10.1 Introduction

This chapter conceptualises exploration through narrative examples of children and teachers in music activities in kindergarten. First, the distinction between music exploration and musical exploration must be articulated. We argue that music exploration is the process of examining and being curious about sounds, rhythms and instruments, while musical exploration refers to musicality and the embodiment and sensitivity that happens when music becomes meaningful on a deep level. Christopher Small’s concept of musicking (Small, 1998) is vital to our understanding of exploration within a context in which music instruments and the doing play an essential role. The concept of musicking underscores that music is a signifying practice that unites human beings; that is, it is relational in its doing. The relationship created when people do music is at the core of what musicking represents. To music is musicking:

‘To music is to take part, in any capacity, in a musical performance, whether by performing, by listening, by rehearsing or practicing, by providing material for performance (what is called composing), or by dancing.’ (Small, 1998, p. 9).

Children are curious explorers of sounds and artefacts. From a child’s perspective, sound can be created from artefacts that a teacher would not consider music instruments. These artefacts could be anything from stones, wooden pieces and water in a bowl to electronic devices and multimedia artefacts. The instruments might even be imaginary. If the teacher’s perspective is that music instruments are only the traditional ones, like voice, guitar, piano, flute and drums, there is a discrepancy between the children and the teacher about what exploration that is possible.

Henceforth, our research questions are: What are the key elements of ‘exploration’ in children’s musicking practices in kindergarten, and what are the mediating practices for teachers when they prepare for such activities?

Our aim with this chapter is threefold. First and overall, we will add to current knowledge about the notion of exploration in early childhood pedagogical settings. We will do this by presenting relevant research in which musicking activities are in the foreground. We also present three narrative descriptions in the more specific context of activities involving music from our own research. It allows us to raise awareness of children’s and teachers’ music and musical exploration in institutional contexts and add to understandings of conditions for such pedagogical practices. This implies an implication regarding pedagogical knowledge of how institutional practices can open up or delimit children’s exploration with artefacts that can produce sound and, hence, become meaningful for children.

Second, we aim to contribute to analytic sensitivity concerning how ‘exploration’ as a notion in researching children in pedagogical institutions always will imply institutional conditions, such as being attached to the pedagogical mediated practices in question. We will pick up on the model introduced by Ødegaard’s Chap. 6 in this book, examining how body, movement, sensation and artefact are imbedded in the discourse and pedagogical practices. Cultures of exploration is characterised by co-creation; the teacher and the child are participants in explorative activities. Working with the three concepts of music, musicality and musicking, we open up the notion of exploration while we distinguish the what in pedagogical practices. For; what is explored, when children (and teachers) are exploring? Is it the process of examining and being curious about the elements of an artefact, for example when exploring an instrument, how it can make sound and rhythm, or is it the visible signs of attachment to the explored artefacts that we, as researchers, are curious to know more about? We want to highlight some of the complexity within the context and practice of music in kindergarten. Whether children are musical explorers or only music explorers is an interesting point of departure. Our understandings of the distinction between music and musical exploration might bring additional insight into how music can be significant to the cultural formation of children.

The third aim, at the end, is to indicate the implications of our new conceptualisations for early childhood education and research.

A socio-epistemological focus forms the basis of our theoretical argumentation (Ødegaard & Krüger, 2012; Schei, 2013). This perspective embraces a cultural historical approach and dialogical and discourse methodology; it implicitly requests that we see processes embodied in traditions, framed by discursive conditions and processed by dialogical engagement (Hedegaard, Fleer, Bang, & Hviid, 2008; Schei & Ødegaard, 2017).Footnote 1 As this theorisation points out, conditions for how people do, experience, behave, present, feel and think; and how time, place, situation, artefacts and relationships are understood as dynamic mechanisms are important for children’s cultural formation. According to cultural-historical theory (Hedegaard et al., 2008), each institutional collective has unique practices and traditions that emerge and guide different everyday situations and activities.

