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9 ways singing enhances learning

Little girl singing

Through music, your baby learns a myriad skills essential for language development, and early learning. Nubabi speech and language therapist, Carianne Vermeulen, explains how music makes learning more meaningful.

In one form or another, children are exposed to singing from the earliest age. Whether it’s a lullaby lovingly sung, dad crooning in the shower, a radio on in the house, or the theme tune to a favourite TV show, singing is ever present. And, as it happens, a key to unlocking development. Quality music experiences enhance listening, invite intuitive and steady beat responses, and aid learning of vocabulary, sound and pitch discrimination, emotional responses, creative responses, memory – all while providing many hours of fun for little ones.

Through various brain imaging studies, research shows that each component of music affects a different part of the brain, for example: familiar songs activate the left frontal lobe, timbre the right frontal lobe, and pitch the left posterior lobe. Songs are the perfect package for greater learning: One side of the brain processes the word while the other processes the melody, so listening to, and singing along with rhymes and songs, engages both sides of the brain. And we know that activating the entire brain ensures better retention. Short-term memory has the ability to hold only seven bits of information, but if information pieces are bonded together, as in songs, they can be processed as one piece. So by condensing information into a song, the brain is able to receive and process more.

Here are some of the ways music works its magic:

1. Music develops listening skills

We have all experienced crying, fussy, or sick children in our care who become calm when quality instrumental music is played. They are listening! If we sing to our three- and four-year-olds, we will probably be asked to sing the song again… and again. Music invites focused attention.

2. Music strengthens aural discrimination

Research shows that infants who are sung to and talked to a lot develop greater phonemic awareness (separating the smallest units of sound) and later develop larger vocabularies. Research has reported that in utero, a foetus already hears all sounds as “musical” through the amniotic fluid. Toddlers often join in singing with others, and create “infant songs” on their own while they play.

Young children who miss these all-important interactions are often less expressive and sometimes delayed in their speech, and may be shy in communicating with others. They may not sing naturally on their own or with a group. This is music’s gentle reminder to us that when beautiful co-ordinated sounds tenderly plant the seeds of aural discrimination, it is essential that we parents/ caregivers nurture that seed through daily musical experiences that incorporate listening, singing, and moving to music.

3. Phonological awareness

Many of the classics that we sing to our children rhyme. Rhyming is another form of auditory discrimination, but it is also the foundational skill for phonological awareness. These skills help to promote early literacy and are the precursors to reading success.

4. Music aids language development

Here is a list of songs for ideas on how to expand your toddler’s vocabulary: Learning body parts:

  • Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes
  • Do Your Ears Hang Low
  • Where is Thumbkin

Learning animal names:

  • Down By the Bay
  • Going on a Bear Hunt
  • Baby Bumble Bee
  • Farmer in the Dell
  • Old MacDonald had a farm


  • Five Little Ducks
  • Five Green Speckled Frogs
  • Five Little Monkeys
  • Ants Go Marching


  • Itsy Bitsy Spider
  • Wheels on the Bus
  • Row Row Row Your Boat
  • If You’re Happy and You Know It
  • Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

5. Auditory Memory

For your toddler, auditory memory (hearing information, processing it, retaining it, and then later recalling it) is a crucial skill for later academic success that can be improved upon with early activities. Singing is one of them. Songs that build on each verse, like “”The Green Grass Grows All Around”, can really challenge those memory skills. Remember that as a parent, the BEST way to engage your child is to be dynamic. So change the way you sing a song, by singing it faster, or slower, or in a different voice.

6. Music helps children (and adults!) remember

Repetition first builds rote (short-term) memory but does evolve to conscious thought and long-term memory as children mature and songs that have meaning are sung repeatedly by individuals. Not only does music strengthen memory, it often wraps feelings or emotions around a song that enhances learning experiences. For many children today, stress blocks learning avenues. We can relieve much of that stress through daily listening and singing experiences, moving to music, and exploring instrument sounds.

7. Music helps children speak clearly and pay attention

A “neat and steady beat” is an underlying foundation that holds language together. When children speak nursery rhymes and pat a steady beat, they tend to speak more clearly. When teachers encourage children to keep patting steady beats while they sing, no one child races ahead to finish the song first. Research has shown that toddlers also sing more “in tune,” and enunciate more clearly when a steady beat is maintained.

8. Music helps children cooperate, think, and problem-solve

Opportunities to cooperate in singing games, action songs, and movement to music are the early childhood active learning precursors to thinking, problem-solving, and memory. Music helps children and adults stay alert. Music is the essential element that touches all the ways young children learn.

9. Music is FUN! - and fundamental for all young children

Research suggests that the first three years are critical for combining music experiences with learning - especially for toddlers in at-risk categories. Because movement almost always accompanies these musical experiences for youngsters, all toddlers should be provided with these double reinforcements, because the body, voice, and brain are united for optimal processing. Music and movement are the first languages of childhood - used before traditional language, they provides the link to communication.

Daily music experiences in a toddler’s environment make many valuable connections to their language capabilities, memory, physical activity, creative thinking, emotional stability, discipline, and emerging academic success. As brain research begins to support the importance of learning through music, we must continue to find useful ways to make the gifts music provides essential in our daily routine. While music possesses awesome meaning and great value in and of itself, our toddlers will never be able to realise this unless we begin to share these gifts every day.

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