The Musical Playground: Global Tradition and Change in Children's Songs and Games

The Musical Playground: Global Tradition and Change in Children's Songs and Games

The Musical Playground: Global Tradition and Change in Children's Songs and Games

The Musical Playground: Global Tradition and Change in Children's Songs and Games


The Musical Playground is a new and fascinating account of the musical play of school-aged children. Based on fifteen years of ethnomusicological field research in urban and rural school playgrounds around the globe, Kathryn Marsh provides unique insights into children's musical playground activities across a comprehensive scope of social, cultural, and national contexts.

With a sophisticated synthesis of ethnomusicological and music education approaches, Marsh examines sung and chanted games, singing and dance routines associated with popular music and sports chants, and more improvised and spontaneous chants, taunts, and rhythmic movements. The book's index of more than 300 game genres is a valuable reference to readers in the field of children's folklore, providing a unique map of game distribution across an array of cultures and geographical locations. On the companion website, readers will be able to view on streamed video, field recordings of children's musical play throughout the wide range of locations and cultures that form the core of Marsh's study, allowing them to better understand the music, movement, and textual characteristics of musical games and interactions. Copious notated musical examples throughout the book and the website demonstrate characteristics of game genres, children's generative practices, and reflections of cultural influences on game practice, and valuable, practical recommendations are made for developing pedagogies which reflect more child-centred and less Eurocentric views of children's play, musical learning, and musical creativity.

Marsh brings readers to playgrounds in Australia, Norway, the USA, the United Kingdom, and Korea, offering them an important and innovative study of how children transmit, maintain, and transform the games of the playground. The Musical Playground will appeal to practitioners and researchers in music education, ethnomusicology, and folklore.


Almost two decades ago I was teaching in a children’s music summer school in the Australian capital city of Canberra, about three hundred kilometers distant from my usual location in Sydney. As part of the day’s activities I had decided to teach a singing game, “Sar Macka Dora,” that had been collected in a Sydney playground, a game that I thought would be unknown to the local children. It transpired that I was completely mistaken in this assumption. Instead of being a novelty, the game was well known by most of the children. However, the versions that they then taught me were quite different from the one that I had taught them. From the class group of seventeen children, many of whom came from different parts of the city, I recorded thirteen variants of the game, all with identifiable similarities, but with clear differences in text, music, and movement.

These multiple variants fascinated me. How, I wondered, had the game traversed the distance from Sydney to Canberra, and why was there such a variety of individual versions within a relatively small community? My quest to find the answers to these questions began in 1990 with a lengthy investigation in a Sydney school and has continued ever since. I did not realize at the time that my ongoing curiosity would lead me to explore children’s musical play not only locally but in school playgrounds in many parts of the world, including Australia, the United Kingdom, Europe, the United States, and Korea.

As I begin this account of the musical play of school-aged children, a myriad of vivid images range through my mind. A group of Latino girls and boys dance around in a circle in a leafy school playground in Seattle, singing a . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.