Musical Play in Early Intervention

New Postgraduate Certificate in Play Therapy and Musical Play


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Play the Blues

Monday 27th July 2016
Julie Wylie
Here is a photo of the keyboard with the notes of the Blues Scale outlined with stars. In our musical play classes we sing echo songs using the blues scale or aspects of the blues with children from babies upwards. The children all respond to the use of the minor bluesy tunes with catchy rhythms. The more we sing elements of this blues scale, the more children start to start to sing it in their own play. Today were playing with our hoops and I heard a four year old boy sing to his mother: “Watch out for my hoop, I’m bowling to you”. She sang straight back to him echoing his tune “I’m watching and I’m ready to catch your hoop”. The boy’s singing was rhythmic, tuneful and very bluesy.  He was using a pattern based on the notes C and E flat (the first two notes on the left of the keyboard with the red stars in the photo).
Children love to explore the keyboard and we help our four and five year olds find the blues scale by using these stars for each note of the blues scale. Children might start by playing their own composition  1 3 4 3 1,1,1, or starting up on the highest note with the star and work their way down the blues scale playing every note with a star to the bottom note middle C.
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“Play the Blues”

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Why Sing the Blues?

Babies and young children respond to the use of the “Blues Scale” and the use of echo songs (call and response) that are a natural part of singing and playing jazz and the blues. If parents aren’t sure of how we use the blues, the first song “Bop it in the Rocket” on my CD “Bop it in the Rocket” is a great musical example of how we this minor blues scale with echo, nonsense words (scat).

The babies in our musical play classes for babies really get into the groove of singing, moving and communicating when we come to the blues section of our musical play. Often a baby will take over the singing using shrieks, squeals, singing clear musical notes and showing obvious pride when we all copy his/her sounds. We sing this song using the babbling sounds of young babies and they quickly start joining In with their own movements and sounds. We sing the blues echoing the babies. They demonstrate obvious enjoyment of the repetition, predictability and emotional quality of the blues.

The blues originated from African Americans and has played a huge part in American Music history and in many of our pop songs. The blues helped the singers to express a wide range of emotions, to move, sing about their experiences, to draw comfort and inspiration from these songs.  Many of the pop songs we enjoy have been inspired by the blues. Jazz originated from the blues. Composers like Gershwin use a lot of jazz and blues elements in their music.

When a parent and their child get into the swing of communication this leads to wonderful singing, moving, turn taking that resembles the singing and taking of parts of  Jazz musicians. This bluesy singing and playing has strong rhythmic and melodic elements.

The baby or young child might take the lead as conductor. The parent copies the sounds, gestures of the child. This reinforces what he baby is offering and gives vital feedback which helps the child to develop a strong sense of self and pride in their musical offerings. This turn taking is the beginning of communication. What is happening is a kind of musical sound game between two musical people: parent and child enjoying every moment of their blues games. There is a real sense of structure, waiting, watching, listening, appreciating, turn taking, feeling the emotional bonds of connection.

Trevarthen says that even a newborn can take the lead in the earliest  “conversations” between mother and child. Although the infant’s sounds have no semantic meaning they are conversational in terms of the exchange of sounds and gestures. To quote the words of the well-known song by Irving Mill and Duke Ellington: “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing”.

With our older children 3 years and upwards we use the blues scale using a range of props, so that they can see, hear and feel the pitches (notes) and start to use elements of this scale in their own play. A grandmother showed me a video of her grandson listening to ” Teddy Bear Blues ” track 4 from my CD “Swing Me A Song” . He kept dancing and singing along. When the song stopped he would put it on again on his IPad. She said he had been practising his dance moves every day with the repeated song and she could hear him singing snatches of the blues in his everyday play.  I quote a seven year old from my after school music class who was dancing and singing his own words: ” I really, really, really love to sing the Blues, and I like wearing my blue suede shoes”.


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

Trevarthen, Colwyn 1988) “Infants Trying to Talk: How a Child Invites Communication from the Human World.” In Ragnhild Soderbergh, ed. Children’s Creative Communication. Lund and Kent.

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Musical Play creates Happiness and Hope

Sunday 6th March 2016
Julie Wylie

Musical Play creates happiness and hope in a community, especially when we teach with passion and a deep love for the families we work with. Through learning and music exploration, children and their families learn to use the language of music in their own play and in daily routines.

Music encourages caring, sharing, perseverance, self- discipline.

The triumph of succeeding through musical play helps the child to aspire to higher things, to take risks, to problem solve, to dream, to create, to enjoy.

Through musical play, children receive a spiritual formation and joy that will benefit them in their lives.


