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Sandra E Trehub and Laurel J Trainor (1992)

The development of referential meaning in music

Music Perception, 9(4):455-470.

We explored the development of children's ability to relate musical forms to extramusical concepts. In Experiment 1, we presented four excerpts from Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf and asked 4-and 6-yearold children to match each excerpt to a picture of a wolf, bird, cat, or duck (four-alternative forced choice). Children matched appropriate animal pictures to musical excerpts significantly better than chance but identified the wolf and bird more readily than the cat and duck excerpts. In Experiment 2, 3-year-olds participated in a simplified version of the task (two-alternative forced choice). The order of difficulty of matching the various music-animal pairs was comparable across all age groups. In Experiment 3, we replicated Experiment 1 with less familiar music, specifically Saint Saen's Carnival of the Animals. Again, performance was above chance, increasing the likelihood that children's success in Experiments 1 and 2 was not attributable to previous exposure to the music. We discuss the results in relation to theories of musical meaning.

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