If I asked you to list the significant physical and language developmental milestones that your baby is progressing towards I’m sure that you could give me an answer without thinking twice… rolling, sitting, standing, walking…babbling, saying a few words, constructing sentences. All very important stuff, right? YES!
The Significance of Baby’s Music Milestones
But what if I asked you about your baby’s musical development? You might wonder if musical milestones are even that important?
I certainly believe they are, for two reasons. Firstly, because the early years of life are crucial for establishing a foundation for lifelong music development. The ways in which a child experiences music in her first five years of life will directly impact upon her ability to understand, appreciate, and achieve in music as an adult. In his book A Music Learning Theory for Newborn and Young Children Professor Edwin E. Gordon talks about music as a form of literacy and cultural competency:
Because a day does not pass without a child’s hearing or participating in some music, it is to a child’s advantage to understand music as thoroughly as she can. As a result, as she becomes older she will learn to appreciate, to listen to, and to partake in music that she herself believes to be good. Because of such cultural awareness, her life will have more meaning for her.
The second reason that music development matters is because it is inextricably linked with both language and physical development. Music and spoken language rely on the auditory system and parallel each other in development (Barton, 2010). In fact, it can be argued that musical hearing and ability is essential to language acquisition (Brandt, Gebrian & Slevc, 2012). There is also a multi-sensory relation between music and movement. According to Laurel Trainor director of the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind, the combination of music and movement (ie.shaking maracas, clapping along to music, dancing etc.) wires a baby’s brain to integrate the senses.
What are the music milestones in baby’s development?
So now that you know a bit more about why music development is important, what are the milestones in your baby’s music development and how can you recognise them? To help explain this I’ve created a quick reference table and then go into more detail below.
You will notice that baby’s musical milestones are closely tied to language and physical milestones. As with other developmental milestones, the ages are simply guidelines to give you an idea of what your baby has the potential to do. Your baby is unique and will achieve the milestones at his or her own pace.
If you are wondering what you can do to support and enhance your baby’s music development, I have also included some age/stage appropriate music activities. (All of which are included in my Baby’s Music Program).
|Age||Music Developmental Milestones||Music Activities|
|Birth to 3 months||– soothed by sound of voice or by low rhythmic sounds |
– looks at the face of the singer cries/coos/gurgles (baby’s own way of making music!)
– may moves arms and legs reflexively in response to music/music-maker
– tolerates and shows pleasure when moved musically
|– sing lullabies |
– listen to music
– gently rock/sway
– pat in time to music in your arms
|3 – 6 months||– babbles and repeat sounds |
– kicks legs and feet towards desired instrument
– swipes at musical objects
– grasps an instrument for a short time – pays greater attention to familiar music
– moves rhythmically to music when touched
– enjoys gentle musical games
|– imitate and extend baby’s babbling (ie. ooh to oooh-waaah) |
– play instruments for your child and provide with basic shaking instruments (ie. bells and rattles)
– gentle knee and ankle rides ie. See Saw
– tickling rhymes like Round and Round the Garden
|6 – 9 months||– makes sing-song sounds (musical babbling) |
– occasionally matches pitch
– favours shaking instruments
– imitates hand clapping
– waves goodbye
– imitates actions and sounds
|– imitate sing-song sounds |
– introduce pitch (sing two different notes la-la, loo-loo)
– provide shaking instruments such as maracas/eggs, bells and tambourines
– clapping songs such as BINGO or This Old Man
– wave goodbye as you sing a goodbye song
– nursery rhymes with simple actions
– knee bounce rhymes ie. This Is The Way the Ladies Ride
|9 -12 months||– vocalises when listening to music |
– shows pleasure when hearing a familiar song
– explores musical instruments to see how they work
|– sing to your baby during daily routines (anything and everything -improvise!) and repeat favourite songs |
– provide baby with a variety of instruments such as drums, a xylophone /chime bars/ piano and introduce her to a musical scale (going up and down).
