Introduction to Early Years for Music Services


On Tuesday 2nd April 2019, MusicNet East, Changing Tracks hosted an Early Years Conference at Stevenage Music Centre led by Dr Jessica Pitt, Lecturer in Music Education at the Royal College of Music and Charlotte K Arculus, founder member and creative director of Theatre of Adventure.

The event was attended by music service managers and practitioners interested in developing an Early Years offer. Currently Music Education Hub delivery is limited to 5-18 years but change is on the horizon. Delegates from Norfolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire joined with local colleagues from Hertfordshire. The over-riding theme of the day was about observing children, experiencing children’s play and developing practice which reacts to, builds on, but doesn’t interrupt that play.

Both presenters spoke about babies and very young children being capable, inquisitive and naturally talented at improvisation. During the day we were encouraged to explore play without talking. This is a technique which was developed through a programme of work called SALTMusic, which both Charlotte and Jess worked on. SALTMusic found that children with speech delay were more likely to attempt communication when adults did not dominate the space by talking or created pressure around trying to form words. Adults who are not talking often listen much more closely to children and pick up on hints and invitations from the child.

“Waiting and observing before teaching is important…the teacher’s response can shut things down or open them up…”

Delegates thought part of the challenge is how do we share this approach with other staff in the school, who may have different expectations?

“How do we model active learning ourselves? Many adults are not happy with this, and prefer to stay in our boxes….”

Music Services’ instrumental teaching is often concerned to a greater or lesser extent with the skill of playing an instrument-led by an expert adult. But in early years delivery the adult’s role is different and centres around being able to recognise musicality in children as it happens and to respond to it.

“We can learn from children about how to improvise….they’re not thinking about which scale to use!” – Delegate from Cambridgeshire

Jessica and Charlotte suggested many ways in which practitioners could set up a space to encourage musical play, providing a musical environment to explore.

The delegates were invited to move to the music centre auditorium, to build a magical musical Sound garden and were encouraged to play in it.

Sounds, including ‘crunchy’ silver foil or ‘crashing’ metal bowls or ‘shushing’ rain sticks were ready to be discovered.

After this experience, we moved back to a teaching room, where participants reflected on their feelings of taking part in the Soundgarden, discussing how they felt and how they responded to others during the activity. People often had very different perspectives on the musical structures, reflecting how diversity of responses can be lost could be lost in more top-down approaches.

Jessica and Charlotte deftly linked real-time experiences and case study videos with theoretical concepts such as OWL, ‘Observe, Wait, Listen’ (Girolametto, Greenberg & Manolson) , and  John Wright’s ‘Find the game, Play the game, Recognise when the game is over, Find another game.’

They spoke about 3 types of work an experienced early years music practitioner might employ:

  • Guided group and circle times
  • ‘Hang out and Play’ within the nursery setting
  • Create music-rich free-play environments

They described how musical rituals during circle time (singing greeting, songs for clearing away, saying goodbye in musical ways) add safety and reassurance for children. Generally, these rituals allow the group to operate (turn taking, finishing and starting, sitting down in a circle) without an adult instructing the children to ‘sit down and form a circle’. During the training, moving between the teaching room , and the auditorium where musical activities took place, also created a sense of ritual.

The point was made several times during the day that little children under five are not in formal education, so do not learn in the same ways expected in schools. The presenters discussed the Early Years Foundation Stage Framework, particularly stressing “1.8. Each area of learning and development must be implemented through planned, purposeful play and through a mix of adult-led and child-initiated activity. Play is essential for children’s development, building their confidence as they learn to explore, to think about problems, and relate to others. Children learn by leading their own play, and by taking part in play which is guided by adults…”

Feedback from delegates was very positive:

“This day was expertly presented by Jess and Charlotte; gentle in approach but demanding of our intellectual attention. They quickly set up a low threat, high challenge environment within which we could we could reflect and think creatively about the importance of this subject and the ways children learn and lead, given the chance. (delegate)

A few times we were way out of our comfort zone, but the presentation style and invitation to participate  in whatever way we felt appropriate had us all willing and enthusiastic. The time was ideally divided, the focus shifting between practice and theory in a seamless way. The video examples were excellent illustrations and thought provoking as to how music hubs can contribute to early childhood development.” (delegate)

“Looking ahead to CPD with my fellow EYFS teachers/practitioners in September,  I would hope to share in particular the importance of musical play and creativity in EYFS as more of a process than outcome, which may have implications for how they see their role, their interactions with the children, ‘curriculum planning’ and  managing expectations within their settings.” (delegate)

Useful resources on Early Years music can be found at:
Early Education –
Youth Music –

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

More from the Blog