Music Development in Early Childhood: Infants and One-Year-Olds

Music Ed from Mr. Rob


Music Development in Early Childhood:

Infants and One-Year-Olds

This is your brain on music

At The Music Class, our passion is working with parents and caregivers to enable each child to achieve their full musical potential. Music development from birth to age 5 is a wonderful process to watch unfold if you know what to look for! This blog mini series details what to expect at each age level and developmental stage, starting with infants and one-year-olds. (Click here for 2&3, and here for 4&5!) This is based on extensive research plus our own observations since founding The Music Class in 1998. If you’re interested in delving into these topics, we recommend "Learning Sequences in Music: Skill, Content, and Patterns" by Edwin Gordon and "This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession" by Daniel Levitin.

Each child moves through these developmental stages at their own pace, but that pace is highly impacted by their musical environment! The best thing you can do for your child's music development is surround them with many different kinds of music and sing and dance together constantly during the first years of life. And, of course, taking classes at The Music Class will make the most of this critical development period!

Quick note: Pitch and rhythm are two separate skills that often develop at different rates. This is why they are shown in two different infographics below!

Music Development in Infants: Pitch

Music Development in Infants (Birth to 12 Months)

During the first months of life an infant’s brain is absorbing the sounds around them. By the end of that first year, the brain starts to prioritize, building greater sensitivity to familiar sounds and less ability to distinguish unfamiliar sounds. Based on phonetic perception and brain development research, regular exposure to a variety of musical sounds is critical during the first year of life.

You may observe infants:

  • Making eye contact when they hear music played or when being sung to
  • Moving arms and legs or rocking their 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 for the infant to create
  • Listening and paying attention to tonal and rhythm patterns even through they are not singing them back
Music Development in Infants: Rhythm

Music Development in One-Year-Olds

With emerging language skills, walking, and the ability to stay on task for longer periods of time, one-year-olds are physically much more engaged with music than infants. The pitch of their vocalizations now start to reflect the melodic contour of songs they are singing. We don’t expect one-year-olds to sing in tune, but their vocalizations will change from being monotone to include high and low notes. Rhythmically, one-year-olds will often dance and play instruments with a strong sense of beat, but that beat will usually be unrelated to the beat of music they are listening to.

In addition to the behaviors observed in infancy, you may observe one-year-olds: 

  • Echoing tonal and rhythm patterns with limited accuracy
  • Adjusting singing up and down to the melodic contour of the song, but not matching the actual notes
  • Changing the speed of their movements in response to the speed of the music – moving faster or slower to faster or slower tempos
  • Making steady repetitive body movements (clapping, tapping, dancing etc.) in response to music they are listening to, but not in sync with that music
  • Playing for an extended time with bells, egg shakers, rhythm sticks, and other props while listening to music. As with body movements, they may play with a steady beat, but that beat is usually not in sync with the music unless by chance
  • Vocalizing with anything from short babbles to entire phrases with lyrics
  • With growing language skills, one-year-olds may suggest activities and lyrics for songs when their teacher asks for substitution ideas. They may also indicate substitution ideas non-verbally, for example, if their teacher asks how they want to move they might start jumping, twirling, etc. 

Click here for the next post in this mini-series: what to expect of two and three-year-olds!

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