RTRL.16: Adults’ Recognition of Young Children’s Musical Behaviors (Reese, 2013)
Reese, J. A. (2013). Adult identification of music behaviors demonstrated by young children. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, 198, 51-67.
What did the researcher want to know?
Do adults’ backgrounds affect their recognition of young children’s musical behaviors?
What did the researcher do?
Participants were 24 child development teachers (not music specialists), 24 early childhood music teachers, and 24 professional musicians (not early childhood music specialists). Reese showed each participant a video of adults interacting musically with young children (ages 5-15 months) and asked them to indicate every time they saw or heard a child demonstrating a behavior that made musical sense or that seemed intentionally musical. Such behaviors may have included looking responses, vocalizations, and movement.
What did the researcher find?
The early childhood music teachers identified significantly more music behaviors than did the child development teachers and the professional musicians. However, the professional musicians did not identify significantly more music behaviors than did the child development teachers. Furthermore, while all three groups tended to agree in recognizing beat-related movements as musical behaviors, vocalizations were less likely to be identified as musical behaviors by the professional musicians and child development teachers. Reese’s findings suggest it is not just musical expertise that enables a person to recognize young children’s musical behaviors but a greater awareness and understanding of how children develop musically and what “counts” as a musical response.
What does this mean for my classroom?
Young children’s language development is facilitated when adults interact with them in ways that recognize and extend their emerging language behaviors. Similarly, young children’s musical development is facilitated when adults interact with them in ways that recognize and extend their emerging musical behaviors. The more adept a person (such as a music teacher or parent/guardian) is at understanding and recognizing musical behaviors in young children, the more opportunities for musical interactions they will recognize and pursue, thus facilitating the child’s further musical development.
Similar to language babble, young children also exhibit “music babble,” in which they make musical sounds or movements that do not yet seem “correct” (e.g., in tune and in rhythm). However, this music babble is a sign that the child is responding to, exploring, and experimenting with music, which are necessary precursors to making music in a more traditionally recognizable way. Music teachers and parents/guardians should be alert for music babble and other musical behaviors and responses in young children and respond to them in ways that extend the music-making and thus further the child’s musical development.
Some examples of tonal babble (from my daughter!):
For more information on music babble and guiding musical development in young children:
- Check out Music Play (book with CD) by Valerio, Reynolds, Bolton, Taggart, and Gordon.
- Visit the website of the Gordon Institute for Music Learning (www.giml.org), particularly their page on early childhood music.