Composing in a second grade music class: Crossing a watershed as children begin to understand song as structure

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Many children have little opportunity in school settings to develop their natural propensity to create music. The purpose of this collective case study was to describe and interpret the experiences of seven-year-old children as they composed and shared songs in a second grade music class during sixteen class sessions over an eleven-week period. The primary research questions were: What processes do children use to compose songs and what is the nature of the songs that the children compose? How do interactions with others in the classroom influence children's song compositions? In what ways do the children's songs and the processes used to produce them indicate development in musical thinking? Twenty-three boys and girls participated as class members of the case study. Three children were selected as focus case study participants and their voices were individually recorded as they composed. Children completed three composition projects: a whole class song, a small group song, and a song created individually or with a partner. Data collected included video tapes of class sessions, recordings of songs in progress and final performances, picture song books made by the children, individual recordings by three case study children, and interviews of three case study children, their parents, and their classroom teacher. Findings included support for theories that children around the age of seven have reached a watershed of cognitive thinking ability enabling them to construct, remember, and perform composed songs that resemble the vernacular. Children's songs and processes were indicative of a path of development of musical thinking. Some children worked alone or together to produce stylistic and melodic variations and to modify their songs, incorporating tonal and rhythmic structures that made their songs memorable. Leadership, control issues, gender bias, confusion between speaking and singing voices, and reading fluency problems affected composing processes and content of the songs. A major aspect of the teacher role was to bring awareness of musical structures to children. Future research possibilities include the importance of singing as a tool in instrumental composition, memory for composed songs, and the connection between musical aptitude and ability to compose songs.