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Music and Language Development

Music brings happiness to people of all ages. Nursery rhymes, songs, and fingerplays put smiles on the faces of children, but music actually serves a greater purpose! A 2016 study at the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute found that musical experiences in childhood can improve children’s language development as well as motor skills, memory, and overall literacy in a fun and interactive way!

Talk Time Speech Language Therapy Blog | Color picture of woman dancing with child | Read more about the connection between music and language


Music can help to build a child’s receptive and expressive vocabulary. The repetition of words and verses can help children acquire new vocabulary and new concepts. It can also provide a strong language model regarding sentence structure and grammar. As a child hears the construction of phrases and sentences, it can help develop an understanding of the syntax of our language.

Phonemic Awareness

Songs also promote phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness includes the way a child can hear, identify, and use the different sounds in our language. The ability to recognize and use different sounds has a positive effect on the development of literacy skills down the road. One great phonemic awareness concept we learn from many classic songs is rhyming! While rhyming is a form of auditory discrimination, it is an important component of phonological awareness that can help lead your child to success in the area of literacy.

Social Language

Music can also help in the development of social language skills! Young children are often sung to by a caregiver but many also participate in music classes or child care settings. In these classes, and in other music-related opportunities, music naturally encourages turn taking. Young children can take turns passing instruments back and forth with their teachers and peers, or engage in vocal turn taking through call-and-response songs such as “Boom Chicka Boom” and “Five Little Ducks”.

Talk Time Speech Language Therapy Blog | Three children engaging in finger plays for a song | Read more about the connection between music and language

Motor Skills

Songs and music can also help improve motor skills! Dancing is one of the first activities that come to mind when you think about music. Dancing to both fast and slow music can build the muscles in their arms, legs, and core. Learning group dances like the “Hokey Pokey” or “Head Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” can additionally help with motor coordination (and vocabulary, such as body part identification too!) and gross motor movements, including balance and body awareness. Finger plays like “Where Is Thumbkin?”, and interactive songs like “The Itsy Bitsy Spider '' and “The Wheels on the Bus”, are great examples of ways music can support the development of small muscles in children’s hands and fingers. The muscles used for these finger plays are the same muscles they will later use for writing and drawing.

All in all, music can play a powerful role in the language development of young children. Through music, children are provided with fun, interactive, and motivating opportunities to develop and enhance their language skills.

Do you have concerns about your child’s development? We can help! Our therapists can complete a comprehensive assessment and work with you to create an individualized treatment plan to help meet your goals. Contact us for more information!

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