Lecture Wilfried Gruhn

How children hear and experience music

Fundamentals in developmental psychology and implications for musical integration

Children need music. They are uncommonly open to new sounds, reacting spontaneously to tones, melodies, rhythms and to everything that moves. Music is the first medium of communication between the learning environment of children and life environment of adults.

In my lecture I would like to clarify several fundamental ideas on children's way of hearing and experiencing music originating in neurobiological research and incorporating the psychology of learning and development. All learning begins by determining the difference between “the same” and “different”. Differences, rather than the familiar, and the novelty of stimuli interest small children much more than that which they already know. Human interaction in a real, experiential space is also much more effective than any means of media conveyance.

Based on empirical research on children's capacity to hear and experience music, some implications can be drawn for practical implementation in conveying music during children's concerts, as well as in musical theater for very young audiences. Further, questions on the possibilities of staging musical encounters can be discussed.

Wilfried Gruhn, Dr. phil., professor emeritus for musical education at the University of Music Freiburg. Active in teaching at universities of music in Saarbrücken, Essen and Freiburg; guest professorships at Rochester, NY (USA), Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia),Tallinn (Estonia), Seville (Spain) and Graz (Austria). Served 1995-97 as president of the "Research Alliance of Institutes for Music Education" (RAIME). Served 1996 – 2009 as director of the Gordon Institute for early childhood musical learning (GIfM), Freiburg; 2009-2012 as chairperson of the International Leo-Kestenberg-Society (IKG) and as editor of Leo Kestenberg's Collected Works.

Professional focus: Historical musical education: cognitive psychology; musical learning theory; neurobiological research.