We present a theoretical construct for understanding children and teachers as musicking participants and cultural consumers. In this context, we go beyond teachers’ engagement and participation. Both children and teachers engage in institutional practices, bringing their personal stories into the institutional frame. By presenting three narratives, we examine how children make meaning from sound through the elements of rhythm, melody and sentiment, and how they explore and express themselves with and through music. Previous research within the field of music pedagogy will be presented to add to the understanding of how the notion of musicking is variously understood. Few studies have been conducted on music and musical exploration in early childhood education using a cultural-historical approach.

10.2 How Music Works in Institutional Settings

Music is owned by everybody, young and old. Music is sound, timbre, rhythm, pitch. We are surrounded by sound, and we create sound, some of which we call music. Yet, it is strongly cultural, and it has numerous functions in everyone’s lives. Experiences with music store tacit knowledge about meaning and belonging, and are strongly connected to emotions and identity work (Ruud, 1997; Schei, Espeland, & Stige, 2013, p. 38). Music affects us emotionally and can be found as modes of expression in every culture (Vist, 2011). Dealing with children’s lives and well-being in families and in early childhood education, we see music connected to a basic condition for the formative development of children. While music touches a deep personal and basic emotional chord in humans, music is a cultural resource available to children, but always in particular ways, depending on how it is presented, what artefacts are available and whether it is considered important by those present. All these layers are mixed, and they are immensely important to distinguish. When giving attention to the power-relations in institutional settings, the teacher’s role and undertaking is vital to highlight. Through three narratives in which music works in particular ways, we will add to this understanding.

We theorise with a focus on what children’s music and musical activities in institutional settings can be and the pedagogical conditions for such activities. This allows us to consider the further complexities and conditions connected with musicking.

10.3 Musicking

Small (1998) uses the concept of musicking first and most importantly in connection with performing music. As we will elaborate, the concept gives resonance and seems to be efficient and useful in settings where exploration, not performance, is the issue. It is not the music, itself, but what occurs between people doing the music that is the matter. A large variety of studies seem to agree and use the concept of musicking to explain and understand the doing and what that might signify. Frederik Pio and Øivind Varkøy suggest that musicking can be seen as a process of meaning creation. An artefact like a CD or a musical product does not have any inherent value until action is added. Then music becomes musicking (Pio & Varkøy, 2012, p. 106). Music is often seen as a tool for something else, like a means for language learning, but by understanding activities with music in accordance with the concept of musicking, the activity has value and meaning in itself.

Sven-Erik Holgersen has documented tacit participation from children ages 1–5 years as a strategy in which the participant does not articulate his or her experience, even if he or she is intensely directed towards the musical event and expression (Holgersen, 2002, p. 157). A child can be participating as a listener. Understanding participation with the concept of musicking, one could say all participation is important and meaningful for participants, because the meaning of music lies not in objects, but action, in what people do with music (Small, 1998, p. 8). Hence, its value is exclusively in the activity, itself, confirmed immediately by other participants. Musicking, then, is based on activity, and activity is embodied in a way that makes participants experience relational meanings, to the music itself and/or other humans.

Maria Wassrin has contributed with new knowledge about kindergarten children and teachers musicking together (Wassrin, 2016a). She discusses how the didactic identity of the subject music in kindergarten is being negotiated in relation to the notions of the term children, the term music and the term pedagogical role. She questions whether one- to three-year-olds are involved or whether they are invisible, subordinate and insignificant in musical activities. Wassrin uses three different negotiation dimensions, which she calls discursive analytical levels: The micro level is the face-to-face interaction ‘here and now’, analysed through video recordings of music lessons. The second level is the educational performance level, where the concepts ‘children’ and ‘music’, and children’s agency are elaborated and discussed through group interviews with four educators. The third level is socio-political. Here, Hannah Arendt and her term public sphere is used to understand studied music practices from a political and philosophical perspective. A public sphere is created through values ​​like equality and pluralism. Age is challenged and negotiated; consequently, children and adults are perceived as equal contributors. Her analysis finds ‘[T]he children and the educators explored different ways of being together in music as communicative medium’ (Wassrin, 2016b, p. 128).

