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Music Appreciation: A universal language for all ages

Children are natural musicians, and exposure to music during the early years enhances the learning process by promoting language development, creativity, coordination, and social interaction. Caregivers can play an important role in incorporating music and movement into a child’s life.

It isn’t necessary to play an instrument well or sing in tune to help young children appreciate musical sounds, and they should not be encumbered with the need to meet performance goals. In fact, music play (whether recorded or live) can be an enjoyable, developmentally appropriate activity regardless of musical aptitude.

Music for Infants and Toddlers

I can listen to music

Music can contribute to a soothing environment for infants and toddlers and they soon begin to sort out musical sounds from other sounds. Caregivers can nurture a disposition for music in very young children and toddlers by chanting to them; imitating the sounds they make; rocking, patting, and moving along to the beat. Respectful planning is sensitive to children’s interests and balances active and quiet music and movement times.

Music and Movement

Music makes me want to move my body

Older preschool children can understand movement as a form of nonverbal communication as they begin to tell stories and express their feelings through body movements. They learn to imitate patterns of sound and rhythm and become aware of music in nature, for example whistling wind, chirping birds and crickets.

Once children start to use their voices to sing, it becomes important for them to listen carefully. At this stage, children enjoy songs that ask them to move and swing around, jump, twist, and clap their hands. Playing "follow-the-leader" allows them to mimic and learn the different ways their bodies can keep time with a song, and use of simple props will help children integrate music with movement -- toys and teddy bears can "dance" too!

Children respond favorably to music that is familiar. Playing a recorded song several times as background music can boost familiarity and build vocabulary as the lyrics are learned. Inventing new verses for familiar songs and spontaneous singing as they play can help children understand that music is a form of creative expression.

Making Music

I can create pleasant sounds

Musical instruments fascinate young children. Infants should be encouraged to make their own music by experimenting with rattles and bells. Drums, xylophones, and shakers can be enjoyed as children grow older and develop better motor skills. Instruments can also be created by using blocks, spoons, pots and pans, empty margarine tubs, and coffee cans.

It’s important to expose children to diverse types and styles of music. Expanding children’s horizons by offering a variety of music from other lands and ethnic groups is one useful way of accomplishing the goals of a multicultural education.

If given the opportunity, young children quickly realize that music communicates a variety of things, including feelings and ideas. They should feel free to explore and enjoy a wide variety of musical sounds and the body movements that music evokes. Whether singing and dancing to an old Beatles record, or playing a makeshift drum set, early exposure to music plays a fundamental role in a child’s development.

Additional Resources

Bredekamp, S. and Rosegrant, T., Eds. 1995. Reaching Potentials: Transforming Early Childhood Curriculum and Assessment, Vol. 2. Washington, DC: NAEYC. #227/$8

Jalongo, M.R. 1996. Using Recorded Music with Youg Children: A Guide for Nonmusicians. Young Children, 51 (5):6-11

McDonald, D.T. 1979. Music In Our Lives: The Early Years. Washington, DC NAEYC. #107/$4