As humans, we are first and foremost emotional beings. The major and most fundamental concern of our brains is safety and survival. Anything that our brain senses or assesses as being detrimental to our safety and survival will receive top priority. Everything else will have to wait, including thinking and reasoning. We simply can’t think rationally or logically, or make sense of our world, when we are in a state of high arousal.

In Christchurch, New Zealand, many children and adults have been deeply, emotionally affected by the 2010/2011 earthquakes. Many still experience any sudden sensory stimuli as dangerously assaulting. A large truck rumbling past, or a sudden noise or movement, can trigger fight-or-flight responses in systems so highly charged that the brain is not able to interpret information adequately. Fear responses can prevail, with sensory overload causing chronic anxiety and stress.

Music is an intuitive language of the emotions. We don’t have to think in order to respond to music. Music can immediately become a calming, quieting factor, presenting one of the most viable resources for putting the body at ease. It helps to calm and regulate the lower brain, enabling the sensory systems to calm down.

Music provides a nurturing sound environment “wrapping itself around the body and providing a sense of safety and security” (Berger, 2002, p.47). The brain tracks the sounds, and generally stays tuned in for as long as the sound is present, anticipating the next sound and responding to the musical form.

A parent will probably find that singing to their child accompanied by rocking, patting, and stroking, helps to build calming, predictable, loving routines, especially at bedtime, or when their child becomes upset. Sing or chant about what is happening moment by moment, and sing playful instructions about daily routines, in order to develop a sense of order and predictability.

Calming, relaxing music is a natural sedative that is able to induce the release of dopamine and other relaxants into the system, thus playing a key role in reducing the flow of chemicals that keep the system highly charged and anxious.

Music can reduce fight-or-flight responses by calming the system down long enough to allow efficient regulation in child and adult. A calm, beautiful music environment helps young children and adults to feel safe, and to tolerate lying on the floor in a comfortable position listening to slow, predictable music, taking deep regulating breaths, and experiencing a gradual sense of peace. This can be especially useful in the classroom when children are becoming over-aroused. Match their energy levels with a rhythmic clapping echo activity, dance, or movement exercise, followed by listening to calming, gentle music and/or doing mindfulness exercises.

Such peaceful music experiences help the child/adult to accept new, unpredictable situations, because music helps areas of the lower brain, such as the amygdala (which regulates emotions), to become calm and regulated. Repetitive, predictable constant music interventions can help the lower brain to respond, and to calm. Music proceeds directly through the lower brain limbic system. We can totally relax and listen intuitively to the expressive, calming sounds. Babies and young children understand music expression at this intuitive, lower brain level without, as yet, having developed intellect.

Music structures the moment. It helps us to move and play in time, to recognise familiar melodies, and helps us to do something purposefully, accurately and in a variety of ways. It helps us to slow down, to breathe normally, and to respond to the predictable melodic, rhythmic patterns. Music helps build positive experiences and positive memories. For the brain, information paced by rhythmic pulse and pattern is non-threatening. As soon as information becomes structured and organised within rhythm and pitch patterns, which the brain prefers to unpredictable random items, fear disappears and the lower brain allows information to be enjoyed and processed by the whole brain.

Mindfulness and visualisation techniques, and musical activities, such as listening to the sounds of nature outdoors at the park or at the beach, singing, drawing or painting to music, dancing, and expressing emotions through music, help to develop positive experiences, thus building self esteem, self awareness, the ability to self regulate, and a general sense of well-being. Musical play helps promote acceptance of changing order and routine and emotional expression, and can be used very effectively to match emotions and to arouse or calm.

For further information about mindfulness for children, follow this link to a Radio New Zealand podcast “Mindfulness for Kids”:



Berger, D.S. (2002) Music Therapy, Sensory Integration and the Autistic Child. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. London.

Edwards, J. (Ed). (2011) Music Therapy and Parent-Infant Bonding. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Gould, P. (Ed). (2000) Musical Healing in Cultural Contexts. London: Ashgate.

