Using musical instruments in creative play

Creative play that involves listening to and making music together can help your child’s learning and development.

Boy smiling with triangle instrument


Creative play provides your child with the lifelong benefits of fun, laughter, enjoyment and a comprehensive learning process. Music- based play, in particular, can help your child develop language and listening skills, as well as problem-solving skills and spatial awareness.

Using musical instruments in a music session with your baby supports your infant’s need to play and socialise in a creative and exciting way – while encouraging the development of key motor skills, such as the fist grasp (palmar grasp reflex) and the forefinger and thumb grasp (pincer grasp). Reaching for and picking up instruments also helps your baby to develop hand-eye coordination as well as strength, balance and agility.

Creating music together with an instrument is a positive and joyful experience for you both to share, enhancing your child’s emotional well-being. Making music encourages self-expression and self-confidence, and is particularly important for infants who are unable to talk. Making music is a wonderful medium for your baby to communicate a thought or a feeling.

A musical instrument doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. If you can shake it, bang it, roll it or rattle it, and it makes a noise – you can call it an instrument!

How CBeebies can help

CBeebies has lots of songs and rhymes that would be ideally suited to a music session with babies and toddlers.

For younger babies, pick songs and rhymes that have a simple, steady beat with lots of repetitive language. Click through to the Teletubbies pages on the CBeebies website and take a look at the nursery rhymes featured in the Story Time section.

For older babies and toddlers, have a go at the ZingZillas Karaoke or the Boogie Beebies Karaoke for songs that are more energetic with more varied beats, tone and rhythm.

How to make a magic moment

For young babies

Pick a time when your baby is quiet and alert and keep it short and simple. Face your baby and make eye contact. Try smiling and gently tapping out a beat with your hands. How is your baby reacting? Are they wriggling or moving? Do they respond with cooing or gurgling? Try different instruments and different simple beats. Does your baby prefer one sound to another? Don’t worry if your music session doesn’t take long! As your baby gets older and their concentration span develops, you can enjoy longer and more engaging musical moments like this.

For older babies

From about the age of eight months, your baby will begin to understand that they can deliberately make a noise with an instrument and will be adept at holding and playing the instrument. Try placing a collection of simple percussion instruments with different sounds in front of your baby. Children tend to be more creative when parents give them choice and freedom.

For toddlers

Toddlers will have lots of energy and will enjoy making lots of noise! This is a great way to enhance language and auditory development. Try making loud, quiet, slow and fast sounds, e.g. by tapping a pen on a table or banging a wooden spoon on a saucepan. Stop after you have made each sound and encourage your child to copy you.

At any stage of development, encourage and praise your child’s efforts – acknowledging and appreciating your child’s creative endeavours will encourage more of the same!

By Karen Emery

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Top tips

  • Visit your local toy library, (in children’s centres) to borrow musical instruments for free. Remember to check the quality of the instrument as babies and toddlers explore with their mouths – e.g. make sure there are no sharp edges.Try making a music treasure basket. Fill a box or basket with instruments that have different sounds, textures and colours. Children who have a range of toys will tend to be more creative and play for longer!Make your own instruments! Dried rice or lentils in an empty bottle makes a great shaker, or use a saucepan for a drum (with a wooden spoon as a drumstick).Grab an instrument and march around your home to 'The Grand Old Duke of York'. Even young babes in arms will enjoy being marched around to a beat. This is a particularly good activity to wear out boisterous toddlers!

Expert opinion

Children derive great pleasure and satisfaction from playing instruments and finding their own ways of making music.

Susan Young, 'Music With the Under Fours' (published in 2004)

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