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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Discovering musical characteristics of children's songs from various parts of the world Pai, Shih-Yu Jade


Children’s songs are ubiquitous in every culture and every childhood. Children’s songs — songs composed, sung, or heard by children —share many musical characteristics, such as short phrases and a large number of repetitions. These similarities could be due to children’s external environment, including musical culture, and an internal impulse, or innate musicality. This study compares the musical characteristics of one hundred children’s songs from various parts of the world to further understand what characteristics are shared and what are unique to a song or region. Studies of children’s music have been made by scholars from various fields, and hence different emphases: psychologists focused on the developmental process, ethnomusicologists studied children’s songs as a cultural component, and music educators were interested in children’s musical ability. Some studies also analyzed children’s songs’ structure, but often within the confines of a culture or even classroom. In this study, children’s songs of various cultures are transcribed and analyzed. The analysis uses a comparative method inspired by Alan Lomax’s cantometrics. Five musical properties — tonality, meter, melody, structure and grouping, and means of ending — are analyzed in each song, and similar results are grouped and counted in order to have an idea of the abundance of a particular characteristic within the sample. The results suggest that children’s songs in general share certain characteristics, but there is also much dissimilarity. Scale and meter appear to have a strong regional distribution, and small range is possibly a result of developmental limitation. It is still impossible to clearly disentangle the effects of cultural style and biological factors, but investigating the exceptions from the general brings us closer to the answer.

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