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Early acquisition of musical aural skills. Richard Parncutt 1 Gary McPherson 2 Margit Painsi 1 Fränk Zimmer 1 1 Department of Musicology, University of Graz 2 School of Music, University of Illinois. ICMPC Bologna 21-26 August 2006. Aims.

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early acquisition of musical aural skills

Early acquisition of musical aural skills

Richard Parncutt1 Gary McPherson2 Margit Painsi1 Fränk Zimmer1

1Department of Musicology, University of Graz

2 School of Music, University of Illinois

ICMPC Bologna 21-26 August 2006

slide2
Aims
  • How and why do children spontaneously recognize musical pitch structures?
  • Improve “ear training”?
  • Exploratory qualitative study
acquisition of musical aural skills intuitive cognitive model
Acquisition of musical aural skills: Intuitive cognitive model
  • Exposure phase

aural (visual, tactile-motor, linguistic)  memory

  • Experimentation phase

match memory to performance by trial and error

  • Recognition phase

auditory pattern  memory  linguistic label

background skill acquisition
Background: Skill acquisition
  • Nature/nurture:
    • interaction between genes & environment
  • Expertise approach:
    • more practice  more skill
  • Critical periods:
    • earlier practice  more skill
  • (Intrinsic) motivation:
    • motivation  practice  skill
background subskill interdependence
Background: Subskill interdependence
  • Musical skills
    • general musicality or
    • independent specific skills?
  • Is audiation central?
    • Origins of musicality = origins of audiation?
methodological problem memory
Methodological problem: Memory
  • Strong for
    • meaningful events
  • Unreliable if
    • long ago

BUT

  • Longitudinal observation is also problematic
    • implicit skill acquisition
specific issues
Specific issues
  • Instrument
  • Specific early experiences
  • Age at onset of recognition
  • Situations
  • Active or passive
  • Motivation
  • Belief in talent
data collection
Data collection
  • period
    • Sep 2005 to June 2006
  • publicity
    • email lists
  • participants
    • 196
  • missing data
    • many
sex of participants
Sex of participants
  • 112 female
  • 84 male
nationality of participants
Nationality of participants

51% USA

19% UK

7% Canada

5% Australia

Language of questionnaire

Western bias of internet

age of participants
Age of participants
  • mean 36 years
    • min 18
    • max 83
aural skills of participants
Aural skills of participants

Best grade for an ear training test

  • A: 109
  • B: 23
  • C: 3
  • D: 1
  • E: 1
years of musical practice
Years of musical practice
  • mean 28
    • min 4
    • max 70

Does practice make perfect?

cv of average participant
“CV” of average participant
  • Began to play regularly…
    • aged 7 years (min 2, max 21)
  • Played continuously…
    • stops for only 1 year
  • Filled our questionnaire
    • aged 36 years
instrument
Instrument

Are some instruments better

for ear training than others?

main instrument
Main instrument

59% piano

8% guitar

7% flute

5% violin

Keyboard represents aural structures visually?

Parents of talented children choose piano?

first year of playing instruments played
First year of playing: Instruments played

piano 63%

violin 13%

flute 6%

guitar 5%

recorder 4%

others 9%

instruments in the home
Instruments in the home

140 people named 311 instruments:

  • piano (106)
  • guitar (40)
  • violin (28)
  • recorder (22)
  • … flute, keyboard, trumpet, harmonica, cello, organ, clarinet, accordion, banjo/mandolin…

Important for ear training?

