Chapter Summary: This chapter focuses on the role of music in early childhood, including the importance of musical experience in early childhood, the musical abilities and enjoyment of infants and children, and the vocal ranges of the young child. It also explores musical activities and repertoires appropriate for young children.
What a child has heard in his first six years of life cannot be eradicated later. Thus it is too late to begin teaching at school, because a child stores a mass of musical impressions before school age, and if what is bad predominates, then his fate, as far as music is concerned, has been sealed for a lifetime.
—Zoltán Kodály, Children’s Day Speech, 1951
Arts as a Means of Expression for Young Children
How important are the arts as a mode of expression for children? Children, especially very young children, cannot express themselves fluently either through speech or writing—two modes of communication that adults use almost exclusively. Instead, children express themselves through movement, sound, and art. If they can express themselves through these modes, it is logical that they can learn through them as well.
Many times, however, adults are at a loss to understand or interpret what it is children are saying to us, or to appreciate how profound it might be. Mark E. Turner (2008), building upon the work of Edwin Gordon and Reggio Emilia, thought considerably about children’s representation through the arts. He sought to provide authentic ways for children to express themselves and developed scaffolding to better harness and understand children’s musical development. As Turner states, the idea that the “performing arts” must always be performed onstage to be valid detracts from their use to develop and explore the emotional, cognitive, social development and human potential.
Music for Young Children
Any of the music methods (e.g., Kodály, Orff) mentioned in Chapter 4 offer sequential learning for children. Kodály in particular spent a great deal of effort on developing beautiful singing voices for young children. Children’s voices, after all, are their first instrument—a child’s first exceptionally pleasant musical experience is likely to be hearing lullabies from a parent or guardian, and then vocally experimenting with his or her own voice. Kodály graded learning in small steps for the very beginner learners, starting with three-note songs (sol, mi, la) and expanding gradually to four, five, and six notes and beyond. For the youngest, songs with three notes are an excellent place to start, because these children will not have much difficulty imitating or matching these pitches and can be successful from the outset.
I. Music for Children Birth to Three Years Old
Music activity for infants and toddlers engages the child’s aural and physical being. Such age-old activities include tickling, wiggling, bouncing, and finger playing.
At this level, musical play creates and reinforces the special personal bond between an adult (or older child) and infant, while also introducing music to the child. For newborns and very young children, speaking a rhyme and wiggling toes connects sound to a pleasurable and intimate act, as well as introducing the idea of rhythm and phrasing to newborns and young children.
Below are a few of the rhymes and songs particularly good for newborns and toddlers. They include some very familiar nursery rhymes and action games appropriate for this age group. Keep in mind that almost any nursery rhyme can be used for these activities, as long as they have a steady beat, which luckily most of them do.
For newborns to three-year-olds, having them feel the beat in their bodies, aided by adults, are called “bounces,” based on the experience of bouncing a child up and down on a knee or lap.
Tommy O’Flynn and the old grey mare (bounce child on knees)
Went to see the country fair
The bridge fell down and the bridge fell in (open knees and let child drop a bit)
And that was the end of Tommy O’Flynn
Wiggles are those activities involving the wiggling of fingers or toes. “This Little Piggy Went to Market” is another wiggle with which you may be familiar.
The first little pig danced a merry, merry jig
The second little pig ate candy
The third little pig wore a blue and yellow wig
The fourth little pig was a dandy
The fifth little pig never grew to be big
So they called him Tiny Little Andy
Tickles involve exactly that—tickling the child either all over or just in the stomach, usually ending in lots of giggles!
Slowly, slowly, very slowly up the garden trail (crawl hands up baby starting from feet)
Slowly, slowly, very slowly creeps the garden snail (continue crawling)
Quickly, quickly, very quickly all around the house (tickle all over)
Quickly, quickly, very quickly runs the little mouse (continue tickling)
My father was a butcher (make chopping motions on child’s body)
My mother cuts the meat (make cutting motions on child’s body)
And I’m a little hot dog
That runs around the street (tickle all over)
Pizza pickle pumpernickel
Pizza, pickle, pumpernickel (flash one hand wide, then the other, then roll arms)
My little one shall have a tickle! (tickle child)
One for your nose (tickle child’s nose)
And one for your toes (tickle child’s toes)
And one for your tummy, where the hot dog goes! (tickle child’s tummy)
Finger play songs can also be types of tickles. The most common finger play song is the “Eensy, Weensy Spider.”
Eensy Weensy Spider
For an infant, the parent would take the child’s foot or hand and tap it to the beat of the music. If the child can tap by him- or herself, that will work also.
Cock a Doodle Do
English nursery rhyme, 1765
Cock-a-doodle doo (tap one foot)
My dame has lost her shoe
My master’s lost his fiddling stick
And doesn’t know what to do.
