How To Teach Music To 3 Year Olds

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Are you a parent looking for what you should do with your kids at home? 

Are you a music teacher wanting to start an early preschool music class? 

Preschool music and working with 3-year-olds was one of my favorite ages to teach. I don’t currently teach them, but I do miss them so. 

Still, if you’re a responsible parent or new-to-younger-ages music teacher you may be wondering how to teach music to 3 year olds. 

Teaching music to 3 year olds is a (mostly) relaxing process. The focus should be on creating a fun musical experience through the following types of activities: 

  • Singing
  • Movement/Dancing
  • Playing Simple Instruments
  • Practicing Steady Beat
  • Listening To A Variety Of Music
  • Musical Storytelling/Acting

Look ahead for a brief description of each element and an example of what they entail. 

Preschool Music Lesson Activities

In this section, I’ll describe the 6 elements of music kids should be doing when they’re 3 years old. I’ll also include a sample activity with each element. 

Singing

The first and most important part of music we work on with young kids is singing. We’re not trying to create opera singers or pop stars; we just want kids to feel comfortable making music with their voice. 

With this in mind, it’s important to sing a lot with your students or children. Whether you’re singing some folk songs every kid should know or just making things up, the most important thing to do is to make singing normal. 

This will develop their ears and connect the brain with their voice better as well. Creating songs about their day or things they like will also improve their reading and speaking skills as well. 

In fact, singing and doing nursery rhymes has been shown to have a positive impact on reading and fluency

Activity

Take the simple song, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Sing the song several times to your child or students while encouraging them to sing after a while. 

They don’t have to have it perfect, just make it a fun experience. 

Now, begin using the same melody or tune and change the words to describe what you’re doing during your day. 

For example: 

Instead of “Twinkle twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are?” 

Try “Walking walking ‘round the room. When I step, the sound goes boom!” 

Encourage the kids to create their own version of the song by describing what they like or what they’re doing. 

Movement/Dancing

Music and dance are connected on so many levels. For as long as there has been music, there has been dancing to go with it. 

Movement helps our bodies express the unspeakable feelings a song evokes. It also helps our brains develop the musical knowledge of expression. 

For littles, with such a limited linguistic vocabulary, they learn to express the music with a movement vocabulary. 

Activity

Turn on the song, Hungarian Dance No. 5 (video below). Invite students to paint the room with invisible paint brushes. 

Point out (through modeling, talking, and reinforcement) how certain sections slow the tempo way down. 

This activity allows students to react to the music and move how the elements tell them to. You’d be surprised how aware the young kids are with these ideas. 

This also makes a great musical scarf activity.

Playing Simple Instruments

Kids instruments are great tools for exploring how to create different sounds. Whether you’re reacting to the recorded music or singing along, instruments are a blast to play. 

If you don’t have any instruments on hand, get creative by asking children to play on objects around the room. 

Point out what the different sounds are and describe how they sound compared to one another. If you model the language used in describing how a pot sounds, your student’s vocabulary and aural awareness shoots up! 

Ask students to describe how the instrument sounds to them. 

Activity

Sing the song, Old MacDonald Had A Farm. Instead of doing animals, sing the name of the instrument or household object and play it instead. 

This will help with timing, singing, and timbre awareness. 

For example: 

Old MacDonald had a farm.

E-i-e-i-o!

And on that farm he had a drum.

E-i-e-i-o!

With a boom boom here! 

And a boom boom there! 

Here a boom! There a boom! 

Everywhere a boom boom! 

Old MacDonald had a farm. 

E-i-e-i-o!  

Practicing Steady Beat

Steady beat is essential understanding in music. People who aren’t keyed in to what the invisible pulse is in music will struggle with most music concepts their whole lives. 

Using an instrument or by moving and playing on your bodies is a must-have musical activity. Just make sure you also have a good understanding of feeling the beat before you teach it! 

Activity

Take a simple march by John Philip Sousa (I love the Pride of the Wolverines below). 

Ask kids to match you in creating different beat motions on their bodies. After a while (or on later listenings), have students create their own beat motions. 

Encourage students to listen and match the music as best they can. 

Listening To A Variety Of Music

Music is an aural art, and a huge part of musical improvement comes from listening. Paul McCartney (you know, of the Beatles and recognized as the number 2 songwriter of all time) once said he knew so much about music because he and his family listened to music critically all the time. 

Having music on in the background is good, but it’s better to isolate the music for music’s sake. With littles, music combined with movement or instruments is a great combination. 

Your child will also gain from watching different types of music in video form as long as the audio is focused on the music. 

Line riders like this one below or music from Fantasia would be good fits. 

Musical Storytelling/Acting

Kids learn by playing. It’s their way of organizing information and experiencing drama in a safe way. 

This is exactly why kids love stories! 

A big part of music for 3-year-olds should include musical storytelling. 

Musical storytelling comes in two forms: 

  • Singing tells the whole story (such as with the Crabfish or Little Bunny Foo Foo)
  • A story with songs in the story (such as with Mr. Stingyman or Abiyoyo)

This just provides another way for students to experience music. 

Activity

I’ll send you off in two places for an example of musical storytelling. First, check out my fun activities for Kindergarten post for a story called, “Johnny Works.” 

I love this song-story, and my kids do too. When I taught preschool regularly, this one was a popular one in the rotation. 

Second, check out the master storyteller and folk singer, Pete Seeger, tell his Abiyoyo story below. 

Favorite 3 Year Old Music Resources

Here are a few of my favorite 3 year old music resources you may want to check out. I’ve used all of these at some point, and each provides good resources for aspiring music teachers and caring parents. 

Commonly Asked Questions

Can you teach a 3 year old to play piano? – Yes, a 3 year old can learn piano. I usually recommend against this unless the child has shown a lot of interest in learning and you know a lesson instructor specializing in young students. 

There may be some other instruments your child would handle better. Check out the 11 best instruments for elementary students. 

What age should a child start piano lessons? – I suggest waiting until 2nd grade or whenever your student is able to sit and pay attention for up to 15 minutes at one time. 

What should I be teaching my three year old? – As we’ve mentioned above, your child should be practicing steady beat, singing, playing, and moving to music. 

What age should you start music lessons? – I’d recommend waiting until 2nd grade to start any music lessons. When you do start, guitar, piano, ukulele, and drums are good choices. 

Conclusion

I hope you find this short guide on how to teach music to 3 year olds helpful. If you’re a parent, the best thing to do is to sing, play, and listen with your child. 

For those parents or music teachers looking for a bit more structure and planning, these 6 types of preschool music activities will be more than enough. Again, the goal is to get kids singing, moving, playing, and listening to music. 

What do you like to do with your preschoolers? Jump down to the comments and let us know. 

Zach VanderGraaff

Zach VanderGraaff is a K-5 music teacher with Bay City Public Schools in Michigan. He's a Past-President of the Michigan Kodaly Educators and Executive Secretary of the Midwest Kodaly Music Educators Association.

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