A young boy and girl learn how to play the flute

How to Support Your Preschooler’s Development with Music

Musical development begins even before birth and occurs rapidly in the first five years of a child’s life. Your child’s interactions with music during this time help shape his musical aptitude for the rest of his life! You can nurture your little one’s musical development by singing, dancing and listening to music together regularly, but how do you know if it’s having an impact? To ensure you don’t miss a moment of your child progressing into a little musician, watch for the below milestones in your 3-, 4- or 5-year-old.

To see musical milestones for infants and toddlers, click here.

Toddler playing musical instrumentMusical Milestones for 3-Year-Olds

Around age 3, children start to sing simple tonal and rhythm patterns more accurately. They will sing a greater percentage of songs in tune and stay on beat for longer durations.

Musical milestones you may observe in your 3-year-old include:

  • Making eye contact when hearing music played or sung
  • Smiling in response to music
  • Echoing tonal and rhythm patterns with increased accuracy
  • Singing short phrases of a song in tune, with the remaining notes not in tune
  • Distinguishing between different voices and instruments
  • Demonstrating rhythm with body movements that might be in tempo to the music
  • Enjoying marching, dancing, jumping, twirling, skipping and other physical activity while listening to and creating music
  • Playing a wide range of rhythm instruments and sometimes playing in tempo
  • Singing lyrics of short phrases or even entire songs with increasing ease, enjoyment and accuracy

Musical Milestones for 4- and 5-Year-Olds

Typically, 4- and 5-year-olds progress to “Independent Musical Accuracy” – the ability to sign in tune and move in time to music. To compare this to language development milestones, this is equivalent to when listening, babbling and short phrases transition into meaningful conversations.

There are two types of Independent Musical Accuracy – rhythmic and tonal. When rhythmic accuracy is achieved, children are able to sing songs on rhythm, match the beat when playing or singing with others, and march and move their body in time to the music.

Tonal accuracy occurs when children are able to sing familiar songs in tune and match keys when singing with others. These two types of Independent Musical Accuracy are not tied together and children typically achieve them at different times – sometimes even years apart.

Toddler playing pianoSigns that your 4- or 5-year-old is progressing toward Independent Musical Accuracy include:

  • Singing phrases or an entire song with accurate pitch
  • Demonstrating rhythmic accuracy that ranges from occasionally to consistently matching the beat of music
  • Memorizing lengthy and complex lyrics
  • Indicating when notes are performed correctly or incorrectly when listening to familiar songs or phrases
  • Playing a wide range of rhythm instruments with occasional to consistent rhythmic accuracy
  • Echoing tonal and rhythmic patterns with accuracy, ranging from rarely to always accurate
  • Identifying (by sight or sound) common instruments such as the violin, flute, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, piano and drums
  • When comparing two pitches, indicating which is high and which is low using hand movements

Want to know more? Check out this blog post with suggestions for fun music activities for kids. Or, if you think your little one is ready to learn an instrument, read this post about how to support the first steps to your child’s musical success.

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