Starting a musical journey: Changes in your little one’s musical behaviour Pt 1

It’s 2006 and I have a new baby. I love music, so I look for a local baby music group. I’m not even sure what to look for, and as a new mum, I cannot find a central directory of services. Finally, I google the right keywords to find a local franchise, but it has a waiting list. (A waiting list? For baby music?!) I look further afield. I find another franchise about an hour’s drive away, with free spaces. Chatting to the teacher after the session, she suggests that because I live so far away, I sign up to the same low-cost franchise and start delivering my own sessions – that way, my little one will definitely attend! Being fairly musical (I had taught myself guitar as a child and sung in the school choir for a couple years), I did it.

After completing the franchise training, I had loads more questions, so I signed up to local training in three styles of music education that the franchise talked about: Kodály (pronounced Ko-dye!), Dalcroze (otherwise known as Dalcroze Eurhythmics, nothing to do with Annie Lennox!) and Orff. And then signed up to a part-time psychology degree, to understand child development theory. When I finished that degree, I completed a part-time master’s degree in education, where I focussed on identifying inclusive music activities for pre-schoolers (3-4y). Researching the music education approaches, I noticed a clear progression in 12 skills, loosely divided into supporting skills and musical skills, and all easily introduced using easy-to-learn singing games. This article is Part One of a four-part series describing the musical behaviours that we can see and encourage from birth to 7 years old.

Supporting skills: (Part 1)

  • In a circle, children can: (move in a circle, learning relationship)
  • In a line, children can: (move in a line, learning sequencing)
  • When leaving out the last line of a song, children can: (planning skills)

Supporting skills: (Part 2)

  • Children use language by: (language skills)
  • Weekly sessions: (concentration skills)
  • Children can learn: (memory skills)

Musical skills: (Part 3)

  • Children keep the pulse through: (pulse skills)
  • Children recognise: (rhythm skills)
  • Children can use: (percussion skills)

Musical skills: (Part 4)

  • Listening to music, children can: (listening skills)
  • Children match the pitch by: (pitch skills)
  • Children recognise: (interval skills)


Supporting skills: (Part 1)

In a circle, children can: (move in a circle, relationship)

Circle work is important in group sessions because circles bring equality to the group, as no one is at the front or the back, and no one can see or be seen more or less. Circles reduce distraction, and encourage concentration and interest. In a circle we are both independent and also belong to a bigger group. Circles are used as music note heads (🎶); as a way to organise music (circle of fifths); in singing rounds. Experiencing circles helps helps our understanding of geometry and graphs; self-control and independence; space and body confidence; social and emotional awareness; communication and body language. Circle development begins through little ones sitting and swaying while singing in a circle, then tapping their knees while sitting in a circle, holding hands, and ultimately walking in a circle, to playing circle games. Examples of well-known songs include Ring A Rosies, All Around The Garden, The Farmer In the Dell, and Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush.

In a line, children can: (move in a line, sequencing)

Shapes can be seen as social concepts used in everyday life: reading and writing, queuing and driving – we do all of these in lines and circles. We see shapes in packaging, hammers and nails, ironing, mowing the lawn: shapes are everywhere. We can experience straight lines by singing songs while moving in straight lines, starting with rolling over which combines circular motion with straight lines. As children get bigger, they can sing songs while holding hands in pairs and walking together in a straight line, also developing co-operation and concentration skills. This progresses to singing songs while following a line of people, then following the group in a spiral, creating bridges for the others to walk under, and finally introducing parallel lines by walking with partners in two groups. Standing and moving in shapes not only supports fine motor skills, but even introduces the layout of musical notation on the stave (music lines). Examples of well-known songs to walk in lines include The Grand Old Duke Of York, Ants Go Marching, and Oranges And Lemons. 

When leaving out the last line of a song, children can: (planning skills)

The last part of a song is often the first part of the song that people learn. Like finishing off sentences, this activity helps in identifying patterns and predicting what comes next, which we need to develop empathy, co-operation and recognition of “otherness” (understanding that other people exist apart from you and can think and act on their own initiative). Musically, we need planning skills to perform (finger positions, breathing in singing, matching performance timing). This skill also develops memory, delayed gratification, and planning, towards independence and autonomy. When we suddenly stop singing, little ones start off by showing surprise, and as they get older, they physically move in the silence. Children may even start to make vocal noises until they are able to sing the missing words, and eventually clap the beat of the missing words. Examples of well-known songs include: Old MacDonald (leave out the E-I-E-I-O), Twinkle Twinkle (leave out “star”, “are” etc.), and Mary Had A Little Lamb (leave out “it’s fleece was white as snow” or other endings).

While these areas have been grouped under supporting skills, they are important for musical development – and clearly help with development in other areas, too. It is in danger of becoming a cliché, but music teachers, in fact, arts teachers in general, share their art to share the beauty in humanity, the beauty of life. Being able to create, participate and contribute is what motivates us to be our best selves, and who better to share this with, than children. Next month, we look at the ways that music develops through supporting skills including language, concentration and memory.

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