Musical Development as a Cognitive Ability Essay

This essay has a total of 2298 words and 12 pages.

Musical Development as a Cognitive Ability

Musical Development as a Cognitive Ability

Cognitive Psychology


This paper discusses theories of cognitive development and its relationship to musical
development. Cognitive development is closely related to musical development and learning.
Jean Piaget developed theories of the cognitive development in children. Musicologists
have developed theories on how musical development has cognitive components. Cognitive
development is acquired through interaction with an environment, just as musical
development is acquired through interaction with a musical environment.

Jean Piaget on Cognitive Development
Cognitive development is the investigation of how mental skills build and change with
increasing physiological maturity (maturation) and experience (learning) (Sternberg,
p.444). Cognitive development involves qualitative changes in thinking, as well as
quantitative changes, such as increasing knowledge and ability (Sternberg, p.444). Most
cognitive psychologists agree that developmental changes occur as a result of the
interaction of maturation (nature) and learning (nurture) (Sternberg, p. 444).

According to Sternberg, despite the differences in theoretical approaches, there are some
basic principles that that crosscut the study of cognitive development (Sternberg, p.446).

First, over the course of development, people seem to gain more sophisticated control over
their own thinking and learning. As people grow older, they become more capable of more
complex interactions between thought and behavior. Second, people engage in more thorough
information processing with age. Third, people become increasingly able to comprehend
successively more complex relationships over the course of development. Finally, over
time, people develop increasing flexibility in their uses of strategies or information.
(Sternberg, p.446)

He explains that as people grow older they become less bound to using information in just
a single context, and they learn how to apply it in a greater context (Sternberg, p.446).

One of the most influential contributors to developmental research is Swiss psychologist
Jean Piaget (1896- 1980). His theory of cognitive development is one of the most
comprehensive in the field (Sternberg, p.446). Piaget believed that the function of
intelligence is to aid in adaptation to the environment (Sternberg, p.447). In his view
the means of adaptation form a continuum ranging from relatively unintelligent means, such
as habits and reflexes, to relatively intelligent means, such as those requiring insight,
complex mental representation, and the mental manipulation of symbols (Sternberg, p.448).
Piaget further proposed that with increasing learning and maturation, both intelligence
and its manifestations become differentiated- more specialized in various domains
(Sternberg, p.448).

Piaget believed that development occurs in stages via equilibration, in which a child
seeks balance (equilibrium) between both what they encounter in their environments and
what cognitive processes and structures they bring to the encounter, as well as among the
cognitive capabilities themselves (Sternberg, p.448). Sternberg explains that in some
situations, the child's existing schemas are adequate for confronting and adapting to the
challenges of the environment; the child is thus in a state of equilibrium (p.448).

However, at other times, the child is presented with information that does not fit with
the child's existing schemas, so cognitive disequilibrium arises; that is, the imbalance
occurs when the child's existing schemas are inadequate for new challenges the child
encounters (Sternberg, p.449). In this type of situation the child attempts to restore
equilibrium through assimilation- incorporating the new information into the child's
existing schemas (Sternberg, p.449). In contrast if the child is not able to assimilate
the new information s/he will go through a process of modifying the existing schemas
called accommodation- changing the existing schemas to fit the relevant new information
about the environment (Sternberg, p.449).

According to Piaget, the equilibrative processes of assimilation and accommodation account
for all of the changes associated with cognitive development. (Sternberg, p.449). In
Piaget's view, disequilibrium is more likely to occur during stages of transition; that
is, although Piaget posited that equilibrative processes go on throughout childhood as
children continually adapt to their environment, he also considered development to involve
discrete, discontinuous stages.

Musical Development

In his paper, "Musical development theories revisited", Keith Swanwick suggests that
theories of musical development should meet certain criteria (p. 229). Theories of musical
development should:

- have musical validity;
- have relevance across different musical activities;
- take account of both maturation and cultural settings;
- identify qualitative, sequential, and hierarchical changes;
- have widespread cultural application;
- be supported by reliable data (Swanwick, p. 229).
He discusses the musical development theories of Mary Louise Serafine, Howard Gardner, and L. Davidson & L. Scripp.
Serafine offers a direct challenge to traditional psychological models and her approach is
concerned with underlying cognitive processes (Swanwick, p. 229). She poses the question,
‘what is the nature of musical thought?' (Swanwick, p. 230) She attempted to present a
meta-psychological model that stood outside of specific and different musical activities
or modalities (Swanwick, p. 230). The main characteristic of this universal cognitive
activity is awareness of movement in time. Whereas, musical tomes are not heard in
isolation or in pairs of stimuli to be identified or discriminated, but are sensory
experiences from which the listener constructs musical properties (Swanwick, p. 230).
Gardener's theory focuses on the concept of symbol systems, which he defined as follows:
‘symbolism requires appreciation of an object and the capacity to link the object to a
known picture, label, or kind of element that denotes it' (Swanwick, p. 231). According to
Davidson and Scripp, the interaction of motor and literacy skills enables the student to
link performance, concept, and percept. Reflective thinking appears as an important
dimension of musical development that arises from the more inactive stages where skills
are first manifest, and are later linked to the symbolic literacy of the musical culture
(Swanwick, p. 231).

These are just a few of the theorists for musical developments cognitive aspects. When the
theories are looked at in detail, they all address the criteria that Swanwick proposes.
However, like theorists in cognitive development, they do not agree on how the musical
development of children should be addressed or measured.

"The Musical Mind: The Cognitive Psychology of Music," by John A. Sloboda addresses the
way that music is a cognitive skill. He addresses many of the different cognitive aspects
of music. I will be focusing primarily on his chapter six, which entails the cognitive
aspects of musical development. He explains that musical skill is constructed from a base
of innate abilities and tendencies (Sloboda, p. 194). Every human advance involves
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