Musical Development in the Early Years
Because aptitude for music seems to stabilize around age nine (Gordon, 1990), the early years are considered critical to the development of the child’s potential for comprehending and producing music. In a rich musical environment with appropriate guidance from adults, four- and five-year-old children learn to perceive, initiate, and discriminate among rhythm and tonal patterns with increasing precision. They form concepts of musical syntax while assimilating music concepts into personal music making, beginning a lifetime of understanding, performing, and enjoying music (Gordon, 1990).
Rhythm and Movement Develops
The random movements of the infant and the spontaneous swaying and bouncing to music of the toddler develop into the fairly complex dancelike movements of the three-, four-, and five-year-olds.
Three-, four-, and five-year-olds are motivated to move to music, but their movements are not always synchronized to music in response to a steady beat, rhythmic qualities, or overall musical effect (Stellaccio & McCarthy, 1999). They can move fast or slow and stop and turn with some smoothness and control over their bodies, but they still have difficulty understanding that a relationship exists between the sounds they hear and what their muscles do. When left on their own, children tend to limit their movements, repeating a few patterns.
Three-year-olds are just exploring what they can do with their own bodies (Westervelt, 2002). Developing body awareness and image, three’s movement explorations are spontaneous and generally uncoordinated. Four-year-olds can manage to keep a beat with clapping or rhythm sticks but still have difficulty with simple motor rhythmic tasks at a fast tempo, or with simultaneous tasks, such as moving and singing.
Five-year-olds have learned to move to music with more smoothness, refinement, and rhythm. They have a greater understanding of height, weight, distance, and depth and can skip, run, and catch a ball or even something as delicate as a soap bubble without breaking it.
Expressively, five-year-olds are able to use movement in symbolic ways. They can express an idea, a feeling, or an emotion through a movement. They can create a dance, a skit, or a play to symbolize their feelings and experiences. Together the imagination and thinking involved in moving creatively, along with control of motor skills, permit symbolic expression (Seefeldt & Barbour, 1998; Smith, 2002).
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