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Early Years Conference - 2nd and 3rd February 2011


Everyone a Music Maker Conference at the NCEM - 2 & 3 February 2011

Everyone a Music Maker Conference at the NCEM - 2 & 3 February 2011

Everyone a Music Maker Conference at the NCEM - 2 & 3 February 2011

Everyone a Music Maker Conference at the NCEM - 2 & 3 February 2011

Everyone a Music Maker Conference at the NCEM - 2 & 3 February 2011
Comments from delegates:

'There are always new things to learn - and its was a great opportunity to meet people with similar passions and outlooks' Joanna Bedford, Opera North

'I learnt a more scientific background to explain what I knew about babies /young children's development'
 Jacqui Duffield, Quackers Playgroup

'The conference was well structured, friendly and useful. Good networking too!' Julia Partington,The Sage, Gateshead

'Prof Gruhn was fascinating; also really enjoyed the practical resource and song session.Useful to observe others' practice with kids.' Nina Swann,Sound Connections

'There was such a variety of high quality speakers' Molly Newton, York Mini Musicians

'I would definitely recommend the conference to others to re-enforce and develop good practice, to network and to maintain the idea of the importance of live music making.' Chris Batram, York St John University

'The conference was very interesting to consolidate ideas, learn new songs/techniques and network' Emma Calvert, North Yorkshire County Music Services


Music making is a valuable part of all children's physical, social, intellectual and creative development. Are those who go on to reach a high standard, however, naturally 'gifted' or have they had the good fortune to be 'in the right place at the right time', developing a love, enthusiasm and aptitude for music through positive early experiences? 

The two-day conference, organised by the National Centre for Early Music and Music4U, took place at the NCEM on 2nd and 3rd February 2011. Entitled 'Everyone a Music Maker: Unlocking Musical Potential in the Very Young' the conference explored ways in which babies and young children learn to make music and considered effective ways of helping children learn musical concepts and develop musical skills.



Below are interviews with some of the delegates and attendees

Professor Wilfred Gruhn





Cathryn Dew





Chris Bartrum





Donna Smith





Heather Moger





Lucinda Geoghegan





Molly Newton





Thea Jacobs





Victoria Rawlins





Keynote Speech: Professor Wilfried Gruhn, 'The development of the musical mind in the very young'

The conference began with keynote address by Professor Wilfried Gruhn, from the Musikalische Hochschule in Freiburg, Germany. Professor Gruhn introduced delegates to his research into the brain development of babies and young children, demonstrating that babies are born with considerable musical awareness (such as a sense of pulse) and skills (such as the ability to imitate the sound of the carer's voice), suggesting that adults do not so much teach children to move in time to the pulse or match a pitch as help them maintain this ability as they grow and develop. If they have limited opportunities to use them, children can lose skills that they are born with. 

Professor Gruhn presented results of experiments showing that repetition of musical activities strengthens connections in the developing brain, but that the introduction of novelty in music stimulates interest in babies and young children, advocating musical experiences for young people that balance both these elements. He also demonstrated that there is a strong correlation between physical coordination and musical ability.

Delegates were particularly interested to learn that there is physiological and biological evidence to support many of the techniques used to introduce music making to babies and young children and they were encouraged to learn that these techniques can be scientifically shown to be effective.

Accessible technology in Early Years music making

Andrew Cleaton's presentation reported on All Aboard, a project using music technology in Early Years settings in the Humber Region. He discussed how he and his colleagues had designed and carried out the project, looking at some of the successes and challenges of using music technology in Early Years settings. All Aboard had taken place in 2006. Since then, technology has developed considerably. Mark Hildred of Apollo Creative demonstrated Apollo Ensemble - a range of music technology resources and software that convert movement into sound. Delegates were impressed by the wireless resources, which they could see as greatly expanding the possibilities of music technology in Early Years settings.

Cape UK - a toolkit for creativity in Early Years

Fleur Bremner and Madeleine Irwin from Cape UK gave a short presentation on some of their recent creative projects involving Early Years children. Of particular interest were the projects that involved both Early Years children and older primary school children working together. Their presentation heralded the launch of their forthcoming practical toolkit for creativity in Early Years.

