Turn up the music!

Your child loves singing, dancing, and drumming a beat! But music isn’t just fun—it also supports many aspects of your child’s development.


Music: No one-hit wonder

Music sparks joy, brings people together, and creates opportunities for bonding. Plus, it helps your child learn! Discover all the ways music can benefit your family.

By Nathalie Vallerand

Music sparks joy, brings people together, and creates opportunities for bonding. Plus, it helps your child learn! Discover all the ways music can benefit your family.

One of Fanny and Benoît’s favourite family activities is having a dance party in the living room with their children, Chloé and Xavier, aged 2 and 4. “It just makes everyone happy!” says Fanny.

When Mélanie’s 2-year-old son Matias was a baby, she sang to him all the time. “It was mostly songs from my childhood, like Frère Jacques and La chanson du petit voilier. I sang them so much that at around 10 months, Matias started humming them to himself before going to sleep.”

Music is a great way to communicate with your child. “When you sing to your little one, you communicate love and affection,” says Dr. Guylaine Vaillancourt, professor of music therapy at Concordia University.

“Your child can sense that you care about them, which strengthens your attachment bond.” That’s because singing, listening to music, and making music stimulates feel-good hormones that help promote happiness, pleasure, and self-esteem.

Music also has a calming effect and can help children manage their emotions. One Université de Montréal study showed that healthy babies remained calm twice as long when someone was singing to them compared to when someone was talking to them.

Matias’s mom has seen this calming effect first-hand. “Our son was a colicky baby. But he calmed down pretty quickly whenever his dad held him close and made these guttural sounds, kind of like Inuit throat singing.”

What’s more, if your child is sick or in pain, singing their favourite song can soothe them. “Distracting your child with something positive draws their attention away from their pain, and they feel better,” says musician Monique Désy Proulx.

Music can also be beneficial for premature babies. “When we sing lullabies or create heartbeat-like rhythms using musical instruments, their pulse stabilizes, they nurse more easily, and they gain weight more quickly,” says Dr. Vaillancourt.

Music and pregnancy

At around 20 weeks of pregnancy, an unborn baby will begin to hear sounds outside the womb. At birth, they can recognize the songs they heard most often while in their mother’s belly. That’s why singing during pregnancy is a great idea! “When a parent sings to their baby, it sparks a connection,” says Monique. “Singing is a way to soothe them and form an initial bond.” That said, it’s not a good idea to put headphones on a pregnant woman’s belly, as this could damage the baby’s hearing.

Music and learning

In the 1990s, a small American study found a positive correlation between listening to a Mozart sonata and the ability to reason. Classical music CDs for children began to pop up everywhere!

However, there is little scientific evidence to support this theory. Contrary to popular belief, classical music won’t make your little one smarter. On the other hand, music education and music in general have been shown to improve a child’s ability to learn.

Musical activities stimulate different areas of the brain, which fosters learning,” says Dr. Jonathan Bolduc, professor of music education at the Université Laval Faculty of Music and holder of the Canada Research Chair in Music and Learning.

Musical activities promote many areas of cognitive development, such as listening, memory, attention, thought organization, mood regulation, and impulse control.

“When young children sing or play musical games together, they learn to cooperate, make space for others, follow rules, and wait their turn,” says Monique. In short, music can help teach children important social skills.

Songs and nursery rhymes can also help toddlers learn to talk, as the lyrics enrich their vocabulary. Listening and singing along is a great way for them to practise forming speech sounds, words, and sentences.

As they learn different songs, children begin to understand that words are made up of syllables and sounds. “Music helps them get better at counting and distinguishing between sounds,” says Dr. Bolduc. “This gives them an advantage when it comes to recognizing syllables.” For example, a child with a strong sense of rhythm will have an easier time identifying the three syllables in the word umbrella. Later on, this skill will help them learn to read and write.

Pop, blues, jazz, and more

According to Dr. Bolduc, the key to developing a child’s musical awareness and tastes is to expose them to a variety of musical styles. Of course, you can play children’s songs, but don’t hesitate to introduce them to pop, rock, blues, as well as gospel, country, jazz, classical, and more!

When your child dances, jumps, claps, and stomps their feet to music, they’re exercising their motor skills and coordination.

That said, it’s best not to play music continuously at home. “The constant background noise can actually cause fatigue in your little one,” says Dr. Vaillancourt. “When their brains are overstimulated with music, children can get irritable. Music becomes a source of annoyance, not enjoyment. Ideally, listening to music should be a special moment in your day.”

“Music is most beneficial when your kids move, dance, sing, or listen actively, noticing the sounds and rhythms,” says Monique. “Music is a full-body experience!”

Make way for music!

Looking to awaken your child’s musical curiosity? It’s easier than you think! Here are a few ideas for teaching kids about rhythm and sparking a love for music.

Looking to awaken your child’s musical curiosity? It’s easier than you think! Here are a few ideas for teaching kids about rhythm and sparking a love for music.

You don’t have to be a musician to introduce your child to music! “Music education at home starts with singing, dancing, and moving,” says musician and author Monique Désy Proulx. And it doesn’t matter if you can’t carry a turn or have two left feet: “The important thing is having fun together.”

Another engaging activity is crafting musical instruments for your little one. For example, tightly sealed plastic bottles filled with pebbles or beads make for great DIY maracas, while a pair of wooden spoons is all you need to turn an empty ice cream container into a drum!

