About Us - Research and Development

Music Together® as a Research-based Program
by Susan Hoffman

Music Together®, first introduced to the public in 1987, was born of love, instinct,
and a lot of research. Founder and director Kenneth K. Guilmartin and his
coauthor Lili Levinowitz, Ph.D., examined the field of music education and then
reached beyond it into the realm of early childhood learning, because they
realized that even the best song material they could discover or compose would
miss the mark if not presented in ways children can receive and process
meaningfully.

The fields of neuroscience, psychology, and early childhood learning all offered
valuable insights into how the brain processes and organizes musical material,
how children learn, and how the surrounding environment can support this
learning. Guilmartin and Levinowitz distilled their findings into four basic
principles, which remain the cornerstones of Music Together's philosophy today:

I. All children are musical.

II. All children can achieve basic music competence.

III. The participation and modeling of parents and caregivers, regardless of
their musical ability, is essential to a child's musical growth.

IV. This growth is best achieved in a playful, non-performance-oriented
learning environment which is musically rich, yet immediately
accessible to the child's—and the adult's—participation.

I. All Children are Musical
The basic tenet of the Music Together philosophy is the belief that music ability is
as much a natural life skill as walking or talking. It is, in itself, a way of knowing.

Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner posits that music is one of many human 
potentials or "intelligences" which all individuals are capable of expressing. To be 
sure, people may develop these intelligences to different degrees, but they are 
present in each of us. 
 
According to learning theorist Edwin Gordon, music aptitude—which is the 
"receptive" thinking process for music—is normally distributed in the population. 
That is, its occurrence in children can be depicted by the same bell curve that 
depicts measures of other types of intelligence, such as I.Q. scores. The majority of 
us, therefore, have at least "average" music aptitude, which is certainly sufficient 
for the "expressive" process for music—that is, for participating in the music of our 
culture with ease and enjoyment by singing, dancing, and/or playing instruments.  
Why, then, is this not reflected in our culture? Why do so many people consider 
themselves "tone deaf" or unmusical? Guilmartin has theorized that participatory 
forms of music-making and involvement have been steadily eroding since the 
mid-twentieth century, due to the pervasive influence of media technology. In the 
past, if you wanted to enjoy some music, you most often had to make it yourself, if 
only by singing or whistling. Increasingly, a performance orientation has 
dominated our music-making to the point that there is little tolerance for musical 
expressions that fall between expert performances on stage and singing solo in the 
shower. 
Our culture inadequately supports music-learning during the most critical 
developmental period—early childhood. Fully half of today's elementary school 
children cannot find their singing voices. In a study published in 1998, Levinowitz, 
et al., showed that in the past twenty years, the percentage of elementary school 
children who can sing in tune has dropped an astounding 33%. Her work also 
finds no improvement when comparing sixth-graders with first-graders—in other 
words, simply growing up isn't enough to develop a singing voice. Children are 
rhythmically delayed as well: movement expert Phyllis Weikart has shown that 
many children cannot walk to a beat or do simple movement patterns. Although 
music aptitude is innate, it remains true that music expression, like language, is a 
complex skill which is learned and which must be supported in order to flourish.    
II.  All Children Can Achieve Basic Music Competence 

Although music learning and language acquisition are different processes in the 
brain, they are analogous in many ways. From infancy, the child's brain is wired to 
respond to stimuli in the environment. This stimulation triggers brain activities 
which lay down new neural pathways and make the child responsive to even 
subtler forms of stimulation. It's a complex feedback loop between the growing 
brain and its environment.  

