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Music's Role in Early Childhood Socialization



Whether deliberate or incidental, exposure to music in the early childhood years has a profound effect. Whether positive or negative, the effect of music on development is well documented and parents/guardians/teachers have an unparalleled opportunity to enhance a child's development through music.
Process of Socialization
Developmental psychologists have found it important to infuse culture as a necessary
factor in the study of socialization of children (Romero, Cuellar, & Roberts, 2000). The family is
the primary contributor of culture to the socialization process for children. Children learn
attitudes, traditions, expectations, and their belief system within the family unit by modeling of
the parents or guardians or through direct instruction by their elders in the home or those who
may have authority over them.
Musical Socialization
Children can be exposed to music in the process of socialization in many different ways,
depending upon their culture. In some cultures, the exposure to music is more deliberate and
purposeful. John Blacking made the following observations of Venda children, after noting those
he studied were accomplished musicians who could play at least one instrument, as well as sing
and dance, even though none of them had had any formal training:
1. Infants, who spent a great deal of time strapped to the backs of their
mothers, heard songs and felt rhythms as their mothers sang, danced, and
played singing games in many social contexts.
2. After feeding, infants were invariably treated to face-to-face interaction as
their mothers sang to them and ‘danced’ them up and down.
3. When infants started banging on some object, adults did not automatically
quiet them but instead often provided a complementary second rhythm that
tended to convert the infants’ spontaneous rhythms into polyrthythmic,
intentional musical action.
4. When two children moved and sounded rhythms together, they frequently
made two patterns rather than a unison (an exercise of individuality in
Music’s Role in Early Childhood Socialization
March 16, 2016
5. As children grew, they participated increasingly in the community’s
dancing and music-making, encouraged by adults who were well aware of the
part that such experiences would play in teaching children how to think, act,
feel, and relate to others (Campbell, 2000, p. 346).
These South African adults felt it was their “duty” to train the children in the musical ways of
their people in order to carry on their culture (2000, p. 346). That training began in infancy and
continued on throughout the children’s lives. The Venda people relied on music as a valuable
vessel on which to carry their legacy.
Similarly, Adachi (1994) believes adults play three different roles in facilitating musical
socialization of young children: transmitter, practice partner, and co-player. The transmitter
produces the musical sound to the child for the child to repeat back to the adult, or transmitter.
The practice partner interacts with the child, not only transmitting the sounds; but, realizing the
understanding and reproduction of each sound by the repetition in composition and contextual
form. The co-player is more of a duet partner in an improvisational setting. The adult and child
play off one another, the child showing an advanced understanding of music by tossing sounds
back and forth so as to make both melodic and rhythmic sense (1994). All three of the adult
roles serve the purpose of stimulating music within the young child. The practice partner and co-
player run close parallels to Vygotsky’s theories on cognitive development known as More
Knowledgeable Other (MKO) and Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), respectively (Adachi,
1994), whereas interaction with someone more knowledgeable encourages learning a new skill
and stimulates development. Conversely, Piaget maintains that a child must cycle through
various stages of development, which precedes their learning (McLeod, 2007).
The writer conducted an informal, online survey in order to collect specific data relevant
to the relationship between growing up in a musical household and becoming a musical adult. It
is an unscientific survey; however, the writer felt as though the survey yielded some worthwhile
information from its 25 respondents. The complete survey questions are listed below the table
The most significant information the survey yielded was out of 25 respondents, 19 reported
music was prevalent in the home while growing up. Of those 19, 10 reported at least one of their
parents is a musician and 18 reported they are currently involved in music as a career or hobby.
The unscientific conclusion would be that having music play a major role in the home during the
early years of development was more instrumental in choosing to make music an important part
of the respondent’s life than it was having a parent who was a musician. Twelve out of the 25
respondents had their first music memory take place at a church and seven took place in their
home, which is the majority of the respondents, at 19. There was no further significant data
collected by this informal survey. The question regarding the amount of time listening to or not
listening to music did not yield any significant information relevant to the survey.
Personal Account
The writer is a musician. When pregnant with her first child, a son, she was a music teacher
at a K – 8th grade school, teaching six music classes every week day. The writer also taught
private piano and voice lessons after school and sang in the church choir. Therefore, her son, in
utero, was surrounded by music almost daily from October until school ended in June the year of
the writer’s pregnancy. The writer’s son was born July 2nd. When he was six months old, the
writer sang to him, “Mi, Re, Do”, on the pitches 3, 2, 1, of a C Major scale and the syllable “Mi”
and, much to the writer’s surprise, he repeated the syllables back, on pitch.
