Music and Communication Development

Transcript of this week's "Developmental Thought," an excerpt from the full episode. For additional information, music, play ideas and the complete interactive family experience, please listen to the entire episode.

As parents and caregivers, we hear people say things like, “oh, play music for your baby,” “sing to your baby!” We hear, “it’s important and useful to expose your baby to music and rhythms and songs…” but WHY?

Let’s start with the basics – and look at some of the inextricable links between music and communication. First, both use “pitch” – in music, we sing a melody, and in speech, we use variations in our intonation (for instance, when we ask a question, our pitch rises). Second, both have a rhythmic quality. Music is grouped into what we call “phrases” by meter and tempo. There are rhythmic rules that govern a song, which then might help to determine what genre of music it is. In speech, we use phrases as well, in a way. Just think about how we use punctuation, or pauses either -- for effect, or simply to mark the end of a sentence.

So, some of the essential components of both music and speech are actually very similar! When we expose our children to the stories and music of our cultures from a very early age, we are helping them to develop musical intelligence, but also primary communication skills!

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When we expose our children to the stories and music of our cultures from a very early age, we are helping them to develop musical intelligence, but also primary communication skills!

There’s a term that is often used in early learning and child development, called “joint attention” – this is essentially the shared attention between you and your child upon another “thing” – an object or event. It’s not merely that you are both looking at the same thing, but that you’re both using words, gestures, gaze, or other non-verbal communication to understand that you’re both interested in the same object or event. This is a crucial piece of communication (and something that usually happens sometime in the later part of the first year of life), and also it’s crucial to the act of being musical in a group.

When we sing to our young children, we are modeling:

-       Vocabulary and phrasing patterns or grammatical structures (sentences, questions / commands / statements)

-       Expressions of feelings and thoughts (through our physical actions, words, tone of voice, and facial expressions)

-       Attention and listening skills – hey, you’re not just entertaining your child! You’re interacting uninterruptedly with a focus! Think about how rare this kind of interaction is becoming in the age of technology!

So, good work! 

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Ayelet Marinovich, M.A. CCC-SLP

Ayelet Marinovich, M.A. CCC-SLP, is a pediatric speech-language pathologist specializing in work with pre-verbal infants, toddlers, non-verbal children, and their families. The Strength In Words podcast and blog were created as an additional resource for families of young children with infants & toddlers of all developmental levels. It is not intended to be a substitute for speech and language therapy.