Music, Speech and Language Development

How does music assist with the development of speech and language skills?

  • Music creates an engaging environment
  • Music enhances listening skills, perception, short-term memory, and attention
  • Music promotes eye contact, imitation, turn-taking, waiting, and responding
  • Music supports the development of language comprehension and articulation
  • Music supports regulation so listening and attending are easier
  • Music encourages active participation

And the good news?  You do not need to be a musician or a singer to reap the benefits of music as therapy! Even using a silly voice and acting out the lyrics is helpful in engaging your child and a way to get them to listen attentively and unknowingly engage them in speech and language exercises.


  • makes listening easier
  • makes learning and remembering new words easier
  • teaches phonological awareness

Phonological awareness is consistently the pre-reading ability most strongly related to success in reading. Interestingly, a study found that when a child knows eight or more nursery rhymes by heart, at the age of 4, that they are usually one of the best at reading and spelling in their class by the age of 8.

Opposite concepts:

  • such as in/out, on/off, fast/slow, stop/go, up/down, and loud/quiet can be taught through instrument play.
  • consider using drums, maracas, tambourines, or rhythm sticks as they are easier instruments to play.
  • giving visual and verbal cues to teach these concepts will help your child understand them at a faster rate.
  • repetition is also useful in reinforcing the words and concepts on a frequent basis.

Listening and waiting for skills:

  • Using anticipation in songs can act as a communication temptation. This involves setting up opportunities for your child to communicate, then waiting for them to request, deny, make a choice, or comment.
  • Creating anticipation involves stopping and starting in the middle of songs, or leaving a space at the ends of phrases for your child to fill-in lyrics.

For example:

In ‘Old McDondald’- If a child knows the phrase, “E-I-E-I- ” try leaving a pause to encourage their own vocalization for “O.” This can be great for specific target speech sounds too. Always pause when the song approaches a specific sound to let the child fill it in.

  • When learning a new song, a child generally picks up on the repeating parts first. For example, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” or “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” your child will identify with the twinkle twinkle” or “row row” phrases first. The repetitive nature of these fun songs helps children learn words, specific sounds and basic parts of speech.
  • Putting words to music breaks them down into syllables, emphasises key consonants and slows down the sounds of speech. The more the songs are repeated, they gain a better understanding and build predictability. Try to sing one of these songs, then pause while your child fills in the next word.


The following five songs build momentum and anticipation by purposefully including elements of surprise or novelty in order to create natural opportunities for your child to want to fill in a word or sound in order to continue the song/activity.

  • 5 Little Speckled Frogs
  • Humpty Dumpty
  • 5 Cheeky Monkeys
  • Der Galumph


  • Progressively increase your voice volume and pitch up to the point where you want your child to fill in a word or sound such as “Ready, Set…… GO!” Or “and……….. STOP!”
  • Place your hands (or puppet) in front of your child, approaching to tickle but waiting for child’s verbal initiation in order to follow through.
  • Incorporate activities with high sensory appeal such as bouncing, jumping, bubbles, use of scarves, etc…then stop activity and wait for child’s verbal initiation to continue.
  • Utilize activities the child finds funny such as making silly faces, moving toy animals in funny ways or engaging in funny dance moves. Create a ‘stop’ and ‘go’ theme to these activities to incite your child’s desire to use communication in order to continue.

Teaching Verbs

A really fun and engaging way to teach verbs is through music and movement songs. Get up and dance with your child to songs with actions such as ‘Shake your Sillies Out’, ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It’, ‘Rock-a-Bye Bear’, ‘Sleeping Bunnies’ etc. Start by modelling the actions to build receptive language then delight when your child starts doing the actions independently (after lots of repitition).

Using Visuals

  • Songs and nursery rhymes provide great opportunities to use visual prompts and cues like hand motions or gestures along with the lyrics to help reinforce concepts, like counting, for example.
  • Pair a visual with keywords or phrases. This can be a toy, a gesture or a picture. For example, when choosing animals during ‘Old McDonald’ try to use a set of farm animals. This reference will help your child learn what the song and words are about. It also helps them to engage if they are not verbal.

If you still feel like you need some guidance around how to use music to enhance your child’s speech Therapy and language development then contact our Gold Coast Music Therapists or join a Music with Monica group near you.


Coastal Music Therapy. 2022. SONGS FOR PRE-VERBAL & EMERGING VERBAL LEARNERS. [ebook] Available at: <SONGS FOR PRE-VERBAL & EMERGING VERBAL LEARNERS> [Accessed 17 August 2022].

Communication and Language Development of Young Children With Autism: A Review of Research in Music Potheini Vaiouli, PhD1 and Georgia Andreou, PhD

F, H. (2013). Making Music a Meaningful Part of Speech Therapy – Incorporating Song and Instruments for Language Learning. Retrieved 17 August 2022, from

Holck, U. (2004). Turn-Taking in Music Therapy with Children with Communication Disorders Article in British Journal of Music Therapy. British Journal of Music Therapy.

Using Singing and Movement to Teach Pre-reading Skills and Word Reading to Kindergarten Children: An Exploratory Study PATRICK D. WALTON

Gross W, Linden U, Ostermann T. Effects of music therapy in the treatment of children with delayed speech development – results of a pilot study. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2010 Jul 21;10:39. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-10-39. PMID: 20663139; PMCID: PMC2921108.

By Kate Robinson, RMT