Conversely, when the writer was expecting her second child, a daughter, she was a stay-
at-home mom, with a three-year-old son and, although there was a lot of music in the home, it
was not the same as teaching six music classes every day. The writer no longer taught private
lessons nor sang in the church choir. Her daughter did not have the in utero experiences that her
son had. For the first two years of her daughter’s life, the writer worked on matching pitch with
her daughter, to no avail. Her daughter loved to sing; but, she could not match pitch.
The writer believes that the experiences in utero, coupled with the difference in musical
socialization of both children produced the extreme differing results of their musical abilities up
to age two. A concentrated effort on the part of the writer during the daughter’s remaining early
childhood years proved to be effective in honing her natural musical abilities. Both children
went on to sing and play instruments throughout school and church. The writer’s daughter
majored in music in college, with a voice principle.
The point the writer would make in citing this personal example is the importance of the
family and the environment in musical socialization. Both children were born of the same
parents, yet because of very different pregnancies and experiences in the toddler years, their
early musical development was drastically different. Eventually, both children were able to
reach their full potential, musically; however, a concerted effort was made to see that that
The American Academy of Pediatrics has taken a stand on the importance of music’s role in
the socialization of young children (Gonzalez, 2009). The Academy cites its “paramount
concern” regarding the effect that music can have on a child’s behavior and emotions and notes
that parents are often unaware of these effects (2009). Music lyrics continue to contain
increasingly explicit content relating to drugs, sex, violence and crime. Critics argue that
children do not pay attention to the lyrics; however, there is evidence that young listeners grasp
the message of the lyrics, even if they do not understand every lyric (Knobloch-Westerwich,
Musto, & Shaw, 2006). Additionally, studies link listening to certain types of music with
negative feelings and behaviors (2009). The American Academy of Pediatrics is so concerned
about music and the socialization of young children, that it has made ten recommendations
regarding this issue:
1. Pediatricians should become familiar with the role of music in the lives of
children and adolescents and identify music preferences of their patients as
clues to emotional conflict or problems.
2. Pediatricians should become familiar with the literature available on the
effects of music and music videos on children and adolescents.
3. Pediatricians should explore with patients and their parents what types of
music they listen to and music videos they watch and under which
circumstances they consume these media.
4. Pediatricians should encourage parents to take an active role in monitoring
the type of music to which their children and adolescents are exposed and
to be aware of the music they purchase. Parents can find lyrics by typing
“music lyrics” into an Internet search engine and accessing one or more of
the Web sites that appear. Pediatricians also should counsel parents and
caregivers to monitor and regulate television-viewing according to the age
and maturity of their children and adolescents.
5. Pediatricians should encourage parents and caregivers to become media
6. Pediatricians should sponsor and participate in local and national
coalitions to discuss the effects of music on children and adolescents to
make the public and parents aware of sexually explicit, drug-oriented, or
violent lyrics on CDs and cassettes, in music videos, on the Internet, and
in emerging technologies.
7. The public and parents, in particular, should be aware of and use the music
industry’s parental advisory warning of explicit content. The advisory
label is a black-and-white logo and should be located on the front of the
CD, cassette, album, videocassette, or DVD. It may help protect children
from certain offensive materials.
8. Performers should serve as positive role models for children and
9. The music-video industry should produce videos with more positive
themes about relationships, racial harmony, drug avoidance, nonviolent
conflict resolution, sexual abstinence, pregnancy prevention, and
avoidance of promiscuity.
10. Further research on the effects of popular music, lyrics, and music videos
on children and adolescents is important and should be conducted (2009,
p. 1491-1492).
For the American Academy of Pediatrics to show such concern as to publish ten specific
recommendations for the public, only demonstrates the serious nature of the effects of music on
the socialization of children. Not only does the Academy make a plea to parents; but, the
Academy reaches out to society, in general, by listing pediatricians, performers, and the music
industry as those who should act responsibly regarding music performance and production.
Applications in the Classroom
The early childhood classroom is an ideal setting for facilitating musical socialization in
young children. In a study conducted by Peter deVries (2004), it was concluded that music
activities serve to stimulate the socialization process in preschool children. When children were
engaged in singing, they discussed with one another whether or not they liked the songs, before,
during and after the singing took place. They would often discuss why they liked a song or why
they may not like a song. When they finished singing a song, the children would yell out
statements that would express their opinions about the song such as, “that was fun, let’s do it
again” (2004, p.8). Sometimes these statements influenced future lesson planning. Providing
young children the opportunity for self-expression in a group setting is an important part of the
socialization process. It allows the children the opportunity to see how they, as individuals, fit
into the whole group where their role is valued and respected.
