Children's Pitch Matching, Vocal Range, and Developmentally Appropriate Practice

By Kim, Jinyoung | Journal of Research in Childhood Education, Spring-Summer 2000 | Go to article overview
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Children's Pitch Matching, Vocal Range, and Developmentally Appropriate Practice


Kim, Jinyoung, Journal of Research in Childhood Education


Abstract. In this article, literature and research were reviewed to obtain general descriptions of children's musical development, especially their pitch-matching accuracy and vocal range, and what is considered to be developmentally appropriate practice (DAP). The factors affecting children's pitch-matching accuracy and vocal range were investigated and categorized into internal and external influences. The findings were discussed in terms of children's development and teachers' practice in the early childhood education setting. Children's musical development should be considered in a dynamic way. What we call "developmental knowledge" can be biased by how we define development and what we measure, and it may limit teachers' practice and children's authentic development accordingly.

Music is regarded as one of the important curricular components in early childhood education. However, early childhood educators do not seem to be as familiar with research findings concerning children's musical development as they are with research in other areas of child development. Consequently, the results of research studies concerning children's musical development do not affect early childhood practice, nor have they been able to raise debatable issues or lead to appropriate discussions for early childhood education. As an early childhood educator who is interested in children's music, this author cannot help but re-evaluate whether what we call children's musical development reflects developmentally appropriate practice (Bredekamp, 1987) for musical activities in early childhood education settings. This article reconsiders children's pitch-matching accuracy and vocal range, because pitch-matching ability is one aspect of musical development needed for singing, which is the most common musical activit y in early childhood education settings.

The following example will give a global view of the scope of this study. We often hear children make sounds (such as sirens). When they make the sounds of a siren, their voices go up to higher pitch than they use in singing. We also find that when children imitate instruments from tapes or radio, their voices also are higher than their usual singing pitch level. However, a lot of research has proven that children's vocal range and pitch-matching accuracy is limited. Consequently, many textbooks say that "D above middle C to A is the comfortable pitch range for children to sing" and so forth (e.g., Greenberg, 1979). Is there any error in these research studies? Or is there a large developmental domain that has not been studied by research protocols? How should early childhood teachers deal with this difference in their practice?

This article will study the interest in children's pitch-matching accuracy and vocal range in four parts: First, literature and research will be reviewed to give a general description about children's pitch-matching accuracy and vocal range, and to describe DAP singing activities. The second part will investigate factors that influence children's pitch. These factors will be categorized into internal influences, such as age and gender, and into external influences, such as modeling, tasks, and instruction. In the third section, the findings of the previous sections will be discussed in terms of children's development and teachers' practice in early childhood education settings. Further studies will be suggested in the final section and the limitations of this study will be considered.

Children's Musical Developmental Level

Children's Pitch-Matching Accuracy and Vocal Range

Pitch refers to the highness or lowness of a musical sound. Pitch-matching accuracy can be defined as the ability to match musical sounds of certain highness or lowness. Vocal range is the distance between the highest and lowest notes the voice can match (McDonald & Simmons, 1989). It has been said that pitch-matching accuracy and vocal range are highly correlated (Buckton, 1977; Wassum, 1979).

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