By Frances Turnbull, Musicaliti

MEd Candidate, University of Cambridge, 2014


Research shows that children learn most successfully when they are introduced to concepts through the senses before developing abstract ideas (Acton, 1951). In mathematics education, children touch the physical concepts of size, shape and quantity. In language education, children touch or look at pictures in learning letters, vocabulary and grammar. In music education, formal, Western approaches have traditionally been built on acquired mathematics and language skills, however non-traditional approaches have used the sense of movement to teach musical skills with great success.

In a study looking at the research into early years music teaching, studies reveal that infants have no need to be taught how to respond to music (Barrett, 2011). In this sense, music may be considered a child’s first language, as they use it for self-expression as well as understanding. If this is the case, teaching music based on numeracy and literacy may actually add an unnecessary barrier to both teaching and understanding music to inexperienced learners.

The non-traditional music education approaches of Kodaly, Dalcroze and Orff all have an element of natural movement to assist the experience and performance of music. While some educators use movement exclusively for teaching children, others use movement to enhance understanding of musical concepts and techniques, resulting in deeper understanding and more advanced musical skill. This implies that the technique of using movement is suitable for all learners with normative ability, potentially teaching every musical concept in a physical and literal manner. Using the concept of aesthesia as an ability to experience sensation (as opposed to anaesthesia, or loss of sensation), the concept of the interactive sensation of music may then be referred to as “musaesthesia”.

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Preschool music training policy

Current government guidance provides little detail in its expectation of music provision, which could be seen to reinforce the peripheral place that music holds in the curriculum. The (“Statutory Framework for EYFS,” 2012) mentions music only three times in the whole document, while the final Early Learning Goal section titled “Being Imaginative” stated that:

“For the purpose of assessing this ELG: processes are more important than the finished product which need not necessarily occur; music is any generation of sound with intent to represent an idea or feeling” (emphasis added).

In comparison, its predecessor, EYFS 2009 (see appendix) listed expected outcomes by age, which although detailed, gave a sense of developmentally appropriate progression. During this period, various reviews provided music recommendations for school aged children, including OFSTED (“Making more of music,” 2009), the Henley review (2011) and in February 2014, a review on best practice commissioned by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. The Early Years Learning and Development Literature review (2009) revealed more specific early years detail, including infants preferring their native language and the unaccompanied human voice, which indicates a need for appropriately-trained adults from the earliest age. The review also confirmed a normal distribution of musical ability, suggesting that the concept of “giftedness” may add to the perceived inaccessibility of music. Finally, it clarified that both practitioners and parents needed help in recognising the value of “improvised temporal acts activity”.

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Preschool music training

Research reveals multiple benefits of music, starting with all people having musical potential (presuming ‘normal’ neurological function), with children developing differently depending on the amount of prior musical exposure (Welch, 2005). Music can encourage independence when used as a time marker in routine (Addessi, 2009), and musical play was found to develop a sense of self and close relationship (Mellou, 1994), while Barrett showed that a child’s identity could be revealed through their invented songs (Barrett, 2006, 2011, 2012). Despite these and more findings, Young (2005) argued that music should rather be recognised for its creative value, despite the extra-musical benefits.

Blacking (Campbell, 2000), an English ethnomusicologist in Africa, observed children’s innate musical nature, the benefits of physical expression in learning music, and an interesting lack of a need for knowledge sequence. In a more recent ethnomusicological study, Marsh (2008) discovered, amongst other things, that children quickly mastered complex hand games, demonstrating the beneficial role that movement and scaffolding can play in music tuition.

Further studies in music with young children revealed more benefits to using movement in teaching music. Young (2002) recommended modelling behaviour in developing a pedagogy of early years music, suggesting the use of specific instruments (2003) and a child-led approach (2009). A study in play enhancing behaviour showed that musical interaction with trusted adults was essential to creating and developing independent musical interest (Berger & Cooper, 2003), further developed by Koops (2011).

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Non-traditional approaches to music education

A quick search into the leading ideas within music education quickly reveals that Kodály (1882-1967), Jaques-Dalcroze (1865-1950) and Orff (1895-1982) were all involved in both composition as well as developing theories in music education. As a result, a number of early years music groups and franchises claim that the application of their approaches is the reason for producing musical children e.g. (“Colourstrings,” 1970, “Kindermusik UK,” 2004, “Musikgarten,” 1994).