Cock-a-doodle doo (tap other foot)
What is my dame to do?
Til master finds his fiddling stick
She’ll dance without a shoe.
Cock-a-doodle doo (tap both feet)
My dame has found her shoe
And master’s found his fiddling stick
Sing doodle, doodle, doo.
Clapping (Nine+ Months)
As children develop physically, they can clap their hands either together or against those of another. The well-known “Patty Cake” is a good example.
Patty cake, patty cake, baker’s man
Bake me a cake as fast as you can
Roll it and pat it and mark it with a “B”
And put it in the oven for baby and me!
Hot Cross Buns
Hot cross buns
Hot cross buns
One a penny, two a penny
Hot cross buns.
Pease Porridge Hot
Pease porridge hot
Pease porridge cold
Pease porridge in the pot
Nine days old.
Responding to the Beat: Moving to Music
Responding to a musical beat is an innate part of what it means to be human, and even the youngest children can begin to feel music, either by moving to the beat or having an adult help a child move to the beat (Feierabend, 2001).
The simplest thing to do is to find recordings of quality music and play songs with an even, steady beat and have children move, clap, tap, patsch, hit an instrument, or walk to that beat.
An extended possibility is to create a story, miming movements that reflect a steady beat while telling a simple narrative. For example, a leader begins by miming actions such as teeth brushing, bouncing a ball, or eating food from a bowl, and the group imitates them. All movements are done to the beat (e.g., teeth brushing, up down up down). At the end of the leader’s turn, the children have to remember the “storyline.”
Bye Baby Bunting
English lullaby, 1784
All the Pretty Little Horses
African American lullaby
Hush Little Baby, Don’t Say a Word
American lullaby song
II. Music for Children Three to Five Years Old
Three- to five-year-olds are capable of singing more complicated songs, doing more complicated games and rhymes, and, of course, capable of more sophisticated listening. They can also understand some of the basic vocabulary and building blocks of music. It is appropriate to introduce a few concepts when performing songs and games with children, and also to experiment with these concepts, such as changing tempos and dynamics. Some vocabulary to use when pointing out these concept to younger children include:
- High—Low (pitch)
- Loud—Soft (dynamics)
- Fast—Slow (tempo)
- Smooth—Detached (articulation)
- Duple—Triple (meter)
- Steady Beat (tempo)
- Timbre (the quality of sound)
For slightly older children, Feierabend (2001) identifies activities that help children develop spontaneous music ability and original music thinking under his “Arioso” category, as well as a detailed array of vocal- and motor-based experiences with music.
Feierabend’s music readiness approach in his series First Steps in Music
An 8-part Music Readiness Curriculum for 3–8 Year Old Children by John Feierabend. Copyright 2014 GIA Publications, Inc. 7404 S. Mason Ave., Chicago IL 60638 www.giamusic.com. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Singing/Tonal Activity Categories
1. Pitch Exploration/Vocal Warm-up
Discovering the sensation of the singing voice
2. Fragment Singing
Developing independent singing
3. Simple Songs
Developing independent singing and musical syntax
Developing original musical thinking
5. Song Tales
Developing expressive sensitivity through listening
Movement Activities Categories
6. Movement Exploration/Warm-up
Developing expressive sensitivity through movement
7. Movement for Form and Expression
Singing/speaking and moving with formal structure and expression
8. Beat Motion Activities
Developing competencies in maintaining the beat in groups of two and three
Vocal Activities for Three to Five Years Old
Preschoolers (three-, four-, and five-year-olds) have a range of six notes between a middle C and the A above it. Their most comfortable notes are in the middle between E and F.
The goal is to have them not sing too far below the staff or too low in their voices, and to not push or strain their voices too far above this range either. Singing should be light, in the child’s head voice, never forced or pushed, and beautiful music-making should be stressed.
Initially, children need to explore their voices to find out what they are capable of, and to start hearing that their voices do indeed have a range to them. It is very good for children to make light, airy, and smooth sounds in their head voice as they find their individual sound.
Begin with some vocal exploration with speech, just getting them to loosen up and find their high, light head voice.
Voice exploration speech exercises
1. I take my voice up high
I take my voice up high (start low, and slide voice up)
I bring my voice down low (Start high, and slide voice down)
I send my voice out into space (Cup hands around mouth and project)
I whisper all around, whisper, whisper (Whisper line and whisper to neighbors)
2. Bow wow
Bow wow, says the dog (medium voice)
Meow, meow says the cat (high voice)
Grunt, grunt says the hog (low voice)
Squeak, squeak says the rat (very high)
Have the children pretend their voice is an elevator sliding up and down between floors. They can accompany their vocal exploration with physical moving up and down as well, or the teacher may want to have a focal object like a puppet moving up and down that they can follow with their voice.