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Musical Play; Using Instruments Effectively with Babies and Young Children 0-2 years

Every Educaid has a wonderful range of musical instruments very suitable for babies and young children. Sensitive use of musical instruments promotes listening, playful interaction, sensory learning, language acquisition and musicality.


0-3 months:

Musical play is the language of early childhood. Hearing is fully developed at birth and babies 0-3 months are comforted by gently humming and rocking which optimises neural development and promotes regulation and regular breathing respiration. Tiny maracas are wonderful for using with babies and can be used with nursery rhymes such as “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and “Hickory Dickory Dock”. Songs such as this have short phrases and much use of repetition.  Hold up the maraca gently playing the beat as you sing softly and slowly facing the baby. Emphasise ends of phrases and use lots of facial expression and smiles.

Make up babbling songs using the vocal sounds the baby gives you. Emphasise the use of pauses and silence in order to promote vocal turn taking. When you finish singing a short phrase, wait for the baby to respond. Whenever your baby makes a sound, repeat it back within a simple song format which could be using the predictable tune of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. Don’t be shy about singing to your baby. Your baby will love your musical interactions. If you are not sure about singing in tune, Every Educaid have some wonderful little tuned metal glockenspiels/chime bars/xylophones that are tuned to concert pitch. Play the low note C softly and start singing on this note. You will tune up your voice and ensure you are singing in the baby’s pitch range C-A.


0-6 months:

  • Play all of the above. Now introduce a variety of bells, tambourines, little drums. Hang little bells and maracas on a frame so that the baby has the experience of hitting the objects to reproduce the sound.
  • Sing echo songs follow the baby’s lead.
  • Incorporate the baby’s name in songs and chants.
  • Jig, bounce and dance with the baby in time to music. Try singing, dancing, playing instruments with the CD “Sing and Play” Julie Wylie. Dance and sing to folk dances CD “Starting on the Right Foot” Julie Wylie.
  • Play along together using tambourines, drums, maracas. Follow the baby’s actions and rhythmic patterns.
  • Play music games such as play and stop to help the baby anticipate the stop. Play this game regularly to help the baby learn to stop for the music cue. CD track “Walk and Stop” “Sing Baby Dance Baby” Julie Wylie. Soon the baby will be leading you in this game without the use of a CD. Change the words of the song to: “play and stop”, “play the drum”,” ring the bells”.
  • Play pitch games using maracas to emphasize feet, knees, tummy, shoulders, head as you sing up the five note scale C D E F G. You might like to use chime bars playing C D E F G. This song is track 23 “Feet, Feet, Feet” on “Sing Baby Dance Baby.


6-12 months:

  • All of the above.
  • Play pitch games. The baby is listening, anticipating and increasingly copying actions and understanding the purpose of instruments.
  • Give opportunities to experiment with a variety of instruments and sound objects such as pots and pans wooden spoon other sound making utensils from the kitchen cupboard.
  • Follow the child. Follow their movements, introduce actions to action songs.
  • Play echo games.
  • Imitate rhythmic patterns, loud/soft, fast/slow, on drums tambourines.


12-18 months:

The toddler is much more mobile- walking, climbing, exploring and has a vast array of babbling sounds. At this age children enjoy nursery rhymes, finger plays and songs that require motor response. They learn problem solving skills through musical play.

  • Sing nursery rhymes as you play the beat on maracas, drum, tambourine together. This play helps the child to develop a strong sense of steady beat.
  • Develop sung music routines: “play and stop, (incorporate actions and movement)”,”instruments away”, “time for lunch”, “time for your bath”, “time for bed.” An instrument can be used to signal the specific routine.
  • Use chants about eyes, ears, nose, mouth etc. Reinforce sensory understanding about body parts by softly shaking a maraca by feet, knees, tummy, shoulders, head, eyes, ears, nose, mouth etc. Play this as a slow imitation game facing each other and give child time to copy action before moving to the next body part.
  • Do lots of dancing together to drum or tambourine accompaniment.


18 months- 2 years:

At this age and stage the child has increased language, realises that everything has a sound and a name and is able to remember and copy actions. The child often sings or hums while playing, enjoying vocal exploration.  Children often repeat a word or words over and over. They join in with some words of familiar songs especially at the ends of predictable phrases. They enjoy rhyme, word patterning and instrumental play. Children at this age tire easily and need the security of a routine. The musical form of a nursery rhyme or song provides a predictable beginning, middle and end.

  • Play lots of imitation games using drum, tambourine, chime bars, etc
  • Play follow the leader games marching and playing drum, tambourine, tapping little claves (sticks),
  • Explore loud, soft, fast, slow, high, low
  • Dance with maracas playing along to familiar songs
  • Establish clear music routines
  • Use chants, rhymes, accompany on instruments.
  • Ready stories using musical instruments to reinforce different characters in nursery rhyme or story
  • Have fun singing, dancing and playing together. Through your interactive musical play you are laying the foundation of music for life for your child.

