Adopting a Musical Approach

Hello! I’m Cat, and I’m a singer, musician, and psychologist. I’ve set up this project because I want to help children who have had a difficult start in life, particularly those who have been fostered or adopted.

TL;DR - I'm going to be writing a set of songs designed to tap in to our innate musicality, with the aim of filling in some developmental gaps for children who have had a difficult start in life.  I’ve raised just under £3000 through Kickstarter but have opened this page as people have told me they would still like to donate! If you’re interested in pre-ordering the CD, skip to the bottom for price guidelines and the various rewards that are on offer :)


I’ve spent about the last seven years or so using music to help children and adults with Special Educational Needs, disabilities, and mental health issues - working on things like communication skills, pre-verbal language skills, self-confidence, and teamwork.

Nearly three years ago our son Tickle came to live with us. (He’s not really called Tickle, obviously, but that’s what I call him on the internet.) Tickle has had a tough start to life, and my husband and I noticed quite early on how much singing seemed to help him to cope with things. In the early days when Tickle came home we sang pretty much *all* the time - often the only way we could get anything done during the day was to make up a song about it (“Can you put your socks on, socks on, socks on...”). We sing together a lot as a family, and if Tickle is feeling anxious or is dysregulated, singing can sometimes really help him to stay calm and in the moment. Over time I’ve become fascinated with finding ways to use music to help Tickle and other children like him.


I'm really interested in how music is an ingrained part of our experience as humans, and recently I was reading about a thing called Infant-Directed Speech, which is the type of ‘sing-song’ speech that parents often use when they are talking to babies. Psychologists have found that the musical patterns used in this sort of speech are actually fairly consistent across different cultures, which suggests that there are certain musical patterns which are innate to us as humans, ingrained in our brains and bodies. 

As I started to read more about the subject I found other musical research studies that were equally as fascinating - for example one study showed that when an adult moved to a musical rhythm in time with a child, the child was more likely to behave in a helpful way towards that adult, compared to when an adult had moved out of rhythm with the child. The more I read about it, the more I realised that so much of the early communication we do with babies and young children is inherently musical, or has a musical basis. Psychologists Stephen Malloch and Colwyn Trevarthen called this ‘communicative musicality’, and have written a huge number of papers on the subject, which I am attempting to work my way through at the moment.


Then I started to think - what about the children who haven’t had such a good start in life, for whatever reason? Would it be possible to take these intuitive, instinctive musical patterns and rhythms and incorporate them in to new music? Or more specifically, could I create songs that could help children like Tickle have some of the early musical/communicative experiences that he may have missed out on, and what could that do for his communication, his learning, and our relationship? Music can often seem to provide a shortcut to areas of the brain we can’t otherwise reach; just think of the response of dementia patients to a familiar song (there’s tons of this stuff on YouTube if you’ve not seen anything before). As adopters we are taught that we will have to ‘fill in the gaps’ in our children’s development, so to my mind it follows that music could just be the perfect tool for doing that.


One place that we’re already likely to find these musical/communicative patterns are in the nursery rhymes and songs that we traditionally sing to babies and young children. However, many of the adopted children who may benefit from this sort of input will be getting a bit old to be interested in nursery rhymes. With this project I want to create a collection of songs for children who are a bit older, but who still need that therapeutic nurturing input, and I want to do it using everything I know (and plenty of things I am yet to discover) about the way humans instinctively use music with our children. The songs will be fun and catchy, will tap in to those early musical experiences that our children will have missed out on, and above all, be relevant and age-appropriate. I’m aiming for children up to the age of ten, but of course it will depend on the individual child; Tickle, for example, is still very much in to his nursery rhymes even though he’s nearly nine!


Now, I’m glad you asked that. I’m a professional musician, so the only way that I earn money for my family is through my music. I want to give this project the time and care it deserves - so I will be spending a lot of time researching the musical building blocks for the songs, reading the research papers about early communication and musicality, and pulling together all the different aspects that I can use in the songs.

Also, it’s not just me working on this - I will need to pay a sound engineer and producer, studio and equipment hire, someone to record and edit the videos, the actual printing of the CD, artwork design, venue hire so I can share the songs with you all... it soon adds up!