|12 -18 months||– responds to music with whole body (claps hands, moves to upbeat music) |
– reflects/expresses the overall mood of music ie. claps hands to upbeat music
– shows interest in the lyrics
– sings little bits of learned songs
– more pitch-matching
|– hold baby’s hands and dance to music with baby on your feet to a variety of musical styles ie. jazz, pop, country (whatever you like to listen to) |
– sing body songs (ie. Heads and Shoulders) and gently move her arms and legs/ touch her body parts as you sing them
–sing traditional songs and rhymes with repetitive choruses (ie. Old MacDonald)
–finger play rhymes ie. Two Little Dickie birds
Newborns are in the sensing/awareness stage of musical involvement. This means they primarily use their senses to interact with instruments and the music-maker. They cannot see across a room but will look at faces of the singer and musical objects in close visual range. Your infant will enjoy listening to music and doing so will stimulate her sense of hearing. Play a variety of styles (that you enjoy) and either rock, sway or pat her in time to the music as she is already learning about different rhythms. Try making sounds with a soft, light rattle and then place it in her palm and she will close her fingers around it. Singing lullabies to baby is a comforting activity (for both mum and bub!) that promotes bonding. Look out for signs that she is responding to music ie. she turns towards your voice, stops crying, smiles, or gets excited and moves her arms and legs.
Your baby is now beginning to actively explore music and music-makers. He can hold his head up and turn it when he hears your voice. He can look further afield to musical objects/faces. He delights in shaking instruments like maracas/eggs and particularly likes to explore them with his mouth. He is developing a rich repertoire of vocalisations to express his heartfelt enjoyment of songs and musical sounds. This is a great time to get your baby a musical mobile (if you don’t already have one). Here is a clip of my 3-month-old’s vocal response to her mobile which played Mary Had A Little Lamb.
With increasing mobility, emerging fine motor skills and developing self-efficacy comes the ability for your baby to shape her actions in order to make musical sounds. She can use both right and left hands to grasp a simple musical instrument such as maracas, which she will shake for short periods. She loves personal attention and social games so lap plays, knee bounce rhymes and games such as peekaboo are sure to be a big hit. You should be sharing plenty of smiles and giggles around this time.
Singing to your baby is particularly valuable in this pre-verbal stage. I used to sing to my babies when I was folding the washing (I remember singing I’m Bobbing All Around In A Boat On The Sea to my 9-month-old as she bobbed along beside me) or when we were building block towers (Build ‘Em Up was perfect for this). Your little one will experiment with music-making at every opportunity – banging on a drum or hitting the strings of a guitar with her open palm. I have a video from when my youngest child was 9-months-old and I was playing the guitar to her. When I finished the song she crawled up my knee and started to strum the guitar with an intense look of concentration on her face. She was working it all out!
Your child will now understand the association between your words and gestures ie. shaking your head means “no” and clapping and cheering are signs of praise. This makes fingerplays and other action songs (ie. If You’re Happy And You Know It) particularly relevant. Although he won’t be able to say all of the words or do all of the actions yet he may join in with a few here and there, which is always a delightful surprise. I remember in one of my babies music classes a 13-month-old boy responding to my solfege singing/hand signs by signing “Do” – it was such a special moment for me and his Mum.
I hope that you now have more of an idea of your baby’s musical development and enjoy trying out my activity suggestions. Your baby’s (and yours) fun musical journey begins here. Why not try it today?
Barton, C. (May 2010). Music, Spoken Language, and Children with Hearing Loss: Using Music to Develop Spoken Language, Part 2. Retrieved 3/28/14 from Speech Pathology.com –
Brandt, A., Gebrian M. & Slevc. L.R (2012) Music and Early Langauge Acquisition, Frontiers in Pyschology Retrieved 3/8/12 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3439120/
Gordon, Edwin E. (1990) A Music Learning Theory for Newborn and Young Children. Chicago: GIA Publications, 1990, pp. 2-3.
Developmental milestones and the Early Years Learning Framework and the National Quality Standards https://docs.education.gov.au/system/files/doc/other/developmental-milestones.pdf
Schwartz, Elizabeth K. (2008) Music, Therapy,and Early Childhood: A Developmental Approach. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishers.