Musical dynamics in early triadic interactions: a case study

  • Nicolás AlessandroniEmail author
  • Ana Moreno-Núñez
  • Cintia Rodríguez
  • María Jesús Del Olmo
Original Article


Research of the last 30 years showed the importance of music for psychological development. Communicative musicality studies described musical organisations in dyadic interactions (adult–baby). However, other perspectives proposed that, from the beginning of life, there are early triadic interactions (adult–object–baby) that should also be analysed. Following previous research, we hypothesised that early triadic interactions have a structured musical organisation. We recorded a 2-month-old child interacting with his mother and an object in their home and performed a microgenetic quantitative–qualitative analysis. Given the child’s age, we focused on musical characteristics of the mother’s actions. To our knowledge, this is the first study to combine data processing provided by ELAN, Finale, and Matlab-MIRtoolbox. Our analysis shows that the child participates in triadic interactions in which the mother communicates about and through the maraca using musical resources in increasingly complex ways. Musical structuring happens at the intersegment, intrasequence, and intersequence levels, and involves different musical parameters. We suggest musical organisation in early triadic interactions follows a holographic structure in which each piece carries information about dynamic processes of different timescales. Results highlight the importance of considering objects and their uses to better understand early communicative musicality.



The authors would like to especially thank Dr. Joanna Rączaszek-Leonardi for her valuable comments on this work, and for suggesting the holographic structure idea that we use here.


This study was supported by the Program for the Training of University Teachers [“Formación de Profesorado Universitario”] of the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sports, to which the first author of the article belongs [reference FPU16/05358] and project EDU2011-27840 (MINECO, Spain).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


  1. Bates, E., Camaioni, L., & Volterra, V. (1975). The acquisition of performatives prior to speech. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 21(3), 205–226.Google Scholar
  2. Benward, B., & Saker, M. (2015). Music in theory and practice. Volume 1 (9th edn.). New York: McGraw Hill.Google Scholar
  3. Brinck, I., Reddy, V., & Zahavi, D. (2017). The primacy of the ‘we’? In C. Durt, T. Fuchs & C. Tewes (Eds.), Embodiment, enaction, and culture. Investigating the constitution of the shared world (pp. 131–148). Cambridge/London: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  4. Condon, W. S., & Sander, L. W. (1974). Neonate movement is synchronized with adult speech: Interactional participation and language acquisition. Science, 183(4120), 99–101. Scholar
  5. Costall, A. (2013). Things that help make us what we are. In G. Sammut, P. Daanen & F. M. Moghaddam (Eds.), Understanding the self and others: Explorations in intersubjectivity and interobjectivity (pp. 66–76). Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. Scholar
  6. Cross, I. (2009). The evolutionary nature of musical meaning. Musicae Scientiae, 13(2), 179–200. Scholar
  7. Cross, I. (2014). Music and communication in music psychology. Psychology of Music, 42(6), 809–819. Scholar
  8. Csibra, G. (2010). Recognizing communicative intentions in infancy. Mind & Language, 25(2), 141–168. Scholar
  9. De Jaegher, H., Di Paolo, E., & Gallagher, S. (2010). Can social interaction constitute social cognition? Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 14(10), 441–447. Scholar
  10. De Schuymer, L., De Groote, I., Striano, T., Stahl, D., & Roeyers, H. (2011). Dyadic and triadic skills in preterm and full term infants: A longitudinal study in the first year. Infant Behavior and Development, 34(1), 179–188. Scholar
  11. Di Stefano, N. (2016). Musical beings: Playing and dancing bodies. In M. Barone, N. Di Stefano & V. Tambone (Eds.), About the living body: Introduction to philosophical anatomy (pp. 31–47). New York: Nova Science Publisher Inc.Google Scholar
  12. ELAN (Version 5.2) [Computer software]. (2018). Nijmegen: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. Retrieved from Accessed 17 Aug 2018.