Jan Sverre Knudsen (2008) writes about children’s improvised vocalisations and how to understand such vocal expressions as learning and communication. He uses Michel Foucault to understand improvised vocalisations as ‘tools used to “act upon the self” in order to attain or reinforce a certain mental state or mood – happiness, satisfaction, anger or longing – in short, as a way in which children learn to know the self as a self’ (Foucault, 1988; Knudsen, 2008, p. 287). In his perspective, children have an inner world and an expressive outer world that is more undefined and transparent than for adults.

Exploring sounds is very much connected to children’s culture, not necessarily noticed by teachers, but yet very present, writes Patricia Campbell (2010, p. 4). She argues children think aloud through music and music might be their expressive thinking at work, which she bases on their expressed thoughts and musicking behaviours. For children, music is socially and personally meaningful, which is visible when we spotlight how they explore and use music artefacts. She describes how they socialise, uphold their rituals of play and entertain themselves through music when they stretch their bodies, move rhythmically and use their voice in various ways, be they soft, hard, loud or fast. It is as if they have ‘their songs in their heads’ (Campbell, 2010, p. 3). We can understand how children are musically thinking through what they do with music – as if they have internal monologues (Campbell, 1998).

Claudia Gluschankof (2005) presents musicking examples in her study of kindergarten children singing, dancing to recorded music and playing percussion instruments. She describes how adults often are unaware of the musical qualities and values inherent in such exploration, but they are unique modes of expressions. Children’s self-initiated musical play is, according to Gluschankof, understandable through several aspects. The sensory-motor aspect implies the aural, tactile, kinaesthetic and visual. Gluschankof shows how children explore sound colours and timbre.‘[I]ntensity, accents, duration, and even pitch, especially if they are extreme (very loud/soft, very long/short, very high/low)’ (Gluschankof, 2005, p. 329) are important to the children. She describes how children explore percussion instruments as physical artefacts, examining size, shape, material and smell. Moreover, children try out ‘the actions that can be performed with it (e.g. shake, pluck, strike, carry around, look through etc.) and the consequences of the different actions (e.g. loud sounds, long sounds, light is reflected etc.)’ (Gluschankof, 2005, p. 330). She argues action is a way of exploring instruments, and sometimes, it develops into dramatic play. Gluschankof describes how children are given the opportunity to explore musicking within the specific kindergarten’s culture. They have both parallel, solitary and peer interaction, and the group leader is ‘usually the child who is perceived as the one with more original musicking ideas’ (Gluschankof, 2005, p. 331). The way the teacher facilitates music exploration is crucial. She remarks the teacher’s role is supportive, enabling children’s self-initiated play and exploration with music.

Ingeborg Lunde Vestad has extensively researched how children use recorded music in their everyday lives in kindergarten and homes and how they play roles and position their affiliation with recorded music. This becomes visible through how they act, speak and make music meaningful (Vestad, 2014, p. 270). She argues that children’s daily use of recorded music leads to their having clear subject positions with musical agency (Vestad, 2014, p. 259).

According to Pauline von Bonsdorff, the first signs of childhood aesthetics are rhythm and movement, as they are fundamental to humans, who right after birth turn towards others and communicate in multimodal and highly expressive ways. Infancy researchers have called this the ‘communicative musicality’ of babies (Malloch & Trevarthen, 2009). von Bonsdorff points to the striking similarity between the dynamic movements common to infants and performing artists. Vocal exchanges between infants and their caregivers have been analysed as musical narratives (Mazokopaki & Kugiumutzakis, 2009). von Bondsdorff argues that infants do not live in the moment only. Cultural practices like play and imagination, such as tickling, peekaboo and personal greetings, not to mention songs, narratives, pictures and objects are all shared situations (von Bonsdorff, 2015).

Sophie Alcock is a researcher who uses cultural-historical activity theory to understand children’s aesthetic experiences, particularly their rhythmic, playful communication. ‘Poetry, dance, drama, and music – musike – all involve communication and symbolic representation mediated by body movement, sound, and rhythm’ (Alcock, 2008, p. 329). Musike is the ancient Greek word for music, a term that includes poetry, dance, drama and music. Children’s rules, roles and communities are seen as forms of activity systems dynamically and dialectically connected through artefacts. Rhythmic playfulness can be chanting, moving and dancing rhythmically together. ‘When children can play freely with artefacts, the mediating (transforming, internalising and externalising) process is likely to be a meaningful aesthetic experience for them…’ (Alcock, 2008, p. 336).

