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Musical Doodlings

In 1991, Margaret Kartomi wrote an article entitled Musical Improvisations by Children at Play[1] in which she described aspects of children’s musical play as ‘doodles’.

This idea draws parallels with children’s visual art and I think this is both interesting and useful!

Little boy playing with a colourful wooden musical instrument

Much as children’s visual art doesn’t look like adult art, children’s musical behaviour does not sound like what we might think of as “music”. June Countryman and colleagues[2]* described these musical behaviours as “spontaneous, multi-modal concoctions of sound, movement and gesture”.

Musical doodles can include sounds, gestures, musical speech, and movement both large and small and happen all the time as children play … once you tune into them you will start noticing them throughout the day! And I believe that babies’ everyday behaviours, movements, and vocalisations are musical doodlings too. I might go so far as to say that music is a child’s first mode of communication.

So how should families respond to their baby’s musical doodlings?

Start by noticing when musical behaviour happens! Take time to watch and listen for it. It takes practice. Children’s musical behaviour in everyday life often goes unnoticed or is interpreted as poor behaviour.

Try to interpret the reason for the behaviour as this will influence your response.

If your child is creating music on their own to soothe or entertain themselves then you may decide not to engage with them. You might simply notice and make a mental note of what they did. You may be able to repeat and develop the experience later.

If your child is using music to communicate you could engage in a musical conversation. You might repeat what they do or you could respond by introducing new ideas (similar or contrasting).

You could join in with the musical behaviour by doing the same thing or by creating a contrasting idea that works alongside your child’s idea.

You can acknowledge musical behaviour by describing it or discussing it with your child.

You can show appreciation of what they have done and show that you value their ideas.

Allow your own “inner musicians” to explore musical sounds, songs and movement when you are with your child. This may inspire or encourage them to experiment even more!


[1] The World of Music 33(3) pp53-65 [2] Children’s Spontaneous Vocalisations during play: aesthetic dimensions. Music Education Research 18(1) p1-19


If you have any questions or would like to know more about early years music education and research, contact Katie.


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