  13. Español, S. (2010). Performances en la infancia: cuando el habla parece música, danza, poesía. Epistemus. Revista de Estudios en Música, Cognición y Cultura, 1(1), 59–95. Scholar
  14. Español, S., & Shifres, F. (2015). The artistic infant directed performance: A mycroanalysis of the adult’s movements and sounds. Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science, 49(3), 371–397. Scholar
  15. Fernald, A. (1989). Intonation and communicative intent in mothers’ speech to infants: Is the melody the message? Child Development, 60(6), 1497–1510. Scholar
  16. Fernald, A., Taeschner, T., Dunn, J., Papousek, M., de Boysson-Bardies, B., & Fukui, I. (1989). A cross-language study of prosodic modifications in mothers’ and fathers’ speech to preverbal infants. Journal of Child Language, 16(3), 477–501. Scholar
  17. Filipi, A. (2009). Toddler and parent interaction: The organisation of gaze, pointing and vocalisation. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fogel, A. (1993). Developing through relationships. Chicago: Chicago University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Gergely, G., & Watson, J. S. (1999). Early socio-emotional development: Contingency perception and the social-biofeedback model. In P. Rochat (Ed.), Early social cognition: Understanding others in the first months of life (pp. 101–136). Mahwah: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  20. Holt, S., Fogel, A., & Wood, R. (1998). Innovation in social games. In M. Lyra & J. Valsiner (Eds.), Child development within culturally structured environments. Vol. IV (pp. 35–51). Norwood: Ablex.Google Scholar
  21. Hsu, H.-C., & Fogel, A. (2003). Stability and transitions in mother-infant face-to-face communication during the first 6 months: A microhistorical approach. Developmental Psychology, 39(6), 1061–1082. Scholar
  22. Kärtner, J. (2015). The autonomous developmental pathway: The primacy of subjective mental states for human behavior and experience. Child Development, 86(4), 1298–1309. Scholar
  23. Kärtner, J. (2018). Beyond dichotomies—(M)others’ structuring and the development of toddlers’ prosocial behavior across cultures. Current Opinion in Psychology, 20, 6–10. Scholar
  24. Keller, H., Otto, H., Lamm, B., Yovsi, R. D., & Kärtner, J. (2008). The timing of verbal/vocal communications between mothers and their infants: A longitudinal cross-cultural comparison. Infant Behavior and Development, 31(2), 217–226. Scholar
  25. Köster, M., Cavalcante, L., Vera Cruz de Carvalho, R., Dôgo Resende, B., & Kärtner, J. (2016). Cultural influences on toddlers’ prosocial behavior: How maternal task assignment relates to helping others. Child Development, 87(6), 1727–1738. Scholar
  26. Lartillot, O., Toiviainen, P., & Eerola, T. (2008). A Matlab toolbox for music information retrieval. In C. Preisach, H. Burkhardt, L. Schmidt-Thieme & R. Decker (Eds.), Data analysis, machine learning and applications. Studies in classification, data analysis, and knowledge organization (pp. 261–268). Berlin/Heilderberg: Springer. Scholar
  27. Lausberg, H., & Sloetjes, H. (2009). Coding gestural behavior with the NEUROGES-ELAN system. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments, & Computers, 41(3), 841–849. Scholar
  28. Malloch, S. (1999). Mothers and infants and communicative musicality. Musicae Scientiae, 3(1), 29–57. Scholar
  29. Malloch, S., Shoemark, H., Črnčec, R., Newnham, C., Paul, C., Prior, M. et al. (2012). Music therapy with hospitalized infants—the art and science of communicative musicality. Infant Mental Health Journal, 33(4), 386–399. Scholar
  30. Malloch, S., & Trevarthen, C. (Eds.). (2009). Communicative musicality. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Martínez, I. C., & Español, S. (2009). Image-schemas in parental performance. In J. Louhivuori, T. Eerola, S. Saarikallio, T. Himberg, & P.-S. Eerola (Eds.), Proceedings of the 7th Triennial Conference of European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music (ESCOM 2009) (pp. 297–305). Jyväskylä: European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music.Google Scholar
  32. Miall, D. S., & Dissanayake, E. (2003). The poetics of babytalk. Human Nature, 14(4), 337–364. Scholar