Stryker, M.P. (2001) Drums Keep Pounding a Rhythm in the Brain. Science 291. 5508, 1506-1507.


© Julie Wylie, 21 November, 2018




1) Music is our first language. It calms stressed and anxious systems and regulates the lower brain. When the body is rhythmically organised, children are able to relax, attend, listen, enjoy and learn.

2) Music is an intuitive language of the emotions. We can use music effectively to match children’s emotional levels to calm or arouse. “Music for the developing brain is a form of play” (Levitin p. 256).

3) Music is an experience enjoyed by the whole brain. It activates memory, thus helping children to see, hear, feel, move and remember, through sensory and emotional music experiences. Musical play causes the brain to activate the release of the chemicals dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, and endorphins, which are responsible for our sense of happiness.

4) Neuroscience shows that for the brain, information paced by rhythmic pulse (steady beat) and pattern is non-threatening. We can teach many aspects of sequential learning in enjoyable, repetitive, rhythmic, sensory ways that can underpin and support all learning, such as literacy and numeracy.

5) Rhythmic patterning is one of the most important elements in the pacing of spoken language. Rhythmic speech paces the brain’s intake of cognitive information.

6) Music activities that include strong rhythmic and movement components can impact upon adaptive motor planning, sensory organisation, cognitive processes and general physiological pacing.

7) Learning vocabulary in sung format can contribute to more efficient memory of lyrics, poems, and foreign languages, because the brain loves patterns.

8) Music helps adaptive responses to auditory and visual stimuli, and pacing of body movement. It promotes ability to concentrate and stay on task, to accept changing order and routine, and supports both verbal and non verbal communication.

9) Because music is predictable and sequential, it supports sequential learning. When lyrics are used, multiple sequencing takes place, as well as  cognition of meaning. Ongoing use of sequential sensory musical stimulus supports the development of neural networks. Music and movement activities abound for developing timing, sequencing skills and spatial reasoning.

10) Musical play helps to set limits and boundaries. It is a natural behaviour modification tool that requests a level of compliance from the listener and participant. It is a social unifier, requiring no specific training in order for it to be experienced and enjoyed in a group. It helps everyone to watch, wait and listen, and move and play in time, thus developing a sense of music community.

“Rhythm stirs our bodies. Tonality and melody stir our brains. The coming together of rhythm and melody bridges our cerebellum (the motor control, primitive little brains and our cerebral cortex (the most evolved, most human part of our brain)…The multiple reinforcing cues of a good song – rhythm, melody, contour, form, cause music to stick in our heads…Music’s function for the developing child is to help prepare the mind for a number of complex cognitive and social activities, exercising the brain so that it will be ready for the demands placed on it by language and social interaction” (Levitin, p. 257- 261).

For more information about the benefits of music education, watch Anita Collins’ Ted Talk “What if every child had access to music education from birth?” by following this link:


Baller, M. (2001) ‘Language, Brain and Cognitive Development Meeting: What Makes the Mind Dance and Count.’ Science 292, 5522, 1st June 2001, 1636-1637.

Begley, S. (2000) ‘ Music on the Mind.’ Newsweek, 24th July 2000, 50-52.

Berger, D.S. (1997) ‘Are you listening?’ In J. Schneck, D.J and J.K Schneck (eds) Music in Human Adaptation, 209-214. Blackburn. V.A: Virginia Tech Press.

Levitin, D.J. (2006) This is Your Brain on Music’. Dutton Press: USA.

Pinker, S. (1994) ‘The language instinct: How the Mind Creates Language’. New York: Harper Perennial.

