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8 ways music can boost your baby's development, plus fun ways to make it a part of their routine

Music can have a significant impact on your baby or toddler’s learning and sensory development, plus it can also be a useful tool to relax and soothe them into sleep. Here are the ways it can benefit your family, including tips from Mumsnet users on how they make the most of music with their children.

By Gemma Lumley | Last updated Aug 10, 2022

Mother with two children listening to music on tablet

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Music is transformative and can have a powerful effect on those listening. For babies and young children, songs, instrumentals such as classical pieces, and nursery rhymes have all been shown to significantly boost many aspects of their development. 

From the moment your baby is born, introducing them to music is a must. A lullaby at bedtime as you gently rock them will begin a beautiful relationship with music that will improve sleep, create joy, increase brain power, help with language acquisition and encourage emotional intelligence. 

8 ways music can help your baby’s development 

Music in all its forms, from dramatic overtures and meditative lullabies to the latest pop songs and jolly nursery rhymes, is an excellent way to boost your baby’s development. Sound sleep, language skills and emotional intelligence can all be encouraged when music is a part of your little one’s everyday life. Here’s more on how it can help little ones.

1. It has a soothing effect and helps with sleep 

From early on in a pregnancy, at 16-18 weeks, the baby will hear its first sounds. So, along with the voices of family and friends, music should be the soundtrack to your little one’s time in the womb. The Rainbow Collection Dreams Album is a great choice to play in the evening as everyone winds down towards bedtime. 

The soothing music will relax Mum and her unborn baby, and it has the added benefits of boosting brain and emotional development even at this super early stage. 

Once the baby has arrived, and you’re trying to establish that elusive bedtime routine, familiar, comforting pieces of baby sleep music, such as Clair de Lune and The German Cradle Song, will signal that it’s time for snuggles and sleep. 

Good quality sleep is essential for your baby’s mental development, immune system, growth and appropriate weight gain. 

Calming baby music with gentle rhythms and slow, repetitive beats will also have a relaxing effect on babies (and parents!) who are feeling grumpy and irritable. 

Mumsnetters say:

“DD was a horrendous sleeper. But we were given a CD of baby lullaby music which did seem to help her get to sleep although it didn't stop her waking at night. She played it every night until she was about 10! I used to dread it scratching or breaking and googled it to try and get a replacement but I never found one.” Fizzbosshoes

2. It will boost their brains

Numerous studies have shown that music can play a significant role in the development of a baby's brain, in utero, in the first vital year of life and onwards into early childhood. 

The Institute of Learning and Brain Sciences discovered that listening to music boosted a baby’s language development and ability to process speech. In addition, the Brain and Creativity Institute in Southern California reported that playing musical instruments sped up the brain development of study participants, which enhanced reading and speaking skills. And the National Association of Music Merchants in the US found that playing music throughout childhood increases the ability to process mathematical problems and improves SAT scores. 

Exposure to music and enjoying making it themselves, be it with a pan and a wooden spoon, their own clapping hands or a trumpet, may improve their brain’s ability to form pathways and connections between cells. This amazing process is called neuroplasticity, and it is the brain growing through exposure to new experiences with sounds, physical movement and different sensations. 

You can harness the power of music and movement through singing and dancing along to the wonderful variety of songs on The Rainbow Collection’s Dreams Album from the early stages of your pregnancy. Recent scientific studies have also revealed that babies in the womb who listened to baby classical music like the Sugar Plum Fairy for 70 hours in the weeks leading up to birth went on to have significantly more advanced speech and understanding, motor skills and problem-solving skills. 

Music is also a brilliant way to help babies and toddlers learn and remember. For example, you can create simple but fun rhymes to sing when they recognise their need to use the potty or feed themselves with a spoon. 

3. Helps with sensory development

Father with baby and shaker

Baby music and sensory classes are an excellent way to help your little one to blossom. The combination of stimulating music, movement and fun props boosts all their senses, including hearing, vision and touch. 

Our senses allow us to explore and understand our environment, and hearing is one of the most important, especially in our early years. Sound helps babies to make sense of the world around them and leads to the development of speech and, subsequently, the ability to read and write. 

Music and language are closely connected. As your baby listens to the songs you sing, they are learning to tell the difference between contrasting sounds and words and those that sound similar. 

Singing lots of different songs, playing tunes from various artists and including classical music will all help enhance your baby’s ability to auditory and linguistic development. 

Related: Best sensory toys for babies and toddlers

4. Physical development will be boosted

Dancing along to music with your children is one of the greatest joys of parenthood. You could be rocking your newborn in time to a lullaby, bopping to a fun playlist with a baby on your hip or laughing with your toddler as you twirl around the room to songs from their favourite TV show. 

