In our Kindermusik classes, we often enjoy active listening and vocal play.   Truly listening and attempting to match what is heard is an incredibly important skill for a musician, with the voice, with the body and with an instrument. On top of that skill, the next step is to connect that particular sound or movement with a cue.

For example, a violin player first learns to hear a pitch on a violin and be able to play the exact pitch on the violin. The ability to truly hear and replicate that sound is a skill that most people need practice to develop. The cue for this sound is recognizing it as a particular pitch, such as B flat, and recognizing that cue on the staff.

Learning to use our ears, eyes, brains, and bodies to listen perceptively is a skill that must be practiced and honed throughout our lifetime. We need to offer children abundant opportunities to listen to a wide variety of both musical and environmental sounds in order to develop their listening skills. When we ask children questions about what they hear, we help them focus their attention on and practice important skills, such as auditory awareness (What did you hear?), auditory discrimination (Did you hear the drum in the music?), auditory sequencing (What did you hear first?), and logical, responsive action (What do you think you will hear next?).

With young children, this kind of skill is first developed through fun vocal play, like learning to make animal sounds;  first listening carefully to the sound,  then copying the sound of the animal, then to make the sound of the animal when we see the animal or hear it’s name.

In our Beach Days classes for families, we are having fun making the sounds of seagulls, dolphins, wind and waves, and even motor boats…  and more.

With our Drums, Drums, Drums class in Lakeland, FL, this summer with the 4 – 6 year olds, we are actively developing and using this discriminatory listening and copying skills through a variety of methods, including a fun parrot song.  Just like with a parrot, a word or phrase is said or sung, and the students repeat what they hear – in a parrot tone of voice, of course.  We will be using drums to do similar activities, AND we are also beginning to connect with cues such as rhythm symbols so we can read and write music.  In our babies class this summer, we sing a song that helps us focus on what we HEAR when we are outside, in our Big Back Yard, which may be animals, or other fun things like lawn mowers or fire trucks. It seems like we are just having fun listening to and copying these sounds, but the benefits are numberous. Besides developing the ability to tune into specific sounds around us, it is a great workout for our mouth muscles, AND starts making connections, building a foundation for language in the brain.

This African grey parrot, Einstein, from the Knoxville Zoo shows us how complex and fun Vocal Play can be once we start using connections.   Notice the cues that are given to illicit certain sounds.  This kind of vocal play can be such an excellent activity with your child that will help develop these important skills.  Although with children, don’t expect such cooperation in performing for other people.  Try to keep it a fun game between you and your child.  If they want to share it, they will.


Have fun with your child paying attention to the sounds around you, actively listening and imitating these real sounds, and making connections with cues to initiate these sounds.

When my children were young and starting to copy what they heard, it was important for me to help him to learn good manners, so we worked on Please, Thank You, Excuse me, etc., and worked hard to connect cues to know when to say these words.  Same skill.

What kind of vocal play do you enjoy with your child ?   How do you use it to teach good life skills?