by Lili M. Levinowitz
M. Levinowitz is a professor of music education at Rowan University of New Jersey,
Printed with permission from: General Music Today, published by Music Educators
National Conference, Fall 1998.
media's popularization of findings from studies indicating a causal link between
music training and spatial reasoning in young children (Rauscher et al. 1993,
1997) has caught the attention of many and spurred interest in the inclusion
of music in early childhood education. Curriculum models that substantiate this
point of view are credible; however, music educators need to remind decision
makers about other valid reasons for teaching music in the early childhood curriculum.
The purpose of this article is to survey some of the work in music education
that validates the inclusion of music for its own sake in models for early childhood
Music is a way
of knowing. According to Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner (1983), music
intelligence is equal in importance to logical - mathematical intelligence,
linguistic intelligence, spatial intelligence, bodily - kinesthetic intelligence,
interpersonal intelligence, and intrapersonal intelligence. According to Thomas
Armstrong (1994,5), "Intelligence is galvanized by participation in some
kind of culturally valued activity and that the individual's growth in such
an activity follows a developmental pattern; each activity has its own time
arising in early childhood."
Making music is as much a basic life skill as walking or talking. Peery and
Peery (1987) suggest that it is desirable for children to be exposed to, trained
in, And enculturated with music for its own sake. That is, it is a birthright
for all people to be able to sing in tune and march to a beat (Levinowitz
and Guilmartin, 1989, 1992, 1996). To ensure a comprehensive learning experience,
music must be included in early childhood. Practically speaking, the argument
that music education is a frill finds no objective support.
The importance of music instruction for music development during the early
years of childhood has been widely investigated since World War II. The Pillsbury
studies (1937 - 1958) (Moorhead and Pond, 1977) provided the first glimpse
into preschool children's musical lives and informed us about the nature of
their spontaneous music behavior. Characteristic music performances of young
children provide a window through which music psychologists and educators
can understand the sequence of the child's developing music skills.
Generally, we have learned that children from birth to approximately age six
do not express music like adults. Early childhood, a period of rapid change
and development, is the most critical period in a child's musical growth and
has been identified in the literature as the "music babble" stage
(Moog, 1976; Gordon, 1988) or primary music development (Levinowitz and Guilmartin,
1989, 1992, 1996). Even the youngest infant is wired to receive music and discriminate
among differences in frequency, melody, and stimuli (Bridger, 1961; Trehum et
al, 1990; Standley and Madsen, 1990; Zentner and Kagan, 1996).
The years from birth through age six are critical for learning how to unscramble
the aural images of music and to develop mental representations for organizing
the music of the culture (Holahan, 1987; Davidson, 1985). This process is similar
to that which unfolds for language during the "language babble" stage.
The body of knowledge acquired through research thus far supports the notion
that, like language development, young children develop musically through a
predictable sequence to basic music competence, which includes singing in tune
and marching to a beat (Levinowitz and Guilmartin, 1989, 1992, 1996). Consider
this analogy; in cable television, visual images are readily available for any
channel; however, to see them you need a cable box to unscramble the images.
During primary music development, children create a "box" or mental
representation to unscramble the aural images of music. This multifaceted, complex
mental representation is known is "audiation". Audiation is paramount
in importance because it is basic to all types of musical thinking. Without
audiation, no musical growth can take place.
Early childhood is also the time when children learn about their world primarily
through the magical process of play. The substance of play in very young children
is usually comprised of the environmental objects and experiences to which they
have been exposed. If the music environment is sufficiently rich, there will
be a continuous and ever richer spiral of exposure to new musical elements followed
by the child's playful experimentation with these elements.
Edwin Gordon has identified early childhood as the period of developmental music
aptitude (1988). During these years, music potential or aptitude, which is based
on the complex construct of audiation, is in a state of change. Because of this
state of change, the child's musical aptitude is vulnerable to positive or negative
influences through both instruction and environment. Without sufficient stimulation
and exposure, a child has little with which to experiment and learn through
his or her musical play. The most typical negative influence on developmental
music aptitude is simply neglect. Hence, the inborn potential for musical growth
may actually atrophy.