Despite a number of differences, deeper investigation shows that these concepts overlap significantly. For example, while Dalcroze is generally credited for having conceived and developed the idea of expressing music through movement (Melville-Clark & ebrary, 2006), part of the training requires competence in singing using Kodály’s hand movements (solfa). And while many of Orff’s (Thresher, 1964) songs use the movement of body percussion in learning rhythm and pitch, they are based on Kodály (Choksy, 1999) concepts of beginning with the minor third, developing to the anhemitonic pentatonic scale (notes separated by more than a semitone) and finally the chromatic scale. Whether the focus is primarily on rhythm, singing or percussion, movement features in all, especially in the early stages of learning.

With few formal studies available on these approaches, and even fewer involving the early years, interest and opportunity in this area appears to be increasing, as general public interest in early years music increases. A study from Botswana (Phuthego, 2005), for example, identified many similarities between the movement seen in the African and Dalcrozian concepts, with the main differences noted in the formality of instruction. More generically, observations have been made by early years educationalist Montessori (1912), Dalcroze specialist Findlay (1971), and early years music academic Young (2002) that gross motor control helped to develop fine motor control, with Findlay concluding that rhythmic training should precede instrumental training.

This article clearly shows the links between music and movement in preschool music, especially within the early years, and more rigorous studies on the benefits of these alternative approaches to music education would prove potentially useful in music training, especially within teacher-training facilities.

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Acton, H. B. (1951). Comte’s Positivism and the Science of Society. Philosophy, 26(99), 291–310.

Addessi, A. R. (2009). The musical dimension of daily routines with under‐four children during diaper change, bedtime and free‐play. Early Child Development and Care, 179(6), 747–768. doi:10.1080/03004430902944122

Barrett, M. S. (2006). Inventing songs, inventing worlds: the “genesis” of creative thought and activity in young children’s lives. International Journal of Early Years Education, 14(3), 201–220.

Barrett, M. S. (2011). Musical narratives: A study of a young child’s identity work in and through music-making. Psychology of Music, 39(4), 403–423. doi:10.1177/0305735610373054

Barrett, M. S. (2012). Preparing the mind for musical creativity: early music learning and engagement. In O. Odena (Ed.), Musical Creativity: Insights from Music Education Research. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.

Berger, A. A., & Cooper, S. (2003). Musical Play: A Case Study of Preschool Children and Parents. Journal of Research in Music Education, 51(2), 151–165. doi:10.2307/3345848

Campbell, P. S. (2000). How Musical We Are: John Blacking on Music, Education, and Cultural Understanding. Journal of Research in Music Education, 48(4), 336–359. doi:10.2307/3345368

Choksy, L. (1999). The Kodály method I: comprehensive music education. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall.

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Koops, L. H. (2011). Perceptions of current and desired involvement in early childhood music instruction. Visions of Research in Music Education, 17.

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Appendix: EYFS Creative Development Summary 2009


Creative Development Birth to 11m 8-20m 16-26m 22-36m 30-50m 40-60m
Being Creative – responding to experiences, expressing and communication ideas Expressions of emotion through movement Sensory experiences Repeating actions Experience /emotional gestures Explore materialsCapture experiences Design and create own ideasResponses to new experiences and similar experiencesMaking connections to children in response to experiences
Exploring media and materials Touch or feel Body movementMaking marks Explore and experiment processes Inventive ways Responses to texturesSpontaneous and imitate each other’s movementsCommon patterns and structures


Differences between colours


Describe the objects

Mixing coloursNew effects and texturesCreate and construct


Creative skills and imagination


Tell the stories


Colour choices

Creating music and dance Response to voices, sounds and music Move in response to sounds Response to music through shakers, blocks and body movement Responses to different songs, dance or music Exploring sound, song or movement Developing music experience into arts
Developing imagination and imaginative play Response to visual and manipulatable toys Movement and sound imitation Pretend play with objects Make-believe play to understand interests Response to stories, ideas, life experiencesRepresent experiences Developing stories

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