You can also teach your child to drum with their hands on pots, a table, or the couch. As you play together, point out the different sound intensities: soft, softer, loud, louder, and so on.

According to Dr. Jonathan Bolduc, a professor of music education at Université Laval, nursery rhymes can also foster an interest in music. “They help develop a sense of rhythm, and kids love them,” says Dr. Bolduc. He recommends putting your own spin on nursery rhymes, just as you might with bedtime stories.

Try making your child laugh by changing your voice. For example, you could recite the rhyme in a whisper, in a steady crescendo, or in a funny accent.

Lots of traditional songs and nursery rhymes have repetitive rhythms, lyrics, and melodies, making them easy for kids to memorize. Teaching your child simple dances and hand movements can also help them learn a song’s lyrics and melody.

When should kids start music lessons?

From the age of 9 months, children can take introductory music classes that explore song, movement, and percussion instruments (e.g., maracas, tambourine, triangle, xylophone).

They learn to recognize sounds, listen to different types of music, and move in time to a melody. As music therapist Dr. Guylaine Vaillancourt notes, “These skills help children keep rhythm, concentrate, follow instructions, and enjoy music.”

When introducing a young child to music, it’s best to start with just a few minutes at a time.

Xavier, age 4, and Chloé, age 2, take music lessons at their daycare. “They love doing things like playing the drums, dancing, and learning movement songs,” says their mom, Fanny. “In some classes, the educator will tell a story while the kids create a soundtrack by playing different instruments.”

As for learning a specific instrument, Dr. Vaillancourt notes that very young children don’t yet have the necessary motor skills or concentration ability. It’s better to wait until they’re ready, between the ages of 5 and 7.

“Learning an instrument requires practice and discipline,” she says. “If children find it too hard, they can get discouraged, to the point that they may not want to try again when they’re older. Learning to play an instrument should be fun!”

Musical activity ideas

0 to 12 months

  • Sing to your baby as you take care of them (e.g., while changing their diaper, feeding them, or giving them a bath). Of course, be careful not to overstimulate them.
  • Put on some calm music and roll a ball over your baby’s stomach, arms, and legs.
  • Gently tap out rhythms on your baby’s back while you hold them. You can also make sounds (e.g., tata-tatata) as you do this.
  • Invite your little one to listen to the sounds in their environment when they seem receptive. For example: “What’s that sound? Is that the neighbour’s lawnmower going ‘vroom vroom’?” or “Listen, the rain’s making music!”.
  • Play make-believe with stuffed animals. Use a deep singing or speaking voice for bigger toys and a high-pitched voice for smaller toys. See how your child responds.

1 to 3 years

  • Play musical statues. Ask your child to dance while the music is playing, then freeze when the music stops.
  • Show them how to change their voice by speaking into a cardboard tube or covering their mouth with both hands. Encourage them to sing into the tube and make different sounds (e.g., ooh, oh, aah).
  • Sing rounds together as you hold their hands and spin in a circle. “Row, Row, Row, Your Boat” and “Three Blind Mice” are both great songs for rounds.
  • Compare sounds. For example, you could tap your fingers twice on a tin can, then do the same on a plastic container. Ask your child if the sounds are the same or different. Try different surfaces and invite your little one to make sounds, too.

3 to 5 years

  • Produce different rhythms by clapping your hands, slapping your thighs, or tapping on different surfaces. Ask your child to follow along and then make up their own rhythms. Emphasize the syllables while you recite nursery rhymes.
  • Sing your child a nursery rhyme and see if they can tell you which words rhyme or sound like other words they know. For example, stout has the word out in it, and wall rhymes with fall.
  • Play music for your child and ask them what it makes them think of. Feel free to share your thoughts with them, too.
  • Ask them to make up a dance or hand movements to go with a song or nursery rhyme. You can also give them a scarf or streamer to wave in time with the music.
Things to keep in mind
  • Music helps children develop their attention, memory, and thought organization.
  • It’s a good idea to introduce your child to a variety of musical styles, songs, and nursery rhymes.
  • From an early age, your child can learn about music through everyday activities and games.
Naître et grandir

Source: Naître et grandir magazine, December 2017
Research and copywriting: Nathalie Vallerand
Scientific review: Nicole Malenfant, childhood education content specialist – Prior learning recognition, Cégep Édouard-Montpetit

Updated: May 2023


Books for parents

  • Lefebvre, Pascale, and Jonathan Bolduc. Des comptines pour apprendre. Éditions Passe-Temps, 2017, 45 pp. www.passetemps.com
  • Malenfant, Nicole. L’éveil du bébé aux sons et à la musique. Les Presses de l’Université Laval, 2004, 354 pp. www.pulaval.com
  • Vaillancourt, Guylaine. Musique, musicothérapie et développement de l’enfant. Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 2005, 186 pp. www.editions-chu-sainte-justine.org
  • Désy Proulx, Monique. Pourquoi la musique? Son importance dans la vie des enfants.Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 2014, 271 pp. www.editions-chu-sainte-justine.org
  • Malenfant, Nicole. Vivement la musique ! Avec les enfants de 3 à 6 ans. Chenelière Éducation, 2012, 232 pp. www.cheneliere.ca



Photos: Maxim Morin, GettyImages/Ryanjlane, and Selectstock