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.