How Do Children Notate Music And What Does It Tell Us?

3 Nov

Before children learn convention music notation, they often invent their own system using symbols from drawing, writing, and numbers.  These notation devices have been deemed a “window” into the internal understanding and perception of music in children.  Previous studies have shown that children accumulate a wealth of notation techniques that incorporate pictorial depictions and more abstract representations.  Children often choose a notation system that is task-specific and outlines salient musical features.  But what types of notation mechanisms are at a child’s disposal?  And in what instances do children decide to use them?

Margaret S. Barrett conducted a three year longitudal study that studied kindergarten children (aged 4-5).  In the classroom, Barrett set up various “music corners” in which children were asked to sing familiar songs, to make up or write their own music, and finally to “find a way of putting their music down on paper.”

The gist of Barrett’s research article revolves around dialogue between Barrett and “Brittany,” one of the students participants.  Brittany was age 4 years and 6 months at the start of the research and had experience playing violin with out of school music classes.  Over the course of the study Brittany, used a combination of Rhythmic Solfege (RS), and letters names to notate instrumental pieces and lyric pieces.  Brittany even composed her own song “Crickets and Bugs,” and used letters that referred specific to her song as the method for notation.  After additional interviewing, it became apparent that Brittany chose to use “letters” in instances when lyrics would be recorded, and RS when lyrics were not her focus.

Barrett concludes that Brittany is not randomly assigning symbols and letters as music notation– Brittany’s system is deliberate, and is often monitored by constraints that she imposes.  In other words, Brittany makes up the “rules” for her own notation system, which as Barrett suggests, is crucial to understanding how children use the notation tasks as a space for general problem solving and semiotic communication.  Barrett believes this study shows that children use their notational practices for intentions outside of music, and might be a basis for understanding how children use symbols.

Barrett, M.S. (2004). Thinking about the representation of music: a case-study of invented notation. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education , 161/162 (20), 19-28.


One Response to “How Do Children Notate Music And What Does It Tell Us?”


  1. Tweets that mention How Do Children Notate Music And What Does It Tell Us? « parker tichko -- - November 3, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jason Torrey, Parker Tichko. Parker Tichko said: New blog post: How Do #Children Notate Music And What Does It Tell Us? #psychology #cognition #education […]

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