Music + Play = Recipe to Override Developmental Delays

This weekend I attended a conference entitled “Considering Musical Dimensions in Relationship-Based Work” at Molloy College. All of what was presented there was relevant to all of my work and very timely for this portion of my blog on play, particularly the evidence presented by non-musical clinical developmental psychologist Dr. Gerry Costa from Montclair  University. In the presentation, he said, “the musicality of the infant-parent relationship and the foundational experiences needed for mental health and peaceful societies.”

Stanley Greenspan stated, “affect is the orchestra leader of all developmental areas.” What comprises affect? How do infants learn about the world? Infants learn about the world in relationship, through the back and forth between mother and child. The example Dr. Costa gave was called the “jack-in-the-box effect”. How does the infant learn? Mom winds up the box as it plays the “Pop Goes the Weasel” tune until the jack pops up. The baby looks at the jack, then looks at mom with surprise. The infant watches Mom smile, Mom’s eyes enlarging with excitement and playfulness, and hears the soothing inflection and tone of Mom’s voice as she reiterates pleasant surprising fun in her words and tone. The baby then reflects Mom’s affect with similar facial expression, realizes that this is fun, then giggles as the game is repeated. How did this baby learn this was fun and pleasant? He saw Mom’s expression on her face (visual timbre). He/she heard the pleasant, smooth tone of Mom’s voice and the pitch direction it took with surprise and joy. He/she heard the dynamic of pleasing surprise and the softening tone as the pleasant expression leveled off to try again.

This learning all happened in reciprocity, the back ad forth flow of Mom watching baby’s eyes, baby watching Mom’s reaction. Baby then replying in a similar, complimentary manner. The safety and permanence of this came through repetition of the game. The baby did not learn this by watching a prepared movie of her reflection, nor listening to a CD version of it either. The screen nor the recording can completely and accurately preconceive nor time the baby’s reaction of responses. The baby is more securely attached because of its sensitivity to its mother’s affective gestural and intonation responses. The baby’s brain becomes more efficiently organized due to its secure attachment and Mom’s timely responses based on the baby’s reactions.

In Music Therapy, “the ability to interact without preparation or a script with another aids in helping to solve societal issues, global issues, make the unattractive beautiful and sought after, and turn the uninteresting into something intriguing and thought-provoking” ( “To take part and engage” ( “The structure of the predictable repeated tune (game) holds his attention…”(  “On first appearances, structure and play often seem contrary to one another. However when they work together in partnership, they can foster some of our most healthy, innovative and creative moments… Time, repetition and continuity have provided safety and security.” (  “Full participation took only moments. When it was apparent that whatever each individual gave was OK, organization and softened attitude quickly appeared. ( (see previous articles for supporting examples)

Antoinette Morrison MT-BC

One Comment



I love what you say about extinguishing the spirit – excellent point. I agree with you. I think even many healthy adults miss half of what is going on by not paying attention to the more subtle elements of communication whether relating to another adult or child. I notice kids are much more in tune than us adults in my opinion. One positive note on the use of the computer screen – if carefully monitored, it can sometimes be an aide to shy kids whose spirit is easily crushed. As my husband and I slowly allowed our teenage sons to venture into social media, I watched the shier one test the waters first on social media before actually putting himself out there. He took his minor risks that we all take in relating on the computer screen only through words (his forte). He did not have to risk glances of disapproval or sarcasm and although this period lasted for just a little while, it did seem to ease his reluctance in taking those risks face to face. Most cases aren’t like this however.


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