Canadian and Japanese Preschoolers' Creation of Happy and Sad Songs

By Adachi, Mayumi; Trehub, Sandra E. | Psychomusicology, January 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

Canadian and Japanese Preschoolers' Creation of Happy and Sad Songs


Adachi, Mayumi, Trehub, Sandra E., Psychomusicology


ABSTRACT - Canadian and Japanese 4- and 5-yearold children were asked to create a happy song or a sad song. Approximately 60% of Canadian preschoolers produced a song under these circumstances in contrast to roughly 40% of Japanese preschoolers. Of the Japanese children who produced a song, most simply reproduced a familiar song. By contrast, Canadian children typically included novel words, melodies, or both. The lyrics of Canadian children's happy songs focused on candy, friends, family, and vigorous physical activity. Their sad lyrics focused on thwarted goals and the absence of family and friends. Their happy melodies showed influences of the major mode, along with dotted or syncopated rhythms, whereas their sad songs showed suppressed melodic range and contour. Japanese children made much less use of emotion words or emotion-evoking events in their happy or sad songs. We discuss socialization and early music education differences across cultures that may contribute to the observed differences.

KEYWORDS - invented song, emotion, preschool children, cross-cultural

Although there has been considerable investigation of preschool children's singing of invented and standard songs (e.g., Campbell, 1998; Davidson, 1985; Davidson, McKernon, & Gardner, 1981; Davidson & Scripp, 1994; Bowling, 1984; Kelley & SuttonSmith, 1987; McKernon, 1979; Moog, 1968/1976; Moorhead & Pond, 1941, 1942; Orni, 1994), relatively little is known about the communication of expressive intentions in their singing. In musically oriented homes, mothers often convey information to toddlers in the context of improvised songs, and toddlers respond by joining the "singing conversation" (Kelley & Sutton-Smith, 1987). These sung exchanges are likely to continue beyond toddlerhood, with mother and child taking turns at improvising song variations (Umezawa, 1990, cited in Adachi, 1994).

Young children generate idiosyncratic songs for communicative purposes such as stopping a baby brother from touching food (Orni, 1994). These spontaneous songs, or "musical utterances" (Campbell, 1998, p. 67), often trigger improvised musical exchanges among friends, who repeat, modify, and extend the melodic motif while transmitting ideas and messages to each other (Campbell, 1998, pp. 28-30; Whiteman, 2001). Although preschoolers successfully communicate verbal instructions in their invented songs, it is unclear whether they can create songs to convey distinct emotional messages.

Much research on the communication of emotion in music has focused on musicians' contrastive performances (e.g., happy, sad) of the same piece of music or on listeners' perception of the intended emotion (Gabrielsson & Juslin, 1996; Juslin, 1997; Juslin & Sloboda, 2001; Ohgushi & Hattori, 1996; Senju & Ohgushi, 1987). By contrast, relatively few studies have explored how musically untrained adults (Yamasaki, 2002) and children communicate emotion in their musical performances (Adachi, 2000; Adachi & Trehub, 1998, 1999a; Umemoto, 1994; Yamasaki, 2006). Such research has indicated that untrained Japanese adults and young children (5- to 6-year-olds) use variations in loudness and tempo to express happiness, sadness, and anger in their improvised percussion performances (Yamasaki, 2002, 2006). In addition to variations in loudness and tempo, Canadian children 4-12 years of age vary pitch level and tone of voice to distinguish happy from sad versions of a familiar song (Adachi & Trehub, 1998).

In their invented songs, Canadian 6- to 12-yearolds express happiness by means of dotted or syncopated rhythms, and they express sadness by means of isochronous rhythms, legato articulation, and affectively negative lyrics (Adachi & Trehub, 1999a, 1999b). Japanese 8- to 10-year-olds vary tempo, loudness, rhythm, and interval size to generate distinctive melodies to go with prescribed happy and sad lyrics, but the melodies generated by 5- and 6-year-olds are unrelated to the emotions expressed in the lyrics (Umemoto, 1999, pp. …

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