Interview with Julie by a University of Canterbury Student Studying to Become a Primary School Teacher

In your years of teaching musical play, what are some examples of the most noticeable impacts it has had on children?

Julie has seen children take their first steps to a supported song. There are often children who have been really shy and don’t like to interact, often sitting back and watching. Then at a certain point they start to come in and join the other children. A lot of children, including babies, sing their first words, before they speak. For example, with one of her recent classes with babies, they were babbling, then one baby started singing “Up, up, up, up, up” everybody waited, and then she sang “Down, down, down, down, down.” The whole musical sequence in the memory is there. It’s not the words, it’s the musicality that helps them.

How does musical play affect children’s confidence?

There is no pressure to join in. Children can just watch and they know that they can join in when they are ready. Because they have time to watch and take it all in, children’s responses can be incredibly musical and confident. They find their own ways of practising the songs, often in the car or at home to build their confidence. Through this, children are supporting their own play through song. Through the circle in the classes, they don’t have to just be watching one person and children are never put on the spot. There is a whole group dynamic and music community. Not only do children gain the confidence, parents do too. Julie has seen this especially in parents from another culture when they pick up the songs and gain confidence to join in as parents. There is a group confidence as everybody forms a bond and a sense of belonging. Parents have described feeling totally nurtured and valued as parents through the classes through this joint celebration of each other’s children.

How does musical play improve the whole family’s dynamics?

The musical play is relationship-based, which matters because relationship-based musical play gives everyone the confidence to join in musically. It can be used in the classroom too, by bringing every child together in the moment, for example everyone clapping in time. Julie recalls a class she taught in a high-school who weren’t succeeding academically, and she noticed that none of them could really keep a steady beat. So she began getting them to do clapping games to music like Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’. The day they all managed to stamp and clap in time they were so proud, and everybody loved the group dynamic and working together. This works the same way with families, bringing them closer.

How does singing instructions, e.g. “It’s time to put the drums away” improve children’s behaviour and listening skills?

The sequencing and repetition builds memory of what’s happening moment by moment. They can watch, listen and anticipate. You can see it when the children come up to help put instruments away. It empowers them. By singing most things in the class, it creates a seamless musical structure and every child in the class knows what’s coming next because it’s all done musically. This means they know when to get up and help put objects away, giving both the children and their parents a sense of pride because the children are responding. From a research perspective, music is the child’s first language. They respond to the musicality of language more than they do to spoken language. When children are in the womb, they are tracking the musicality of the mother’s vocalizations. They can track that musical contour, and music chunks the melodic contours of language in a meaningful, predictable way. Children often switch off when instructions are just spoken in a flat tone. Julie has found that in early childhood centres and primary schools, children find listening hard because there are so many sounds happening at once. Music provides that rhythm, pitch and musical form, with a clear beginning, middle and end.  Musical form is the key aspect in getting people to anticipate instructions or structure.

How does musical play improve co-ordination?

Steady beat underpins what’s happening in the moment. A lot of the children at the Champion Centre, particularly those with Down syndrome, struggle with co-ordination due to low muscle tone. Julie looks at the speed that the child is able to work with, and uses a song in which she adjusts the speed to match the child’s capabilities.

The child responds to the rhythmic pattern of the song to walk along, then stop. Julie worked with a child that was unable to walk because of his low muscle tone.  She worked with the physiotherapist and the child’s mother was holding his hand. She then sang “Up, up, up, up, up..” and the child got up moving in time to the instructional song. He slowly started walking when Julie sang a slow, supportive walking song. When it got to the “stop” he couldn’t go any further. The physiotherapist stated that she believed if the child didn’t have that music support, it might have taken him another month to get to the point of walking, as the song supported him, helping him to anticipate when to take each step, and when to stop at the end of the musical phrase. The physiotherapist then started using singing with all children she worked with. This works because steady beat, rhythmic patterning and singing activate children’s brains. Musical patterning helps the brain to do things that it has never been able to do before because there is a structure and the brain is interested in rhythmic patterns.  Rhythm stirs the body, and pitch stirs the brain, so pitch and rhythm coming together helps brain-body connection (Levitin, D. 2006).

