The SALTMusic group

More About SALTmusic

SALTmusic is an exciting action research project funded by children’s music charity Youth Music, which aims to explore shared practice between speech and language therapy and early years’ music practitioners. Based at the Great Yarmouth Community Trust, it developed from informal conversations between practitioners visiting the same nursery settings, who realised that they shared common ground. They wanted to know more…. what might happen if they shared knowledge and practice? Might there be better outcomes for young children and their families in regards to wellbeing and involvement, social interaction, and expressive behaviour? How could this group of practitioners influence change in practice in a proactive way? These were questions that, in June 2016, culminated in SALTmusic.

The project consists of two Norfolk based teams coming together:

The Great Yarmouth Community Trust Arts Team, led by Charlotte Arculus, who has 30 years of experience working with young children, and who has been at the forefront of understanding links between funniness, communication and musicality.

East Coast Community Healthcare Speech and Language Team, a Community Interest Company which operates healthcare services in the community in Norfolk. It runs Speech and Language services across the county, taking referrals for children and young people who, for a variety of reasons, may have speech delay or problems with speaking.

Other community partners include Lab Media, Future projects, AYCORN and the Norfolk and Norwich Festival Bridge.

Leading the findings of the project is Jessica Pitt, PhD, Honorary Research Fellow at University of Roehampton. Jessica’s role in the project is to set and evaluate the action research data. She has presented early research findings from the project at The European Network of Music Educators and Researchers of Young Children’s (MERYC) conference at Cambridge University in June 2017. Our MERYC 2017 conference proceedings can be found via this link. The project has subsequently received an international following which has incredibly exciting implications for early years practice and understandings. At the end of the project, SALTmusic are excited to demonstrate how their work can be replicated both in the UK and elsewhere, following a summit day in summer 2018.


Why are we doing this?

In the UK, there is a very felt and prevalent issue of language delay in young children. An ICAN report in 2009 uncovered that in certain areas of England, around a staggering 50 percent of children starting school do not have a strong foundation in language skills.

To add considerable weight to this issue, there is also evidence to suggest that poverty and cognitive development have statistical associations. In Waldfogel and Washbrook’s extensive study (2010), children aged four to five with parents or carers in the lowest income band were around eleven months behind children in the middle income band in expressive vocabulary.

Not having solid foundations in language and expression can have a devastating impact on a child’s life chances. Early intervention is thus crucial for addressing this deficit in oral language skills, as this early skill set is the first building block that everybody needs in order to become both literate and numerate.

Our active research project responds to this by providing early intervention for young children aged between 24 to 36 months with communication difficulties and their families. Our project is located in areas of East England which are economically disadvantaged. We have done this so that we can better understand the ways in which our field can positively change the problematic relationship between poverty and cognitive development.

It has been suggested that one of the factors causing this economic marked difference in oral communication skills is parenting and the home environment. Our project therefore places an emphasis on parent or caregiver involvement in the sessions. By doing this, we hope to encourage more musicality and communicative behaviour within the home.

The other important aspect of our project is to build a community of practice. Blending speech and language therapy and early years’ music practice is a difficult but incredibly exciting and rewarding project to embark on. When setting up the project, we hoped that both areas of practice would deepen their knowledge of how to aid young children’s communication.

We ultimately want to create new models of practice, which is why a substantial amount of our work is experimental. We hope that it opens up a new type of space which will inform every level of our interrogation; from the creation of a data collection tool, to the use of cues in our sessions.

Hartshorne, M. (2009). The cost to the nation of children’s poor communication. I CAN talk series, Issue 2.

Waldfogel, J., & Washbrook, E. V. (2010). “Low income and early cognitive development in the UK”: A report for the Sutton Trust. London: Sutton Trust.



So how might music be helpful for speech and language?

Our project builds upon the idea that musical communication is the basis for our language development. Researchers have found that when parents interact with infants, they intuitively vary the tonal quality of their voice (Dunn and Kendrick, 1982). Other researchers have found that this is melodic communication which infants themselves join in with (Trevarthen and Malloch, 2000), suggesting that all babies are born with an innate musical ability, which forms the basis of language. Even musical components that we would not expect to find in language, such as building up to a climax with a subsequent release, have been found to appear in this interaction, which is a fascinating concept to respond to in our work (ibid).

Speech and music therefore share components, and particular ones are stressed in infant and caregiver interaction. We strongly believe that the skills required to understand language are inherently musical. There have been a number of studies which demonstrate a link between music and speech and language in infants and children. We want to build upon this knowledge through a project that carries out revolutionary new practices to see what can be implemented in this field in the future. It’s a very exciting time for us and for those in the field.

Dunn, J., & Kendrick, C. (1982). The speech of two-and three-year-olds to infant siblings:‘baby talk’and the context of communication. Journal of Child Language, 9(03), 579-595.

Trevarthen, C., and Malloch, S. (2000). The dance of well-being:defining the musical therapeutic effect. Nordic Journal of Music Therapy, 9(2), 3-17.