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Musical play


In this merry month of May, I reflect on the cacophony of sounds and song emerging as thousands of baby birds emerge into the world. Imagine then, our own babies as they 'begin their journey as an innately musical/poetic being' (Trevarthen, 2009). A new baby will experience orchestral waves of booming heart beats, digestive drum rolls, with muscles crashing out their melodious responses to accompany that last

shove towards the Great Outdoors, and life. 

Over the ensuing months sounds and movements by our babies becomes more pronounced, seemingly decisive and assertive. If, in those moments a parent pauses, he or she might recognise tiny, repetitive musical patterns. Little snippets of melodic phrases surging momentarily up and down, a sudden jerk, a curl of the hand and then release; taut, then softly relaxing. 

Babies are by their very nature intrinsically musical. Their auditory system becomes functional at around 25 weeks’ gestation. This suggests that expressive rhythm and intonation of a mother’s voice is experienced from within. Her voice will be known and sought for after birth (Flohr and Trevarthen, 2008).  Realising this could help mothers to be more confident about engaging in playful sing-song activities with their babies. I have heard so many times the phrase "I cannot sing!" yet, a mother/dad's voice is probably the most significant voice a baby will hear. Engaging in musical activities with a new baby is a deeply personal experience, and one that should be celebrated and shared in gentle, appropriate ways.

The benefits of music 

Why pursue musical experiences with a new baby? What indeed are the benefits apart from having a lovely time and enjoying dancing, singing silly songs and experiencing a range of different instrumental sounds? That is the point. Enjoying music together is a positive and life-enriching sensation. New parents often struggle due to life’s general demands, particularly if both parents work, and have siblings and other domestic distractions. Musical games cannot help but form attachments simply by the action of doing something playful and fun together. So, what can parents, carers and nursery teams do to support musical experiences? 

Sound making and humming are often a precursor to lullabies and word play. Spontaneous vocal play can happen anywhere, anytime, particularly when emotional regulation is required (think about those mad times when routines are changed; bathtime, travelling...)

where musical play can help to calm those involved. Murmuring lullabies or repeated sounds 'helps parents to alleviate stress for themselves. In turn their baby feels this and responds accordingly. Like a musical wheel, mother and infant responses are rich in timing, rhythmic lilt and pitch relationships, all of which is employed in music making'  (Hutchinson, 2012).

Musical suggestions

Playful, spontaneous vocal play can be shared as a sort of conversational ping pong! Encourage gentle rocking movements and with just two notes (think doorbells or ambulance sounds). Try singing “baby, baby, I love you” or “sleepy, darling, moon’s up high”. The lilting melody is vital, nurturing and reassuring to your babies and adults alike. A rhythmical melody (think skipping rhythm) can enhance whatever you might be doing when singing.

Sing your favourite song with your baby held close to you. This does NOT need to be a nursery song! It can be any genre that resonates with you and your baby. As you sing, whether baby is in arms, in a pram, on the floor, bed, in the car, where possible make eye contact! It seems such an obvious thing to do but in the madness of our busy worlds often forgotten as we rush about. Tiny babies read into far more than we might imagine. Their supposed lack of speech is only a tiny part of theirs/our ability to communicate. Eye contact shares all that lovely positive emotion from a musical moment. 

Music is communication

Acknowledging and responding to regular aural stimulus helps a new baby is the earliest form of language acquisition. Melodic utterance such as ‘coos’ and nonsense sounds (often known as baby babble) provides not just amusement for the baby and parents, but prepares a baby for linguistic development, social engagement and the confidence to be heard amongst others. 

Just a last little thought - music is sooooo sociable! If you are feeling down, need another adult voice to bounce off, to laugh with, and to share in that wonder that is our babies unravelling responses to the world grab your coat and head to your mate's house, or the nearest music class. Be warned however, it must be the best for you as well as your baby.

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Emma Hutchinson

May 2024

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