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The MT Blog: Tiny Tunes

Updated: Jun 17

Shane Harvey, our Music Therapist has given some of his tips on Music’s Role in Helping to Develop the Early Communication Skills of Children

Why Music?

As a foundation, music has an important role to play in the development of communication, bonding and interaction between infants and their parents. The potential for children to vocalise, move and clap rhythmically in response to music, makes it an inviting medium for supporting development of communication, interaction and cognitive skills (Trevarthen 2004).  

As humans, we will have a natural affinity with music as a means to communicate. When communicating with their children, many parents do so through an expressive style called ‘motherese.’ This communication style is spontaneous. It makes use of musical characteristics such as rising and falling pitches, varying dynamics and phrasing of sounds. This serves the purposes of soothing, communicating and regulating the emotional state between parent and child.

The foremost expert in the field of parent-infant interactions was theorist and psychiatrist Daniel Stern. Through his research, Stern recognised the beneficial influence of music, as he used descriptive musical terms, including ‘rhythmic joining,’ ‘resonance’ and ‘the dance’ - to help define positive parent-child relationships (Stern, 1985).

From an early age, our inclination towards music, when relating with our caregivers, makes a good foundation, upon which we can build and develop our individual communication styles in more structured ways. Further to ‘motherese,’ it is recognised that ‘infant-directed singing’ also has an important role to play in the development of children’s communication and interaction. (Trehub, 2009).

Singing of nursery rhymes is an essential part of a child’s musical development. Nursery rhymes take key words and sounds – and frame them with memorable tunes as well as simple, repetitive phrases. In addition to language development, nursery rhymes can also present important learning experiences for children. Can you think back to a time in school when music played a part in your learning? Perhaps you learned the alphabet through singing the memorable ‘ABC Song?’ Maybe the song ‘Ten Green Bottles’ helped your counting skills with its catchy melody and rhyming words?

Overall, exposure to, and experience of singing nursery rhymes, can be helpful in supporting children to begin to vocalise, expand their vocal range and to begin attempting to sound out new words. 


From my own experience, as a Music Therapist, in using music to support the communication of children with Down Syndrome, I have often found it important to slow down the key words and sounds of songs. This is particularly important at an early developmental stage. Taking this approach gives plenty of time for the child to hear and respond to sounds and words - maximising opportunities for them to process and learn from a song's information. 

Gradually, when there is sufficient time and space for a child to clearly hear what is being articulated in a song, it is then that they may feel ready to match with their own vocalisations. From my experience, I have found that getting this approach right - can mean the difference between a song that is simply heard, and a song which is meaningfully processed and internalised by the Child.  


Musical Resource for Early Communication

One song which has proved successful and popular in Music Therapy sessions is the ‘Matilda the Gorilla’ song. This song targets the open vowel sounds of ‘oh’ and ‘ah.’ With many repeats and predictable phrases, the song’s chorus offers a playful and engaging stimulus for a child to practise key ‘oh’ and ‘ah’ sounds. The timing of a prolonged ‘ah’ sound, falling at the end of the chorus, has also found to be conducive to successful engagement from the child.


Use of props – such as puppets / pictures of a gorilla can also be helpful in animating the song and bringing it to life for your child.


A recording of this song is available upon request – featuring two tracks. Track one features the full song, consisting of verse and chorus. For ease of practise and repetition, track two, features the chorus only – with key sounds ‘oh’ and ‘ah.’ Please contact Shane via musictherapy@dscnortheast.ie if you would like this access this.

We hope you have fun singing!


Stern, D. N. (1985). The inter personal world of the infant. York, NY: Basic Books.

Trehub, S. E. (2009). Music lessons from infants. In S. Hallam, I. Cross, & M. Thaut (Eds.), Oxford handbook of music psychology (pp. 229-234). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Trevarthen, C. (2004). How infants learn how to mean. In M. Tokoro & L. Steels (Eds.), A learning zone of one’s own (pp. 37-69). The Netherlands: IOS Press.

DSCNE currently has one Music Therapist who works with individuals and small groups on Monday afternoons. For more information check out our Music Therapy (MT) area https://www.dscnortheast.ie/music-therapy

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