  33. Miller, S. (2017). Developmental research methods (5th edn.). London: SAGE Publications.Google Scholar
  34. Moreno-Núñez, A., Rodríguez, C., & Del Olmo, M. J. (2015). The rhythmic, sonorous and melodic components of adult–child–object interactions between 2 and 6 months old. Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science, 49(4), 737–756. Scholar
  35. Moreno-Núñez, A., Rodríguez, C., & Del Olmo, M. J. (2017). Rhythmic ostensive gestures: How adults facilitate infants’ entrance into early triadic interactions. Infant Behavior and Development, 49, 168–181. Scholar
  36. Moro, C. (2015). Material culture: Still ‘terra incognita’ for psychology today? Europe’s Journal of Psychology, 11(2), 172–176. Scholar
  37. Moro, C. (2016). To encounter, to build the world and to become a human being. Advocating for a material-cultural turn in developmental psychology. Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science. Scholar
  38. Nomikou, I., Leonardi, G., Rohlfing, K. J., & Rączaszek-Leonardi, J. (2016). Constructing interaction: The development of gaze dynamics: Development of gaze dynamics in interaction. Infant and Child Development, 25(3), 277–295. Scholar
  39. Papoušek, H. (1996). Musicality in infancy research: Biological and cultural origins of early musicality. In I. Deliège & J. Sloboda (Eds.), Musical beginnings. Origins and development of musical competence (pp. 37–55). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Scholar
  40. Papoušek, M., & Papoušek, H. (1981). Musical elements in the infant’s vocalizations: Their significance for communication, cognition and creativity. In L. P. Lipsitt (Ed.), Advances in infancy research (pp. 163–224). Norwood: Ablex.Google Scholar
  41. Rączaszek-Leonardi, J. (2010). Multiple time-scales of language dynamics: An example from psycholinguistics. Ecological Psychology, 22(4), 269–285. Scholar
  42. Rączaszek-Leonardi, J. (2018). Relations out there: Enacted structures of early social interactions. Presented at the 48th Annual Meeting of the Jean Piaget Society. The Dynamics of Development: Process, (Inter-)Action, & Complexity, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.Google Scholar
  43. Rączaszek-Leonardi, J., Dębska, A., & Sochanowicz, A. (2014). Pooling the ground: Understanding and coordination in collective sense making. Frontiers in Psychology. Scholar
  44. Rączaszek-Leonardi, J., Nomikou, I., & Rohlfing, K. J. (2013). Young children’s dialogical actions: The beginnings of purposeful intersubjectivity. IEEE Transactions on Autonomous Mental Development, 5(3), 210–221. Scholar
  45. Robb, L. (1999). Emotional musicality in mother-infant vocal affect, and an acoustic study of postnatal depression. Musicae Scientiae, 3(1), 123–154. Scholar
  46. Rodriguez, C., & Moro, C. (2008). Coming to agreement: Object use by infants and adults. In J. Zlatev, T. P. Racine, C. Sinha & E. Itkonen (Eds.), The shared mind. Perspectives on intersubjectivity (pp. 89–114). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. Scholar
  47. Rodríguez, C. (2006). Del ritmo al símbolo. Los signos en el nacimiento de la inteligencia. Barcelona: I.C.E-Horsori Editorial.Google Scholar
  48. Rodríguez, C. (2012). The functional permanence of the object: A product of consensus. In E. Martí & C. Rodríguez (Eds.), After Piaget (pp. 123–150). New Brunswick/London: Transaction Publishers.Google Scholar
  49. Rodríguez, C., Basilio, M., Cárdenas, K., Cavalcante, S., Moreno-Núñez, A., Palacios, P., & Yuste, N. (2018). Object pragmatics: Culture and communication, the bases for early cognitive development. In A. Rosa & J. Valsiner (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of socio-cultural psychology (2nd edn., pp. 223–244). New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Rodríguez, C., Benassi, J., Estrada, L., & Alessandroni, N. (2017). Early social interactions with people and objects. In A. Slater & G. Bremner (Eds.), An introduction to developmental psychology (3rd edn., pp. 213–258). Hoboken/West Sussex: Wiley.Google Scholar
  51. Rodríguez, C., & Moro, C. (1991). ¿Por qué tiende el niño el objeto hacia el adulto? La construcción social de la significación de los objetos. Infancia y Aprendizaje, 53, 99–118.Google Scholar
