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Music Therapy, and Early Childhood: A Developmental Approach

Schwartz, Elizabeth (2008). Music Therapy, and Early Childhood: A Developmental Approach. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishers.

This book is divided into three sections. Part 1: Music, Young Children and Development; part 2: From theory to Practice and part 3: Practice Particulars. Before launching into part 1, the author includes a preface, a page on how to use the book and an introduction.

The preface immediately drew me into the author’s world. With simplicity and humility the author describes a situation where she is attempting to meet the needs of a child with complex needs and tries “just to make music.” The author then goes on to explain that this book is intended mainly for the music therapy student or the young professional, reflects the United States of America in the 21st century and focuses on early childhood (0 to 5 years old). The author emphasizes that the thoughts presented in this book “encourage the reader to look at music and music therapy through the eyes of the child”. She concludes the introduction section by encouraging the reader to “reach into the pure essence of music and build from there.”

After this very encouraging beginning I was slightly puzzled by chapter 1, intituled “How music is experienced.” Here the reader is presented with a number of lists and bullet points, all of which are interesting but do not relate to one another. I wasn’t completely convinced that the different musical elements can be presented so clearly in a developmental sequence. One could argue, for example, that for some infants, the recognition of rhythm through movements occurs before the use or recognition of pitch. Later in the chapter, when thinking about the role of music for the young child I wondered about music to communicate, or music to control, roles of music that seem to be very central for the children I work with and that have not been included here.

Chapters 2, 3, and 4 present, respectively, summaries and lists of other authors’ theories of development, childhood developmental scales and models of musical development. It is extremely useful to have all this material summarised in one book and I can imagine referring to this book frequently in the future. However, it is very difficult to read lists, or take in information presented in this way. In addition, I would have liked a little more information on Dalcroze, Orff, Kodaly and Suzuki, and missed the fact that these educationalists are not referenced at the back of the book.

Chapter 5 presents us with another list, this time of detailed musical responses in early childhood presented developmentally from the ages of 0 to 60 months. In the introduction to this chapter the author mentions that there is a wealth of research on specific musical responses. I would have liked to know a little about this research, or at least where the author had got the material in this chapter from. Was it other authors’ or her own research and experience? Again more references would have been useful here.

In the next section 2, “from theory to practice” chapter 6 (which is only one page long) provides an introduction for chapters 7,8,9,10 and 11, explaining that each of these chapters will sequentially address one of the Briggs/Bruscia five developmental levels of awareness, trust, independence, control and responsibility. These chapters are all structured in similar ways: an introduction and general description of the level, some examples of children at this level interacting with music, a list of the musical characteristics of these children and a detailed list of goals and objectives for music therapists working with the children. These goals and objectives are divided up into four types of musical activities: singing, playing, music movement and musical understanding. Finally, the chapters include a list of strategies and interventions for music therapists working with children at each level.

In these chapters I found the most interesting parts were the descriptions of the children showing awareness, trust, independence, control and responsibility through various types of musical interventions. The author sensitively provides us with snapshots of children of different ages and abilities responding at the levels she wishes to expand upon in each particular chapter. I would have liked to read more of the author’s prose rather than have almost all the information presented in list form. Although bullet points and lists can provide useful reference points, they give us little opportunity for reflection on the links and connections between different sections of the chapters and also lead to huge amounts of repetition between chapters and sections.

The last two chapters in section 2 are entitled “Obstacles to development” and “Recognising involvement in music.” Once again I very much enjoyed the author’s straightforward prose and her references to children involved in music making. Her experience and warmth shine through, and the reader can sense her compassion and enthusiasm for her work. However, I did not think the table where diagnoses were matched up with the same levels of development as those described in chapters 7 to 11, was at all convincing. Children with most (if not all) of the diagnoses listed (pp 108-110) might operate at any of the five developmental levels because the severity of the conditions varies so much from child to child and because many children will have complex needs and more than one diagnosis.

The third and last section of the book: “Practical particulars” is also the shortest. In four short chapters a number of quite disparate aspects are explored varying from “music and language”, “toileting” and “flow of the music groups.”

I was pleased that the author had considered various aspects of play, but again would have preferred prose and clinical examples rather than a list of bullet points. I was interested in the section on the meaning of silence in music and quite relieved that the author had not attempted to categorise silence in the usual five developmental categories but instead had reflected on “active silence”, “passive silence” and “nonconstructive” silence”. While I agreed with the author’s comments about the importance of movement when working as a music therapist in early childhood, I wondered whether connections could have been made here with the earlier suggestions made in the “music movement” sections of chapters in section 2.

In this third section as in the other sections I was slightly put off by the large number of bullet points, lists and tables and would have appreciated more comparative arguments and more text linking ideas, and discussing how and why a developmental music therapy approach was useful.

I have worked as a music therapist in early childhood for almost 30 years and found the author’s descriptions of children involved in music making inspiring and moving. I was drawn into the situations she was describing and found myself agreeing with much of what she was writing. However, I was bewildered by the large numbers of lists and not altogether sure why it was necessary to consider all the points presented. I wasn’t completely convinced of the usefulness of interpreting each musical and non-musical behaviour of the child in terms of the five developmental levels. There is a danger that music therapy students or beginner music therapists become so focused on determining the developmental level of a child that they forget to think about the child as a unique person to relate to through music making. In addition many children with special needs do not follow usual developmental patterns and I felt that this issue could have been addressed more rigorously in the book.

I will be recommending this book to my music therapy students as a good point of reference for child development theories and for practical inspiration when working in early childhood. I will, however, add a word of caution explaining that these are general guidelines which may have to be interpreted slightly differently for each child.

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