Communicative Musicality: sound, pulse and rhythm in music and communication – interim results

indexResearch has shown that a developing foetus can discriminate sounds in the womb from 22 weeks gestation and that early sound discrimination helps to promote later phonic and vocabulary development. In addition, during early social interaction between caregivers and infants there are noticeable patterns of timing, pulse, voice timbre, and gesture that follow many of the rules of musical performance, including rhythm and timing conceptualised by Malloch and Trevarthen (2009) as ‘communicative musicality’.

Given the centrality of communication in children’s learning and development (Blackburn, 2014) and the established links between human communication and music (Hallam, 2015), this project seeks to explore the views, understanding and reported practices of interested stakeholders in young children’s musical interactions in home and out-of-home early years settings from survey and interview data.

An initial family survey found that (n 120 respondents):

  • Most young children (73%) participate in a range of spontaneous musical activities in the home daily with a further 27% of children participating less frequently but at least once a week;
  • 84% of children are able to access participation in musical activities independently, with access being restricted for the remainder mainly by parental time or cost factors;
  • The majority of parents (97%) join in with their children’s musical activities in episodes of shared attention and intersubjectivity;
  • 65% of children’s participation in musical activities in the home is supported by technology such as iPads or TVs;
  • Some children (12%) also participate in organised, structured musical activities in the home such as learning to play musical instruments;
  • Many children (64%) attend a range of organised musical activities outside the home;
  • Parents described the social and educational benefits for their children of participation in both spontaneous and organised, structured musical activities. However the perceived benefits of spontaneous activities were different to those for organised, structured activities and this is worthy of further exploration in interviews with parents and carers;
  • It is clear from both published literature and parents’ perceptions in this study that participation in musical activities helps with children’s social, emotional, communicative, cognitive, spiritual and physical development, not to mention being fun.

The next stage is to conduct interviews with parents and carers to explore some of these areas in further detail.


Blackburn, C. (2014) Policy-to-practice context to the acquisition of speech, language and communication in the first five years. Unpublished PhD thesis. Birmingham City University

Hallam, S. (2015 The Power of Music: a research synthesis of the impact of actively making music on the intellectual, social and personal development of children and young people London: Music Education Council

Malloch, S. and Trevarthen, C. (2009) Communicative Musicality: Exploring the Basis of Human Companionship. Oxford: Oxford University Press


One thought on “Communicative Musicality: sound, pulse and rhythm in music and communication – interim results

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s