Theme 1

Theme 1.  To understand the development of singing. Laurel Trainor (2005), Director of the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind (MiMM), has suggested that there are different critical periods for acquisition of different aspects of musical skill. This applies to singing which involves many skills. Are there universal patterns across cultures for changes in vocal pitch range, song duration, emergence of discrete notes, distance between adjacent tones, frequency ratios of the pitches of two-note pairs, pitch direction patterns, glides (glissando), turn-taking, facial expression, coordinated bodily motion, song structure, use of lyrics, game playing etc? Past research only begins to separate the role of individual, cultural group, and common universal forces influencing these different aspects of singing development (cf., Stevens & Byron, in press), and has scarcely considered the intelligences involved. 


To address these gaps in knowledge and to test the hypothesis that there are different sensitive periods for different aspects of singing development, Laurel Trainor and Steven Brown (moving to MiMM  from Simon Fraser in July) will lead an international team of researchers experienced in analysing singing (e.g., Stefanie Stadler Elmer, Maija Frederikson, Sandra Trehub, Mayumi Adachi, Leslie Phillmore, Annabel Cohen). Longitudinal studies over the grant period of 7 years will aim to determine trajectories of change in singing at different ages and cultures. These studies will be co-ordinated across institutions and locales in order to separate effects of the individual, the cultural group, and the universal (common) influences. A standardized protocol will be developed to optimally guide data collection across nationalities and cultures worldwide. The researchers will carry out microanalysis of songs produced, and macroanalysis of social interactions associated with playsongs and lullabies. The video corpora of singing will also allow Frank Russo and Petra Hauf (Canada Research Chair in Culture and Human Development at St. Francis Xavier) to explore motor development (including facial response) during perception and production of singing across ages and cultures. Graham Welch will also help extend the study of singing to acquisition and maintenance across the entire lifespan.

Digital archive.  Researchers will deposit, store, share, annotate and analyse recordings of singing from infancy to senior years derived from cross-cultural longitudinal and cross-sectional experiments. For example, a 10-stage protocol for the collection of singing data at regular intervals (posted on the AIRS web-site) is currently being piloted for children and young adults. The recorded singing will be stored in the AIRS database for use by any of the researchers. Videorecorded social interactions collected during ordinary singing and song learning will enable comparisons of cross-cultural practices involving music and child development.  These records will assist in determining the role of play in singing acquisition.  The shared database will greatly facilitate the scope of the proposed work.

Training. Graduate students from psychology and music will be full partners in the project.

They will gain the sense of contributing to a large and important project. They will collect data from infants and children singing under both controlled and spontaneous conditions (e.g., data collected at monthly intervals over 12-24 months). They will learn recording techniques, how to deposit data into the AIRS database, create transcriptions (e.g., notation, phonetics, pitch tracking), create metadata, and analyse the data.  They will learn to use pitch analysis techniques of Boersma and Weenink (2005), Stadler Elmer and Elmer (2000), and Della Bella et al. (2007) to address such issues as the nature of the pitch content and duration of sung phrases at various ages. 


AIRS staff are working towards providing the results of Project research, so that information and research findings can be shared amongst the researchers and interested individuals.  Please direct any questions or comments regarding the AIRS Web site to the AIRS Information Technology Coordinator. Contact information can be found on our Contact AIRS page.