How And Where Do Children Listen To Music?

19 Oct

How much music do people listen too?  In what contexts?  The office, at home, or in the concert-hall?  And for what reasons?  Enjoyment or to accompany activities?  Previous research found that personal differences, focus of attention, and the physical and social context of music listening, influence listening habits.  Additionally, researchers have been able to define our listening habits using four “modes of listening” (listening to background music, listening to accompany non-musical activities,  listening as a main activity, listening and performing musical activities) that cover both our practical and leisurely uses of music.

Using the four modes of listening, this study investigated how and where children listen to music by examining different social contexts (home and school), cultural contexts (British and Portuguese participants), and childhood development.  Graça M. Boal-Palheiros and David J. Hargreaves recruited 120 British and  Portuguese students ranging from age 9 – 10 and 13 – 14 as participants.  The researchers aimed to recruit participants that differed culturally, and represented an extensive range of ages for the developmental perspective.

The study required the students to partake in an introduction interview and a survey consisting of open-ended questions (questions without predetermined responses; no multiple choice).  The students were asked when you listen to music at home, do you do anything else as well? And when you listen to music at school, do you do other activities as well? The interviews were recorded and fully transcribed for further analysis.

The results showed drastic differences in how children listen to music at home and in school:

At home: the study found that the children often interacted with musical activities  (43%) or non-musical activities (40%) while listening.  Several of the children notated that they listened to music just for pleasure (%15).  There were no significant differences or either age or nationality in the responses.

At school: the study found that children often listen to music while engaged with other musical activities (57%) or for pleasure (33%).  Few of the children recollected listening to music with non-musical activities (4%).   There were no significant differences or either age or nationality in the responses.

The authors conclude that different modes of listening occur in children that correspond to ranging levels of attention and emotional involvement. When the children listen at home, music serves primarily to satisfy emotional functions, where in the school setting, music was used in collaboration with learning.  The authors suggest that understanding children’s different modes of listening might result in better music education programs.  For example, teachers might facilitate learning by instructing music using musical-related activities that are physically interactive.  Additionally, the results showed a difference in preference for which musical activities to students would engage in.  Older students preferred to sing rather than dance, and they were found to listen to more music than the younger students to accompany their day-to-day routine.  This also might be useful in education purposes:  instructing  older students through their preferred musical activity.

Boal-Palheiros, G.M., & Hargreaves, D.J. (2004). Children’s modes of listening to music at home and at school. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, 161/162(20), 39-46.


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