© Julie Wylie, 19 October 2018


When we sing with love and emotional connection with our babies and young children, they feel the emotional quality of the singing. We are intuitively teaching children to feel the music. Singing and music making involve the sharing of feelings and experiences, and the regulation of social behaviour. From the very beginning, singing is a way of communicating, offering comfort and security, as well as mutually satisfying and meaningful interactions, valuable to infant and parent alike. This kind of musical play brings parent and infant together as musical partners and helps to lay the foundation for the universals of human musical behaviour. Plato said we are moved by music and when we help children to feel the music, this is art at a very high level.

Young children love experimenting with their voice and this begins with the early calls and babbling of babies. Parents can nurture and validate these sounds by echoing their infant’s sounds through turn taking games. The infant discovers the power of communication and the sensation of using their singing voice. Whatever the infant sings, parents can echo these sounds. These echo games help to establish loving connection, listening, timing, turn taking, vocal exploration, rhythmic patterning and tuneful singing. Sing patterns using the voice to create glissandos, by sliding the voice up and down, and play singing games at bath time, bedtime – anytime. Make time for musical play with lots of facial expressions, smiling and laughing, and enjoy playing peek-a-boo games and tickle games. Create sound patterns using the voice, moving from high to low and back up to high.


If you are not sure how to sing in the appropriate key, using pitch/notes within the child’s pitch range, tune yourself in with quality sounding chime bars such as Angel resonator bells. These have the eight notes in the octave middle C to high C.

Sing scale songs. For older children sing up and down the numbers of the five note scale C – G, and the eight note scale C – C. Sing “up, up, up, up, up” (holding the fifth note to maintain attention), then “down, down, down, down, down”. For infants, sing up the five note scale from C – G using the words feet x 4, knees x 4, tummy x 4, shoulders x 4, head x 4, then back to feet, and repeat the song using it as a loving massage song with gentle, but deep pressure touch, using the palms of your hands.

Songs such as “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” can start on C. Extend the child’s pitch range by then starting this song on the note D. Start songs like “Old MacDonald” on the note F so that the low notes are not too low for the child’s voice. The young child’s vocal range is middle C-A. Encourage the higher singing voice.

We want children to experience their head voice/singing voice, rather than singing with their low, chest voice. Draw large WW shapes in the air and sing the shape. Make circular patterns in the air and sing these patterns. Make Fire Engine sounds. Sing the patterns in a child’s drawing or painting. Encourage them to sing you their drawing.

Make up three or four note patterns and copy the child’s patterns. Draw these patterns in the air, gradually drawing higher and higher so that the children sing higher and higher. Use a soft singing voice, never a shouting voice.

Sing beautiful story books such as “Brown Bear”. Repetition is the key to learning and helps children to develop a sense of timing and phrasing, an understanding of the sequencing of the story, and recognition of the overall form of the story.

Develop original musical thinking by creating songs about what you are doing. This helps children to develop skills in creating their own songs. Often a child will sing a song to support their drawing, painting, swinging, moving, or playing. We can help children to develop tuneful singing through regular use of nursery rhymes, predictable, simple folk songs, finger plays and action songs.

Sing, speak, move and play using musical form and expression. Explore steady beat through movement, song, chant and play. Play conducting games, and keep the beat using the rainbow ring to keep everyone in synchrony and to develop a sense of music community.

Use beautiful songs, dances, music games, props and musical experiences that nurture the musicality of young children. When we sing, dance, move and play musically with our children, we are laying the foundation of music for life, so that they in turn will nurture and sing to their own children.

© Julie Wylie, 3 September 2018



Julie features twice in the May 2018 edition of the MENZA magazine “tUNE mE iN”!

Click the link below to read “An Interview with Julie Wylie” and “Nurturing the Composers and Musicians of the Future: Musical Play from Birth”.

Julie Wylie Articles



Recently a parent asked me what age a child should be, to start learning to play a musical instrument, and what instrument her child should learn.

Firstly, children zero to eight years learn through their senses. They need to move, to feel the beat through a variety of musical experiences. They learn through loving musical interactions and singing with their parents and family, listening to the sounds of nature, and through a wide range of music genres. They can play with sticks, stones, leaves, and tuned and untuned percussion instruments.