We asked how the notion of exploration can open up our insight into how children and teachers communicate in activities involving music. We also asked about key elements of ‘exploration’. The aforementioned research only gives indirect answers to our questions. However, the above researchers seem to agree that musicking, understood as activities involving music, are shared activities. What is extraordinary about Small’s concept of musicking is that it implies the process of taking part, in any capacity, in a musical performance, which means that it is relational in its doings.

Using these concepts, we will now turn to the next step in our inquiry, namely, to investigate music and musical ‘exploration’ through three narratives.

10.4 Reconstructing Narratives to Understand Musicking Transition Points

In the following we present three narratives that were constructed through a process inspired by Barbara Czarniawska (2004, p. 652) and her guidance for reuse of narratives. The narrative construction is a recycling process whereby narratives provided in previous extensive fieldworkFootnote 2 are deconstructed and reconstructed for new purposes (Schei & Ødegaard, 2017). This is done to establish descriptive cases where elements of active collaboration and playful approaches to music activities are present. Our purpose with this deconstruction and reconstruction process is to inform our research questions. Unlike other qualitative data analyses that pull data apart, narrative analysis following Czarniawska’s (2004) narrative analytical method synthesises and configures field notes to make a narrative case for illustrative purposes.

We define a narrative as a spoken or written text that provides a way of organising an event, activity or a series of activities which are connected and presented in a holistic format that includes contextual details and interpretations from the narrative researcher. The three narratives constitute approaches to children’s and teachers’ musicking exploration practices. We name the three narratives differently to decipher various layers of importance concerning what exploration might imply in institutional settings. After the presentation, we epitomise educational purposes and transition points for musicking exploration informed by Exploration as dialogical engagement (see Chap. 6), following a cultural, historical and discursive approach. All three events take place in kindergartens; activities are planned or spontaneous.

10.4.1 Narrative 1: Music Circle Time – Exploration with Music Instruments

In this first case, author Schei shows how one-year-old children and their teacher explore music artefacts.

The teacher sits in the middle of a circle, surrounded by ten one-year-olds and three from the staff. The room contains instruments of all kinds: small and big drums, guitars, bells, flutes and other artefacts: stones, wooden pieces, plastic bottles and bowls filled with water. The children are introduced to many of the instruments by their teacher. He shows them how they work, and how to play tones and rhythms on them. He presents melodies and songs with manoeuvres of excitement, and the children are invited to try the instruments and sing along. The children seem absorbed by what is happening. It is possible to see by their attention for long periods without noticing any distractions. As an observer of these gatherings during several months, I have seen again and again how they have become familiar with the instruments by watching the teacher showing them how they work, what is possible to do with them and how to hold and handle them. I register that what the teacher is doing is to introduce possible ways of being in the music with instruments.

What are the key elements of exploration in this narrative? The teacher is positioned in the centre of the circle in a routine activity: a planned music session (circle) time. Music artefacts are available and introduced by the teacher to the children. The children seem absorbed. We also see how the teacher positions children on the floor, in a traditional, routinised music session. Schei points out how children are institutionally disciplined through a regular activity such as a music circle time once a week, not only musically disciplined, but also how such activities condition children’s continuous identity formation as subjects. The children depend largely on what the teacher chooses to present, and how. The way the teacher interacts with the children seems to create curiosity; they seem absorbed. When the teacher has a devotion to the children and their curiosity to explore instruments, it is possible to understand his professional work as a way of setting children in an exploratory mode by modelling them to be curious about artefacts, take initiative and try various instruments to explore their possibilities. He calls for curiosity and co-creation of meaning. In the research film made during Schei’s observation period, the teacher said in interview that these experiences were ‘magical musical moments’ (Schei & Bonete, 2011, track 3), but not without disciplined order. The children sit completely silent for long periods, and one might think they are not active participants. Instead, this is a way of teaching children to be attuned with the instruments. He awaits answers from children and gets them when he allows them to try instruments under his guidance. Then he is rewarded with children who enjoy exploring what sounds they can make with various instruments. Schei sees an engaged teacher in dialogue with children; such sessions can build children’s expectations. Through this way of musicking, they are learning by observation and pitching in (Coppens et al., 2014). The field observer noticed the process from an emergent curiosity about the embodiment of musicking. The children soon were engaged in the musicking activity; they were focused and participating in the routinised way allowed in this institutional setting. The absorption and participation seen can indicate that the children had embodied the music activity. The transition point seemed to come gradually; an emergent interest was awakened, initiated from a pedagogical planned strategy. It was over time that the embodiment of musicking took place. By establishing a music session activity as an institutional routine, the teacher builds expectations for the activity. He establishes a pedagogical approach in line with exploration as dialogical engagement, a grip that seems to stimulate curiosity and a co-creation of meaning.

