Exploring Language Skills through Music

  • Children & Young People  
  • Projects & Commissions
A music residency in an Edinburgh early years centre allows children to develop their language skills through music, dance and percussion.

Scottish Book Trust believes babies are born musical; after all, the first sound a baby hears is its mother’s heartbeat. Inspired by this fantastic starting point, Live Music Now Scotland first teamed up with Scottish Book Trust in 2015 to work on their ongoing Bookbug programme, designed to explore the links between music and language development.

Scottish Book Trust invited musician Marianne Fraser to Fort Early Years Centre in Edinburgh, where she took part in a 10-week music residency. Using English, Gaelic and Scots songs, as well as percussion, movement and dance, Marianne invited her audience of 1-2 year olds and their parents and carers, to join in, respond, clap, or if they wanted, simply fall asleep.

The Sound of Music

Recognising that music and song are an inherent part of a child’s social and language development, the Scottish Book Trust has integrated it into their hugely successful Bookbug Programme. Beth Crozier, Early Years Operations Assistant Manager with the Scottish Book Trust, tells us more

Babies are born musical: the first sound a baby hears is its mother’s heartbeat. A gentle, steady beat – spoken, sung or clapped and tapped, can calm and soothe a baby.  Adults also instinctively and rhythmically bounce with a baby, or tap a steady beat while cradling the baby gently.

When speaking to babies and children, adults tend to vary their tone to be gentler and use a wider variation of pitch. The usual sounds are over enunciated, vowels hyper-articulated and the overall sound of the language will be more songlike. We adopt these behaviours – sometimes unconsciously, because deep down we know that melodic and musical speech attracts the attention of infants. Interestingly, babies will take their understanding of language from the musical tones, rhythms and melodies, using this to learn the meaning before they learn the words themselves.

Sharing musical and singing experiences helps people feel connected to each other. Music supports the human desire to share emotions, experiences and activities with others, it can calm and relax – or alternatively, it can energise and enthuse. Children respond and react to music from a very young age – usually with a physical response such as clapping, dancing, and smiling.

The most important reason to use music and encourage children and families to sing along, is the fun and joy that it brings. Listening to music can activate the reward centres of the brain, boosting feel-good hormones which help relax parents and children. They laugh, engage and share experiences – all of which will help develop the core relationships which set our brain structure and form the basis for future learning.

Bookbug and Music

Working in partnership with Live Music Now Scotland and with funding from Creative Scotland’s Youth Music Initiative, Scottish Book Trust invited the extremely talented young musician, Marianne Fraser to undertake a music residency at the Fort Early Years Centre in Leith. Marianne’s own love of music began at a young age, and she went on to become a graduate of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and a professional musician.

Ten weekly sessions for babies and their parents, carers and grandparents allowed Marianne to share a range of different songs and styles of music. Each week songs in English, Gaelic and Scots were sung, with Marianne joined some weeks by fellow musicians from Live Music Now Scotland, sharing different instruments. Incorporating variety in the type of song was really important for exploring the children’s reactions, as Marianne explains:

“We sang songs that had us jumping around the room together, songs that allowed us to interact with the children (the Gaelic spider song is used to tickle the children on their head, nose and tummy) and also songs that allowed the parents, carers and children to relax and sometimes fall asleep!”

Perhaps the most striking thing about the responses from such young children was their interest in exploring the musical instruments themselves.

“Some children were so intrigued that they came and sat at our feet or even on our knees as we played to them. Some were forthcoming enough to play some of the strings or keys or even hold the bow of the fiddle and pull it across the strings to make their own sounds from the musical instruments. If a faster, more energetic piece of music was played, the children would dance, clap and/or play a percussion instrument to complement our melodies and rhythms.”  

The residency was considered a great success, not least among the families who took part, who reported noticing the benefits of sharing the songs again with their little ones when they went home.

The results of this residency were used to inform the development of a new CD for the Toddler Bag issued to children in Scotland. Seeing how the children reacted to the music directly shaped the content and format of the CD, which includes children’s own voices as well as those of parents and carers alongside professional musicians.

The benefits of using music with very young children, and the range of developmental areas in which this impact can be seen, are striking.

If you would like to know more about Bookbug, visit scottishbooktrust.com

You can stream the CD, which features music by Marianne Fraser and her bandmates in Cherrygrove at: soundcloud.com/scottishbooktrust/

More Stories

New Music by Emerging Composer Gillian Walker

Wartime memories from Edinburgh communities inspire new songs

Collaboration between Live Music Now Scotland and Skye Chamber Music made Skye residency possible for classical harpist Sophie Rocks

City Sounds of Nature singers

#ClassicalCOP26 Supported by Live Music Now Scotland

Six year-old’s inspiration leads to dream career

We'd Love to Hear from You!

We are always happy to discuss new projects, opportunities or ways that we can help make music happen in your venue or community.