What is musical play? Is it bashing on an upturned drum in the playground or banging pots and pans on the kitchen floor? Well, it can be both.
A different term to use might be musical exploration, the idea that young children get the opportunity to explore sounds. Most playground designs or outdoor spaces take into account all of our senses, including our hearing, and there are “instruments” that can be banged, crashed and whacked.
But, the field of neuromusical research has been quite focused, for good research design reasons, on more formal and structured music learning. This is because it removes a big variable of the music learning pedagogy itself, play or exploration are far harder, but not impossible, to standardise. However, in this study they propose that informal music learning could have an important impact on the development of sound encoding skills in young children.
“The current study indicates that the maturation of sound encoding indexed by the MMN may be more protracted than once thought and provides first longitudinal evidence that even quite informal musical group activities facilitate the development of neural sound discrimination during early childhood.”
What is interesting to us is that, to an outsider, many Orff and Kodaly activities look like play or exploration, but they are also highly structured and directed. Could it be that, through decades of trial and error, music education pedagogues have figured out the step between music exploration and music learning through activities that look like play?