– Julie Wylie 

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The Effect of Drum Play on the Brain

RAT-A-TAT-TAT AND A RUM, TUM, TUM, Listen to the children playing on the drum!

During the time of early childhood, new neural connections are forming more rapidly than at any other time of our lives. From the age of about five years the brain starts to prune these connections, keeping only the most important and frequently used ones. This is why engaging interactive musical play is so important for young children.

Everyone responds to the rhythmic patterning and steady beat of drum play. Music is organised sound. The organisation of patterns on the drum usually involves elements of the unexpected. Children can become highly engaged through the playful interactive experiences on a drum. We can bring suspense, humour through use of pauses, faster or slower patterns, use of story or song.  Without the stimulus of interesting rhythmic patterns, an ongoing steady beat becomes like a beating clock or metronome causing our brains to “tune out”. Human brains are amazingly sensitive to timing information. Our ability to make sense of music depends on our experience. The brain undergoes a period of rapid neural development after birth. Loving playful musical interactions with your child through dancing, singing, chanting or playing, help neural connections to be formed.

The more musical experiences babies and young children have though musical play, the more they respond and interact. The continuity and repetitive nature of rhythm interests the brain which finds information paced by steady beat and pattern non-threatening. As we play the drums together there is a strong sense of structure, form and community. The brain attends to the repetitive nature of pulse interacting with rhythmic patterns. Rhythmic repetition seems to bring the brain and system to attention and incredible focus.


Matching the speed of a child’s play is very important. Listen and match the speed and dynamics (loud/soft) that a child is playing. This brings about strong emotional connections. When we mirror precisely what the child is doing moment by moment, it helps develop a sense of pride and affirms what the child is doing. All children respond to the changing tempo of drum play, becoming calm with slow, steady beat and pattern which might be a single word, or word patterns chanted over and over, or interesting rhythmic patterns generated by the child.

Children respond emotionally to the use of changing tempo: slow steady drum play, then fast more arousing play and back to slow. A very slow speed might cause the brain to tune out. However this speed might be precisely where a child is emotionally and by matching this slow speed, the child becomes calm and settled. Conversely, a child might be playing very quickly. This speed can be matched by playing quickly and playfully with the child and gradually slowing down. This gradual slowing down brings the child from a place of high arousal to a state of calm.


In every culture the presence of pattern is very evident. Rhythmic pattern is one of the most important elements of pacing the learning of spoken language. When we break down words into rhythmically patterned syllables, with clapped or drummed syllables, the non-verbal child, or the child who is learning English as a second language becomes very attentive and motivated to imitate and learn word sounds. Today an eight months old baby sang an approximation of “Oh Yeah” at the end of one of our blues babble song we sang as we listened and drummed together.


I use gathering drums of different sizes in my music classes for babies and older children. This drum play provides powerful sensory feed- back and learning. The babies respond to the hand drumming showing intense interest as they put their hands on the drum surface. They feel the vibrations of the drum and explore the drum surface, making rubbing, patting and scratching sounds. Often they begin to vocalise and sing as we sing and play together. Whatever sound the baby gives is imitated. Often the babies bounce in time to a steady drum beat using whole body movement. Developing a strong sense of timing and steady beat is crucial for all learning.

Children enjoy making up rhythmic patterns and do so frequently in their own play.  They enjoy dancing to the rhythmic patterns of a drum, learning to stop on cue when play and stop games are played on a drum. They respond to playing the syllables of their names, making up nonsense word patterns, imitating patterns from nursery rhymes, guessing the song from the rhythmic word patterns:  “Humpty Dumpty”, “Hickory Dickory Dock”.

Following the young child with turn taking play on the drum develops listening, musicality, anticipation, playful interactions, a strong sense of self, cognitive, humour and social skills. Music and language acquisition can go hand in hand. As we sing, play and drum together with the children, their brains are learning a kind of musical grammar that is specific to the music of their culture, just as they are learning to master and speak the language of their culture.

Tuesday 19th August 2014
– Julie Wylie


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The Value of Nursery Rhymes

Nursery rhymes contain all the rhythmic movement patterns of early childhood: walking, running, skipping and galloping. They provide young children with a rich musical vocabulary of rhythmic patterns, melodies/tunes, emotional expression and predictable phrases that they can incorporate into their own musical play. With practise, children delight in making up their own songs and words based on this nursery rhyme vocabulary.

