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Supporting 3-year-olds musically

Updated: Aug 25, 2023

Musical Developmental Milestones of 3-year-olds:

•Sings along on certain phrases of familiar songs.

•Can establish and maintain a regular beat.

•Sings songs with repetitive words and sings in tune.

•Talks and sings during many activities.

•Is consistent in rhythmic responses and can accomplish sudden stops or ‘freezes.”

•Enjoys listening to recorded music and responding to or imitating the motions of others.

•Suggests words for songs or additional verses to songs.

•Is interested in rhythm instruments.

•Enjoys when grown-ups play with him or her and provide simple rhythmic patterns to imitate.

•Can learn simple finger plays.

•Claps in different tempos and at different levels when imitating an adult.

(Edwards, 2012)

3-year-old is such an adorable age. The 3-year-olds start to show their authentic selves, and are learning to be more and more independent in their activities of daily living. By now, they should be able to feed themselves, dress themselves with minimal assistance, some are beginning to use the potty by themselves.

In music, they should have a great understanding of simple elements of music e.g. melody, steady beats, dynamics, and tempo. Instead of teaching specific elements of music intentionally, I'd like to embed them in musical play, songs, and/or stories.

Below are some examples:

Introducing steady beat by modelling clapping or tapping laps to a familiar song, or have children play the steady beat of a song using different types of musical instruments of their choice. Let the child take control of the speed. Observe how the child is shaking the egg shaker, and match your singing to his/her steady beat! You will see much more success and synchrony that way. You may also sing with gross motor actions e.g. Stomping, jumping, walking, bear-walking, flapping wings...

You may introduce different dynamics in stories/ songs e.g. shouting "Little pigs, little pigs, let me in..." using a deep and loud voice when pretending to be the big bad wolf; shouting "wake up bunnies" in between the verses of the song "sleeping bunnies"; whispering "hush" when singing "hush little baby" while putting a teddy bear to sleep.

The 3-year-olds love "stop and go" games. Simply sing any song, and add a line at the end with anticipation saying "A-------N-------D STOP!" Then, wait for a good duration, then say "AND GO!". Increasing the speed of a traditional nursery rhyme brings in excitement. "Wind The Bobbin Up", "Row Your Boat" are great songs to adjust the speed as you wish. Songs that have contrasting speed within a song structure are often great too! E.g. "The Goldfish song" by the Laurie Berkner, "Sleeping Bunnies", "Dingle dangle scarecrow", "The Floor Is Lava" are some of my favourites. You may also introduce "fast and slow" using actions such as running VS creeping, or pretending to be animals of contrasting speed e.g. Donkey VS Tortoise with some beautiful exercepts from Camille Saint-Saëns' "The Carnival of the Animals".

To visualize "speed", you may want to add in some musical props such as the stretchy band, scarves, and/or the parachute.

3-year-old children love singing and they love it even more when you sing to them. Before a child is able to sing a note, he/she needs to hear a lot of singing. Leave out pauses or maybe even a whole line for your child to sing.

At this age, children also love to suggest words for songs spontaneously. Model creative changing of lyrics in familiar nursery rhymes, or leave out pauses in song for the child to fill up with their own musical creations. It can be vocalizations, and or silly words. Welcome all!

By now, they should begin to count up to 5. Support this development by singing a lot of songs that encourage counting upwards and backwards, using fingers and or actual props/ figurines to promote 1 to 1 correspondence.


Edwards, L. C. (2012). Music and movement: A way of life for the young child (7th Ed). New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.

(Edwards, 2012)

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