10.4.2 Narrative 2: The Sword Dance – Exploration through Rhythm and Imagination

In a study of the youngest children in institutional settings, author Ødegaard described the case of Captain Andreas, a boy going from 18 months to two and a half years during the case study (Ødegaard, 2007).

Already on my first visit to the kindergarten, Andreas, the boy who introduced the ‘sword dance’ in the kindergarten group, took hold of my hand and walked me to the photo collage of himself and his family, put up at the entrance hall among similar collages of every child in the group. He proudly pointed out a picture of himself in a Captain Sabretooth costume: a black captain’s hat, a black coat with golden buttons and a pirate flag in one hand and a sword in the other. Andreas and his older brother had visited the captain’s home base in an adventure park with their family during summer when Andreas was one year old. The photo in Andreas’ family collage, which he had pointed out to me, was taken at this summer event. Later I observed how he took the initiative to play a CD from the universe of Captain Sabretooth from the composer Terje Formoe. This was a CD he had been given permission to bring from home to the kindergarten, and the teachers had allowed him to play the CD. At first the teacher helped him put on the CD, and he started to move. He walked rhythmically in a circle, and his arms came up with regular, waving sort of movements. The next day, this event was repeated, and two other children showed interest. The CD played the song on Andreas’ initiative. He started to move with a regular rhythm in a circle, moving his arms attuned to the rhythm of the feet. I didn’t see it at first, but suddenly I saw his imaginary sword. It was first when the other children, very quickly took his steps and waving movements, and they went round and round attuned in the same move. I saw the three pirates swinging an imaginary sword, while walking with rhythmic steps in a circle. It was a dance, it was a play without a word, it was a play with imaginary artefacts. Eventually, more children followed, they formed a circle, and they could dance round and round for a long time. Andreas had developed a dance. I call it the sword dance.

In the narrative above, the key elements of exploration can be seen in the way children explored the dance through an embodiment of the music: finding a regular rhythm, a shared movement, waving arms, moving in a circle. After a while, the observer noticed the musicking. We suggest that it was the children’s transition from exploring music to becoming musical that the observer could notice when she suddenly saw the children join together in a rhythm and in agreement over the imaginative elements in the play, the sword. That is, the music is embodied through a child-initiated activity.

This narrative does not foreground the teacher. Nevertheless, the sword dance is conditioned by teachers since it takes place in an institutional setting. Andreas is allowed to bring a CD from home, and the teacher facilitates the music being played. The children are musicking by dancing. Ødegaard proposed the concept of participatory space (Ødegaard, 2007). In an institutional setting, all activities are regulated through cultural and structural dynamics. Within these conditions, teachers and children have space for agency, for initiatives and responses, open-ended opportunities for child initiated play. This example shows how musicking is related to place and how music crosses borders between families and institutions. The family has made the music of Captain Sabretooth available for one of the children in kindergarten, and the staff allowed the child to play the CD brought from home. The sword dance is conditioned by a space to move, an artefact – a CD player, the energy of the activity raised by more children who were attracted to the dance and participated: a co-creation of meaning.

