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The Benefits of Traditional Song by Christina Stewart

Why is singing good for children and what are the specific benefits associated with Gifting Every Child?

As part of TRACS' Gifting Every Child resource, Christina Stewart details the benefits of singing traditional Scottish songs from a young age onwards. The full resource can be viewed here.

The benefits for different age groups are different, but overlapping.

Some of the areas where we can see benefits include:

  • speech and language development,
  • motor skills,
  • social interaction,
  • confidence building,
  • focussed listening,
  • cultural awareness and
  • mood enhancement.

Speech and Language development

It is especially easy to see the benefits of song when children are coming into contact with a language which is not their first language, but it has benefits in all stages of language development.

Starting with the early stages, consider the basic building blocks of language.  Song uses language in a way that is different from normal, everyday speech.  Features which we see in song which aid speech and language development include repeating sounds – alliteration, assonance, rhyme, repeating words, phrases, lines – in a framework of rhythm supported by melody.  Song lyrics, particularly unfamiliar turns of phrase and non-standard-English usage such as Scots, offer enrichment of language, showing that there is more than one way to say something and expanding vocabulary and syntax awareness.  Action songs can be a good vehicle for introducing signed vocabulary, such as Makaton or BSL signs.

Motor Skills

Associating movement with song builds a connection between heard and felt rhythm.  This can start from birth.

With babies – appropriate movement can be rocking, being held while walking, swinging; with toddlers – dandling (a range of movements with the child seated on the adult’s knee or ankle, such as bouncing in time) and action songs and

with older children - action songs and singing games and connecting song and dance. 

This synchronicity of song and movement improves physical co-ordination and gross motor skills, and some action songs can support fine motor skills.

Social Interaction

There are different levels of social interaction from one-to-one, between singer and listener allowing for focussed listening, to singing within a group setting.  The concept Gifting Every Child promotes can create pathways for interaction – cross generational interaction and across the country, by considering a core repertoire which is shared with other age groups and in different areas of Scotland, either formally such as an audience taking part in community singing at an event, or informally such as with family members.

Children learning songs at school or in a community group can share these songs at home with siblings, parents and grandparents.  Traditional songs are particularly appropriate for sharing across the generations.

Singing with a group and sharing songs with different age groups helps build confidence.

Cultural awareness

A robust, living tradition is one which is embraced by our youngest citizens and shared with all ages.  The essence of tradition is that it is passed on through the generations, a carrying stream of ideas, language, music and more.  In today’s Scotland, there are many competitors informing our children’s culture. Traditional song is part of the foundation of what makes us Scottish and it is an easy introduction to non-English-language traditions of Scotland.  A core of songs, stories and dances specific to Scotland which every child growing up in this country should know is an essential starting point in ensuring children have the repertoire to participate in our traditional culture.

Mood Enhancement

As an aerobic activity, that is, one which increases oxygenation in the blood stream and exercises major muscle groups in the upper body, even when sitting, singing makes you feel better physically, which in turn enhances mood.  Participating in group singing is recognised as being good for mental health.  The act of singing necessitates regular, controlled breathing, with exhalation on the song phrases and inhalation between these.  The effect is comparable to yoga breathing.  This helps you relax, reducing stress.