Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

The Extramusical Effects of Music Lessons on Preschoolers

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

The Extramusical Effects of Music Lessons on Preschoolers

Article excerpt


Although many preschool teachers use music on a day-to-day basis, research also suggests that many do not teach music, because they feel they lack the requisite skills (Hildebrandt, 1998; Gharavi, 1993; Scott-Kassner, 1999). For teachers with a limited skill base in music or lack of confidence in teaching the subject, pre-packaged resources with accompanying sound recordings can provide support in presenting music to children, Resources such as Upbeat (Leask, 1986) not only offer suggestions on how to teach music, but also provide recordings of songs and listening material that the inexperienced teacher-musician can use in the classroom. Such materials also stress the extramusical--or extrinsic--value of teaching music to young children, as do Australian primary school curricula documents, with justifications for music education being given on 'physical, social, intellectual, cultural, and emotional grounds' (Temmerman, 1991, p. 156).

The aim of the present study was to investigate the extramusical effects of a music education program in one preschool classroom over a period of six weeks. Sally, the preschool teacher, told me when we first met that she did not 'have a musical bone' in her body, and that she avoided teaching music because she believed she lacked musical talent, skills, and resources. She was, however, amenable to 'having a go' at teaching music because she believed music might be able to help her students with 'some of their problems'. This belief was based on her observation that 'soft. slow music' played after outdoor time 'calmed a lot of the children down and helped them to focus'.

Music has been shown to have positive effects on learning in domains other than the arts (Fiske, 1999), and specifically in reading and maths (Lamont, 1998). These extramusical benefits of music rarely focus on preschool-aged children. The most notable exception is Rauscher and Zupan's (2000) examination of group keyboard music instruction, which found this particular form of music instruction enhanced preschoolers' performance in spatial-temporal tasks. Standley's (1996) meta-analysis of 98 studies of the effectiveness of music as behavioural reinforcement suggested that music can effectively reinforce learning and behaviour changes in children and adults, both in and out of school.

The study closest in nature to the present research project was conducted by Bilhartz, Bruhn and Olson (2000), in which a group of preschoolers received a comprehensive music program including singing, playing instruments, and moving to music. The study indicated that, on a visual test involving recall of bead sequence, colour, and shape (p. 104), preschoolers receiving the music training improved more than a group who did not receive such training. The present study did not seek to examine such specific outcomes, but rather to uncover broader indications of extramusical effects of instruction in singing, moving, and playing musical instruments. Considering that 'musical meaning is deeply related to function' for young children (Campbell, 2002, p. 61), the present study sought to look for extramusical effects of music instruction, such as how children were 'buoyed by it [music], comforted in it, reflective through it, and exuberant as a result of their expressions with it' (Campbell, p. 61).


The study was conducted over a six-week period, on Thursdays and Fridays. The same children attended both these days of preschool; a different cohort attended the other clays of the week. Aware that 'fieldwork with young children depends on the quality of the relationships developed between researcher and participants', I endeavoured not to just 'barge into the lives' of these children (Graue & Walsh, 1995, p. 145), but negotiate a relationship. This entailed entering the setting with what Sumsion (2003) describes as 'overt humility', leading to mutual respect that created a situation whereby the children willingly engaged in the research process (p. …

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