Pitch matching songs and games
Begin with simple but interesting songs with small ranges. These songs can be varied and repeated, and help children sing accurately. “Who’s Wearing Blue” is an excellent warm-up or opening activity in a music class. What did the children wear? do? see? There are endless, creative opportunities to ask them about their lives in a few notes.
Sol, mi, la songs
Who’s Wearing Blue?
We are Dancing in the Forest
Mi, re, do songs
Hot Cross Buns
English traditional street cry, 1733
Simple songs in a limited range
Rain, Rain Go Away
Traditional children’s song, 17th century
Children form a single line, holding on the waist of the child in front of them. The child at the front of the line is the snail’s head, who holds up and wiggles both index fingers on the forehead representing the snail’s eyestalks. The line shuffles around the room imitating the slow, fluid motions of a snail.
Little Sally Water
Traditional American circle game song
See Saw, Margery Daw
English nursery rhyme, 1765
I Have Lost my Closet Key
American folk song
Accompanying game for “I Have Lost my Closet Key”: Children sit in a circle. One child hides a key in their hand while another child walks around the circle trying to guess who has the key while all sing Verse 1. After finding the key, all sing Verse 2. That person then becomes “it” and another is chosen to hide the key.
Au Clair de la Lune
French folk song
Ring Around the Rosy
English song attributed to 1665 Black Plague, but sources only go back to 19th century
Sally Go Round the Sun
Appalachian folk song
No Bears Out Tonight
One child is the “bear” who hides while others count one o’ clock to midnight.
Children search for the bear, then run back to “home” when the bear is found.
The Mulberry Bush
English nursery rhyme, 1840s
Instrumental Music Activities for Three to Five Years Old
High/Low Pitches: You or a child plays a low instrument (drum, bass xylophone, etc.) and children respond by moving in low space. Then try the same for high-pitched instruments (triangle, tambourine, etc.), having them move through high space.
Fast/Slow Tempo and Loud/Soft Dynamics Game: Similar to above, play instruments in different tempos and dynamics. Switch and mix them up (fast and loud, soft and slow, fast and soft, slow and loud), and if the child doesn’t switch, he or she is out.
Contrasting Timbres: Assign a different movement to different timbres. For example, a wood block corresponds to a hop, a xylophone glissando is a leap, a shaker means to shake. Create an orchestra with half of the class playing and the other half responding. For more advanced children, create a choreographed and composed piece from the game.
Musical Simon Says: Review concepts learned such as loud/soft, high/low, or fast/slow. Simon says yell loud, Simon says whisper, Simon says sing high, Simon says groan low, etc.
Rhymes and Games
Poetry and rhymes are among the most basic forms of human expression, and both children and adults use poetry, rhymes, and games to tell stories, remember history, fantasize, dream, and play. For young children, the rhyme is magical as they first encounter the powerful sound of rhyming words. Words create rhythmic patterns that captivate a child’s attention. The natural rhythms inherent in rhyming can become the basis for exploration, improvisation, vocalizations, and instrumental creativity.
Rhymes with actions, in particular, are enjoyable to children because children live through all of their senses and their whole body. Adding movement helps reinforce the linguistic content of the rhyme or song. Movement and rhymes build cognitive abilities in terms of sequencing physical and linguistic activity, imitation, and internalization.
Adding Movement to Rhymes
There are many types of movement to add to rhymes and games. There are narrative movements, which are mimetic actions that help to illustrate certain words and tell the story (e.g., “I’m a Little Teapot”); abstract movements, which do not carry any specific linguistic meaning, such as waving arms or jumping; and rhythmic movements, which can either emphasize the beat of the rhyme or the rhythm of the text, such as clapping or body percussion.
Narrative Movements: It is easy to add narrative movements to most children’s rhymes as these poems often tell some type of story. Consider the rhyme “I’m a Little Ducky.” Adding swimming and flapping motions would be an obvious activity to add. Narrative motions not only bring the story to life, but also significantly help children to remember the words to a rhyme or song.
I’m a little ducky swimming in the water
I’m a little ducky doing what I oughter
Took a bite of a lily pad
Flapped my wings and said, “I’m glad”
I’m a little ducky swimming in the water
Flap, flap, flap
Abstract Motions and Rhythmic Motions: Almost any non-locomotive or even some locomotive motions would work here. Abstract motions can easily be rhythmic as well (e.g., swaying to the beat, nodding the head to the beat, tapping the rhythm of the words or beat, etc.).
Walking to the Beat: While a seemingly simple-sounding exercise, walking to the beat requires a physical awareness and near-constant mental and physical adjustment to the walking stride in order to fit the beat and tempo of the rhyme.