The exact processes are still not understood, but it's clear that the child is 
predisposed to decode the language of his culture. No one "teaches" a child 
language in a formal manner: the child absorbs it through his environment and, in 
effect, teaches himself. This happens in a fairly predictable sequence through 
which language gradually evolves from the child's babble. 
Therefore, given a sufficiently rich environment, basic music competence—which 
Music Together coauthors Guilmartin and Levinowitz define as singing in tune 
and moving with accurate rhythm—develops in an organic, predictable sequence. 
During this stage—which the coauthors call "primary music development"—the 
child passes from what is known as "music babble" to basic music competence. As 
with many neurological processes, there is a time when the brain is particularly 
primed for this developmental task: the critical years for developing basic music 
competence are from birth through age six.     
John Holahan, former professor at Temple University, was able to describe some 
of the stages which children pass through on their way to basic music competence. 
These growth stages seem linked to children's responses to music stimuli in an 
environmental feedback loop similar to that of language acquisition. This spiral of 
exposure and experimentation, as Guilmartin and Levinowitz have described it, is 
how the child teaches himself music. The essential factor, of course, is that the 
child be exposed to a quality music environment in order for this learning to 
occur. 
III.  The participation and modeling of parents and caregivers, regardless of 
their musical ability, is essential to a child's musical growth. 

Joseph Chilton Pearce has observed that no intelligence or ability will unfold until 
or unless given the appropriate model environment. Providing such a quality 
music environment may seem a daunting task to parents whose own childhood 
lacked this kind of music support. Happily, though, no special music skills are 
required—just the musical equivalent of the cooing and talking which 
unconsciously supports language development.  
                                 
The effect of parents' musical interaction with their child is undeniable. A study by 
Brian Kelley and Linda Sutton-Smith of the University of Pennsylvania 
demonstrated that a child being raised in a home with musically inclined parents 
shows music behaviors which are considerably more developed than those of a 
child living with parents who have little or no interest in music.  
It's important to note that the child is not learning because the parents are 
somehow musically "talented"—she’s learning because she is musically engaged

Noted early childhood educator Lillian Katz has observed that children learn 
skills, knowledge, and dispositions from the adults in their lives. While any adult 
can help a child acquire skills and knowledge, only those adults with whom the 
child has the closest emotional bond—parents and primary caregivers—can affect 
a child's disposition. A music-making parent, whether musically competent or not, 
will give a child the disposition to make music herself.  
IV.  This growth is best achieved in a playful, non-performance-oriented 
learning environment which is musically rich, yet immediately accessible to the 
child's—and the adult's—participation. 

In the groundbreaking Pillsbury Foundation Studies, Gladys Evelyn Moorhead 
and Donald Pond observed children over time in a preschool setting where simple 
musical instruments were available at all times and the children were free to 
choose if, when, and how to use them. In other words, music was supported in a 
distinctly indirect and non-formal way.  
Moorhead and Pond observed that children learn entirely differently than adults. 
They teach themselves through their play, which is at once fun and purposeful. In 
this musically supportive setting, music was spontaneously interwoven with the 
children's play: children sang or hummed, chanted, picked up and discarded 
instruments, and moved rhythmically as they went about their activities. They 
were instinctive music-makers, expressing tonal and rhythmic behaviors as part of 
their being. 

It is the aim of Music Together to support, and to give parents the tools to support, 
this natural music ability inherent in us all. The program is designed to provide 
the "musical nutrients" which make up a healthy music diet and allow a child's 
tonal and rhythmic competence to grow. The individual components of the 
curriculum—including short tonal and rhythm patterns, song choices in a wide 
range of tonalities and meters, songs with and without words, and movement 
activities—are based on research done by the Music Together coauthors, Edwin 
Gordon, and many others in the fields of early childhood and music education.  
Parents and caregivers needn't worry about how to create an adequate music 
environment for their children: the essential ingredients are all in the Music 
Together material and its presentation. The playful, non-formal classroom 
experience, combined with active parent and caregiver participation, provide the 
child with a rich, developmentally appropriate experience. The inclusion of 
songbooks and recordings for home use encourages parents to play musically 
with their children, thereby supporting the child's tendency for spontaneous 
music-making.  