10.4.3 Narrative 3: Fictional Drama – Exploration in a Joint Community

Schei studied 20 improvisational art meetings between a musician, an actress and five-year-olds in kindergartens where the majority of the children were from immigrant backgrounds (Schei & Duus, 2016). The actress created a teddy bear named Mitwa as a protagonist. Throughout the art meetings, all improvisational work was spun around Mitwa’s travel projects around the world, and the actress and children created virtual voyages. The musician played ‘travel music’ on his guitar when the children claimed that they had to travel by race car to catch an airplane to Palestine as soon as possible:

The musician starts to play a rapid and rhythmic melody on his guitar, and the children quickly rise up to drive the race car to the airport. Their bodies make rapid movements, heads turning quickly to see if everyone is joining, and all the feet are stepping the pulse from the melody. In the race car, the children hold their arms as if there are steering wheels in front of them. They all run in circles and make motor sounds and shouts of joy because they are driving so fast. They make it to the airport and enter the aircraft. When the music suddenly stops, they realise that they finally are in Palestine, and the mood changes. Their bodies relax, the faces open up and one boy exclaims: ‘What is this smell?’ ‘It’s the smell of meatballs’, says the boy with a family background from Palestine.

Analysing this episode, there are various aspects to highlight. The first is that the children have been given a space for exploration, inventing a story, co-creating meaning with two artists. Others, not they, set them in an exploratory mode, but they subordinate to the setting and seem exalted and very observant of others’ suggestions. They are aware of their situation. They know they are to co-invent a story, and they enter it without questions.

The framing is a rather ordinary room with very few artefacts, except Mitwa with his rucksack in his red chair in the middle of the room. Here, children create a story for Mitwa, and they identify so much with him, they seem to be this main figure of their story. He becomes a ‘sentient being’ at the moment they identify with him. They drive the race car together and feel the rhythm and rapidity of travel as if they were one person, not a group. By being Mitwa, they control his thoughts and feelings.

It is the travel music that triggers the children. The pulse, the rhythms, the mood in the music release engagement, initiative, impatience and expectations of something exciting. This is visible in how they use their voice: the timbre of their voices reveals expectations that something important will happen. Their body language is resolute, as if there is a clear goal ahead. They act in accordance with the music, with determined, quick moves and foresight. The music has become embodied and we have identified transition points. Each of them is in a condition in which the musicking phenomenon is prominent. The music works, and they sway with the storyline.

10.5 Conceptualising Exploration Through Identifying Transition Points

We asked how institutional practices can open or delimit children’s music and musical exploration. Deciphering details concerning attachment to artefacts and how these become significant allows us to elaborate on how children and teachers communicate and interact when music is involved. Teacher practices will always condition the participatory space for music and musical exploration. What these cases do not show is that teachers can also delimit the musical space of the children. This can be seen in stiffness, stopping, children’s limited urge to explore and, not least, the word no. Another example can be illustrated by contrasting monologist and dialogic educational cultures, with its inherent principles and practices. A monologist culture is characterised by transferral of content, e.g. music will be introduced by ‘show and tell’, and regulated by rules and regulation, while inquiry, curiosity and uncertainty, rather than regulations, characterize cultures of exploration. Transformation can then occur when elements of following up are added to the ‘show and tell’ (Chap. 6).

Through the literature review and the three examples, we found key elements of ‘exploration’ in children’s musicking practices and, furthermore, conditions and mediating practices for teachers.

In the first example we identified the teacher’s dialogical engagement. It was recognized as closely related to the children’s longstanding attentiveness and interest: what can be identified as embodiment or what Coppens et al. (2014) call observing and pitching in. Researcher Schei observed how the one-year-olds were eager to try out what the teacher had shown them. The example shows how young children experience music as a regular activity that create certain expectations for and curiosity about new and old elements introduced by the teacher. Eventually, there are transition points where the children pitch in after observing the teacher. The music becomes embodied and musical activities can be identified through children’s bodily expressions. Body, movement and sensation are both a precondition for musicking as well as a manifestation of it. The second narrative shows how a child deeply engaged in an imaginary world that includes music, dance and a story about pirates becomes a co-creator of meaning through the child’s initiative. Musicking takes place as a dancing activity where an imaginary artefact, a sword, constitutes an important element in the ritual dance co-created by the peer community. In the third example, music became a trigger for action, with quick moves, rapid gestures, swift speech and expressive fictional play.