Musical play helps children to sing in tune, and to listen, feel and understand the musical form of nursery rhymes and songs. Children begin to anticipate ends of phrases of songs, and to understand the clear beginning, middle and end of songs. They start singing words, phrases and whole songs.

Through dance, children learn the rhythms of early childhood – walking, running, skipping and galloping rhythms. They explore space, timing, weight and energy. They learn how to be proud performers and to engage others through musical play. Through dramatic play, children learn how to be expressive, to whisper, shout and use dynamics (loud and soft). They learn to play in synchrony with others, interacting like jazz musicians who engage in improvisations.

When children can sing in tune, play in time, listen, and follow and copy a sequence of rhythmic patterns, they develop confidence and self-esteem. Once children have mastered these musical skills and have developed a passion for music and ask to play a specific instrument, then they are ready to learn an instrument and embark on the rest of the musical journey.


If a child starts learning an instrument without these vital music skills, and before they are ready to learn the intricacies of reading music and grappling with the technical difficulties of playing an instrument, they can become discouraged and disempowered.

Musical play should be joyful, engaging and interactive. From birth, sing, dance, play, and explore sounds together inside, outside, in the car – anywhere.  Know that you are laying the foundation of music for life, helping your children to play music in ways that inspire, delight and inspire them to keep going  and become self-motivated with their desire to be involved and learn more and more about music.

The music of composers like Mozart, Haydn and Shostakovich incorporates brilliant elements of musical play and their music sparkles with joy, love, playfulness and an innate, childlike sense of wonder. They truly knew what it means to play music and to create music from their heart and soul.

© Julie Wylie, 16 June 2018.


Infants respond to music from birth, especially loving, relationship based music interactions with their parents. Long before birth, the infant has been listening to the musicality of the mother’s voice – the ebb and flow of the pitches, phrases and timing, as well as the rhythms of the mother’s heart beat, sounds of her digestive system, and movement of her body. Research shows that the newborn infant can distinguish elements of rhythm, pitch and melody. Sound, rhythm and movement play vital roles in the physical and psychological development of the foetus. These elements contribute to laying the foundation for the emergence of a musical, social infant who is born to interact, play and learn as a social being.

It is no surprise then, that the study detailed in the link below, reveals how infants respond to highly expressive, emotional interactions that incorporate rhythmic, physical movement, gestures and visual aspects. Such relationship based, playful and expressive musical play, provides numerous opportunities for synchronous movement and the sharing of a flexible, musical pulse which allows infant and parent to adapt their movements, gestures, tempi, musical form, pitch and contours of sounds. Parents universally have found that lullabies help to relax, soothe and comfort both them and their tired infant, especially if they are rocking, patting, or stroking the baby with deep pressure touch, or bouncing or walking the infant around the room. Musical play helps to build strong bonds of love and a secure relationship, which is vital for laying the foundation for a positive start in life.

© Julie Wylie, 28 May 2018





Saturday afternoon’s workshop for Music Education Canterbury was a wonderful opportunity to share ideas about using musical play to arouse or calm children, while opening up an imaginative, magical world of possibilities. Celia’s music room at the Christchurch School of Music (CSM) was a beautiful space to work in and we had so much fun exploring the elements of music with pitch games, chime bars and a range of props, including the rainbow ring, scarves, bean bag frogs and bubbles.

We are so excited to be providing professional development workshops and ongoing support for early childhood centres and primary schools. Teachers really enjoy our research based approach and the emphasis we place on reflective practice. Regular reflection enables teachers to notice changes in how children are using the elements of music in their own creative play, both inside and outside in the playground.


We have been enjoying working with teachers and children from James St. Pre School in Redcliffs, Christchurch. They are participating in an eight week programme which includes weekly musical play classes designed to suit the different ages and stages of development of their children from toddlers, middle years and older children about to transition to school.

