Musical development in children

How do children learn to sing melodies and produce rhythms? How do they develop musical taste? How do they learn to understand and use music in various situations? Can we boost spontaneous, implicit musical learning with educational interventions?

In our research unit “Musical development in children”, we aim at finding answers to these questions using different approaches—from surveying parents and educators to different qualitative and quantitative behavioral assessments in the children.    

Musical development as a window into the development of aesthetic behaviors

The production and perception of music is an aesthetic behavior that is common to all human cultures and societies. Engaging in musical activity is motivated by basic needs for sensory self-awareness, self-expression, and social interaction. We study the individual development of this behavior in order to gain a better understanding of its general psychological, social, and neuronal foundations:Developmental processes often provide valuable insight into structure and function of behavior far beyond the developmental process itself.

Musical development spans the entire life but is particularly dynamic and rich during childhood and adolescence. Throughout early childhood, children show great enthusiasm for music and are easily motivated by it. They acquire musical abilities spontaneously and without explicit instruction, provided they grow up in a musical environment.

In later childhood, children decide to make music themselves, or to be an active listener. During adolescence, this decision is often a strong component of the young people’s self-defined identity.

Cooperation with daycare facilities near Frankfurt

In order to better understand musical development in early childhood—and ultimately be able to support it through music education—we cooperate with daycare facilities in and near Frankfurt. We follow four different research strategies in our investigations of the musical-aesthetic development of one- to ten-year-old children:


  1. We track the children’s dynamic development of musical abilities longitudinally. To this end, we repeatedly investigate their developing melody singing skills, rhythm production, tone duration perception, or movements to music. We will use both existing and newly developed tools to assess a broad range of different musical abilities.
  2. We study musical development in the context of general (e.g., cognitive, affective, or motor) development. This way, we aim at revealing potential associations between different domains (e.g., how cognitive abilities may affect aesthetic experience).
  3. We will conduct educational research with a focus on application: We will use training studies to examine, on the one hand, whether, how, and at what point in developmental time pedagogical interventions can boost musical skill learning. On the other hand, we will use music training to measure possible transfer effects (e.g., to phonological awareness or executive functions).  
  4. Taking a broader perspective, we study the development of a concept of aesthetics. When children engage with music, do they conceive of this as being particularly similar to listening to stories and engaging with visual art? Or is it, to them, an activity like any other, be it cutting bread, tying shoes, or going to school? We explore the specificity of aesthetic development by comparing between different aesthetic domains—music, literature, and visual arts—whether, how, and when children see these as separate from non-artistic behaviors.

Research Focus

Measuring musical development

In what ways do young children engage with music, and how can we measure their expertise?


Studien für Kinder

Um etwas über die musikalische Entwicklung zu erfahren, brauchen wir natürlich Teilnehmer:innen für unsere abwechslungsreichen Studien. Wir bieten vom Säuglings- bis ins Erwachsenenalter ganz unterschiedliche Studien an. Dabei sind alle Aufgaben kindgerecht und die Teilnahme ist spielerisch gestaltet. Jede Studie bietet abwechslungsreiche und spannende neue Erlebnisse: Es werden Rätsel gelöst, Instrumente ausprobiert, Musik gehört oder auch gemeinsam musikalische Spiele erlebt.


Development of a concept of art in children

How does a concept of art/artfulness develop in children?



Degé, F., Frischen, U., & Schwarzer, G. (2024). Musikunterricht und kognitive Entwicklung. In G. Bernatzky, & G. Kreutz (Eds.), Musik und Medizin: Chancen für Therapie, Prävention, Rehabilitation und Bildung (2, pp. 515-538). Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-3-662-67506-9_27.

Frischen, U., Degé, F., & Schwarzer, G. (2022). The relation between rhythm processing and cognitive abilities during child development: The role of prediction. Front. Psychol. 13:920513. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2022.920513

Buren, V., Müllensiefen, D., Roeske, T.C., & Degé, F. (2021). What Makes Babies Musical? Conceptions of Musicality in Infants and Toddlers. Frontiers in Psychology, 12:736833.

Buren, V., Müllensiefen, D., Roeske, T., & Degé, F. (2021). What makes a child musical? conceptions of musical ability in childhood. Early Child Development and Care, 191(12), 1985–2000.

Buren, V., Degé, F., & Schwarzer, G. (2021). Active music making facilitates prosocial behaviour in 18-month-old children. Musicae Scientiae, 25(4), 449–464.

Degé, F. (2021) Music Lessons and Cognitive Abilities in Children: How Far Transfer Could Be Possible. Front. Psychol. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.557807

Degé, F., Müllensiefen, D., & Schwarzer, G. (2020). Musical abilities and phonological skills in 9- to 12-year-old children: Can singing abilities predict phonological awareness? Jahrbuch Musikpsychologie(29). doi: 10.5964/jbdgm.2019v29.66

Degé, F., Patscheke, H., & Schwarzer, G. (in press). The influence of music training on motoric inhibition in German preschool children. Musicae Scientiae.

Frischen, U., Schwarzer, G., & Degé, F. (in press). Music lessons enhance executive functions in children. Learning and Instruction.

Degé, F. (in press). Kognitive Transfereffekte musikalischer Betätigung im Grundschulalter.

Degé, F. (2019). Musikalische Fähigkeiten, Entwicklung. In M.A. Wirtz (Ed.). Dorsch: Lexikon der Psychologie. (S.). Bern: Verlag Hans Huber, Hogrefe AG.

 Degé, F. (2018). Entwicklungstheorien und Entwicklungsaufgaben. In J. Strohmer (Ed.). Psychologie-Wissen für Fachkräfte in Kita, Krippe und Hort (pp. 99–106). Göttingen: Hogrefe.