The model ‘exploration as dialogical engagement’, introduced by Ødegaard in Chap. 6, can be elaborated when exploration with music is in the foreground. If both the children and the teachers agree that all kinds of artefacts are potential music instruments to be explored, children and teachers might co-develop their environment and how they might use the available artefacts. If the teacher’s condition is that all children can take part in music activities, whether by listening or doing, they contribute to children’s musical development by facilitating the space of exploration. Through our analyses we have identified transition points, particular moments when the music explorer is becoming a musical explorer.

The transition points are the musicking moments when the explorer has left the exploration behind and relate to the artefact with devotion. It implies that the explorer now is in a condition where he or she relates to the artefact with embodied knowledge about what to do with the artefact, how it works and how they can connect to it. There is a presence in own activity that overshadows whatever is happening outside of the activity.

We have illustrated through the three narrative events how transition points might occur in institutional pedagogical practices and, possibly, establish attunement:

  • In routinised activities in which the teacher creates situations where children are given the opportunity to be curious and eventually pitch in by exploring songs, rhythm, sounds from a variety of instruments and other material objects

  • When children are given participatory space to explore many perspectives of musical experience and expression, for example the co-creation of dance

  • When staging a mode for musicking through fictional drama

10.6 Music and Musical Exploration

Who is musical, and what does it mean to be musical? These are relevant questions when studying music and musical exploration in the field of kindergarten. Situated in the twenty-first century, the child is considered a competent human, which influences the way we form children’s possibilities to be creative in kindergarten (Bae, 2010; Corsaro, 2005). We will argue that musicality becomes apparent when children explore music, whether they explore music instruments, artefacts that can function as music instruments, recorded music used for play or dance, or music supporting an activity. This view probably would not have been accepted in the twentieth century. Throughout the 1900s, there was an ongoing measuring of musical talent by researchers, and questions about musicality were common. Tests that were conducted were ‘narrowly focused on perception, although there is no firm evidence that perception and production are correlated’ (Levitin, 2012, p. 635). Levitin states that in tests individuality, emotions and creativity was not possible to register. Mostly, well-skilled adults were tested, not children – and not at all children under age three. To understand the shift of the notion of musicality, we must allow ourselves to exclude such tests and, rather, focus on what we, as researchers, see and hear happen when children explore music in kindergarten and how teachers support and contribute to their explorations. Extensive research on the intrinsic musical nature of human interaction shows how the need for music and the ability to act musically is inherent in every human. Malloch and Trevarthen (2009) document how even the youngest children use elements from music, rhythm, timbre, timing and melodic gesture to communicate. The activities triggered by music reveal how music matters when human beings open up and allow the music to be explored, no matter whether the explorer is a child or an adult. Music has inherent power when used in everyday life (DeNora, 2000). When not used, it is an artefact with unknown meaning. Sometimes, the role of the music is not in the foreground, but no matter foreground or background, musicality is prevalent, because music works as a trigger for activity, as Small (1998) outlines with his concept of ‘musicking’. The one-year-olds in Schei’s research wanted to explore the drums after watching the teacher demonstrate what sounds the drums might produce, and they demonstrated musicality in many ways when they started to play. Immediately, they showed how their new knowledge was embodied. They had obtained knowledge to produce sound and rhythm and to dialogue with the drums and others in the room. They were aesthetic decision makers, to borrow Margaret Barrett’s notion of children’s musical thinking (Barrett, 1996).

Musicality, then, should not only be considered the ability to produce music, to sing, play and dance, but also to display flair, demonstrated in the ability to sense relational conditions, know how to engage in dialogue with mates and teachers, and adjust and subordinate one’s own expression when needed for the sake of group relationships. There are moments when the explorer becomes so devoted to that which is explored that the exploration is left behind, and the doing is at the core. These transition points, we coin as the musicking moments. Curiosity about music is related to the phase of exploring what to do and how to act with an artefact. Musicality, then, is embedded in, and becomes apparent in the action of exploration when children exclusively reveal their affiliation with that which they find meaningful.

To understand how music is meaningful and significant to children, one should study such activities where mediating practices release visibly embodied joy, because such activities release pedagogical attunement.