  • 86% yes
  • 10% no
  • 4% can‘t remember
early musical experiences
Early musical experiences

“Early” = before learning first instrument

What early musical experiences promote development of aural skills?

early musical experiences23
Early musical experiences
  • Age at middle of period

4.5 years

  • Frequency of musical experiences

5.3 (1 = very rare … 7 = very frequent)

family member whose musical activities experienced most often
Family member whose musical activities experienced most often

49 % mother

31 % father

8 % sister

4 % brother

early musical activities materials
Early musical activities: Materials
  • lullabies
  • hymns
  • traditional and folk songs
  • Christmas songs
  • Suzuki songs

Examples:

  • Mother at piano, kids play drums & sleigh bells
  • Dad made up songs about our family
  • My brother and I made up Gregorian chants
early musical activities how enjoyable
Early musical activities: How enjoyable?
  • mean 6.3

(1 = not at all … 7 = very)

enjoyment  motivation  practice

early musical activities specific emotions
Early musical activities: Specific emotions

Music as:

  • private experience
    • It was amazing to produce sounds.
    • Music always gave me an immediate feeling of exhilaration.
  • part of intensive personal interaction
    • Happy, closeness with family members, fun and joy in learning the tune and rhythm of songs
    • I could switch off from the unhappy family life and escape into music.
    • I enjoyed this time because I gave our family the \'glue\' that held us together.
slide28
Age

At what age do children

acquire basic aural skills?

first memory of recognizing pitch structures
First memory of recognizing pitch structures
  • Age: mean 8.6 years (min 2, max 18)
age at which specific structures recognized
Age at which specific structures recognized
  • Basic structures learned between 8 and 14
  • Basic structures consolidated before building on them
role of situation
Role of situation

In what situations do children

acquire aural skills?

first year of playing
First year of playing

Situations in which learned about music

  • Conventional music lessons 64% (130)
  • Working out pieces by ear alone 24% (103)
  • Mental practice 16% (54)
  • Composing alone at instrument 16% (72)
  • Playing by ear with friends or family 16% (46)
  • Composing with friends or family 19% (9)
  • But our participants may not be representative

Percentage: average of those who replied (In brackets: number who replied to question)

first memory of recognizing pitch structures33
First memory of recognizing pitch structures

Wide variety of situations. Examples:

context in which skill originally acquired
Context in which skill originally acquired
  • Wide variety of responses
  • family and outside
  • formal and informal
  • group and solo
  • instrumental and choral
  • theory and practice
  • Aural skills are learned
  • Learning is mainly active
musical styles in which structures recognized
Musical styles in which structures recognized
  • Rank order:
  • classical
  • children’s
  • pop/rock
  • religious

 Participant bias towards “classical” music

learning styles
Learning styles
  • Active or passive?
  • Motivated or “just happened”?
why motivated to acquire this skill
Why motivated to acquire this skill?

 Role of relevant, useful goals

inherited or learned
Inherited or learned?
  • Questions about origins of skills:
    • All answers involved musical activities
    • No-one objected that skills were inborn
  • “How important were your early musical activities for the development of your aural abilities?”
    • 5.8 (1 = not at all … 7 = very)

Participants believe skills are learned

inherited or learned40
Inherited or learned

Source of info for “opinion then”:

46% compare memory with current knowledge

18% parents then

15% peer comparison then

Real learning + belief in talent

interesting but unreliable data
Interesting but unreliable data
  • Metacognition is weak
    • Even for the most talented
  • Memory is unreliable
    • Respondents may invent or exaggerate
  • Our participants are biased toward
    • upper middle class
    • “classical” music
consistent with expertise model
Consistent with expertise model
  • motivation  practice  skill
  • Critical periods?
interdependence of musical subskills
Interdependence of musical subskills
  • Musicality as
    • independent specific skills
  • Central role of audiation
    • supports other subskills
educational implications home
Educational implications: Home

Parents should

  • hear, make, enjoy music themselves
  • own and play several instruments
  • encourage child from an early age (6?) to
    • hear, make, enjoy a lot of music
    • experience keyboard and choral singing
    • take music lessons
    • develop own musical tastes and passions
educational implications institutional
Educational implications: Institutional
  • Offer parental training incl. music
  • More music in school
  • Musical interaction teachersparents
  • Ear training at school, not university
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