Early Years: Tune Into Listening

Tastes & Preferences

We explored...

  • What music children liked to listen to both at home and in settings.
  • Talking to parents to find out what they and their children like to listen to.
  • Sending questionnaires to parents to find out what they and their children like to listen to.

We found...

  • Children listened to a wide range of styles of music at home including:
Traditional Bilen music Jazz Music Children's Music
English Music Pop Music Cartoon Music
Religious Music Gospel Music Variety of music on tube - influenced from older


Frozen Chart Music Music on MTV
Somalian Music Music from Sudan Catholic prayer hymns

Kurdish Music

Rock Music

Indian Music

Christian Music

African Music

Contemporary Music (R and B, Pop)

Nursery Rhymes

Bollywood Music


Punk Rock

Theme Tunes



Indie Music

Disney Music


Country & Western


We invited parents to bring in music from home to share and on the occasions that this did happen the listening experience for the children was very meaningful; they enjoyed sharing their music with their friends and staff and this was a positive experience. Sharing music can be powerful and could perhaps help to settle children into settings – using music from home to provide security. We also found that parents were pleased to hear their music played and this provided a positive experience for them too. Inviting parents/carers to share their music from home demonstrates an interest in families and their home life. 

When Nicola Burke conducted her research in 2013 the findings were that there was a very limited amount of styles played to children in settings. The list above demonstrates that children are listening to a variety of styles of music at home – if we play a limited amount of styles we are not allowing for rich listening experiences that are diverse in style. When well-known musicians are interviewed, interviewers will often ask which musicians and music influenced their own music making and composing - have you ever heard a musician unable to answer? The young musicians of today who are currently attending Early Years settings are often being exposed to a very small range of styles of music. It is currently unknown what influence this has on their musical tastes, preferences and music that they create now and in the future.


LeBlanc (1982) produced a model which identified sources of variation in music preference. He suggests that peer groups, family, educators, maturation, the media and the quality of the performance through which music is heard all have an influence on the musical preferences of the listener. When discussing the influence of family on musical preferences he suggests that ‘most musicians would affirm the power of this influence at least through early childhood’. He suggests that family influence dominates musical influences during the early years; this theory however, was produced in 1982. There has since been a huge rise in the number of children attending Early Years settings. It therefore may be possible that the music played within a setting may replace the influence of the family depending of course on the amount that a child attends a setting and the amount that music is played.

‘Open-earedness’, is a term which Hargreaves (1982) created in his study involving one hundred and twenty six children ranging in age from seven to fifteen. He predicted that younger children maybe more ‘open-eared’ to forms of music regarded by adults as unconventional. Perhaps the Early Years provide a favourable opportunity to teach music listening?

The influence of media and perhaps Early Childhood education may play a major role in young children’s musical development, preferences and identity. 

Hargreaves, Marshall and North (2003) point out that there is a distinction between ‘music at school’ and ‘music at home’ and this is much more so for secondary than for primary school pupils. There has yet to be a vast amount of research within Early Childhood on this subject matter; it appears from Burke’s initial research (2013) and this current research that there is generally speaking a distinction between ‘music at home’ and ‘music in settings.’

Amie spent some time working with a child aged four to find out what music he liked:

As you can see from Amie’s journal she felt that this was a big step forward into finding out more about the young boy. Finding out about children’s musical preferences will demonstrate to children that you are interested in them and what they like ––we often do this with other areas but not necessarily music.

As mentioned in the Listening section of this resource we have found familiarity can be key into children ‘tuning’ into music and sometimes it was almost like ‘unlocking their ears’. By drawing upon children’s preferences we may then able to expose them to a wider range of styles of music and encourage them to actively listen.

Disney's Frozen

Throughout this research Disney’s Frozen Soundtrack has been played and discussed at length. For many young children today it is an important and familiar soundtrack.

Ongoing questions have been:

• How many times should we allow children to play the Frozen soundtrack and sing along to during any given session/day?
• Is listening to music for lengthy periods of time the same as allowing children to draw for lengthy periods of time?
• Does listening to familiar music encourage children to sing, move, play instruments or be involved in role play? 
• What do we want children to get from listening to music?

We felt that the answers to the above questions could not be fixed and they would depend on many aspects such as:

• Who is the child(ren) asking for it to be played and is this something they regularly ask for?
• What else has happened during that session/day?
• Why do we think they are asking for it to be played?
• Is music supporting children emotionally?
• Is music helping to settle into the setting? 
• Is music helping children form relationships with other children? 
• Could music be played without impairing other learning that is taking place?

The questions above were asked in relation to Frozen as it is prevalent today, the above questions can be used of course when discussing other pieces of music. Perhaps it is worth applying them to music that you currently play regularly in your setting.


• Burke, N. (2013). The Use of Recorded Music in Early Childhood Settings. MA, Birmingham City University.
• Hargreaves, D.J., (1982). The Development of aesthetic reactions to music. Psychology of Music, Special Issue. pp.51-54.
• Hargreaves, D.J., Marshall, N.A., & North, A.C., (2003). Music education in the twenty first century: a psychological perspective. British Journal of Music Education, 20, (2), pp.147-163.
• LeBlanc, A., (1982). An Interactive Theory of Music Preference. Journal of Music Therapy, 19, (1), pp.28-45.