Music is the perfect excuse for conscious movement and physical exercise that will nurture your child’s physical development and awareness of their own body. Dancing in time to a beat and clapping along enthusiastically to your tambourine playing will strengthen their muscles, heart and immune system. 

Musical play also helps the body and brain to work well together; a child’s dexterity, fine motor skills and coordination will increase with the use of tiny keyboard keys, bells and maracas. Even blowing a trumpet or singing a song will help them to understand how their mouth, tongue and lips work. 

Mumsnetters say:

“I think youngsters' tap dance is great for children who are musical but too young for an instrument. Lots of clapping and tapping rhythms, gives them great experience of focussing on, feeling and responding to the beat.” Murmurur

5. Emotional awareness is increased

baby waving

Music is a powerful language that can calm a fractious baby or cheer up a moody toddler. Children will respond to the tone of music from a very young age. For example, Mozart’s Requiem is a melancholic piece that is beautiful but also makes us feel sad. For children, feeling this sadness in a safe space will increase their emotional awareness and help them manage their moods' ebb and flow. 

Of course, music is a source of profound joy too. The happiness your little one will feel as you sing and bop along to a bouncy pop song or funny rhyme with a massive smile on your face will help them to understand their own feelings and those of others. 

This understanding of the importance of music to the emotional development of children is why Sophie Barker and Kevin Kerrigan, the duo behind The Rainbow Collection albums, are determined that they produce ‘real music’ for children. 

Mumsnetters say: 

“My DD was very similar, loved music as a baby and toddler, always singing and crying with music that made her ‘sad’”. Bustarold

6. It will assist with social skills 

Music energises the brain to produce the ‘feel good’ chemicals oxytocin and dopamine. When in a social situation, at a baby class, party or family get-together, this will encourage babies and toddlers to play ‘nicely,’ share toys, feel empathy and develop a sense of trust in the people around them, including other babies. 

Playing music on a toy trumpet, clapping, and repeating the lyrics of a song in a group helps babies to understand how to express themselves and connect with others. In addition, laughing, singing and dancing and feeling the happiness that being with their peers can bring is vital for helping babies to build their social skills. 

In 2012, a study by  McMaster University in Ontario found compelling evidence that infants who participated in baby’s music groups smiled more often and communicated more effectively. 

Music is also a source of self-esteem and confidence, so make sure you clap and cheer when they play a fantastic tune on their makeshift drum kit or make up their own shouty song, even if your ears are hurting! 

Related: Best activity gyms and mats for babies

7. It will help with communication and language development

Baby with hands in the air

Making and responding to music should be part of your baby’s everyday life. Research has proven that little ones encouraged to wiggle or sway to music or tap a toy in time to the beat of a nursery rhyme will use simple forms of communication earlier. For example, they will ‘love’ a teddy bear with a hug or feed a doll with a spoon. These expressive actions are the first steps in the development of language skills. 

Hearing both new and familiar songs, rhymes and raps will familiarise your baby with the concept of words, and the beat will help them remember the sounds needed to speak. A baby's first ‘words’ will be in the form of babbling, and it’s intriguing how close those nonsense noises can sound to basic music. 

Back in 1985, a comprehensive study showed how sensitive babies are to musical concepts like changes in pitch. This is probably because they heard the rhythms of their mother speaking when they were in the womb and are spoken to in a higher pitched ‘sing song’ voice by the delighted family and friends who visit them in the first weeks. 

This early exposure to melodies in language explains why music and speech are so interlinked for young children. 

8. Bonding moments

Parents often use music to communicate with their babies and young children. For example, a pacifying lullaby says it’s time to go to sleep, a jolly rhyme with silly faces and actions is a way to express joy, and a much-loved and familiar song combined with a cuddle will reassure. 

Often it is the sound of the loving voice of the caregiver, rather than the song itself, that holds power and will form lifelong memories. Connecting with your baby this way is the start of a loving and happy relationship that will build their confidence, self-esteem and resilience as they age. 

For quiet bonding moments, the Dreams Album is ideal as it combines classical music for babies, gentle lullabies and soothing songs. It’s a collection designed to be meditative for babies and their parents. 

Fun ways to include music in your children’s day-to-day routine

Baby with xylophone

As we’ve discovered, music is a powerful tool for the parents of babies and toddlers. Happily, making it a fun and educational part of your day-to-day life is super easy.

Everyday activities

You may feel silly initially, but make up silly songs about everyday activities like bath time, changing a nappy and eating. They don’t have to make sense; it’s just a simple and effective way to make music a constant in your baby’s early weeks and months.  

Have music in the background of your home and vary the genre. The Rainbow Collection Albums are the perfect introduction to music, and you’ll enjoy listening to them too! Sing along to your favourites, dance with your baby in your arms and encourage them to move to the beat, even if it means wiggling their feet for them or gently patting their back in time. 

