The Benefits of Music for Communication and Language Development

The Key Benefits of Music in Early Childhood: Part Two – COMMUNICATION AND LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT

You know you’re the parent or carer of a young child when you find yourself singing nursery rhymes and songs throughout your day, but did you know how important these early musical experiences actually are in helping your little one’s all-round development? In our current series of blogs entitled ‘The Key Benefits of Music in Early Childhood’, we share with you the benefits of music in early childhood development. In this particular blog, we focus on the area of communication and language development and the ways in which music relates to and can benefit them.

How can music help develop children’s language and communication skills?

There is a lot of research to support the understanding that exposure to music from an early age is beneficial to the development of language and communication skills. How? Well music and communication are closely linked, both being processed in the same regions of our brain, and as mentioned in our previous blog (The Key Benefits of Music in Early Childhood: Part One – Motor Skills), making music together has an enormously stimulating effect on our brains, not least in the area of communication, whether verbal (using words) or pre-verbal (through gestures and actions). As an added bonus, music results in the brain releasing hormones for happiness called ‘dopamine’ – and happy brains make for better learners!

To break things down a little more, probably the most obvious aspect exposing children to music during their early development supports is that it helps them learn and practise the sounds and meanings of words. But also, both music and language have a rhythm and tune, with rising and falling patterns, known as ‘intonation’ in speech. Babies and young children tune into the intonations, rhythm, and speech patterns, which are full of meaning and help little ones develop a context for understanding spoken language.

A baby’s first attempts to communicate involve listening and responding to various sounds; later, toddlers begin to imitate words, then to interpret symbols around them and eventually make their own symbols to communicate with.

What aspects of communication can musical activities support?

Below is a list of communication skills that are accessed through singing or being sung to:

  • Concentration
  • Listening
  • Anticipation
  • Turn-taking
  • Body language and eye contact
  • Vocabulary development
  • Sentence development
  • Phonological awareness
  • Sequencing

Like singing, playing musical instruments can also support many skills that underlie communication skills. These include:

  • Concentration
  • Listening
  • Self-expression and creativity
  • Memory
  • Pitch awareness
  • Rhythm

From what age can music begin to benefit my child?

We know that babies’ hearing is developed by 27 weeks in the womb and a number of studies found that babies had a positive response to music and sounds they heard in the later stages of their gestational period. This ability to tune in to music and sound is not only helping prenatal babies prepare for the environment they are about to enter but also laying the foundations for babies’ speech, language and communication development. Babies tune in to environmental sounds which, over time, leads to tuning into the sounds used for speech. Repetition is a key aide to learning at this stage and the use of rhythmic speaking and singing of familiar lullabies and nursery rhymes will support word and pattern recognition, whilst the actual act of singing together encourages the listening and responding that’s needed for communication.

How can music help my toddler’s developing language skills?

Children can learn to sing before they can speak, so music can actually provide them with an early means of communication. Over time, the connections in our brains that are used regularly become stronger and so children who grow up listening to music develop strong music-related connections that, in turn, strengthen their language skills.

In the early years, music is the perfect vehicle to help teach routines or to settle a child for bed, for example, through the learning opportunities it can provide, including the use of actions with words, eye contact, vocal play, understanding timing, attention, listening, and understanding verbal (words) and non-verbal (actions) language. As mentioned earlier, mimicking the words in a song can help children practice producing sounds and then those sounds give way to actual understanding, as the song is practised over and over again.

How can music help build vocabulary?

Do you ever start singing along to an old song that pops onto the radio and amaze yourself at how well you remember all of the lyrics?! Well that’s because music also helps us retain words and expressions much more effectively than through spoken word. Remember the alphabet song…? Of course you do and there’s a reason why all of those sorts of songs came into being. The rhythm of the music, as well as the repetitive patterns within the song, help us to memorize words, developing those all-important memory skills as well as broadening vocabulary.

How to BOOST your little one’s language and communication development

It’s simple – Sing!!! Sing out loud…sing slowly…sing a variety…and sing every day! It truly doesn’t matter if you are out of tune or make up your own tunes…just sing to your child! Being immersed in language helps them to learn and using music adds that additional dimension to embed and consolidate this learning. The following activities are ideal for children in their early years:

  • Sing nursery rhymes and lullabies – Singing nursery rhymes and lullabies on a regular basis are also an enjoyable means of practicing language skills and help children to develop their fluency.
  • Finger plays – Very young children love ‘finger plays’ (action rhymes or songs where children can use their hands to join in). An example would be the well-known ‘Incey Wincey Spider’, which is on our album ‘Sing, Play, Dance!’ and you can listen to it here.
  • Sing slowly – Singing slowly can enable your child to learn the actions, words and rhythm at their own pace and allowing them to join in easily. This also gives your child time to anticipate what will come next.
  • Make up songs – Sometimes those songs you make up about nothing other than what you are doing at the time are the ones your little one will love best, because they’re rooted in the here and now and so have huge meaning for them. Try singing your actions such as, “this is the way we brush our teeth/wash our face/wash our hands/put on socks” to the tune of ‘Mulberry Bush’ for happier (and more cooperative) daily tasks!
  • Fill in the Missing Words As your child becomes familiar with nursery rhymes and songs, pause and wait for them to fill the gap with a gesture, noise, or the word. Waiting gives your child the opportunity to interact and communicate with you, developing essential early social skills such as turn-taking and eye contact.
  • Make mistakes! – A fun way to develop the activity further is by making “mistakes” as you sing songs your little one knows well. See if they notice the changes you make, helping them develop their listening and understanding, and they will love some of the silly suggestions you add in!
  • Join a music activity group – Attending sessions like Music Makers can give you so many more ideas for singing to and with your little one, all within a friendly group of like-minded people.

More about Music Makers…

To find your nearest Music Makers sessions, pop over to our schedule here. You can also find our latest album ‘Sing, Play, Dance’, a fabulous collection of both old and new songs for little ones, available to download from our online shop and also on Spotify and all other main streaming services.

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