Tuning in to children: an approach for child-led / adult-responsive music making

  • by Anonymous (not verified)

    Wednesday, 16 September, 2015 - 16:02

This online resource is intended to support musicians and early years practitioners working together in early years settings with children from birth to five years old. It aims to enable early years practitioners, musicians and project managers to work together to deepen their understanding of young children and their music making whatever the context of the project.

Click on the blue dots for more information and to access the different sections of the resource.

Waypointwaypoint/all-about-early-years-people-places-and-practicalitiesAll about early years: people, places and practicalities232.0515.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/all-about-early-years-people-places-and-practicalitiesAll about early years: people, places and practicalities232.0515.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/young-children-musicYoung children & music479.01105.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/young-children-musicYoung children & music479.01105.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/planning-your-projectPlanning your project769.0438.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/planning-your-projectPlanning your project769.0438.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/setting-contextSetting the context473.0184.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/our-image-childrenOur image of children687.0182.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/musical-settingThe musical setting419.0707.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/musical-settingThe musical setting419.0707.0""#0000002

This online resource is intended to support musicians and early years practitioners working together in early years settings with children from birth to five years old. It aims to enable early years practitioners, musicians and project managers to work together to deepen their understanding of young children and their music making whatever the context of the project.

Click on the blue dots for more information and to access the different sections of the resource.

Click here for a text version of this visualisation

The musical setting

In this short film, Cynthia Knight, Head of St Thomas Children's Centre, talks about what makes a musical setting:


Below is a list to help you evaluate how musical your setting is. It is not meant as an exhaustive list but as a guide.

  • Are quality musical instruments and other resources accessible to the children on a regular basis, presented attractively and with thought?
  • Do children have the opportunity to make music freely or in groups?
  • Do staff and visiting musicians know how to support and respond sensitively to children’s spontaneous music play with instruments and voices?
  • Is children’s music play understood and valued in the setting?
  • Do the children have regular opportunities to sing songs informally and in groups?
  • Do the children have the opportunity to see live musicians through visits to the setting or visits to see live musicians?
  • Is the children’s diversity is acknowledged? Family and community music cultures known about acknowledged and responded to?
  • Do children have space and resources to dance to music?
  • Do children have access where appropriate to recorded music of a wide variety of styles and genres?

Extra suggestions for creating a musical setting:

  • Have recorded or live music playing in the entrance hall of the setting to welcome parents and children.
  • Listen to music on a regular basis with the children. Youtube is an amazing source of videos of musicians from round the world. Invite staff and parents to share their favourite music. Sound and Music’s ‘A Minute of Listening’ [insert link] is an excellent for resource for supporting children’s listening.
  • Include audio/video recordings of the children’s own music in their profiles. Every day children take home pictures they have created – how often do they take home their music?
  • Include musical instruments in story sacks.
  • Invite your visiting musician(s) to perform at your family fun days or other celebrations.
  • Involve your musician in making home visits, baby massage and anti-natal sessions.
  • Make links with local schools and colleges. Many of these will have ensembles of musicians who would be more than happy to come and perform often for free.
  • Identify parents, relatives and other local people who have music skills and invite them to share them with the children. This often happens with cookery and gardening but not with music.
  • Make links with local music organisations. Many will be happy to allow the children to watch rehearsals for free.
  • Start a staff music group led by your musician.

In this film musicians Trish Keelan and Fiona Howe welcome parents in teh foyer of St Thomas Children's Centre:


All about early years: people, places and practicalities

image of next visual on early years

Click here to find out about early years: people, places and practicalities.


The aims of developing this resource are:

  • To promote an approach to early years music that puts the child at the heart of the experience and fosters respect for how children learn and their existing musicality and sees them as strong, competent and creative learners from birth.
  • To advocate a collaborative approach that respects the skills, knowledge and experiences of both early years practitioner and musicians and sees the building of relationships as essential for the success and sustainability of any project.
  • To support the development of practice through reflection and dialogue.
  • To support the principles that inform the Early Years Foundation Stage which became a statutory phase for children in childcare and early years settings from birth to five from 2008.
  • To support effective planning for quality music experiences in early years settings that are sensitive to context.

Any programme of music activity needs to respect how children think and learn and build from an understanding of the children’s competence, curiosity and existing musicality. Birth to five years old is a big age span and children change and develop rapidly in this period and at different rates. Going into a nursery at the beginning of the academic year can be a completely different experience from going in at the end of the same year. Hence, the strong focus on observation and documenting as a key to planning. This ensures that planned experiences reflect children’s strengths and interests, and build on their previous knowledge, skills and understanding.

Tuning in to Children was originally developed from Youth Music’s flagship early years project, The Cluster Programme, which was piloted with the Association of British Orchestras and the London Symphony Orchestra in 2006. The Cluster Programme supported musicians from orchestras and other music organisations to work with clusters of children’s centres local to them.

The resource draws on the practice and experiences of author, Nancy Evans, a musician working in early years. These personal reflections provide a valuable insight into Nancy’s extensive experience and knowledge. Nancy has developed a resource that addresses the needs of everyone involved in early years music making, at any stage.

Early years music making comes with a unique set of challenges – early years practitioners have the skills to work with under 5s but may not have the expertise or confidence to lead music sessions. Music leaders and musicians have the skills to lead musical activities, but may not have experience of working with very young children. The best early years projects develop out of solid partnerships. Tuning in to Children aims to enable skills and best practice to be shared in order to enrich very young lives through music.

Setting the context

Projects work best and are most sustainable when planned in their local context and grow organically from local skills and strengths. Imposing external models can often lead to failure. Over the last few years there has also been a significant growth in the number of musicians working in early years. Sometimes this work is part of orchestral or community music organisation programmes and sometimes the musicians are working as individuals employed directly by early years settings. Youth Music has supported many of these projects.

Many of the musicians working in early years settings work in isolation, or within a small network, and therefore diverse approaches to early years music making have grown up alongside more established models such as Dalcroze and Kodaly. Practitioners’ routes and training into working in this area have been equally diverse.

Such diversity of approach and practise also exists within the UK early years sector.  Particular influences found in the UK include the philosophies of High Scope (USA), Reggio Emilia (Italy) and Te Whariki (New Zealand).  Most often, this had led to a combination of approaches. The organisation of the daily routine and staffing can also vary enormously from place to place, as do the qualifications and expertise of early years practitioners.  In settings or groups where parents are present, parents’ entitlements are as valued as much as those of children. 

Since the introduction of the Birth to Three Matters framework in 2003 (drawing on new neurological research into early brain development), a shift has taken place in our perception of early childhood with the child now being celebrated as a strong and competent learner from birth. The introduction of the Early Years Foundation Stage (bringing together Birth to Three Matters, The Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage, and the National Standards for Daycare) will ensure that learning and care for our youngest children are viewed as mutually important.

Our image of children

This resource has at its heart an image of the child who:

  • is competent from birth
  • is equipped to explore, discover and learn about the world
  • needs time to communicate ideas and feelings
  • will communicate with us in many different ways not just verbally, for example, through body language
  • is connected to adults and other children and not egocentric and isolated
  • is an individual and should be treated as such.

The earliest years are incredibly important as this is when children are beginning to develop their sense of self, their confidence in themselves as learners and their place in the world. Children are competent learners right from the start, with attributes and abilities that are far more sophisticated than thought possible, even a decade ago.

It is during these early years that the brain is most active, building new neural connections and pathways – the number and complexity of which depend on the quality of children’s early experiences. Rich, sensory experiences within the context of warm, sensitive and reciprocal relationships lie at the heart of early learning and development.

952 reads