Mumsnetters say: 

“My DD loves music! I can play any kind though and she bops along. Lots of classical in the bath, I play musical songs from Oliver during dinner. It's fun, fun for all.” Breastfeedingworries

Musical toys

Musical cot mobiles with a choice of gentle lullabies, activity toys that play fun tunes as the baby interacts with them, and electronic musical books are all fantastic ways to bring simple melodies into the house. 

Mumsnetters say: 

“I can still sing the song from the Fisher Price animal train that DD1 was obsessed with. Both of them liked musical instruments like an egg shaker, a tambourine or handbells.” Stompythedinosaur

Musical instruments 

Musical instruments can be a part of your baby’s life from birth, with tiny wrist and ankle bells that jingle as your little one kicks their arms and legs. 

The best toy musical instruments for babies and toddlers include a drum, rattles, tambourines and maracas. As they develop grip strength and hand-eye coordination, a wooden glockenspiel or xylophone would be the perfect next step. 

Mumsnetters say: 

“My sister has just bought my one-year-old daughter a musical instrument set, various instruments and some drumsticks and they all store inside a drum. She got it from TK Maxx. It’s easily the thing she’s played with the most.” MonkeyPuddle

Make household objects into musical instruments 

Park your need to maintain a pristine home and allow your little one to turn it into a giant musical instrument. From whacking a wooden spoon joyfully against a pan and shaking a tub of dried pasta or rice to stomping their feet to a beat once they are walking, use your imagination to create fun instruments for free. 

Mumsnetters say: 

“The oldest, particularly, showed an aptitude for drumming from a very early age. He spent a lot of time wrecking furniture by drumming on it (mostly perfectly in time) and then moved onto toy drum kits and various pots and pans.” Familyband

Songs and nursery rhymes

Baby groups and parents have been singing the same songs for generations as they are simple, fun and memorable. From ‘Wind The Bobbin Up’ to ‘Dingle Dangle Scarecrow,’ your little one will love the familiar melodies, and they will become a source of comfort and cheer. 

Check out The Rainbow Collection’s beautiful rendition of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.’ It was the second biggest kids genre musical track in 2020 and received gold single status in 2021.

Using their bodies to make music

Parents with baby

The other instrument that is perfect and super convenient for making music is our body. Our hands and feet are superb percussion instruments, and babies will adore clapping their hands, clicking fingers and stomping their feet on the floor in time to the music they hear playing or the songs they make up themselves. 

Music classes 

Even if they are shy, most parents will attend at least one local baby and toddler class or group as they are a great way to boost baby brain development and meet other mums and their little ones. 

Musical and sensory groups are the most popular, with franchises such as Hartbeeps and SongBox operating in village halls, churches and community centres across the UK. 

Before you sign up for a term, check they are short enough for a baby’s limited attention span, small enough to be friendly and allow the teacher to engage with everyone and most all fun, with music, songs, movement and toys. 

Mumsnetters say:

“Music class was the best. They loved it.” growlingbear

Dancing 

Moving our bodies is a brilliant way to appreciate music, and babies are born with the instinct to dance. Psychologists at The University of York say:

"Our research suggests that it is the beat rather than other features of the music, such as the melody, that produces the response in infants. We also found that the better the children were able to synchronize their movements with the music, the more they smiled.”

Dancing doesn’t have to be about the high-energy moves more suited to a crazy toddler. The Rainbow Collection album ‘Dreams’ is a collection of relaxing songs that make the perfect soundtrack to your baby’s head sways, arm waving and slow wriggling.

Mumsnetters say:

“Movement to music is really good when they're too young for an instrument.” 4amWitchingHour

What’s the best music for babies and children?

Babies simply love music; they won’t be choosy about the genre you play. That said, music that has been composed specifically for infants is more likely to have the elements of music (pitch, dynamics, tempo, timbre, duration, tone, timbre and melody) that will help with your baby’s development. 

For a contented home, it’s important to be mindful of choosing the right music for different times of the day. Albums such as ‘Dreams’ feature a carefully thought out bedtime collection of ‘real music’ from various genres such as classical, folk and traditional nursery rhymes. 

It’s also worth remembering that babies will start to notice the difference between languages songs are sung in from six months, and the music you play shouldn’t be loud as it may damage their sensitive ears. 

About Rainbow Collections

“The Rainbow Collections are duo, singer Sophie Barker, of Zero 7 fame, and producer Kevin Kerrigan. Together they have been creating beautiful new versions of well-known nursery rhymes and songs for 15 years.

“The songs are loved by kids of all ages and parents alike. Their debut album Lullaby achieved gold status, with their rendition of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star hitting gold in 2021.

“Their new album Dreams is made up of 17 deeply magical tracks that signpost a duo in their element, the album promises a peaceful ride to the land of Nod with no bumps along the way. The perfect evening accompaniment for children and their parents.”

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