Early Years Musical Resources - Sarah Carling's top ten

Sarah Carling, of Music for Starters, presented an interactive session introducing the ten musical resources she would not be without. These included:

  1. Giant scrunchie: this is excellent for making circles and for helping children to feel the pulse. There are many singing games that come alive with the aid of a scrunchie.
  2. Lycra: children are able to hold on around the edges of a large piece of lycra and move it up and down in time to the music. They can hide underneath it, and its stretchiness enables children to bounce toys on it in time to the pulse.
  3. Inside Music - Early Years: this is a new songbook published by the Voices Foundation. It contains a good number of songs for parents and carers to sing with babies and young children, and contains excellent ideas for group sessions as well.
  4. Finger puppets: children love holding finger puppets, interacting with them and making them dance.
  5. Bags: not only do they help keep things tidy, but they add an element of suspense as instruments and puppets 'come out of the bag'.
  6. Shaker, tapper, scraper: three instruments that explore the different ways we can make percussive sound.
  7. Large 'talking' puppet: shy children will often sing to a puppet before they will sing to an adult. It is good to have a puppet whose mouth can be moved, such as a bird with a large beak. This aids language development as well as encouraging singing.
  8. Rhythm sticks: small children have much more success playing rhythm sticks, as they can hold one in each hand and tap them together. They are relatively inexpensive, so it is possible to buy enough for a whole group.
  9. A really good drum: a drum that makes a good sound is a really useful resource. Sarah demonstrated one with a replaceable head and a good resonant sound.
  10. 'Floaty' chiffon scarves: children can wave scarves back and forth and let them float to the ground to learn about phrase and musical form. They are great for babies to hide behind for 'peekaboo' songs.

Conference dinner

As well as being treated to a delicious three-course meal and an excellent concert by Elena and Javier Jáuregui, delegates participated in an interactive session with Lucinda Geoghegan, who presented the ethos of the National Youth Choir of Scotland, which runs music groups for Early Years children across Scotland. Many of these children continue singing and become members of NYCoS' highly regarded children's and youth choirs.

Musical Building Blocks: foundations for a musical life

In order to develop as musicians, Early Years children need to build up and maintain a number of musical skills and understand different musical concepts. Cathryn Dew discussed the fact that, like maths and sports, music is a skill-based subject. We need to build one skill and/or concept on our ability and understanding of others. Cathryn explored the way in which these skills and concepts interlink, and looked at those we should endeavour to introduce to young people to give them the best possible musical start in life.

Demonstration session

Delegates were highly privileged to be joined by a group of Early Years children and their carers. Lucinda Geoghegan led a 30-minute music-making session for the children, which delegates watched via a video link. Delegates were able to see Lucinda putting her ideas into practice, and were delighted to watch the responses of the children, who had met Lucinda only for the second time.

Wigmore Hall Chamber Tots session

The children later joined the delegates in the main conference space and participated in a session run by John Webb, Elena Jáuregui and Javier Jáuregui from the Wigmore Hall Chamber Tots programme. Delegates discovered ways in which professional instrumentalists can introduce their music and instruments to Early Years Children, both by performing existing pieces and by improvising. The children had a chance to meet the musicians and look at the instruments after the session.

Early Years Songs: Sue Hollingworth's top ten

 'Community Musician of 2010', Sue Hollingworth, introduced her ten 'must have' songs for Early Years. These included:

  1. Little Johnny dances
  2. Five little monkeys sitting in a tree
  3. Doggie, Doggie, where's your bone?
  4. Naka, naka hoi
  5. Cross, cross, line, line
  6. Alice the camel
  7. Nee, naw, nee, naw (by Ruth McCartney)
  8. Oh you walk and you walk
  9. Snail, snail
  10. Magic Fingers

Sue then led a song-sharing session, during which a number of delegates contributed songs they used in Early Years settings. All the delegates very much enjoyed learning new songs from one another.


To view more conference pictures click here

View press release here

Full conference timetable here