Learning Through Musical Play

Musical Play

by Jeremy Johnson

Music impacts us all. Whether we’re from different cultures, backgrounds or age groups music is a universally understood message. We all love music for varying reasons. One song or verse may mean something completely different from one person to another. When we hear or play our favorite song we turn it up to drown out the rest of the world and make it our sole focus. It can express our emotions, thoughts or symbolize something personal for us. The right cord or melody can elicit the urge to dance and move. Even an annoying, catchy jingle can have us tapping our toe or humming the tune all day long.

Children too are affected by music’s power even at an early age. Who hasn’t seen a baby’s face light up when a fun song is played on the radio or TV? And if music can even capture such a young audience then it might be able to be used as a learning tool for this same audience.

The Right Music for the Lesson

Music motivates and stimulates a lot of different emotions and reactions. For example say you wanted to help a child cope with grief or loss you might want to start with music that elicits a mournful or sad melody or lyrics then transitions to a fast tempo with a lot of change. The lesson being that at first we feel sorrow but eventually we can overcome the pain and have happiness again. Music can help to overcome fear. Drums are a great way to give a child a sense of control and from there a parent can teach about self-control and restraint. Nursery rhymes and rhythm can be used to teach chores or other important information. Once the child is familiar with a catchy song then it can be modified to relay important information such as making your bed or remembering to brush your teeth before bed.

Learning to Follow Directions

listening is the first part of enjoying music. Learning the differences between similar sounds and being to identify can lead to a child’s understanding of variation in other things. Giving instruction to a child to play a drum beat, for example, is a great way to teach about following direction. There are many great children’s learning toys too. The VTech KidiBeats Drum set is an ideal toy that allows children to follow along as well as create their own music.

Using music to teach ABC’s and counting is a great way to teach a child about order and directions. To add another layer of fun to the activity try changing up the routine with an object or favorite animal for the letter being presented. And for the numbers why not use candy or a favorite food too!

But overall letting a child to make their own directions has its rewards too. In the book, “Raising Musical Kids” the author relates a child exclaiming that they wanted to “play” the piano and not “learn” the piano. So making it fun can definitely go a long way in teaching the lesson.

Learning Through Play Using Music

Being active is a natural part of being a kid and growing up. Dancing and clapping to music can give children a positive outlet for all their young energy. Adding a rhythm to a clapping game is a great way help reinforce the message of the lesson as well as making it enjoyable for the young person. Teaching children about the difference in sounds can be a fun activity for them. Giving them wooden spoons and then letting them bang on a metal pan followed by a plastic bowl is a great way for them to start to recognize the differences in sound produced by the same action. Just make sure the neighbors won’t be bothered!

Children like to mimic the world around them and a wonderful way to teach about the different kinds of animals in the forest, jungle or on a farm is to let them imitate a particular animal all set to music. Old MacDonald can be an extra fun song with pauses for animal imitation. If you need some ideas for types of animals as well as some great pictures, Roger Priddy’s “First 100 Animals” is an excellent start.

The More the Merrier

Music is also a great tool for a group learning session. Letting kids organize a parade or a dance contest with a learning lesson as a theme can help them understand and learn too. A parade where each child is assigned a letter of the alphabet and they sing the letter as they march can accomplish not only the learning of the alphabet but learning about working in a group too. And that’s something that will follow them into their adult lives. A dancing game made up of numbers and music is a great idea too. For example, you call out a number and everybody has to do that many jumps, spins or toe taps. Not only are the kids learning their numbers but they are also learning to observe others. Maybe one child is unsure about how many 5 is, so they watch their friend next to them who has all the answers. But accepting failure is good too so the lesson there could also be that it’s ok if you don’t know how many 5 is you always have next turn to improve.

One Last Note(no pun)

Music is a universal way of communicating. Used constructively it can be a great asset in teaching your child valuable lessons that they’ll take into adulthood. We all remember songs and rhymes older adults would sing for us as young children. Why not make it a life lesson as well. And there’s an intrinsic value to music as well. I know from personal experience of the value in creating something unique and that you can be proud of. As a young child I would draw my favorite cartoon and movie characters. Now today I’m creating my own. Encouraging a child’s imagination through music will no doubt lead to greater things in that person’s life now and many years to come.


  • Kavanaugh, Patrick. Raising Musical Kids. Ann Arbor: Servant, 1995.
  • Einon, Dorothy. Creative Play for 2-5s. Heron Quays: Octopus, 2005.
  • Einon, Dorothy. How Children Learn Through Play. Heron Quays: Octopus, 2004.