The aims for this 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 staff alike using scale songs in relation to counting and body awareness.
  • To promote musical play in all aspects of the curriculum and to help teachers feel confident and competent in singing instructional songs and using music throughout daily routines.
  • To reinforce and follow the children’s own music ideas in their own play, thus building self esteem and communication.
  • To help establish rhythmical play, steady beat, understanding of weight, time, space and energy.
  • To use a range of props in group music sessions such as natural materials,  poi, rakau, parachute, rainbow ring, maracas in ways that help children to listen, wait, take turns, follow sung instructions and enjoy musical play as a group.
  • To include a training PD evening for teachers so that they learn how, why  what music does in relation to children’s emotional, physical, cognitive, social and psychological development.

Reflective practice is a vital part of helping teachers to listen, watch, wait and understand how children naturally include the elements of music in their own play. Such musical play promotes brain growth and development and joyful relationship based  music interactions. Music can then underpin every aspect of the curriculum.



Babies are born musical and respond to and begin to anticipate and sing matching notes of the ascending five notes of the C major scale when their parents sing “Up, up, up, up, up” as they lift them up, and the descending five notes of the scale as they bring them back down and cuddle or lie them down, while singing “Down, down, down, down, down”.

From birth a beautiful pitch massage song can be sung using deep pressure touch as the parent sings the following on each of the ascending five notes of the major scale:

Feet, feet, feet, feet
Knees, knees, knees, knees
Tummy, tummy, tummy, tummy
Shoulders, shoulders, shoulders, shoulders
Head, head, head, head
Feet (Slide voice down to the first note and repeat the song if the baby is still watching, listening and engaging).

This song is regularly sung in our musical play classes and then developed as a scale and percussion song as children stamp their feet and pat their knees, tummy, shoulders and head in time to the words above.

The film clip below shows Frances, and her 3 year old daughter Rose, singing the song to baby Elsie as they massage her. We hear great pride in Rosa’s voice at the end of the clip, as she exclaims “I did it!”.

Once the children are familiar with the five-note song that is sung in the young child’s pitch range (usually around the notes Middle C to A) and singing in tune, we then start to sing up and down the octave/eight notes middle C to high C, which are the notes found in the box of chime bars.

We then progress to the song “Playing with Numbers” (Track 8 on Julie Wylie’s CD “Magical Musical Play”). This echo song helps children to listen and sing the echoes: 1 1 1, 1 2 1, 1 2 3, 3 2 1, Feet are number one, knees are number two etc.

These photos taken in a class on Tuesday, show how children are watching, listening, copying the actions and learning the notes in relation to their bodies.


On Tuesday we sang the song very slowly without the CD recording. When we then did the song with CD backing, one of the children Audrey, who is very musical, asked if we could sing it more slowly again so that she could “practise”, learn and follow the actions.

Many recordings of children’s songs are too fast, have too many words, and are often not within the young child’s pitch range. These are important considerations when playing music to young children. Often recordings of children’s songs are not pitched at the young child’s emotional level and are more suited to older children.

Audrey wants to be able to master the singing and the actions. I reassured her that we will sing the song slowly lots of times until everybody feels confident, and only then, will we do it again with the recording. We then played the same song using chime bars, singing and playing up and down the C major scale.

When children are able to sing and play in time, this develops their musicality, creativity and self-confidence. This is evident in the beautiful photo of Jake below and in his mother Jen’s comments.

“I thought I’d share this with you after reading the latest newsletter. I just love the look of delight on Jake’s face at the sound and feel of the guitar. He asked his Uncle Brent if he could have a go at playing.

I’m loving how Jake carries the musicality from Julie’s lessons into his life. And I particularly like the range of beautiful instruments the children are introduced to.”

This is a lovely example of how musical play empowers children, opening up an imaginative, magical world of possibilities.

