Musical Play and the Neurosequential Model

Musical Play is based on an understanding of neurological development, as per Bruce Perry’s Neurosequential Model (see above). It recognises that: “One of the most powerful sets of associations created in utero is the association between patterned repetitive rhythmic activity from maternal heart rate, and all the neural patterns of activity associated with not being hungry, not being thirsty, and feeling ‘safe’ (in the womb).”

“Patterned, repetitive, rhythmic somatosensory activity…elicits a sensation of safety. Rhythm is regulating.”

(Perry: Rhythm Regulates the Brain –

According to Perry, the core elements of a positive developmental, educational and therapeutic experience are:

  • Relational (safe)
  • Relevant (developmentally-matched to the individual)
  • Repetitive (patterned)
  • Rewarding (pleasurable)
  • Rhythmic (resonant with neural patterns)
  • Respectful (of the child, family, and culture)

(Perry: Rhythm Regulates the Brain –

Key Points about Musical Play:

  • Musical Play is the child’s first language and is based on an innate understanding of calming, regulating, joyful, relationship based play. A newborn baby responds to the nurturing, playful, soothing musical qualities of the mother’s voice (see the beautiful musical interaction between mother and baby Elsie, aged 7 weeks, in the video clip below).
  • It is a natural part of the life and culture of children and there is no right or wrong way to play.
  • It brings everyone together in the moment, opening up a world of emotional connections and building a strong sense of community.
  • It helps children to understand and use the elements of music in their own play.
  • It follows the child, encouraging a child-centred approach, fostering self-esteem, thought and creativity.
  • Through musical play, children develop the ability to listen, watch, wait and wonder. A sense of wonder is the child’s key to learning.

The Aims of our Musical Play Programme are:

  • To enhance children’s natural musicality.
  • To use music for arousing or calming.
  • To develop a sense of music community.
  • To develop musical singing, saying, moving and playing.
  • To promote tuneful singing for children and adults alike, using scale songs in conjunction with counting and body awareness.
  • To help parents and teachers feel confident and competent singing instructional songs and incorporating music into daily routines.
  • To reinforce and follow the children’s musical ideas in their own play, thus building self-esteem and communication.
  • To help establish rhythmical play and steady beat, as well as an understanding of weight, time, space and energy.
  • To use a range of props in group music sessions such as natural materials, scarves, the parachute, the rainbow ring and maracas, in ways that help children to listen, wait, take turns, follow sung instructions and enjoy musical play as a group.


Musical play and exploring the natural environment go hand in hand. Outdoor play awakens the senses and is important for healthy brain development. Natural learning environments help children’s aesthetic, creative, imaginative and sensory development. Through outside play, children naturally tune into the sounds of nature, marvelling at the colours, shapes and patterns with a sense of joy and wonder. Nature provides a rich and diverse environment for children to learn about themselves, each other and the world, through play.

Julie’s song “Down at the Beach” from her CD Teddy Bears’ Tango, is an example of a song which facilitates sound exploration with natural materials. Children discover that shells, stones and driftwood can all be used as instruments. This song can be used as a starting point for helping children to tune into the sights and sounds of nature and followed up with treasure and sound hunts outside.

The pictures below show two brothers going on a bear hunt after the younger brother enjoyed “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” at Julie’s musical play classes.

Ideas to Try

  • Lie on the grass with children and look up at the sky. What do you and the children see in the clouds?
  • Go on a treasure hunt outside to collect natural materials and identify what sounds you can hear. You could sing “We are going on a nature hunt. We are going on a nature hunt. What will we see? What will we hear? We are going on a nature hunt” to the tune of “We are Playing Music” (see below). Note down what the children hear, keep the treasures they find and use the experience as a starting point for writing songs and stories together.

© Julie Wylie Musical Play, 2018


 Thank you very much to offer a wonderful music workshop for Chinese ECE educators in Auckland. We have learnt so much music teaching ideas for babies, toddlers, over 3 and special needs children. Most importantly, we learnt the ways that how you communicate and interact with children at different age groups in the music activities. I was hoping I could be a professional ECE music teacher like you and help many young children to build their musicality at the beginning of their life.

非常感谢Julie Wylie能为我们奥克兰华人幼教老师带来这场精彩的幼儿早教音乐培训课。在您的课堂上,我们学到了如何与不同年龄组的小朋友交流,并开展音乐活动。作为我个人来讲,我希望我也能成为向您一样的优秀的早教音乐教师。我希望在我的教育职业生涯中,通过我的努力,能帮助更多的小朋友在少儿时期对音乐产生兴趣,并在幼儿园里学习到基础的音乐知识与技能。

Yona Yang Li, Scribbles Early Education Centre (Auckland)
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