Academic journal article Psychomusicology

Singing without Hearing: A Comparative Study of Children and Adults Singing a Familiar Tune

Academic journal article Psychomusicology

Singing without Hearing: A Comparative Study of Children and Adults Singing a Familiar Tune

Article excerpt

For many children, singing represents their first encounter with active music making, and for those who do not study an instrument, it may remain their most meaningful musical experience into adulthood. Toddlers and preschoolers are often encouraged to sing in the context of learning and play, and this experience is likely to strengthen young children's associations between the physical experience of singing and the perceptual feedback that singing creates-in short-the motor-auditory coupling between singing and hearing. The current study had two aims: to examine and compare the singing accuracy of three groups of participants when performing a familiar song from memory (children ages 5 to 8 years, children ages 9 to 12, and adults), and to examine the role of auditory feedback on different types of pitch errors across development by masking participants' ability to hear themselves.

Singing Across Development

A surge in recent research on singing has highlighted the relative lack of studies directly comparing children of different ages and adults on singing accuracy. Studies have shown that when compared with younger children, older children demonstrate significantly better pitch matching (Geringer, 1983), better pitch discrimination (Bentley, 1969), better pitch-direction discrimination (Fancourt, Dick, & Stewart, 2013), and better interval accuracy and key stability when singing a melody from memory (Hornbach & Taggart, 2005). However, direct comparisons are difficult, because the studies vary in types of measurement, agegroups, sampling methods, and types of singing tasks. Nonetheless, singing is often considered a building block of musicianship, and as such, there has been ongoing interdisciplinary interest in the course of development related to singing skills. Pitch accuracy is generally valued as a primary indicator of good singing, but experimental tasks vary from simple pitch matching to song singing from memory. Furthermore, the method of measuring pitch accuracy varies, with some developmental researchers performing acoustic analysis of sung waveforms (Cohen, 2015), others using a subjective third-party rater to evaluate singing (Demorest & Pfordresher, 2015; Flowers & Dunne-Sousa, 1990; Mang, 2006), and still others using both (Larrouy-Maestri, Léveque, Schön, Giovanni, & Morsomme, 2013). Singing studies that utilize consistent methodology and include both children and adults are rare, a point made by Demorest and Pfordresher (2015) in a comparative study which included children (kindergarten and grade six) and adults. Therefore, one aim of the current study was to examine the pitch accuracy of participants from three age-groups singing a familiar tune from memory, using consistent methodology and measures. Song singing was chosen because it is a familiar experience for young children who may or may not have any musical training, and as such, it presents fewer demand characteristics than tasks involving pitch matching or reproducing novel melodies.

Self-Monitoring: Auditory and Kinesthetic Feedback

An individual's ability to monitor the sound of his or her own voice while singing is an essential skill if one wishes to sing accurately. A theory proposed by Berkowska and Dalla Bella (2009) suggests that singing engages a vocal sensorimotor loop in which perceptual output is continuously compared against an internal representation of the intended pitch or melody. It is reasonable to ask how and when this skill develops in the course of normative development (Tsang, Friendly, & Trainor, 2011). Two hypotheses are as follows: Learned associations between the act of singing and how that singing sounds may become stronger with age and experience. Alternatively, age and experience may result in more automatization of pitch control and less self-monitoring of auditory feedback. Please note that these two alternatives are not mutually exclusive. When auditory feedback is masked, however, singers are forced to rely on proprio-kinesthetic feedback, or feedback from the body about movement and positioning. …

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