Music to promote early language

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

Early Sounds & Words

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Having laid the foundation for language and helped to develop important pre-verbal skills of eye contact, attention, copying and turntaking, singing and musical activities can promote the learning of sounds and words.

A child needs to hear a word over and over again before they understand it, and even more times, before they will start to use the word in their own speech. Hart and Risley's (2003) ground breaking research found that children from high-income families were exposed to 30 million more words than families receiving welfare. Further research showed that this early difference in the number of words at an early age and parental interaction, had an impact on the child's development in later life. Babies were studied from the age of seven months until they were three years old, a critical period for language development. In the first four years of life, a child from a professional family would learn 45 million words, compared to 13 million words for a child in a family receiving welfare. Not surprisingly, the results showed that 86-98% of the words used by a child at the age of three, came from the vocabulary of their parents. The researchers found that the language levels achieved by the child at the age of three was indicative of language development, vocabulary used and reading skills at the age of nine and ten. This study clearly showed that early parent child interaction is critical, and has a long lasting impact on the child's future development and progress.

The engaging rhythm and intonation of songs, make accessing words easier, particularly for a child with a hearing loss. The speed of the words can be slowed down, to provide clearer access, but most importantly, key words and sounds are repeated over and over again. In the 'Wheels on the bus' song, the words 'round and round' are repeated 4 times in quick succession, reinforcing the word 'round' eight times, every time the verse is sung. Repeat the song, and the child hears the word 'round' 16 times. Singing the verse repeated, every day as part of a daily routine, provides 112 repetitions of the word 'round' in one week.

Singing songs can also be used to develop pointing. Pointing is a really important developmental milestone for a child and usually occurs around the age of 9 months (Buckley, 2006). When a child points to an object, the adult will respond by labelling the item that the child pointed to, so words are reinforced and more language will be heard when the child has mastered the skill of pointing to different objects as explained in this video. The skill of pointing can be modelled in the daily singing routines that you establish for your child. For example, pointing to your eyes, ears, mouth and nose in the familiar children's song 'Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes,' provides constant reinforcement of pointing.




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

Buckley, B. (2006) Children's communication skills from birth to five years. Oxford:Routledge.

Hart,B. & Risley, T (2003) 'The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3' American Educator, Spring 2003.