Music helps children’s coordination because it activates the brain and causes brain-body connections. The music helps to bring about fluid, rhythmic movement, which is very important. With music, you can keep practising without it becoming boring because it is so diverse. You can whisper, sing up high, sing down low, or you can chant.

How does engaging in musical play improve language learning – for children who have English as a first language as well as a second language?

Words don’t have to be used in music. Mime, babbling, body percussion, clapping games, echoing, and music expression can all be used and understood across cultures. Music is a language and it can bridge across any culture. It doesn’t matter if you can’t speak the same language as another person, you can communicate musically, and it brings in humour, emotional connection and expression. It is universal and is part of our humanity. Julie has experienced this when travelling to various countries and working with children and young adults. The essence of Julie’s whole philosophy is that musical play is relationship based, a language of the emotions, is inter-generational, nurturing everybody in the group, whether they are students, teachers, parents, grandparents, children or babies.

How is musical play useful for children with stutters or conditions like autism?

Music helps with stutters and speech because of its structure, and the repetition. It helps enormously with autism because with autism, the brain is in a constant state of high alert, particularly from the lower brain perspective (the limbic system) so the brain can’t filter out sensory information. Music slows the system down and helps the child’s heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure. Once the lower brain becomes calmed and regulated, learning can take place. An example of this that Julie has experienced was with a child who found it difficult to concentrate and slow down. As she sung, she got him on a rocking horse with his Mother slowly rocking him to the music, using pauses to activate his brain, and he stayed sitting the whole time. He’s now starting to babble. It helps children with conditions like autism to feel the person’s throat who is singing, and use things like trampolines and rocking horses along with music because it provides that steady beat, and in the process, it’s regulating.

How does musical play affect babies and their learning abilities later on in life?

It’s not just about the baby, but the baby and parent relationship. Musical play brings the baby and parent into synchrony. It empowers the parent, and nurtures them and their baby, bringing them together in the moment. It’s relationship based learning, helping them to swing together with a common rhythm. Musical play helps form an emotional connection between parent and baby and gives parents confidence with their babies and how they handle them. An example of this is the reassurance that they can enjoy a bit of rough and tumble, which is used through dances in musical play.

What are some health benefits (physical and mental) for children engaging in musical play?

Music causes the brain to release endorphins which promote wellbeing. These are dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin, which bring about a real sense of wellbeing. Oxytocin is very important between parent and baby because it brings emotional connection. It occurs most often in music, because of its effect on the brain. When a parent is dancing with their baby, they are both feeling good, so they stimulate each other.

Do children find it difficult to transition from musical play into school, where there is less music as well as less spontaneity? Or does musical play aid them in the transition?

Music can be used as a tool by teachers to get students used to school and comfortable. One of the mothers whose son tended to have frequent meltdowns at home, loved music. When he started school, the teacher wasn’t using music in any way, and he couldn’t cope. Julie got the teacher to chant the class roll, and do clapping or jumping games when she could see the child was about to get upset. All children responded and this particular child started to take the lead, so the teacher would get him up the front to lead a jumping song, and then he’d be able to do another 20 minute chunk of learning well. It gave him the opportunity to teach the whole class. It helped the teacher too, because all the children were looking forward to the singing and dancing, and were listening and concentrating better.

How have you seen children demonstrate better understanding of mathematics through learning numbers and their correlation with pitch? E.g, 1,2,3,4,5…..5,4,3,2,1. Does number learning improve through using pitch?

