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What is

Musical Play?

The Musical Play Philosophy

Developed over the space of 30 years by Julie Wylie, Musical Play is an evidence-based approach to early childhood music education and pediatric music therapy, which is strongly grounded in neuroscience, psychology, physiology, neurobiology, and sound music education principles.


At its core, Musical Play is a sophisticated term for expression, communication and loving interactive play. It involves listening, singing, saying, moving and playing together – at home, in the car, or anywhere.

The Musical Play philosophy shows us that music can be used to support child development; parent-child attachment; physical, emotional and mental growth and the development of community.

Musical Play nurtures a deep understanding of our own innate musicality, whether we are a newborn baby interacting with a new parent or a teacher reclaiming our "lost" musicality. We are all musical, and music is a profoundly human experience that impacts who we are and how we are in the world. 

The Components of Musical Play

  • The child is the musical leader - follow the child

  • All children can play and learn through music regardless of ability

  • Musical Play is interactive and largely improvised

  • Music needs to be nurtured from early childhood

  • Music is used to regulate and calm

  • Musical Play meets the child and parent where they are – emotionally and physically

  • Children's creativity is fostered through music 

  • Children's brains enjoy predictability, pattern and repetition - but also complex styles and genres

  • Music education blends with music therapy to create experiences that support whole child development

  • Music supports all areas of brain development

  • Space must be provided for musical responses 



It lovingly builds the bonds of relationship-based musical communication in the hearts of parents and their children.

Music is used to help calm and regulate systems, to match energy and emotional levels, to support both parent and child in relationship-based interaction, and to help participants use different elements of music in their own Musical Play – while also vastly expanding the exciting world of imagination and musical communication.

Musical Play is based upon the idea that everyone is born innately musical and that nurturing children's musicality and creativity is crucial for early brain development. 


Develops a sense of self and self-expression, as those involved learn to relate and communicate

For example, the parent naturally begins Musical Play by waiting, watching, listening and echoing the sounds that their baby gives to them – taking turns in a joint babbling game. This is an inherent form of Musical Play that helps develop a strong sense of togetherness and love in the early stages of parenthood and childhood.​ It is one of the earliest foundational building blocks of music development. 

Musical Play is largely improvised or based upon simple tunes that parents, teachers and professionals feel comfortable adapting for the moment. 


Rather than a pre-planned set of songs and activities, the baby or child is the leader – their musical offerings are the basis of the musical experience that occurs. THis often occurs naturally when parents feel confident following a child's lead, but often requires demonstrating to allow parents to see and hear musical offerings that are happening right in front of them.




Musical Play fine tunes children’s brains and minds to emotional, physical, social and intellectual learning.

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All children can develop their strengths and talents through Musical Play, as play gives meaning to everyday tasks and routines.


A nurturing and playful environment is important to the development of creativity, musicality and holistic learning.




Helping children to listen, anticipate, remember, and follow the beginning, middle and end of a sung instruction.


The Musical Play Toolbox


Musical Play places a strong emphasis on developing a toolbox of creative strategies for using music in everyday routines, as a valuable part of playful, positive parenting. 

We want parents, teachers and other professionals to feel confident in using music strategies to engage and celebrate children. Music is both a crucial component of free, creative play and a tool that we can embrace to engage children. 


Parents and caregivers learn music strategies for making daily routines at home simple, predictable and pleasurable. This enables them to gain confidence, and a sense of freedom and connection to their child, while reconnecting with their own musicality and nurturing the inherent musicality in the child.

Use of instructional songs helps children to modulate from one activity to another. These songs provide time for processing and a gentle transition from one task to another - even when it is met with resistance. When we listen, follow and validate the child through Musical Play, children begin to create their own songs, games and music activities – they take pride in being the leader and structuring their own world through Musical Play. 

Songs can take on as many verses as appropriate, allowing time for children's brains to process and respond in a way that spoken instructions sometimes struggle to achieve. Strategies that are drawn from the elements of music, such as modulating key, pitch, volume and rhythm engage the brain and allow parents to attempt to re-engage with a child or student who is struggling with paying attention to a direction. It also means that this direction can be provided in a way that remains playful and maintains crucial relationships.

Musical Play is about creating amazing humans, who have a deep sense of creativity and a lifelong love of music. It is a gift of music for life.

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How the Elements of Music are Used in Musical Play


Children learn about the elements of music, through discovering how and why music works in relation to their own brains and bodies. 


Using a child's developing sense of self to help foster their innate musicality allows children to deeply understand how music works, and how it fits into their life, their play, and their sense of themselves. 


From the youngest baby through to teachers who are rediscovering their musicality, we teach music in relation to ourselves so that it makes sense and becomes deeply understood. 

We want children to listen and respond to the elements of music in ways that demonstrate they have a deep understanding of them, rather than simply learning patterns. When we approach music education in this way, we use play and music interaction to support a child's innate musicality so that the elements of music are something that are playfully included in many different ways so that children's brains absorb and understand them in ways that are natural to young children. 

For example, singing children up the stairs using the 8 notes of the scale, in time to their movements and in a playful manner that allows them to be the leader. 

As they explore a range sensory musical experiences, Musical Play becomes a vital part of the child’s own form of expression and communication.


The simplest nursery rhyme contains many musical elements such as pulse/beat, timing, melody/tune, dynamics/loud and soft, pauses, phrasing, form/beginning, middle and end. As parents and children regularly share a repertoire of nursery rhymes and songs, this repertoire becomes a part of the child’s own musical expression and language.

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Further Reading

Links to articles by Julie Wylie, recommended readings and links to interesting websites

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Ideas for musical play in early childhood centres, homes and therapy settings are found here on our blog

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