how to behave – whether to sing, prepare to sing, or remain silent to allow someone else to react.

Song like, “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” allow for us to perform actions instead of singing each word, developing an inner sense of timing, as well as additional skills like following rules and working as a team, in order to start and finish the song together.

Line Work

Writing is the next level of communication. It can be seen as a theoretical way of communicating, using pictures to convey meaning – comparable to hieroglyphics. Lines are used in many language, including musical notation, so this is a foundational shape to learn and embody.

Words are made up of letters that have characteristics found in the real world, and the most straightforward of these is the straight line. Seen in buildings and washing lines, trees and animals, straight lines can be practised through gross motor movement. Example of these include actions as simple as bouncing up and down to physically following lines on the floor to walk in a straight line, through to performing lines dances.

Circle Work

Just as lines are used in written and musical language, so are circles. Found in so many areas of life, even sitting in a circle is a common experience, signifying the equal contribution and value of the group members, as well as the very practical reason of allowing everybody to see as equally as possible.

Embodying shapes through gross motor movement (large limbs) is a powerful learning strategy because it involves proprioception, the ability of the brain to know where the body is within a given space. This ability can be encouraged or discouraged depending on the freedom we allow children to move, as well as their own individual interest in moving different ways. Embodying a circle begins simply by sitting and swaying, developing to walking holding hands, holding hands within a circle, and then moving or dancing within an imaginary circle. Children’s daily experience is often the predictor of a child’s ability to develop this skill.

Instrument Work

Children are naturally curious and can often quickly work out the noisiest way to play with something – this is to do with having an effect on something, showing that they can use the item when they want in the way that they want.

Playing items as instruments, playing them musically, depends on making sounds together, and silence together – often it is in the silence that we are able to process the sound to make meaning. As a result, we start with babies bouncing to the pulse of music, developing bouncing and moving to the beat – and then imitating this movement on to (untuned) instruments, like drums, triangles, maracas and tambourines. Much musical development comes from home as well as the child’s inherent interest, and children will naturally learn from each other, with no need to be in competition with each other. 

Pulse Match

Matching pulse is about matching the ongoing, steady beat – often the beat that we would walk or clap. This is the beginning of matching a rhythm, and the pulse can give us a lot of little clues about the type of song we are singing.

Being able to hear the pulse in a song helps us to predict the start and end of the song, and even the start and end of the lines in a song. It gives us a way to join in from any age, even if we don’t know it, just by swaying along, allowing us to feel that we are a part of the group. Feeling the pulse, the heartbeat, of the song is literally as easy as bouncing baby on your knee, a game that most adults use because babies often enjoy the feeling of being bounced. As children get older, hand clapping games are clear indications of matching pulse, like Pat-a-Cake.

Rhythm Match

Matching rhythm is the next step to musicality. It is commonly used as a group-focusing technique in primary schools, with teachers clapping out a rhythm (mixing fast and slow beats so that children stop what they are doing and follow the teacher).

This works because music has been shown to impact every part of the brain, so when the brain identifies a musical pattern, it automatically promotes this to the highest priority, at the most autonomic level. Matching rhythm appears to have some impact on the ability to understand language, particularly dyslexia, but findings have not been clear to date. 

Interval Match

Matching intervals is another listening skill that helps us to sing successfully. Like language, music is a never-ending combination of patterns. Notes in a scale are notes sung in order of low to high, or high to low. Some notes feel and sound further apart, and the musical name for the gap between them is called the interval.

Western children have a natural tendency to sing the minor third, especially when calling, “mummy”, a little like an old ambulance siren sound. And pop stars will use that sound in call and response, especially when they want the crowd to sing along. It is useful to learn what specific intervals sound like, and even to practice singing them, because the brain works through experiences. When it hears that interval, it automatically reminds the body of how it feels to make that sound – making you sound like a polished singer, and helping children to sound “gifted” and “talented”.

Pitch Match

Matching pitch is a specific listening skill that is developed over time. It is often also practised at home as a matter of course – no special time or occasion, just something a family does. It is a skill that is taught, that can be learnt, and relies on the student being confident enough to share what they think the hear, and a teacher that can understand why the student thinks the way they do.

Matching pitch is about the teacher matching the student, so that the student can hear what they sound like. This helps their brain to interpret their thinking more accurately. And matching pitch makes any musical experience so much easier and enjoyable, from singing to instrument play, building into repeated successful experiences. 

Pitch Range

Pitch range is about how high or low people can sing. Children can often sing higher than most adults because their vocal folds are undeveloped, and in large groups, people often sound better when they sing higher because more people can reach more notes. Listening to children is most important, as is the ability to be able to sing the same song higher or lower than any recording. Being aware that smaller groups may sing lower will allow all children to sing successfully, and this may be true for shy or inexperienced groups, too.

Singing high is not a skill that all children have, and this is okay. Some children may have vocal challenges, or not be encouraged to sing at home, so it is important to make these early experiences successful. Another useful skill is to be aware of all the ranges, and to deliberately sing some songs a little lower, and others a little higher, giving all children the opportunity to not only shine, but also to develop their vocal register.

Number of Songs/Year

This concept is very fluid and it suggests that children have the capacity to learn (to sing, recognise, or play along to) a certain number of songs. The concept is fluid because it depends on a child’s home music experience. Children who sing more will be able to learn more, and learn to sing more accurately. Regardless of the musical advantages or disadvantages that children have, singing is one skill that they can all accomplish successfully.

This concept is also fluid because while the list of total songs increases quite quickly, it is only just over half that most children are most likely to learn successfully. This increasing list also includes all songs learnt in previous years, potentially in other settings and sessions. The total list is an indicator of the number of songs that children should be exposed to, songs to listen to, to move to, to play instruments along, and yes, also to sing.

Weekly Timing

Different ages are able to concentrate for different lengths of time – and this even can change from child to child, between activities, and especially time of day. In addition, children’s concentration levels can vary with their familiarity with the adults involved – children may concentrate more or less with people they see regularly. For this reason, these timings are guidelines only.

The timings given are also recommendations  for daily music sessions, with some ages more than capable of having multiple short sessions during a day. The additional benefits of using music to transition to new activities, as a defusing mechanism in emotional situations, and a uniting tool for children to work together, is all the more reason to take advantage of an activity that is non-threatening, non-competitive and non-combative.

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