I am hoping I can fund the majority of this project from the Arts Council, and I’m writing a grant application at the moment, and I've already received some seed funding from the Folk Camps Society Development Fund. I’ve raised just over £3000 through Kickstarter, and have copied the project over to here so that people can keep donating if they want. Raising some additional funds through crowdfunding will help show the Arts Council that people are interested in my project, and supports my case for funding. Also the extra funds will make all the difference in enabling me to create a high quality recording, and to bring the songs to a wider audience.


I’m going to make a professional recording of the songs, which will be released as a CD and digital download. I’ll be working with my friend and colleague Pete Ord, who is a fantastic music producer and sound engineer, and he’s going to help me add all the finishing touches that will make the songs sound awesome.

After we’ve recorded them I’m going to choose three and make music videos (or maybe more than three, if the Kickstarter goes well!) which I can share on social media. If you fancy starring in a video or singing on the recording then check out the rewards!

After all the recording is complete, Pete and I will be touring the country, performing interactive concerts/workshops where we can share the songs with you, play some games, and give you some tips on how to get the best out of the music. Pete is also an expert in using music with special needs, and between us we put on a good show! I’d like to visit areas of the country where there are groups of adopters who are all interested in the project, so if you’ve got a suggestion of where we can come to perform then let me know!


I have been working as a community musician for over ten years, in which time I’ve had to compose a lot of music - for adult choirs, for children, for instruments, just for fun, and because someone has asked me to. One of my commissions was from Oxford’s Christmas Light Festival, where I wrote the finale song for their ‘Day of Song’ celebration concert, which was performed by 300 adults and children to close the festival. (See here for a video: More recently I was commissioned by the Bodleian Library to compose music for some of the old broadside ballads in their archives, to help them bring their collections to new audiences, and as I write this I’m about to go in to my daughter’s school to help the Year 6s practice the leaving songs that we’ve written together. Over the years I have carried out a number of projects, receiving funding from the Arts Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund, as well as other local and national funders.


I’m going to be talking to a lot of adopters (if you want to join in the conversation catch me on Twitter @folkycat) about the sorts of songs they think are useful and relevant for their children. This can be from the types of things they already sing with them (lullabies, singing games, transition songs etc) to topics that their children have difficulty with and which a song might be able to help with (e.g. dealing with emotions, growing up, going to school, feelings safe). I want this to be a record that people will use again and again, so I need to find out what you want! Would you prefer songs and games you can do together with your child, or would you rather stick on a CD to listen to in the car? 

Take a look at the rewards I’ve set out, and if you are able to please do consider backing the project. Also, do share it with your friends and family - although it’s aimed at adopters music isn’t exclusive, so whatever the end product looks like it will be suitable for all children to enjoy.

And finally, connect with me on twitter or facebook, and tell me what you think! I’m looking forward to chatting with you :)



To claim a reward, please leave me a note with your donation. You can donate any amount for any reward, as long as it meets the minimum donation for the reward you have chosen.

Rewards currently available:

1 copy of the CD - minimum £13 including postage

Your name in the CD sleevenotes + 1 copy of the CD - minimum £16 including postage

2 or more copies of the CD -  minimum £21 including postage

Join my production team! (Listen to early versions of the songs and offer feedback, help select songs that go on the final CD.) Plus a signed copy of the CD with your name in the sleevenotes - minimum £36 including postage

A personalised video message for you or a person of your choosing, followed by a live performance of a song of your choice (from the CD). Plus join my production team, signed copy of the CD with your name in the sleevenotes - minimum £46 including postage

A live performance of your favourite songs from the CD via Skype! Plus join my production team, signed copy of the CD with your name in the sleevenotes - minimum £56 including postage

Private House Concert, in your own home with friends and family. Plus join my production team, two signed copies of the CD with your name in the sleevenotes - minimum £250 and I will hand deliver your CDs!


  • Anonymous 
    • £50 
    • 6 mos
  • Jadwiga Leigh 
    • £20 
    • 13 mos
  • Amy Bertaut 
    • £10 
    • 13 mos
  • Kickstarter campaign 
    • £2,962 (Offline)
    • 13 mos


Cat McGill 
South East England, United Kingdom
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