Enabling Environments: Around the Nursery - Music and sound - Beat it!

Jane Drake
Tuesday, July 1, 2008

There are endless ways to incorporate music into your provision, says Jane Drake, and just as many things children can learn from it.

Music touches all of our lives and is a defining element of culture. The provision of a music and sound area enables children to explore and play with sound independently as well as to appreciate, and respond to, music as a consumer. Not only do musical experiences support children's creative development, but they can also promote learning across a number of other areas.


Settings should aim to provide:

- a range of musical instruments, including some from different cultures - for example, chime bars, glockenspiels, sleigh bells, carousel bells, jingle sticks, rainmakers, a range of drums (such as djembe, marching, ocean), two-tone wood block and beaters, tambourines, tambours, maracas, calabashes, castanets, cymbals, recorders, whistles, zithers, guitars, electronic keyboards and touch-sensitive sound pads;

- everyday, or natural, objects for creating sound/music - for example, rattles, coconut shells, tins containing pebbles, bunches of keys, thimbles;

- listening centre, headphones;

- a range of recorded music (audio tapes, CDs) reflecting a variety of genres and cultures (for example, jazz, classical, steel band, folk) and including children's own singing and music-making;

- ribbon sticks, scarves;

- song and rhyme books.


In this area, children might enjoy:

- listening to sounds and music;

- exploring and experimenting with different instruments and objects to create sound;

- matching sounds to instruments (where the instrument is hidden from sight);

- singing songs and rhymes from a familiar repertoire;

- creating their own music and making up own songs;

- using their bodies to make sounds and respond to music - for example, hand clapping, feet stamping as percussion, dancing with ribbons and scarves;

- playing in a band;

- joining in carnival bands and processions;

- drum marches;

- dragon dances to music;

- recording own music or sounds.


The learning that might take place in this area includes:

- developing an increased awareness of sounds around them - for example, rustling leaves, mealtime trolley arriving;

- discriminating between sounds - for example, speech sounds, musical instruments and environmental sounds;

- responding to music through movement and dance;

- making connections in their thinking - for example, expressing imaginative ideas suggested by music through painting or role play;

- beginning to explore simple systems of notation - for example, using colours to represent different sounds;

- developing an awareness of rhythm, listening to and enjoying rhythmic patterns in rhymes and songs;

- repeating simple sound patterns and maintaining a steady beat;

- counting actions, sounds and beats;

- showing curiosity about why things happen, how instruments work and how sounds are created;

- developing an understanding of cause and effect - for example, when the wind blows, the chimes move and so on.


- Although the music and sound area does not need to be particularly large, its position should be considered with care. The resources available in this area can generate significant noise, which can be distracting to children engaged in other activities or trying to relax in a quiet area.

- Instruments should be easily accessible to children - they could be presented on open shelving, hanging on a wall at child level, or on mug 'trees' (for smaller shakers, castanets). Where a large collection of instruments is available in the setting, practitioners will probably decide to offer a limited selection to children at any one time and should have in place systems for storing and rotating instruments. Sets of instruments could be sorted according to how sounds are produced (for example, plucking, blowing, shaking, banging, scraping).

- The area should also serve as a central resource base for musical instruments, which may be used to support learning in other areas - for example, at group times, to accompany stories and rhymes and in movement play. A mobile trolley may prove to be a useful piece of storage equipment that would enable practitioners to transport instruments to other indoor areas or into the outdoor area. Trays or storage cases for audio tapes and CDs are also useful.

- Settings should display space for posters, photographs, music books and sheet music.

- Practitioners should think about the benefits of using particular pieces of recorded music to indicate, for example, tidy-up time or group time. Children will 'tune in' to the music and, if expectations are made clear, they will respond accordingly. Carefully chosen pieces can also have a generally calming effect on children, which may be desirable at times of quiet and relaxation, and they will support children's developing appreciation of music.

- Settings should plan time for adults to engage with children in music and sound activities. Adults should model the use of instrument names and language related to sound, such as 'fast', 'slow', 'loud', 'quiet'. They should support children in singing songs and rhymes and in increasing their repertoire, and should talk with them about their musical experiences. They may also need to teach technical skills, such as the use of CD players.

- To further excite children about music and to broaden their experience, practitioners should consider inviting local musicians into the setting so the children can enjoy live performances. There may be parents who are able and willing to play guitars, keyboards or drums for children. There may also be opportunities to take children to watch musicians or dance groups from a range of cultural backgrounds at local theatres.

- Practitioners should be aware of the needs of children with hearing impairment to experience and 'feel' sound through physical contact with objects and instruments.


The outdoor area is usually an ideal area (neighbours permitting!) for enthusiastic explorations of music and sound without fear of disturbing others. The space available outside also allows for children's physical engagement and movement on a large scale, often encouraging responses and expression of ideas through dance.

Additional resources can be offered outside and these may include objects in everyday use or recycled materials, such as metal dustbin lids or pan lids suspended and 'played' with a wooden or metal spoon, or plastic bottles containing sand or gravel.

Metal and bamboo wind chimes provide additional sound experiences. Children could be encouraged to make their own hanging chimes. Bird song tapes can also be an exciting way to increase children's awareness of the sounds around them in the outdoor world.


- UC 1.2 Inclusive Practice

- PR 2.3 Supporting Learning

- L&D 4.2 Active Learning

- L&D 4.3 Creativity and Critical Thinking

- L&D 4.4 Areas of Learning and Development.

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