Musical play and mathematics compliment each other because music is a mathematical language. You can work out whole mathematical patterns with pitch. Julie uses pitch so that children can anticipate through the notes. It’s going up a five note scale of C Major to G, and back down to C. Julie will often sing on the fifth note which arouses and keeps the brain very interested. It has been tested with babies and they can anticipate this change in pitch and bringing it back to the home note. It’s a whole musical language which starts long before birth. This helps with mathematics in general, because you can do a whole lot of things through scale like counting up and down and times tables. When learning through song, practising the song means it gets into your memory, and it’s much easier to remember. Counting forwards and backwards using pitch is building music memory. I have experienced this when learning my mihi as I struggled to remember it unaided, but I found that putting it into a song helped me to remember it and its structure.

What are your thoughts around the amount of music and musical play that schools include in their curriculum?

At University, music used to be compulsory in primary and early childhood education. Now there is no music in early childhood education at University, so teachers don’t know what to do when it comes to music. It’s not that music isn’t important, it’s just that as a cost-cutting exercise, music and the arts have been dropped to a huge extent. What many people don’t realise is that music is vital for energy levels and emotional connection, and it can support a whole class of children. Teachers really value music for their whole class dynamic.

How has musical play helped children through traumatic experiences like the earthquakes and Covid-19?

A baby was very anxious because his mother experienced very traumatic events during the earthquakes while she was pregnant with him.The mother has parented musically with him and her other children. She doesn’t know how she would have managed without the music, because music was the only thing that calmed him and helped him to sleep. When he got in a really upset state, she used deep pressure touch by holding him and rocking him, and singing to him. Music is hugely important for the lower brain. If the lower brain is calm and regulated, then a child can learn. If it is not calm, they can’t learn, and continue to escalate into a state of high arousal.

So starting classes in schools with a song before teaching is very effective in setting children up to learn and concentrate. It can be used as a tool when children’s energy levels are rising or falling. Music is an opportunity for teachers to learn from students and for students to learn from teachers.


Have you noticed the innate musicality of babies and young children? Watching and listening to the babies in our music class on Monday was pure joy. After singing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and leaving a pause at the end, a baby aged 6 months sang the fifth note (the note that the second word “Twinkle” is pitched on). I waited and watched her. She started moving and waving her hands and sang the note again, a clear signal that she wanted the song sung again. When we sang it again she beamed and wiggled with delight. At the end of the song, another little boy aged 7 months repeated the last note, which was immediately imitated by another baby.

Mothers and fathers were smiling with pride when we watched, waited and listened, and another baby blew a raspberry, while another sang a little motif, setting the tone for more vocal exploration.

The secret to musical play for babies and young children is to give them time, to use pauses, to echo their sounds, and follow their lead. When a baby sings a note, I always copy. Parents quickly learn to echo what their babies are singing. One mother said on Monday that she has noticed how her little girl Georgie is singing when she wakes up and will practise her singing in her cot for some time, before she will give a cry as if to say, “Come and pick me up”.

Older children love it when parents sing and play with them. Several parents have told me that their children are giving concerts at home, taking pride in being the conductor and delighting in leading the family in musical play. For example, Sam aged 3, found a piece of driftwood at the beach, which is now his microphone. He and his Dad have created a little stage area in their lounge and every night before he goes to bed he sings to his parents and siblings and gets them to join in. His parents have filmed these sessions and say it is a daily highlight for them all and is the perfect way of getting the children ready for bed.

Take time to watch, wait, listen and wonder through musical play. You are helping to promote your children’s musicality and creativity, as well as musical bonds of loving interaction with your child.

© Julie Wylie, 22 August, 2019


Circle dancing activities teach children how to watch, wait, listen, move and play in time with others, take turns, and anticipate and follow the sequences of songs and dances. Children quickly learn prepositional concepts such as up/down, in/out, and over/under, to feel the musical form of folk dances, by moving in one direction for 8 steps, changing direction for 8 steps, going into the middle for 4 steps and moving backwards for 4 steps.

A child can go into the middle and do a solo dance and enjoy being the leader, having a narrative song sung about what they are doing moment by moment. Sung questions can be sung, such as “How many children in the middle today?” and “What can you do in the middle?”.