Another important reason to include music in the early childhood classroom to promote
and enhance socialization is in consideration of Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple
Intelligences and its application in the lives of young children (Gardner, 1983). If a child’s
dominant intelligence is the musical/rhythmic intelligence, that child is going to be more easily
acclimated in the socialization process, when music and rhythm are incorporated into their
environment. Including music in the early childhood classroom can take place very naturally by
singing, playing instruments, reciting fingerplays together as a class, rotating centers in which
music activities are set up, dancing to recorded music, choosing music to accompany familiar
children’s stories or books, drawing to recorded music, and countless other ideas. Music isn’t
included in the classroom only for the sake of teaching music; it is included for the sake of
teaching children. It just happens that instruction is taking place through the forum of music.
Within the early childhood classroom setting, however, it is important to remember that play
activities are how children learn. If teachers direct the play, children will consider it work and it
will not be as much fun for them (Ceglowski, 1997).
Additionally, music is a wonderful forum through which the classroom can be expanded
into the home when the teacher prepares her class for a performance and invites the parents to
attend to see the students perform for them. By reaching beyond the classroom in this manner,
the teacher is teaching her students about performers and audiences. The teacher has the
opportunity to teach about traditions regarding applause and other ways to show performers
appreciation for their hard work and dedication to their craft. Also, by bringing parents into the
classroom to see the children perform, the children feel valued to know that their parents took
time out of their work day to honor them. Children can begin to see, in the process of
socialization, that hard work pays off and it feels good to be appreciated by others, especially
their friends and family members.
The process of musical socialization in the early childhood classroom can play a very
important role in the lives of young children regarding their understanding of history and
traditions. A great deal of historical fact is imparted through song lyrics and, as noted by Racette
and Peretz (2007), music has a long history of being used as a teaching technique for
memorization. After all, how do most children learn the alphabet? They memorize a song and
that song stays with them their entire life. The same is true when young children sing the Star-
Spangled Banner and are told it is the National Anthem and it is important to stand when we sing
it. Some may even place their hands over their hearts. A part of the musical socialization
process for young children is when adults explain the significance of those gestures and the
meaning behind those behaviors that accompany the music. Another example might be when a
child stands beside a parent in a church service as a hymn is being sung. Certainly, the hymn is
unlike the songs that are sung in the preschool classroom. In the church setting, there may be a
piano or an organ accompanying the congregation. There may be several people, singing several
different vocal harmonies, which certainly did not take place in the preschool classroom. The
lyrics in the hymns are, most likely, very different than the lyrics being sung in the preschool
classroom, unless of course the preschool is in a religious environment. Again, if an adult takes
the time and effort to explain the lyrics in the hymn, the child may have the opportunity to make
great strides in the socialization process. For instance, if the congregation is singing the hymn
Blessed Assurance and it is explained to the child that Jesus can be his/her Savior and, no matter
what happens in his/her life, Jesus can give him/her the blessed assurance of an eternal home
with him, that song may very well lead into a discussion on salvation with that child and change
his/her life forever. At the least, the child will have a better understanding of what the lyrics
mean, after a discussion with an adult. Children begin to understand, at a very young age, that
some songs are different than others and we behave differently when we sing them.
The early childhood classroom offers other opportunities for musical socialization by
using songs to transition from one activity to another. Teachers can compose their own songs by
simply singing instructions to the children when it is time to clean up from one activity and
prepare the children to move on to the next activity. Singing cues can also be used to call the
children to attention or to gather them all in one location. A very effective music cue is a tiny
bell or the sounding of a single note on a xylophone. Music can become a language unto itself
within the classroom and the children will respond to it, accordingly. When the music is fast and
loud, they will usually want to move around the room quickly, jumping and hopping. When the
music is slow and quiet, they will move slowly and often times will crawl or stoop low to the
ground. A fun activity is to play instrumental music and ask the children to imagine what type of
animal might move like the music sounds and to move like that animal. Throughout this type of
activity, children enjoy socializing, discussing with one another what ideas they have and the
vastness of their imaginations.
With the increase in the use of technology in many classrooms, Gimbert and Cristol
(2004) encourage early childhood teachers to embrace technology in their classrooms, as well,
and seek out the advantages of using it to enhance learning for their students. Their suggestion is
to use benches at computer stations to encourage interaction and, therefore, stimulate the
socialization process. Also, they discuss using software that allows more decision making by the
children, as well as using software that “contains sound, voice, and music” (2004, p. 208).
Gimbert and Cristol encourage teachers to participate in professional development; but, caution
them that “the focus must be on learning to teach with technology rather than learning about
technology” (2004, p. 208).
The socialization process is vitally important to every child. It provides them with a solid
foundation upon which to build the strength and security of their past as well as the hope and
excitement of their future. It is an ongoing process that grows and develops as they grow and
develop. The process is like a kaleidoscope, made up of many things, places, and people, all
separate at one time; but, coming together at certain points and junctures.
