Musical Milestones for Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers

Toddler plays with a green guitar as part of his early musical development.

Musical Milestones for Babies, Toddlers and Preschoolers

It’s no secret that there are benefits to music for children, and it can have a positive impact on your child and her early development. Children raised in an enriched musical environment find it easier and more pleasurable to learn to play an instrument, and they also have a greater understanding of music and are more likely to enjoy it throughout their lives.

As you sing, dance and introduce your young child to different types of music, here are common milestones in your child’s development to look out for. It may not seem like much, but little things such as “smiling in response to music” are signs that your baby is learning!

Infants are busy absorbing the surrounding sounds in the first few months of life and regular exposure to a variety of musical sounds is critical. Musical milestones you may observe from your baby include:

  • Making eye contact when hearing music played or when being sung to
  • Moving arms and legs or rocking body in response to rhythmic sounds
  • Smiling in response to music
  • Engaging with shaker-type instruments for short amounts of time
  • Babbling in response to music in short bursts and at whatever pitch is easiest to create

1-year-olds are physically much more engaged with music than infants. You may observe your child reacting in new ways by:

  • Adjusting pitch up and down, not necessarily matching the actual notes
  • Changing movement in response to tempo of music – fast to slow
  • Moving body in response to rhythmic sounds
  • Playing with bells, egg shakers, rhythm sticks and other props for an extended time, but usually not in sync with the music unless it is by chance
  • Vocalizing with short babbles to phrases with lyrics

2- and 3-year-olds will begin to create music with some accuracy without live or recorded musical support. You may observe your toddler exhibiting new behaviors by:

  • 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 music
  • Enjoying marching, walking, dancing, jumping, running, twirling, skipping, tip-toeing, finger plays, and other physical activity while listening to and creating music
  • Enjoying playing a wide range of rhythm instruments that will sometimes be in tempo to music
  • Singing lyrics with increasing ease and enjoyment and singing short phrases up to entire songs with correct lyrics

4- and 5-year-olds begin to have the ability to sing in tune and move in time to music. You may notice your child doing the following:

  • Singing phrases or an entire song with accurate pitch
  • 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
  • Identifying (by sight or sound) common instruments

Want to know more? Check out this blog post with suggestions for fun music and child development 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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