Example: Take any standard, well-known nursery rhyme. Walk to the beat while saying the rhyme. End precisely on the last beat of the rhyme and freeze!
Advanced: This game can be further developed for older or more advanced children. Once they are walking to a steady beat and stopping precisely on the last beat, have children drop the recitation of the rhyme, and just walk the beat. See if they can all still stop on the last beat! This helps students internalize the beat and phrases of the song.
Steady Beat Games
Pass the Beat: Begin with a simple rhyme or song. While sitting in a circle, have students pass a beanbag around the circle on the beat. If the child misses, they are “out” or “in the soup” in the middle of the circle.
Bouncing Beat: Another game is to bounce a ball to the beat of a simple song such as “Bounce High.” This is a little more challenging because they have to keep control of their bodies, voices, and a ball.
S, M, L song
Head and Shoulders (Key of F)
American folk song, 1863
Do You Know the Muffin Man?
English folk song, 1820
Did You Ever See a Lassie?
American folk song, late 19th century
Go to Sleep
If You’re Ready for Music
Deedle, Deedle Dumpling
Deedle, deedle dumpling, my son John
Went to bed with his stockings on
One shoe off and one shoe on
Deedle, deedle dumpling, my son John
Oliver Twist, Twist, Twist
Can’t do this, this, this
Touch his nose, nose, nose
Touch his toes, toes, toes
And around he goes, goes, goes
Rub, rub, rub
________’s in the tub
Rub her/him dry
Hang her high
Rub, rub, rub
Jingle, jingle, jingle jive
Move until you count to five
1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Open Shut Them
This is an action game song where the lyrics are imitated through movement using simple actions in both hands.
Open Shut Them
Open, shut them, Open, shut them, (open and shut both hands)
Give a little clap, clap, clap (clap on each “clap”)
Open, shut them, Open, shut them, (open and shut both hands)
Put them in you lap, lap, lap (tap open hands on thighs)
Creep them, creep them, creep them, creep them, (crawl hands up to chin)
Right up to your chin, chin, chin (tap on each “chin”)
Open wide your little mouth (open mouth)
But do not put them in, in, in (tap on each “chin” again)
III. Musical Developmental Milestones in Young Children
Although we might not have thought of it, children’s linguistic development is related to their musical development. Research shows a direct correlation between the development of children’s speech and their musical/singing ability, with music skills correlating significantly with both phonological awareness and reading development (Anvari et al., 2002).
While teachers of preschool children may have a sense of the linguistic milestones for children, they are less aware of the musical milestones. Since music and language development have a high correlation in terms of development, it is helpful to know what activities children are developmentally ready for musically, and when are they ready for them. For example, most four- and even five-year-olds are not yet able to play a steady beat on an instrument. Expecting them to will only frustrate both the children and yourself. The following chart indicates musical developmental ability by age, and will guide you in introducing musical skills and material that children are developmentally ready for.
Musical Abilities by Age.
0–1 year old (Infants)
Cannot use language or sing
1–2 years old (Toddlers)
Cannot sing “in tune” but can maintain melodic contour
“Centering” (pre-operational stage) can fix a child’s attention on one perceptual feature. Difficulty seeing the larger transformational picture of some activities as attention is diverted by one feature.
Able to classify sounds as:
Require many opportunities to match pitches and order direction of musical sounds in terms of going up, going down, and staying the same
Based on the chart above, answer the following in terms of what age is appropriate for each activity.
1. Analyzing/hearing the different sections of a song.
2. Responding vocally using different tones and inflections.
3. Singing the song “I’m a Nut.”
4. Echoing/responding to short, clapped rhythms.
5. Playing a steady beat on the xylophone or other percussion instrument.
6. Seeing abstract images and performing them either on voice or instruments.
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Early Childhood Music and Movement Association (ECMMA) https://ecmma.org/
Children’s Camp Songs https://www.care.com/c/stories/3343/50-great-camp-songs-for-kids/
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abstract movements: movements do not carry any specific linguistic meaning, such as waving arms or jumping
articulation: the approach to playing a note and style of playing in terms of its smoothness, detachment, accents, etc.
dynamics: how loud or soft the music is
meter: meter determines where the stresses in music are, or how music stresses are grouped. A triple meter, for example, will have groups of 3 with a stress on the first beat of the group. A duple meter will have groups of 2 with a stress on the first beat of the group.
narrative movements: mimetic actions that help to illustrate certain words and tell the story (e.g., “I’m a Little Teapot”)
pitch: how high or low a note is
rhythmic movements: movements that can either emphasize the beat of the rhyme or the rhythm of the text, such as clapping or body percussion
tempo: how fast or slow the music is played
timbre: the quality of sound