Musical socialization is unique to various cultures; but, is present in some form, in all
cultures. In its purest form, mothers rock their babies to sleep while singing a lullaby to them.
That baby may sing the same lullaby to his/her baby years later and so a tradition is born,
through music. Music is used to calm shoppers in the grocery stores in the hopes of keeping
them there longer, so they will buy more. Music is used for jingles to accompany commercials
on television in the hopes that the viewer will remember the product when they are out shopping
and will buy it. Music is used in the waiting rooms of doctor and dentist offices in the hopes of
calming the patients before they are called back for their procedures. However, music is also
used to spread hate and speak evil against one another. Music is used to confuse and confound.
Because of the power that music holds, it is imperative that parents take back their power and
become deliberate about musical socialization in the home.
When often times it is music that is all that is left of the mind when disease steals the rest
from us (Cuddy & Duffin, 2004), this writer sees more and more clearly that we must preserve
the music in our society to allow it to linger for the next generation. We must begin by
socializing our children in the ways of music so they will know what to do with it. It is quite
telling when an Alzheimer’s patient has no recall of his spouse of 50 years; but, he can sing every
verse to an old hymn he learned when he was five years old. Music is powerful.
Age at first
First music
Music in
growing up?
Is music
hobby or
5church Yes No Yes 10-12 hrs
7school Yes No Yes A few hrs
4church No No No 8 hrs
5home No No No A few hrs
4home Yes Yes Yes 15 min
4church Yes Yes Yes 24 hrs
3home Yes No Yes 6 hrs
6Piano lessons Yes Yes Yes 30 min
5home Yes No Yes A few hrs
3church Yes Yes Yes 48 hrs
2home Yes Yes Yes 30 min
6church Yes Yes Yes A few hrs
5school Yes Yes Yes 5 hrs
7church No No No A few hrs
4school Yes Yes Yes 48 hrs
3home No No No A few hrs
7school Yes No No 30 min
5home Yes No Yes 45 min
6church Yes No Yes A few hrs
8Piano lessons Yes Yes Yes 24 hrs
5church Yes No Yes 4 hrs
6church Yes Yes Yes 48 hrs
4church No No No 2 hrs
6church No No No A few hrs
4church Yes No Yes 6 hrs
(6) 5, 4 12 church (19) Yes (10) Yes (18) Yes < 1 hour (5)
(5) 6 7 home (6) No (15) No (7) No A few hrs (8)
(3) 7, 3 4 school 2-12 hrs (7)
(1) 8, 2 2 piano
24-48 hrs (5)
Survey Questions:
1. What age were you when you remember having your first experience with music?
2. Was music prevalent in your home while you were growing up? If so, in what way?
3. Is either of your parents a musician?
4. Did you pursue music either as a hobby or career?
5. What is the longest period of time you may go without listening to or otherwise being
involved in some way with music?
Adachi, M. (1994). The role of the adult in the child’s early musical socialization: A Vygotskian
perspective. The Quarterly Journal of Music, 5(3), 26-35. Retrieved from http://www-
Campbell, P. (2000). How musical we are: John Blacking on music, education, and cultural
understanding. Journal of Research in Music Education. Retrieved from Doi: 10.2307/3345368
Ceglowski, D. (1997). Understanding and building upon children’s perceptions of play activities
in early childhood programs. Early Childhood Education Journal, 25(2), 107-112.
Cuddy, L., Duffin, J. (2004). Music, memory, and Alzheimer’s disease: is music recognition
spared in dementia, and how can it be assessed? Medical Hypothesis, 64(2), 229-235.
Retrieved from
deVries, P. (2004). The extramusical effects of music lessons on preschoolers. Australian
Journal of Early Childhood, 29(2), 6-10. Retrieved from
Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of Mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York, NY: Basic.
Gimbert, B., Cristol, D. (2004). Teaching curriculum with technology: Enhancing children’s
technological competence during early childhood. Early Childhood Education Journal,
31(3), 207-216.
Gonzalez de Rivas, M. (2009). Impact of music, music lyrics, and music videos on children and
youth. Pediatrics. Retrieved from
Knobloch-Westerwick, S., Musto, P., & Shaw, K. (2006). Rebellion in the top music charts:
defiant messages in rap/hip hop and rock music-1993-2003. Presented at the International
Communication Association Conference, Dresden, German, June 19-23, 2006.
McLeod, S. (2007). Vygotsky. Simply Psychology. Retrieved from
Racette, A., Peretz, I. (2007). Learning lyrics: To sing or not to sing?. Memory & Cognition,
35(2), 242-253.
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ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.