Date of Completion

January 1980






The acoustic signal of a musical performance has two components: the organizational or composer-initiated aspect printed in the score, and the interpretive or performer-initiated aspect added to the written notation by the performer. The purpose of this research was to determine whether elementary school children have the ability to discriminate between alternative expressive interpretations of a musical stimulus, even though they lack an appropriate musical vocabulary, and whether training can improve this ability.^ Two tape recordings were prepared, each having three sequences. Each sequence consisted of a musical example played twenty times, according to one of two predetermined expressive interpretations, randomly ordered. Stimuli on one tape were two-note fragments played by solo cello, while stimuli on the other tape were seven-note phrases from songs familiar to children, played by solo violin.^ To avoid the use of unfamiliar musical terminology, a shaping game was devised. For each sequence, the experimenter arbitrarily assigned one expressive interpretation to a "red" category, and the other to a "blue" category. Subjects listened to item one and made a guess as to the assigned color category. The experimenter then indicated the assigned color, and subjects used this information to help them categorize the next time. The same procedure was followed for all twenty items, allowing subjects to formulate their concepts of the categories gradually. No musical terminology was used and the task was performed implicitly.^ Sixty children in grades one, three, and five (twenty from each grade) were randomly selected from a local elementary school. Each child listened to both tapes, one on each of two days. Half the children in each grade (N = 10) listened to the fragment sequences first, and half listened to the complete phrase sequences first. Each child received six scores, one for each sequence on each tape, based on the number correct of the last fifteen items.^ Statistical techniques used were analysis of variance for repeated measures, crossed design, and post hoc testing of paired mean differences.^ Results indicated no significant differences among children in the three grades in ability to discriminate the expressive categories in either fragments or phrases; correct responses for all grades were at the 73% level. Children in grades three and five who listened to the fragments first scored significantly better on the phrases than children in these grades who heard the phrases before the fragments. First grade scores on the phrases did not change significantly as a function of order of administration.^ It was concluded that elementary school children can discriminate certain interpretive elements implicitly, long before they learn appropriate musical terminology. Since this ability is already present in six year olds, it must develop earlier, and further study is needed to determine the age at which the ability first manifests itself. Attention to children's discriminative ability of expressive details while it is still being exercised implicitly might lead to a more sensitive adult discriminative ability when these children are grown than would otherwise have been possible. ^