Monash University

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Children's aesthetic decision-making: an analysis of children's musical discourse as composers

posted on 2017-06-22, 02:39 authored by Margaret Sylvia Barrett
In this thesis I promote a view of children's aesthetic decision-making as a non-verbal process which may be evidenced in the structural features children employ in their musical discourse as composers. I draw on the work of Polanyi and Wittgenstein to support the view that knowledge may be demonstrated as well as 'stated' verbally, and argue that the examination of children's musical discourse as composers provides us with direct access to their musical thinking and aesthetic decision-making. I propose a view of the aesthetic as an 'attitude', or way of attending, held by or engaged in by a perceiving subject, and directed at or associated with specific properties of an art object or presentation. Through reference to the work of Parsons, Best, Redfern and Ross, I argue that aesthetic decision-making is objective, cognitive, and rational in character and is primarily concerned with issues of structure and form in an art object or presentation.

Informed by an examination of research concerning children's compositional processes and products I present case-study evidence that children as young as five years and nine months are capable of aesthetic decision-making as evidenced in their use of musical structure and form in their original compositions. Furthermore, I present evidence that suggests that children's aesthetic decision-making as demonstrated in their use of structure and form in their musical discourse as composers is not necessarily linked to age or prior experience.

The main implication for practice and research that arises from this study is that in examining children's aesthetic decision-making we should not only attend to what children 'say' about music and musical experience, but importantly, we should also attend to what children 'do' in music, and the musical discourse that arises from such action. Whilst the development of the capacity to talk of music, its structures and form is an important aspect of music education, we should acknowledge that this capacity is not the only expression of aesthetic thinking. In focussing on verbal response alone in making judgements about children's capacity to respond aesthetically to musical experience, we are not only in danger of underestimating their capacity to respond aesthetically, but also of limiting their response to that for which they possess the verbal sign. In an art form such as music where so much is conveyed through non-verbal means, we should avoid undue emphasis on verbal discourse and value children's musical discourse as evidence of their aesthetic decision-making.


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Doctor of Philosophy

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Faculty of Education

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