Nursery rhymes have a predictable musical form with a clear beginning, middle and end. This helps children to anticipate each phrase of the song, and to join in with singing, gesture and movement. Think of the universal favourite nursery rhyme “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. This song has six notes all within the child’s pitch range C-A.  The song starts and ends the same way, the middle section is repeated. The song is simple, predictable and highly memorable.

You can play this on a set of chime bars. The notes are:

C C G G A A G, F F  E E D D C, G G F F E E D, G G F F E E D, C C G G A A G, F F E E D D C.

It can also be played using the numbers of the notes:

1 1 5 5 6 6 5, 4 4 3 3 2 2 1, 5 5 4 4 3 3 2, 5 5 4 4 3 3 2, 1 1 5 5 6 6 5, 4 4 3 3 2 2 1

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Singing and dancing to nursery rhymes promote listening, timing (being able to move sing and play in time with others), expression and playful interaction. The nursery rhymes include much use of predictable phrasing, accent, word patterning, dramatic expression and repetition. Rhythmic patterning lays the foundation for language.

As well as nursery rhyme play and lap games, rhythmic babbling games can be played without the need for words. Baa, baba, baa, dada, dada, daa.   Track 3 “Rock-a-Bye Blues. Rhythmic patterning starts firstly with the mouth and vocal babbling. Play echo games together.  Let your baby or young child be the vocal leader. Copy your child’s vocal sounds and gestures. These echo games help the young child to develop listening, singing and turn taking skills. By validating your child’s offerings, the child learns to become a proud performer.  Julie Wylie CDs “Sing Baby Dance Baby and “Sing and Play” contain many catchy nursery rhymes, songs and lap games that promote tuneful singing, steady beat, rhythmic patterning and musical play.

 Saturday 12th July 2014
– Julie Wylie

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Music and Use of Narrative Songs to Support Daily Routines

When we sing a narrative song to a child as we watch, listen and follow them in their musical play, the song gives information moment by moment about what the child is doing, providing rhythmic and expressive support. The song helps the child to make connections, to walk or play rhythmically, to listen and follow the direction of pitch as notes go up or down, to recognise familiar songs and to organise their movement in relation to the rhythm. For example: “ Charlie’s going up, up, up, up, up to the top, turning around, holding on to the rail and going down, down ,down down, down the steps”. The song uses the first five notes of the C major scale C D E F G to support going up the steps, then back down G F E D C to the ground. Many children I have worked with have taken their first steps to a supportive walking song, or sung their first words at the end of the musical phrase of a familiar nursery rhyme.

When we match the child’s energy levels we can use a song to help them speed up or slow down, to be aroused or calm. If a child is highly aroused, we can start where the child is at and gradually slow down, thus helping the brain to become calm and regulated. Conversely, if the child needs warm up time to become energised, a supportive song with an activity such as being bounced up and down on a large ball or jumping on a small trampoline helps the child to become aroused so that they can listen and become ready to participate meaningfully in an activity.

In terms of sensory integration and a child’s well being, unless the emotional part of the brain, the limbic system feels safe and satisfied, higher cognitive learning will be limited, or impossible. Musical play helps the child to listen, anticipate each step of a process, to stay on task, to modulate from one activity to the other and to accept change in order and routine.

A parent told me recently that washing her daughter’s hair had been a nightmare, but once she began singing each step of the process of hair washing, her daughter had listened and anticipated well, tilting her head back for the shampoo to be put on, having her mother gently shampoo her hair. Her daughter even enjoyed the playful rinsing process. The parent found that the singing took the stress out of hair washing for both of them, making it become predictable and fun.


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24th February 2014

Musical play is a natural means of supporting engaged, sustained relationship based play. When musical play is used in a calming and regulating way, the child becomes engaged, able to listen, interact and initiate their own sounds and actions. Follow the child, match their energy levels, copy their sounds and actions and incorporate simple, predictable, playful, songs and musical games. 

Because musical form has a clear beginning, middle and end, it has been one of the most important contributing factors helping the development of the child’s concentration. The child learns to follow the musical form of an activity and sung instructions such as “now get ready to stop”! This helps the child in all daily routines. 

Musical form helps with problem solving, task organisation, and completion of task, teaching the child to wait, to expect closure. The song can be short and predictable helping the child to anticipate and follow each sequence of the activity: “Roll the ball and catch the ball and now get ready to stop”. The song can be extended and developed helping the child to persevere with an activity which is never boring if the play is musical. The same words can be repeated for each verse, until the child can listen and follow the sung instructions. Musical form, much use of repetition and use of rhythmic, playful songs provide consistency, helping the child to anticipate and practice sequences of an activity.

The music becomes an organising factor, helping the child to modulate from one task to another, accepting order and routine, and to communicate creatively, joyfully and playfully.

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