How can music support the development of communication

At Termly Training in March 2013, Helen Winter, Speech and Language Therapist, came to share her professional views on why MAD Academy support the development of children’s communication skills.

Helen attends a special needs class in Reading with her 7 year old son who has down syndrome and believes MAD Academy if fantastic for encouraging communication for all children.

The following is the handout she talked us through on the day.


How can music support the development of communication?


What is communication all about?

Relationship, listening, talking, gesture, facial expression, giving a message, words, sounds, body language.

Early Communication
Even before first words are spoken a child will be listening to language and watching faces and body language. (Even new born babies show response to human voices).

All these skills are facilitated by the early action songs that most children learn.

  • Children immediately respond to pitch and intonation changes involved in singing and have a natural response to music generally.
  • They can join in before they have words, practicing intonation patterns, vocalisations and babble. This kind of babble is  prerequisite to the development of speech.
  • The actions give them visual information to add to the auditory information in the spoken word. This helps the learning of those early words. Hence Tiny Talk and similar baby signing groups.

Skills involved in communication

Listening and attention

This is vital for the development of speech and language (consider hearing impairment)

Children need to learn to discriminate between different speech sounds. They need to listen in order to learn new vocabulary. They need to listen to understand increasingly lengthy and complex sentences.

How to support this:

  • All action songs draw children into listening
  • “It’s oh so quiet …” song
  • Playing instruments loudly/quietly
  • Copying patterns with instruments, e.g. slow and fast
  • Stop – go songs
  • All activities involving following instructions
  • Listening to stories

Social awareness

This is a key aspect of communication. It involves an awareness of those around us and how we should interact with them. A lot of work has been done using music with autistic children.


How to support this

  • Hello and goodbye songs
  • Letting a child take the lead in a song
  • Taking turns (e.g. Old MacDonald)
  • Copying each other as well as just the teacher
  • “Passing the bean bags”

Vocal play

Singing provides opportunity to practice vocal patterns even if a child doesn’t know the words. They will start to sing the key words (usually those stressed or actioned in the song) and then will gradually fill in the other words as the song becomes more familiar.


In order to learn to say a word a child needs to learn the sounds but also the syllable

How to support this

  • Moving to rhythms in a song
  • Copying rhythms with instruments
  • Clapping or beating the rhythm of a word or the children’s names

Learning concept words and general vocabulary

  • Concept words used in the activities will be picked up by the children e.g. fast/slow, loud/quiet, colours, numbers
  • By repetition of songs (rather than learning new ones too quickly) the children will pick up the vocab in the songs.


This is an important part of language development. Children need to learn to sequence: sounds in words, words in sentences and sentences into stories.

How to support this:

  • Action songs involve sequences of actions liked to words or phrases
  • Action songs that tell a story
  • Songs that involve numbers e.g. speckled frogs, 10 green bottles, fat sausages sizzling in a pan.


Gestures and action songs are so good!

They make learning language multi-sensory

  • Hear the words (auditory)
  • See the action/gesture (visual)
  • Do the action/gesture (kinaesthetic)


Also they are:

  • Fun
  • Listening
  • Looking
  • Awareness of others
  • Gesture
  • Vocalistaion
  • Turntaking
  • New words


Practical ideas

Action sequences, clap your hands and turn around, touch your nose and jump up and down.

Song: What shall we do with all these people?

Signed songs: If you’re happy and you know it