There are many folk songs and games on my CD “Dancing in a Circle” that can be done with a parachute or rainbow ring, by holding hands, or by dancing with scarves, poi, or ribbon sticks. (Film footage of children enjoying a variety of songs and dances from this CD can be found on YouTube at:

Circle dances can be done with a partner, or in groups of four or more, and maths concepts can be developed through singing instructions, such as “Make a circle of 4 today” to the tune of “Skip to my Lou”. This can be extended by adding more instructions. For example, “Make a circle of 4 today / Walk around in a circle today / Back we go the other way / And now get ready to stop”. Keep adding more children to the circle through the counting song until everyone is involved in the dance.

Circle games help parents and children to develop a sense of steady beat as they hold onto a rainbow ring and bounce it in time to the music. Echo songs and singing games can be played, thus developing timing and understanding of the elements of music.

Babies enjoy sitting on parents’ knees, watching and feeling steady beat through the use of circle bouncing games and peek a boo games, as well as dancing in their parents’ arms during circle dances.

Turn taking games can be played with older children by passing around props such as bean bags, stones, a ball, or balloon, in time to an instructional song or music. Music games from other cultures can be used to help children appreciate and learn songs and games using another language.

The advantage of a circle is that each person is an equal player, there is a lot of opportunity to listen and watch everyone, and to move and play in time. Circle songs and games help to develop a strong sense of music community, and joyful, interactive play.

© Julie Wylie Musical Play, 4 July 2019


Mirror Neurons in the Brain

Today we had one of our relationship based baby music classes. The babies, their mothers, and a grandmother, had only had one previous music session together. Last week we had improvised together, with the mothers and grandmother joining in echoing and singing the blues. We didn’t use words, but rather babbling sounds and sounds from the babies themselves. In this first session, several of the babies sat and watched, taking everything in, watching, waiting and listening intently. If we think of the mirror neurons firing in the babies’ brains as they watched and listened, this explains the purpose of these neurons. As we can imagine, all these babies’ brains were trying to figure out how the sounds were created, in preparation for being able to mirror or echo them back. The babies were responding emotionally and physically to our music making and everyone in this group was connected through the musical play (Levitin, 2006).

Babies don’t simply memorise every word and sentence they’ve ever heard. Rather, they learn rules about musical form and apply them in perceiving and generating new speech and use of musical language. Babies often sing their first words. Through watching, waiting, listening, and use of sound and silence, the children are not simply imitating what they learn through their senses, but rather, their brains are developing theories and rules about speech and the language of music that they can then apply in their own musical play. 

The Power of Imitation and Echo Songs

This week, in our second session, all of the mothers and babies were relaxed and happy, able to anticipate the musical sequence of events. We started with a “Hello Song” singing to each baby in turn. Half of the babies reached out to touch the marionette puppet as it danced for them one by one. There were lots of smiles, as well as anticipation and turn taking. There was a clear predictable structure to the whole music session, with a clear beginning, middle and end.

After the Hello Song, I sang a pitch song using a five note scale, with the pitch matching the physical massage of the babies’ feet, knees, tummy, shoulders and head by the mothers, who used firm pressure to massage their babies in time to the song, which started on the note C and went up to G, in the C major scale. This scale is within the child’s pitch range middle C – A. Regular use of such scale songs helps babies and young children to sing in tune. The earlier we sing to babies, the more likely they are to develop perfect pitch and to sing in tune.

When we introduced the drums and started improvising, matching the babies sounds and movement, several babies started bouncing and using their singing voices tunefully with our singing. Sometimes it was a single calling note, or a vocal pattern. Rose, aged one year, sang, bounced and briefly played on the drum, smiling and looking very proud of her music making. She looked at me intently when I matched her actions and sang her note. The babies started crawling into the middle of the circle and their play was intentional, musical, interactive and very engaging. They were leading me in our musical play.

