“Thank You For The Music”: Musical Drawing In The Early Years

This current 6-part series of early years music articles features a new early years music activity each month from a number of arts activities trialled for 1 and 2-year-old children, along with musical suggestions, with recordings on You Tube.

A Finnish study, (Lehikoinen, 2023) considered 6 different ways to explore creativity with 1 and 2 year olds with a focus on successful engagement. This age is known to be tricky, as there is often limited pedagogical content for under 3s in the arts. Like many countries, visual and musical arts in Finish nurseries were not usually accessed daily, with most settings bringing in specialists once a month or less. So, 6 activities were devised, specifically for this age group to increase daily engagement in the arts:

  • Dance-painting – paint feet, move to song (part 1)
  • Magic dough – create playdough objects from songs (part 2)
  • Digital drawing – digital communication (part 3)
  • Musical drawing – musical drawing (part 4)
  • Balloon painting
  • Snow-painting

This month, we are focusing on musical drawing.

Drawing to music has long been recognised as a particularly effective therapeutic technique for a variety of medical conditions. So, if it helps people with chronic conditions, it must have a powerful effect on everyone else, too. Current research suggests that the brain considers the act of creating as a positive event, which helps to refocus the mind positively. As music has been shown to access all parts of the brain, this type of active musical experience is a perfect warm up activity before more mentally demanding exercises, particularly theoretical subjects like numbers (maths) or nature (science). The following songs include musical activities for children for drawing to music – whether patterns or existing objects.

No One In The House

No one in the house but Dinah, Dinah
No one in the house but me I know
No one in the house but Dinah, Dinah
Strumming on the old banjo

This old American song is a lovely example of pentatonic music. Pentatonic music uses only 5 notes that are quite close together. This makes them easy for new singers to sing successfully so they sound good, singing in tune without it feeling like hard work. The repeated name call “Dinah, Dinah” adds a fun, siren effect at the end of the lines. Drawing along to this is sure to be energising and produce some colourful pictures!

Oranges and Lemons

Oranges and lemons say the bells of St Clements
I owe you two farthing, say the bells of St Martins
When will you pay me, say the bells of Old Bailey
When I grow rich, say the bells of Shoreditch
When will that be, say the bells of Stepney
I do not know, says the Great Bell of Bow

This classic nursery rhyme is written in 6/8 or “lullaby” timing, which has been found to be very soothing. It is used in a number of children’s songs, including Girls and Boys Go Out To Play, and gives a feeling of rocking on a boat or in a hammock – like the swinging of a bell. Music has been shown medically to reduce the heart rate, which is particularly helpful for anxiety and stress, so singing while creating beautiful artwork is bound to be a winning combination!

My Bonnie

My Bonnie lies over the ocean
My Bonnie lies over the sea
My Bonnie lies over the ocean
Oh, bring back my Bonnie to me

Bring back, oh bring back
Oh, bring back my Bonnie to me, to me
Bring back, oh bring back
Oh, bring back my Bonnie to me, to me

Oh blow ye waves over the ocean
Oh blow ye waves over the sea
Oh blow ye waves over the ocean
And bring back my Bonnie to me

This traditional sea shanty is also written in 6/8lullaby” timing, and much like “Rock A Bye Baby”, has a calming and relaxing effect. The repetition in the verses and chorus make it easy to learn and sing along to, and the imagery of a boat sailing across the ocean provides many inspirational ideas that can be used to draw or paint.

Thank You For The Music

I’m nothing special, in fact I’m a bit of a bore
If I tell a joke, you’ve probably heard it before
But I have a talent, a wonderful thing
 ‘Cause everyone listens when I start to sing
I’m so grateful and proud
All I want is to sing it out loud

So I say, thank you for the music
The songs I’m singing
Thanks for all the joy they’re bringing
Who can live without it
I ask in all honesty
What would life be
Without a song, or a dance
What are we
So I say, thank you for the music
For giving it to me

This ABBA favourite is a wonderful song of hope, of ability, and an anthem in recognition of the myriad ways that music helps and improves life. While it is better for new singers to sing songs with notes that are close together, this song has notes quite far apart – the verse is quite low, and the chorus is a lot higher. So new singers may find that they can sing the middle of the song easier than the beginning – or perhaps the other way around. These types of songs are wonderful as listening pieces with the option to sing along – recognising that not everyone will be able to sing it successfully to start. Increasing opportunities to learn different styles of music, different types of songs, and different note combinations, is a gift that opens the mind to new experiences, building confidence and resilience in tackling new situations.

Early years music ideas like drawing to music can be a rewarding experience for both adults and children alike. It can provide a respite from demanding or challenging situations, while also freeing the mind to be in the moment, not anticipating the next steps. We would love to know how your group uses this activity!


Lehikoinen, S. M. (2023). Joy of exploring–visual art methods for 1-& 2-year-old children in the early childhood education. 42.

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