 

Music Together's research and development arm, the Center for Music and Young 
Children, stays current with the latest research in the fields of early childhood 
education and music education, as well as conducting its own research. CMYC 
operates a "lab school" serving the greater Princeton, New Jersey, area where, in a 
regular classroom setting, the program is continually tested through observation 
of children's tonal and rhythmic behaviors and their responses to specific songs, 
activities, and tonal ranges. 
Research is also conducted into parents' and caregivers' responses to the program 
and how the classroom activities affect family music-making at home. Music 
Together works closely with its teachers around the world to continually refine the 
program based on the experiences reported from thousands of classes. Parents and 
teachers alike have witnessed the strength of the program, seeing children's music 
behaviors blossom and grow. Parents, too, report a greater ease and enjoyment 
with informal music-making which, for many, is a transformative experience 
reconnecting them to their own musicality.      
The Music Together program is based on solid, ongoing research. The result of 
this, however, is not a formulaic, performance-oriented learning environment but 
rather a warm, inclusive, playful experience for all ages. Music Together is, 
indeed, The Joy of Family Music®. ®
   
References 

Gardner, H. Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. New York: Basic 
Books, 1983. 

Gordon, E. Learning Sequences in Music: Skill, Content, and Patterns. Chicago: GIA 
Publications, Inc., 2001. 

_______. A Music Learning Theory for Newborn and Young Children. Chicago: GIA 
Publications, Inc., 1997. 

Guilmartin, K. “The Adult Is the Real ‘Student’! The Challenge of Involving 
Parents in Early Childhood Music.” Early Childhood Connections, Spring 1999, 
15–22.  

_______. “The Developmental Orientation: Learning to Let Children Learn.” Early 
Childhood Connections, Spring 2003, 30–38. 

Guilmartin, K. and L. Levinowitz. “A Model for Enhancing Music Development 
through the Inclusion of Informed Parents and Other Primary Caregivers in 
Early Childhood Music Classes.” Paper submitted for International Society of
Music Educators seminar “Vital Connections: Young Children, Adults and 
Music,” 11–15 July, 1994. 
_______. Music and Your Child: A Guide for Parents and Caregivers. Princeton, NJ: 
Music Together LLC, 1992. 

_______. Teaching Music Together. Princeton, NJ: Music Together LLC, 2003.                                          
Holahan, J. M. “The Development of Music Syntax: Some Observations of Music 
Babble in Young Children.” In Music and Child Development, edited by J. C. 
Peery, I. C. Peery, and T. W. Draper. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1987. 
Katz, L. and M. E. Hoffman. “Recent Research on Young Children: Implications 
for Teaching and Development Implications for Music Education.” In The 
Young Child and Music: Contemporary Principles in Child Development and Music 
Education, edited by J. Boswell, 1985. 
Kelley and Sutton-Smith. “A Study of Infant Musical Productivity.” In Music and 
Child Development, edited by J. C. Peery, I. W. Peery, and T. W. Draper. New 
York: Springer-Verlag, 1987. 
Levinowitz, L. M. “Song Instruction for the Young Child in the Tonal Music 
Babble Stage.” Bulletin of Research in Music Education 16 (1985): 19-21.
 
_______."Parent Education as a Beginning Solution to Musical Childhood at Risk,” 
Update: Applications of Research in Music Education (Fall/Winter 1993). 
_______. The Importance of Music in Early Childhood. General Music Today, Fall 
(1998). 
Levinowitz, L. M., P. Barnes, S. Guerrini, M. Clement, P. D’April, and M. J. Morey. 
“Measuring Singing Voice Development in the Elementary General Music 
Classroom.” Journal of Research in Music Education 46, 1 (1998): 35–48. 
Moorhead G. E. and D. Pond. Music of Young Children. Pillsbury Foundation 
Studies. California: Pillsbury Foundation for Advancement of Music 
Education, 1958. 
Pearce, J. C. Evolution's End: Claiming the Potential of Our Intelligence. New York: 
Harper San Francisco, 1992. 
Weikart, P. Teaching Movement and Dance: A Sequential Approach. Ypsilanti: 
High/Scope Press, 1990.