Early Years: Tune Into Listening

What is appropriate & inappropriate music to play to young children?

There is little guidance around active music listening in Early Childhood education and no guidance regarding what is appropriate or inappropriate music to play to young children in settings.

Song lyrics

Some music is obviously inappropriate such as music which contains swear words. It is however unclear which lyrics are ok to play and which are not. Nicola Burke has encountered very opposing views about this throughout her work in a range of Early Years settings.

Pop music is at times played in settings and on some occasions music which contains lyrics such as ‘sexy’ in them has been used. Is this appropriate to play to young children in settings?

Some people feel that this is highly inappropriate whereas others feel it is ok as the children are unlikely to understand the words. People in settings have said that children ‘probably hear these lyrics in music at home anyway.’ If children do hear these lyrics at home does that therefore mean that it is o.k. to play them in settings and where do we draw the line? 

We have discussed this at length throughout this research and we have found it very useful to discuss this together with all staff in the settings. 

As there are no set guidelines, it is for teachers and practitioners to decide if the content of music is ok. It may be useful for you to discuss this with staff in your settings and perhaps create some rules/guidelines which you can agree to.

When discussing lyrics, we have found it useful to ask ourselves the following question:

Would you read the lyrics of a song to children?

If the answer is no then perhaps the music is inappropriate. A teacher from Hillfields Nursery School shared a story that she had heard on the radio. The story was about a four year old: A child was saying (not singing) “the drugs don’t work, they just make you worse”. These are the lyrics from the song The Drugs Don’t Work by The Verve. This is not to suggest that this is wrong, this child may have heard this from another child, in a restaurant, in a shop or in many other places - we do not know. Is it ok if this music was heard and the words were learnt within an Early Years setting?


Should we play the radio in settings? The challenge around using the radio is that you are not in control of what happens - the radio presenter and the radio station are in control. Do some radio presenters use what you would consider inappropriate language for young children? You may feel that some stations are more suitable than others. If the radio is being used in settings – who is it being used for? Radios are often used in the foyers of Children’s Centres and this can be comforting and familiar for parents, the content is still however out of our control.

Music can be distressing

Music can be very emotive and there is more discussion around this within the Personal, Social and Emotional section of this resource. Children may become distressed by music – we found this on more than once occasion. If a child becomes distressed and other children are enjoying the listening experience can that child be sensitively taken to another area? If not then can you fade that music out and explore other music which would have a positive impact on all children? Music maybe appropriate for some children and not others – we need to be mindful of this when exposing young ears to music.


Within some cultures listening to music is not encouraged and can be prohibited. This is something that has been discussed with staff and parents throughout the project. During the project we did not encounter any parents objecting to their children listening to music. This is not to suggest that this does not happen and it maybe something that you need to address. Is there a strategy in place within your setting to address this if this does occur? If you do play music regularly and a parent is concerned about this can you sensitively discuss this with them in more detail? If the outcome is that they do not want their children exposed to music then there needs to a decision as to how this is dealt with.