Early Years Music-Making Resources

Curriculum Links

Music is important for the personal, social and educational development of young children. Through participation in music-making, children are able to explore their own creativity and build confidence. Research also suggests that music impacts on the development of language, social skills, emotional responses, motor skills, mathematics and science.

Personal Through involvement in music, children develop confidence in self-expression. Musical activity provides children with the means to explore emotion and identity, and to develop vocabulary and communication skills.

Social Musical activity helps to develop positive relationships and skills in listening and turn-taking. Making music together helps to create a positive, safe community, shared experience and group identity. Music activity can give an outlet to the emotions that is much more direct than language and can facilitate the communication of a feeling to others.

Reading The use of written symbols and patterns to represent sounds or ways of playing supports the development of literacy skills. For example, a picture of a lion might be used to represent playing loudly, and a mouse to represent play quietly. Symbols can also be more abstract, and come from ideas that the children have, for example a child might draw a big red cross to represent ‘loud’, or wavy lines to represent playing long sustained sounds.

Motor skills Dexterity is required to play an instrument, or to hold a beater. Children can be encouraged to control the sound produced (loud, quiet, fast, slow, etc.), and timing and anticipation can be explored.

Development of language Children can join in with singing, chants and rhymes when they are ready. The vocal expression and control of the voice illustrated by the adult helps children to assimilate knowledge about the structure of language and the use of words. Singing can also be used to encourage the development of language for children with English as a second language. For English speakers, it can be used to introduce other languages.

Science A great deal of experimentation with instruments can be done to find out how sounds are made – by striking, plucking, scraping, blowing and shaking, children are encouraged to explore and investigate sounds. Exploring how volume is controlled and what effects the length of a sound (acoustics) is also part of a child’s science education.

Maths Repeating rhymes and counting songs are great ways to support children learning numbers. Sorting instruments into groups, for example wooden, metalic, bells etc., also links in with the EYFS curriculum.

Everyday Objects as Instruments}

Children who have had plenty of opportunity to play with different materials will already have made many instruments, be they simply biscuit tins, pieces of paper and so on. An instrument is simply something that can be played in some way to produce a sound. The instruments made by children of this age group will be things that they have discovered themselves through play, which are then given added significance by an adult recognising them, and they thereby gain the status of an ‘instrument’.

One way of doing this is to have a sound table, where items that make a sound are placed when children ‘discover’ them. In this way, a shell that is scraped with a stick, and which is placed on the sound table, can be recognised as an instrument.

Objects that make sounds can be sorted into different categories, such as what the instruments are made of (metal/wood/plastic), or how loud/quiet, high/low the sound an object produces is.

Often objects can be used to produce sound in a variety of ways. Bottles for instance can be struck with beaters, or blowing across the top can produce a note. The full range of dynamics can also be explored, especially seeing how quietly the sound can be made.

The sounds that children discover can be incorporated into, or can act as, a launch pad for stories, imaginary journeys or games. For example, bottles chinking together might become a game about being a milkman; a whistle might inspire a game about going on a train journey.

When involving instruments in an activity, bear these possibilities in mind:

  • How loudly and quietly can the instrument be played?
  • Does the instrument make a long or a short sound?
  • How quickly and slowly can you play the instrument?
  • Is it a high or low sound?
  • Can you start and stop playing when someone else shows you to?

Buying Instruments

It is important to a child’s exploration and play to own a good selection of musical instruments.

Tuned and pitched instruments
It is useful to invest initially in pitched instruments, as these are the most difficult sounds to make or discover from everyday objects. The most practical things to use are xylophones or metallophones and chime bars with beaters to play them.

Untuned instruments
We also recommend you use a selection of the following instruments: Egg shakers, maracas or handheld shakers, wooden agogos (two tone handheld wooden instruments), metal agogos (two tone metallic instruments), woodblocks, triangles, tambourines, handheld drums (played with hands), claves (pairs of wooden sticks), bongos or conga drums, jingle sticks or bells.

Buying the right instruments
When thinking about what instruments to buy, bear in mind the following factors:

  • Size: Not all instruments are easy for a small child to play
  • Quality and durability: Remember that most musical instruments are not made specifically for children and are very easily breakable
  • Quality of sound and ease of use: Some instruments such as recorders are difficult to play with a satisfying tone
  • Hygiene: Needs to be considered for instruments that you blow through like recorders and ocarinas
  • Outdoor/indoor: Can the instrument be used in the garden as well as indoors?

Planning a Singing Session

Singing in early years is about play and expression rather than performance. It is something that nearly all children in this age group do spontaneously, often while carrying out another activity. Many will improvise both melody and words. This type of singing is creative and exploratory, giving children the chance to experiment with language and meaning. Making singing part of a circle time activity formalises and encourages this process.

Leading songs for circle time

  • Choose songs that you like and know well
  • Make eye contact with the children and try not to refer to a book or song sheet too much
  • Remember to sit up straight and take a good breath before you start (relax, and breathe from your diaphragm not your shoulders!)
  • Choose a starting note which is comfortable for you so you can sing the whole song confidently. If you’re not sure where this is, try singing it a few times starting on different notes and see how comfortable it is for you and the children. Be aware that children have a limited vocal range (often D above middle C up to B above this).
  • Aim for a clear, strong tone with good diction. Consonants need more work to make them heard when singing.
  • Sing some songs standing up and use actions to encourage full body engagement and increase confidence
  • Children enjoy songs that are familiar, so take the time to repeat new songs often – it might not instantly be a hit but don’t give up!
  • Make song sessions as interactive as possible. Ask children to suggest movements, different words, ways of singing (loud/soft; fast/slow; happy/sad; excited/bored)

Here is a selection of our favourite Chamber Tots songs to get you started:

Using Stories and Music

Music can really help along a story – it can create atmosphere and aid characterisation (which is why most films have a music soundtrack). If you want to have a go at adding music to a story with the children, there are a few things to consider:

Choose a simple story to start with. A short story, with few words and no rhymes allows space for the music. Stories with a strong rhythm and rhyme scheme are already quite musical, and it can be difficult finding a way for the music to enhance what is already there.

Decide whether you want to play the music yourself, or whether you’d like the children to join in somehow. If there is a repeated phrase in the story, it could be sung/chanted by you both

Here are some recommended stories:

  • We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen
    Try using different, appropriate, instruments for the episodes - grass, river, etc.
  • Train Ride by June Crebbin
    Speak it in a strong rhythm with the children joining in on ‘What can I see?’ and ‘That’s what I see’. Get faster and faster as the train goes along and slow down at the end.
  • Peace at Last by Jill Murphy
    Try creating sound effects for the different things keeping Mr Bear awake. Chant, or sing, 'Oh, no' said Mr Bear 'I can’t stand this'.
  • The Happy Hedgehog Band by Martin Wadell
    Use different parts of the body to tap out the drumming. Everyone can join in using different noises when the whole forest becomes an orchestra.
  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
    Choose instruments for the magical forest growing, sing ‘Row, row, row your boat’ for the sailing, and create a sequence of actions and sounds for the wild rumpus.

Create your own musical world

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