© Julie Wylie, 2 May, 2018


Following on from the previous blog, here are some beautiful video clips of Elsie and her mother Frances, enjoying musical play, as they sing and improvise together. Their songs are full of musical expression, including use of teasing, humour, joy and love. They play around with sounds, matching each other, using loud and soft, fast and slow, and high and low.

At 14 weeks (clip 4), Elsie’s singing is becoming increasingly structured, with a sense of timing, rhythm and use of pitch. She and her mother sing on the same notes and copy each other. Their music interactions are like watching tennis players. Elsie sings to her mum, and her mum sings back to her, with distinct turn taking occurring. Their songs have pronounced pitch contours, they are slow with lots of repetition, and include accented sounds that each player picks up on.

© Julie Wylie, 16 March 2018



Music is the baby’s first language and from birth, babies learn to take turns communicating. Trevarthen suggests that “in healthy families, a baby forms a secure attachment with her parents as naturally as she breathes, eats, smiles and cries”. But it takes two to tango, and beyond meeting her unique needs, her parents “dance” with her hundreds of times, day after day. This dance of interaction develops secure attachment, which naturally occurs when her loving “parents have frequent attuned interactions with her, notice her physiological/affective states and respond to her fully and with great sensitivity” (Trevarthen, 2016).

In the film clip below, Elsie enjoys the language of music. Long before her birth, sound, rhythm and movement have been part of her life in the womb. She was born a musical play partner, able to recognize her mother’s voice, ready to interact and enjoy all of the social interactions with her mother and family.

In this clip, notice Elsie’s intense eye gazing at her mother, her concentration, the use of gestures and movement, and the timing of the joint musical interactions. Elsie takes turns to sing and her mother naturally sings in time and in tune with her musical offerings. Both mother and baby are in tune and in synchrony, enjoying each other’s company. There is a strong sense of playfulness and love.

Elsie takes the lead and her mother follows her. Their sung interactions are within Elsie’s pitch range. Both mother and daughter are interacting and improvising in the same way that jazz musicians play. This involves listening, watching, waiting and having a sense of wonder about what will happen next in the musical conversation. There is much use of timing, repetition and rhythm, as well as matching of pitch, movement, gesture and facial expressions. Obvious joy is reflected in their song. The sung questions and answers show a strong sense of musical form, with a clear beginning, middle and end.

Frances is picking up on all of Elsie’s signs of human feeling and emotion, which promotes sympathetic affection, love and strong attachment. Mother and baby are totally involved in each music moment and there is a strong sense of warmth and joy. Through the turn taking and sing song quality of their play, Elsie’s musical communication will lead to her gradual acquisition of words, spoken phrases and understanding of what it means to communicate using words and language. Musical play provides the timing, phrasing, sentence structure and form of language.

“From birth, a contented and lively baby can entertain with “projects of moving” that are felt by mother and father to be interesting “stories” and the baby can imitate expressions of others and exchange them with variation in dialogue”  (Trevarthen, 2016). Elsie and her mother take joint pride and joy in their musical play, which provides stimulus and regulation for the developing brain, sympathetic regulation of rhythms, sung narrative, and an ongoing dance of interaction. This is laying the foundation for sympathetic, intimate family life, development of self-confidence, joyful, playful exploration, joint, inventive discovery, regulation, and wellbeing for parent and child.


Bjorkvold, J.R.  (1989) The Muse Within Harper Collins. New York.

Trevarthen, C. (2016). Sharing joyful friendship and imagination for meaning with infants, and their application in early intervention. Chapter two in Acquarone, S. (Ed). Surviving the early years: the importance of early intervention with babies at risk:  Karmac Books.


Julie, thank you so much for the wonderful new ideas that I can implement into my teaching practice. The three workshops that I attended were informative and so much fun! The workshops are a must for all ECE teachers!

Our Fendalton Playcentre tamariki just love music!

Kate Coffey
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