Living Room Science


Marju Raju is a researcher in the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre whose interest areas are music psychology and singing development (for infants and toddlers).

Every Thursday I have to prepare for my Friday morning music psychology lecture at the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre. This week I prepare the lecture about one of my favourite topics in the discipline: the musical development of babies. This is going to be a working day at my home office with the help of a living example of the topic, and the major distractor of my concentration: my two-year old son.

Marju Raju. Photo credit: private collection

I really love the new book by Henkjan Honing* and his distinction between the concepts of music and musicality. I make a note to definitely talk about this tomorrow! Musicality is a set of biological and cognitive abilities that are the basis of the culturally constructed “thing” we call music. Musicality is common to all humans as a species, and these biological and cognitive aspects are objectively definable and measurable. The definition of music, on the other hand, depends on the common understanding within a culture and therefore is not so objective.

Another distinction I always emphasise to students is that when studying babies and children, it is important not to confuse the ability to perceive with the ability to produce, and of course, a child’s willingness to produce something in the presence of a researcher. Luckily, the invention of smartphone cameras allows to observe babies and children easily in the safe home environment. Several new findings of the development of musicality are reported by parent-researchers.

Meanwhile, my son has started to “show his musicality” too and is now singing and dancing in front of the TV. I sneak behind him with my phone. The future will tell if it is going to be only a sweet memoir, an example of musical behaviour to show my students, or even data for my new research. Because, for a while now, my living room is a place for my science too. I am writing a case study of his development of spontaneous dancing and the role of interactive toys. And tomorrow my students are going to be the first test reviewers of my findings so far. I cannot wait!

*Honing, H. (2019). The evolving animal orchestra: in search of what makes us musical. The MIT Press.

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