Musical and Textual Content in Children’s Vocalizations


  • Karen Howard University of Washington


Children around the world interact with music. They sing, chant, dance, and clap as part of their daily lives. From the shortest musical utterances, to full songs, singing is present wherever children are found. The myriad ways of learning to sing informally go beyond the direct influences and efforts of teachers and other adults, and involve vocalizations across a spectrum of genres that include singing/songs, chanting/chants and musical babble/utterances. In this lecture-demonstration, a comparison of children’s informal and formal singing culture will be explored. While there is extensive research regarding teaching children to sing, and the developing child’s voice as it relates to school and ensemble music, the field of children’s informal singing has been slowly developing. A comprehensive review of the relevant scholarship from within the disciplines of music education, music pedagogy, ethnomusicology, communications, folklore (as well as anthropology, sociology, and psychology) in the field of children’s informal singing behaviors with attention to the nature of their songs, singing engagements, and the process of song acquisition and transmission will be discussed. Particular focus will be given to cross-cultural examination of children’s interactions with singing as it presents in several different countries.

Author Biography

Karen Howard, University of Washington

Karen Howard received her BME and MME from the University of Hartford. During her 20 years as a music educator, she has taught elementary and middle school general music and choir. Karen has extensive training in multicultural music and dance including study in Cuba, Tahiti, Ghana, Turkey, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Thailand, Morocco, India, Bali, and Tanzania. She has presented workshops and graduate level courses at the national and international level helping teachers make connections with music and dance of diverse cultures with a special emphasis on hand drumming, vocal techniques, and indigenous dance traditions, as well as arts assessment. She held conducting positions with the Connecticut Children’s Chorus and with district choral festivals. Karen was recognized as CTMEA’s Elementary Music Educator of the Year in 2003. She now resides in Seattle and is a doctoral candidate at the University of Washington in music education. Her research has focused on children’s musical culture, world music pedagogy, and the fusion of ethnomusicology and music education practices. Her published work includes articles on community music in a school setting, the history of multicultural music education in the United States, children’s informal singing, and pedagogical ideas for archival materials. Her dissertation research revolves around multicultural goals including equity pedagogy and knowledge construction and their role in an elementary music classroom.