Music to promote early language

Katy Mitchell. With thanks to Nicole Da Rocha for her support and advice.| View as single page | Feedback/Impact

Social interaction

Musical activities with young children, whether using instruments or singing songs, promote social interaction. The rhythmic forward and back movement between a parent and child singing, 'Row row row your boat', creates a physical experience of the back and forth exchange that is the basis of communication and language. 

Touch, is really important for early development as explained in this video. It is important for bonding, to help make your baby feel more secure. The circular motion of a finger on a young child's hand, whilst singing 'Round and round the garden', reinforces the importance of touch in social exchanges and the expectancy of a tickle after the one step, two step, enables a child to predict what will happen next, with expectancy and pleasure.

Music can be used to promote self-regulation. Lullabies at an early age help to soothe babies and this experience can help a young child to soothe themselves (Parlakian & Lerner, 2010).

Studies have shown that adults who engage in a music related task together showed enthusiasm in teamwork, were more expressive, experienced a positive improvement in wellbeing, worked collaboratively, were active listeners and respected the opinions of others (Core-Bilbao et al. 2019). Musical activities and singing can promote turn taking and sharing. Taking turns to shake a rhythm with a maraca, or bang a drum and leaving pauses in songs for a child to fill in the words, promotes collaboration and turn taking, developing skills important for teamwork. The pleasure of successfully engaging in the task can promote self-confidence, self-esteem and promote wellbeing.

Everyday interactions are important for early brain development. It is important that an adult picks up on a young child's intentions to communicate in a meaningful way. This video explains why playful interaction is so important for early brain development. The child's attempt can be likened to a 'serve' in the game of tennis and the adult needs to appropriately 'return' the communication. This video outlines the five important steps of this 'serve and return' process:

Step 1: Share the focus
Step 2: Support and encourage
Step 3: Name it
Step 4: Take turns, back and forth
Step 5: Practice endings and beginnings

The process of 'serve and return' can be developed through play and everyday routines. Singing songs or sharing a musical instrument can also be used as an effective way to promote meaningful social interactions. Your child may indicate through a gesture that they would like to sing a favourite song. Respond positively by joining in with the song. Using toys and pictures in books, can help to attach meaning to the words of songs, for example, naming animals for singing 'Old MacDonald'. You can take turns by leaving pauses for your child to add an action or sing words and follow your child's lead to start a new song or move onto a different activity. More information about 'serve and return' can be read here.

This video provides ten tops tips for speech and language development in Under 5's.

This video shows parents interacting and singing with their young children.




BBC, Tiny Happy People. [Online] Available at: [Accessed: 16 April, 2021].

Harvard University, Center on the Developing Child, (2019) 5 Steps for Brain-Building Serve and Return. [Online] Available at: [Accessed: 15 April, 2021].

Cores-Bilbao,E., Fernandez-Corbacho,A., Machancoses,F., Fonseca-Mora,M (2019) 'A Music-Mediated Language Learning Experience: Students' Awareness of their social emotional skills'. Frontiers in Psychology. [Online] Available at: [Accessed: 29 March, 2021].

Leeds Community Healthcare: Top Tips for Speech and Language Development in Under 5s: Complete Animation. Available at: [Accessed: 6 November 2023]

Parlakian, R. & Lerner, C. (2010) 'Beyond Twinkle, Twinkle: Using Music with Infants and Toddlers'. The National Association for the Education of Young Children, March 2010. [Online] Available at: [Accessed:16 April, 2021].