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