Embodied musical experiences in early childhood

Ana Paula Ramos da Rocha Almeida

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


Embodied Music Cognition is a recently developed theoretical and empirical framework which in the last eight years has been redefining the role of the body in music perception. However, to date there have been very few attempts to research embodied musical experiences in early childhood. The research reported in this thesis investigated 4- and 5-year-olds’ self-regulatory sensorimotor processes in response to music. Two video-based observation studies were conducted. The first, exploratory in nature, aimed to identify levels of musical self-regulation in children’s actions while ‘playing’ in a motion-based interactive environment (Sound=Space). The interactive element of this system provided an experiential platform for the young ‘players’ to explore and develop the ability to recognise themselves as controlling musical events, and to continuously adapt their behaviour according to expected auditory outcomes. Results showed that low-level experiences of musical self-regulation were associated with more random trajectories in space, often performed at a faster pace (e.g. running), while a higher degree of control corresponded to more organised spatial pathways usually involving slower actions and repetition. The second study focused on sensorimotor synchronisation. It aimed to identify children’s free and individual movement choices in response to rhythmic music with a salient and steady beat presented at different tempi. It also intended to find the similarities and differences between participants’ repertoire and their adjustments to tempo changes. The most prominent findings indicate that children’s movements exhibited a resilient periodicity which was not synchronised to the beat. Even though a great variety of body actions (mostly non-gestural) was found across the group, each child tended to use a more restricted repertoire and one specific dominant action that would be executed throughout the different tempi. Common features were also found in children’s performance, such as, the spatial preference for up/down directions and for movements done in place (e.g. vertical jump). The results of both studies highlight the great deal of variability in the way preschoolers regulate their own sensorimotor behaviour when interacting with music. This variety of responses can be interpreted as underlining the importance of the physical nature of the cognitive agent in the perception of music. If this is indeed the case, then it will be crucial to create and develop embodied music learning activities in early years education that encourage each child to self-monitor their own sensorimotor processes and, thus, to shape their experiences of linking sound and movement in a meaningful and fulfilling way.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Edinburgh
  • Overy, Katie, Supervisor
  • Miell, Dorothy, Supervisor
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • embodied music cognition
  • early childhood
  • sensorimotor processes
  • music responses
  • interactive
  • adaptive behaviour
  • musical self-regulation


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