  52. Rodríguez, C., & Moro, C. (1999). El mágico número tres. Cuando los niños aún no hablan. Barcelona: Paidós Ibérica.Google Scholar
  53. Rossmanith, N., Costall, A., Reichelt, A. F., López, B., & Reddy, V. (2014). Jointly structuring triadic spaces of meaning and action: Book sharing from 3 months on. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1390. Scholar
  54. Rossmanith, N., & Reddy, V. (2016). Structure and openness in the development of self in infancy. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 23(1–2), 237–257.Google Scholar
  55. Stern, D., Beebe, B., Jaffe, J., & Bennet, S. L. (1977). The infant’s stimulous world during social interaction: A study of caregiver behaviours with particular reference to repetition and timing. In H. R. Schaffer (Ed.), Studies in mother-infant interaction (pp. 15–46). London: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  56. Striano, T., & Stahl, D. (2005). Sensitivity to triadic attention in early infancy. Developmental Science, 8(4), 333–343. Scholar
  57. Tan, S.-L., Pfordresher, P., & Harré, R. (2017). Psychology of music. From sound to significance (2nd edn.). London/New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Tomasello, M. (2004). Learning through others. Daedalus, 133(1), 51–58. Scholar
  59. Tomasello, M. (2008). Origins of human communication. Cambridge: The MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Trehub, S. E., Unyk, A. M., & Trainor, L. J. (1993). Adults identify infant-directed music across cultures. Infant Behavior and Development, 16(2), 193–211. Scholar
  61. Trevarthen, C. (1979). Communication and cooperation in early infancy: A description of primary intersubjectivity. In M. Bullowa (Ed.), Before speech: The beginning of human communication (pp. 321–347). London: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  62. Trevarthen, C. (2009). Human biochronology: on the source and functions of ‘musicality’. In R. Haas & V. Brandes (Eds.), Music that works (pp. 221–265). Wien/New York: Springer. Scholar
  63. Trevarthen, C. (2011). What is it like to be a person who knows nothing? Defining the active intersubjective mind of a newborn human being. Infant and Child Development, 20(1), 119–135. Scholar
  64. Trevarthen, C. (2012). Communicative musicality: The human impulse to create and share music. In D. Hargreaves, D. Miell & R. MacDonald (Eds.), Musical Imaginations. Multidisciplinary perspectives on creativity, performance and perception (pp. 259–284). Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  65. Trevarthen, C. (2015). Infant semiosis: The psycho-biology of action and shared experience from birth. Cognitive Development, 36, 130–141. Scholar
  66. Trevarthen, C. (2017). Play with infants: The impulse for human story-telling. In T. Bruce, P. Hakkarainen & M. Bredikyte (Eds.), The Routledge international handbook of play in early childhood (pp. 198–215). Abingdon: Taylor & Francis/Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Trevarthen, C., & Aitken, K. J. (1994). Brain development, infant communication, and empathy disorders: Intrinsic factors in child mental health. Development and Psychopathology, 6(4), 597–663. Scholar
  68. Trevarthen, C., Aitken, K. J., Vandekerckhove, M., Delafield-Butt, J., & Nagy, E. (2006). Collaborative regulations of vitality in early childhood: Stress in intimate relationships and postnatal psychopathology. In D. Cicchetti & D. J. Cohen (Eds.), Developmental psychopathology. Vol. 2 (2nd edn., pp. 65–126). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  69. Trevarthen, C., & Hubley, P. (1978). Secondary intersubjectivity: Confidence, confiding and acts of meaning in the first year. In A. Lock (Ed.), Action, gesture and symbol: The emergence of language (pp. 183–229). London: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  70. Wallon, H. (1942/1970). De l’acte à la pensée. Paris: Flammarion.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departamento Interfacultativo de Psicología Evolutiva y de la Educación, Facultad de PsicologíaUniversidad Autónoma de MadridMadridSpain
  2. 2.Departamento Interfacultativo de Música, Facultad de Profesorado y EducaciónUniversidad Autónoma de MadridMadridSpain

Personalised recommendations