Bruno Nettl - Infant Musical Development and Primitive Music

Title: Infant Musical Development and Primitive Music Author: Bruno Nettl Source: Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Spring, 1956), pp. 87-91 Published by: University of New Mexico
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  Title: Infant Musical Development and Primitive MusicAuthor: Bruno NettlSource: Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Spring, 1956), pp. 87-91Published by: University of New Mexico What Music Really İ  INFANT MUSICAL DEVELOPMENT AND PRIMITNE MUSIC BRUNONETIL I N A STUDY by Roman Jakobson some statements are made concerning the relationship between infants' linguistic development and the distribution of phonemic distinctions throughout the world. It is the purpose of the present paper to examine the possibility of similar relationships in music. Jakobson believes, and demonstrates, that those phonemic distinctions which are most common in the languages of the world also appear earliest in children's speech. For example, the distinction between vowels and consonants is found in all languages and is also the first distinction made by children when learning to speak. This paper compares some of the developments in the performance of ~usic l traits by small children with their distribution in non-Western and folk music. Although both children's speech and the music of non-Western cultures are not as well documented and as definitively analyzed as language, it seems possible to make some statements on the basis of what is already known. Some interest in this area has been shown by musicologists, notably Curt Sachs, who says: It is exciting experience to learn that the earliest known stage of music reappears in the babble songs of small children in European countries. For once the ontogenetic l w is fully confirmed: the individual summarizes the evolution of mankind. (Later, Sachs asserts J These children could not be suspected to have been influenced by a single trait of our own music. Thus we cannot but accept their babbling s an ontogenetic reiteration of man's earliest music and, inversely, conclude that the music of today's most primitive peoples is indeed the first music that ever existed. 2 This paper, however, is not concerned with the evolutionary aspects of the problem. The author neither accepts nor rejects such an approach. It is certainly possible to interpret whatever parallels there are between children's singing and primitive music in ways other than the ontogenetic recapitulation of phylogeny, but interpretation is beyond the scope of this paper. The most important study in the field of infant musical development is by Heinz Werner, 3 whose work was concerned with the creative efforts of children 1 Kindersprache Aphasie und allgemeine Lautgesetze (Uppsala Sprakvetenskapliga Sal · slcapets Handlingar, 1940-42A). 2 he Rise of Music in the Ancient World (New York, 1943), pp. 43, 44. 3 Die melodische Er{mdung im friihen Kindesalter (Akademie der Wissenschaften, Wien, Philosophisch·historische Klasse, SitzUngsberichte 182 [1917], no. 4 . 87 VoL. 12, 1956  88 SOUTHWESTERN JOURNAL OF ANTHROPOLOGY between two and five His conclusions on the various stages of musical development are based entirely on the created improvisations of children, not on the way in which they handled songs which were taught them. The present author has largely corroborated Werner s findings, using a single, younger subject of his own, with the additional scope of learned songs. This consisted of observing which musical traits the subject learned earliest, which ones appeared late, and with what accuracy they could be negotiated. In order to compare the order in which these developments appear in children with their frequency in non-Western music, the various aspects of musical style are separated and presented individually. A number of common ones, such as harmony and polyphony, do not appear here because they are not found in infant musical behavior. Furthermore, the ages at which the developments take place are omitted because, while the author and Werner agree in general on the order, the actual time of emergence differs greatly. Following is an outline for the order of appearance of various stylistic traits in infants music. Form 1 simple repetition of a single short phrase, with slight and unsystematic variation; 2 short strophes, made up of two, three, or four phrases, with little variation. Some of the phrases in a strophe are usually identical; forms like AABA and ABBA are common. Rhythm The only characteristic type is a series of notes of equal length, followed by a longer note at the end of the phrase. Melodic contour 1 descending; 2 undulating without specialization; 3. arc-shaped, with ascent followed by gradual descent; 4 ascent, followed by two peaks and descent. Intervals 1 minor thirds and major seconds; 2 major thirds and minor seconds; 3 neutral third (between major and minor third ; 4. intervals smaller than half-tones; quarter-tones; 5 larger intervals, in order of size, beginning with perfect fourth. Scale 1 two tones; 2. three and four tones; 3 more than four tones.  INF NT MUSIC L DEVELOPMENT  89 Cadences 1. phrase ends on lowest tone; 2. phrase ends on a repeated tone sequence; 3. phrase ends on a tone in the middle  of the range  of the entire piece. Range  1. minor third; 2. perfect fourth; 3. diminished fifth;  4. larger than diminished fifth. It is not easy to estimate the frequency of a given trait in the musical styles  of the world. All styles are by far from known, even in a limited way, and, indeed, it  is not possible to distinguish among musical styles in the way it  is possible to  define  or delimit languages. In  other words, while  we know rather well what a language is we do not know what constitutes  a music. However, a large enough sampling of the styles in various parts of the world exists to enable one to make  at least approximately accurate statements about the distribution  of musical tr ts- whether they are confined to small groups of  tribes, are found throughout one conrinent, or are common throughout the world, and the like. It s on such generalized statements that  the following tentative conclusions are based, and their impressionistic nature must be remembered.  The simple form  of repeating a single musical phrase with variations, earliest in in infants, is common throughout the world. It  is the only form in some simple cultures, such as the Vedda of Ceylon and the Finno-Ugric Mordwin and Votyak, and is the basic form  of some complex primitive styles, notably some  of Negro  Africa. Furthermore, it is found in the children's songs, lullabies, game songs, and songs in tales in most cultures throughout the world, even where the majority  of songs have more complex forms. The other form of  infants' singing, a strophe consisting  of from two  to  four phrases with the frequent repetition of one, s  found in folk and primitive music throughout the world, excepting only the simplest musical styles of all.  This  type of form, when learned by children, usually appears in learned songs rather than improvisations. However, it has been noted in the author's infant subject  that the tendency  is  to  learn multiple-phrase songs with repetition more easily than those without, and this fact is paralleled in non-Western music.  The  use of  at least one repeated phrase in a strophe predominates through out the world. Rhythmic development in infants s  represented  by only one stage, that of undifferentiated note lengths with a final long note.  This  kind of rhythmic struc-
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