Just as all children are born with the potential to learn to speak and understand
their native language, all children are born with the potential to learn to
perform and understand their culture's music. When a child has developed a mental
representation of his or her culture's music, the inner reality (audiation)
should enable the outer performance to be more accurate. By first grade, many
children develop the ability to perform the music of their culture with accuracy.
However, many children do not.
Understanding and Performance
The research conducted by Geringer (1983) and Apfelsradt 1984) suggests that
understanding the culture's music and the ability to perform accurately are
not necessarily related. Being able to perform music accurately may be attributed
to two factors. The first is audiation, which involves acquisition of sound
and the processing of it. The other is the performer's technical acquaintance
with his or her singing and movement "instruments," which are largely
kinesthetic (Weikart, 1987; Bertaux, 1989). Therefore, in addition to developing
the mental representation or audiation of music, the early childhood years are
also critical for developing the ability to engage in music through singing
Our profession has frequently studied vocal development. From that work, we
have come to understand that using the singing voice is a learned, complex skill
(Phillips, 1992). To be developed properly, it must begin in the early childhood
years. If singing is not properly developed, the ability to perform music vocally
will not coincide with the ability to think tonally. The vocal range is remarkably
wide from birth. Infants can imitate and experiment with their vocal instruments:
and even match pitch as early as three to four months of age. Purposeful singing
can begin at around twelve months. At this time, adults can recognize snippets
of songs to which youngsters have been exposed. Through continued exposure to
spoken chant, songs, and vocal play, young children can develop the use of their
singing voices during the remaining early childhood years.
If the environment has supported vocal development, most children will enter
kindergarten with some use of their singing voices. Unfortunately, a recent
study (Levinowitz et al. 1998) shows a decrease in students' skill in using
their singing voices over the past two decades. In fact, less than half of kindergarten-age
children were able to differentiate between their singing and speaking voices
when performing a familiar song. It seems that this may be the result of missing
the key time to develop the singing voice during early childhood through playful
activities and thoughtful adult guidance.
Both contemporary research and the traditions of many cultures have demonstrated
a profound connection between rhythm and movement. The study of rhythm can be
thought of as the study of all aspects of flow of music through time. We experience
rhythm as the flow of our movement through space. From the developmental perspective,
children must experience rhythm in their bodies before they can successfully
audiate rhythm in their minds. The early childhood years are crucial for using
the body to respond as a musical instrument in many ways to many different kinds
of music. Real musical instruments, like tools, can then become simply extensions
or amplifications of the body's ability to be musically expressive.
Phyliss Weikart, a pioneer in movement pedagogy, has noted that many school-age
children cannot walk to the beat of music, perform simple motor patterns, or
label how their bodies have moved (1987). She suggests that children can gain
this experience in naturally occurring situations during infancy and early childhood,
especially if adults recognize the importance of early gross motor development
and of language interaction about rhythm and movement with young children. Furthermore,
other motor theorists' research supports the importance of movement in early
childhood. They have found that most fundamental motor patterns emerge before
the age of five and are merely stabilized beyond that age (Gilbert, 1979).
Parents, care givers, and teachers can do a great deal to provide the necessary
stimulation through music experiences to nurture the young child's music abilities.
In fact, the importance of environmental factors in music development is supported
by the case studies undertaken by Kelley and Surron-Smich (1987). They studied
three first-born females from their births to two years later who were reared
in families with three contrasting musical backgrounds. One set of parents was
professional musicians, another set was musically oriented but nor practicing
professional musicians, and the third set was not musically oriented - and hence
made fewer musical choices in their child-rearing practices. The differences
between the family that was not musically oriented and the other two families
were startling in that the two children who experienced richer musical environments
were considerably more developed in their music behaviors.
Teachers and researchers have gleaned information from their professional experience
suggesting that early childhood development in general and successful educational
programs in particular can be attributed to the partnership between the young
child and his or her significant others. Similarly, it seems that this philosophy
could be applied practically to early childhood music education. Forming collaborations
among the adults who care for our nation's youngest children and understanding
the learning processes specific to early child-hood will foster music abilities
and contribute significantly to the overall growth and development of the child.
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