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.

Supporting skills: (Part 1)

  • In a circle, children can: (learning relationship)
  • In a line, children can: (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)

Montessori, the first Italian female doctor and author of the pre-school learning methodology, found that children as young as two would happily repeat an activity that they enjoyed for 2-3 hours, unlike the recent trend that suggests that children can only concentrate for the number of minutes that match their age. She found that when the activity was self-corrective, children became empowered to take control of their learning, requiring little intervention, using activities as simple as painted lines on a floor, or as complex as child-sized towers of varying sizes. 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 the last of a four-part series describing the musical behaviours that we can see and encourage from birth to 7 years old.

Listening to music, children can: (listening skills)

Listening is a deceptively simple skill but it is essential to develop because it is so powerful! Good listeners often get things right the first time so get rewarded more often. Good listeners are able to solve more problems quicker because they have heard all of the information, not just what they want to hear. Good listeners know where to find solutions to important questions about jobs and money, because they have heard about what is available. Good listeners can answer more questions, can pick up on cues and clues that are not obvious, and can spend their time working less, because they have heard all of the important information that they need. Developing musical skills improves listening, just as developing listening improves musical skills, and the combination of these skills helps us to break up noise into individual sounds, helping us to hear everything more accurately. We see this through children following movement with their eyes when we do the actions to songs, until they gradually learn to copy the actions, then copy each other, and eventually learn to keep simple timing (up and down).

Children match the pitch by: (pitch skills)

Most children sing high naturally because of the way vocal folds develop, also known as vocal “chords”. Children are born with short and very soft vocal folds which change quite drastically as they mature. As a result, it is often easier for them to sing higher than adults, as can be seen through their speech patterns. Environment makes a huge difference to children, so they tend to imitate what they hear most frequently. And then there are simple anomalies, that for no apparent reason, have much deeper voices at much younger ages! Little ones up to 2 years old, for example, seem comfortable singing around the A below middle C to the A above middle C, while children 4-7 years seem more comfortable singing D above middle C to the next octave of D. This has major implications for the adults that teach them, as they generally are older and/or more self-conscious and/or not musically trained, so would be unsurprisingly unaware that children singing quietly or “badly” are in fact struggling to sing as low as they are! (You can find these notes on a piano or xylophone!)

Children recognise: (interval skills)

Like language has an alphabet to create words, music has notes to create sounds, and they share the letters A, B, C, D, E, F, G which correspond with the sound frequencies that they create. Additional notes feature in between these letter, and are used according to their frequencies (sharps and flats). Notes can be grouped in different ways, and certain tone groupings can sound more pleasing to the ear than others, e.g. notes that skip a letter often sound more pleasing when played together (“harmonise”) than notes that are next to each other (“clash”). Notes are also used according to their relationship with other notes, or the distance between notes, also known as “intervals”. Intervals are particularly useful when working out the tune of a song based on the musical notation or note names alone, for example, one school of thought is that because the “nee-naw” sound is used so often by children and in folk songs, it must be the easiest note-relationship (interval) to learn, also known as the minor third. As a result of this, a lot of children’s songs are based on the minor third, with additional notes gradually added. In this sense, the minor third is considered the foundation of teaching melody.


About the author

Frances Turnbull

Musician, researcher and author, Frances Turnbull, is a self-taught guitarist who has played contemporary and community music from the age of 12. She delivers music sessions to the early years and KS1. Trained in the music education techniques of Kodály (specialist singing), Dalcroze (specialist movement) and Orff (specialist percussion instruments), she has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology (Open University) and a Master’s degree in Education (University of Cambridge). She runs a local community choir, the Bolton Warblers, and delivers the Sound Sense initiative aiming for “A choir in every care home” within local care and residential homes, supporting health and wellbeing through her community interest company.

She has represented the early years music community at the House of Commons, advocating for recognition for early years music educators, and her table of progressive music skills for under 7s features in her curriculum books.

Frances is the author of “Learning with Music: Games and Activities for the Early Years“ “Learning with Music: Games and Activities for the Early Years“, published by Routledge, August 2017.

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