After our improvisation, the grandmother joyfully shared a bouncing song from her childhood called “Walter Wagtail”, thereby passing on a vital part of her early childhood music tradition. This is how we develop a sense of music community within each musical play group. There is no right or wrong way to play, and families interact musically and learn how to play musically at home, throughout daily routines and playful times together.

In an earlier class, one of our former music babies Audrey, now aged “four and three quarters”, came over to play a beautiful sounding wooden tongue drum duet with me. When she was six months old, she used to end musical phrases with three beat rhythmic patterns which were always in perfect time, always musical, and which always completed each of my musical phrases. Today she was anticipating every aspect of my drum play. She matched my energy levels and took the lead, but could just as easily follow my musical sequences. She played confidently and musically with me, in front of the whole group and we finished on the same beat. Like a jazz musician, Audrey showed an amazing sense of timing, emotional engagement and ability to weave her rhythmic and tuneful patterns to fit in with my play. She made use of humour, dramatic pauses and rhythmic patterns. Her music had a natural sense of rhythmic flow and sensitivity to whatever I played. Her musicality flows into everything she does and she moves and plays with an innate sense of grace, creativity and pride.

When we sing, dance, interact and play musically with our babies and young children we are helping to prepare them for their mental and emotional life ahead. It is so beneficial for health, self-confidence, well-being, musicality and general learning – and it’s fun!


Levitin, D. J. (2006). This is Your Brain on Music. Dutton. Penguin Books. London, England.

© Julie Wylie, 6 March 2019


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


Recently I was presenting at the New Zealand Home Based Care National Conference in Auckland. Kimberley Crisp inspired me with her passionate presentation, in which she challenged us to think of our daily interactions with our children as “choreography of the soul, fuelled by love which grows the brain”.

She started with the question: “How am I with myself?”

To get to the heart of the art of loving, interactive musical play, we must first love ourselves and see ourselves as worthy play partners, worthy of imitation.  How do we develop relationship? “Emotional satisfaction and enjoyment is the key to creative free play”. We can learn to let go our inhibitions, think from our heart, trust our intuition and enjoy each moment as play partners, knowing there is no right or wrong way to play. Thus, we are building strong bonds of love in a secure relationship, which is the essence of helping the infant to make a positive start in life.

Musical play allows us to engage the heart and soul of the child as we journey together from birth as equal play partners. “Children are biologically programmed to play”. The child leads, and we follow. This innate turn taking validates the child’s offerings.  We are watching, waiting, hearing, seeing, and imitating, allowing the child to fly. When we empower the infant to be the leader, there is a strong sense of timing, rhythm, gesture, and movement. The level and depth of play is dependent on rich relationship,  humour, imitation, rituals, routines, repetition, and loving care. Many researchers describe playful communicative interactions between mothers and infants as being musical and “dance like” (Malloch and Trevarthen 2008 p.1).

 As followers of the child we need to:

  • View the child as the miracle they are.
  • Understand that we are physical, but we are incredibly divine.
  • Help them to develop a strong sense of self and compassion for others.
  • Give them many opportunities to explore the world through play.
  • Help them to see a world of opportunities and possibilities.
  • View the world with the sense of wonder of a child.
  • Be consistent in all that we think, feel, say and do.
  • Be in a constant state of learning.
  • Value the precious moments of childhood.
  • Take time to play, and delight in the lost in the moment joys of interactive play.
  • Realise that childhood is short and we are the decisive key to relationship and inspiration.
  • Take opportunities to swing together in joyful harmony and synchrony.


Crisp, K. and Brownlee, P. The Sacred Urge to Play

Malloch, S., and Trevarthen, C. (2008). Musicality: communicating the vitality and interest of life. In S. Malloch and C. Trevarthen (eds) Communicative Musicality: Exploring the Basis for Human companionship, pp1-11. (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

© Julie Wylie, 15 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.