Music Study Led by Professor Jennifer Bugos Seeks Participants Aged 4 to 6

Monday, May 01, 2017

Dr. Jennifer Bugos, Assistant Professor of Music Education, continues her two-year study, The Effects of a Technology-Based Musical Training Program on Cognition in Preschool Children, which examines the effects of music classes on the cognitive and musical abilities of children.

The study is currently seeking children aged four to six, who have the opportunity to receive free music lessons through Bugos' ten-week research sessions.

The study, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, is a collaboration between Dr. Jennifer Bugos of the USF School of Music and Dr. Darlene DeMarie of the USF College of Education. The study is endorsed by the School District of Hillsborough County.

Dr. Bugos chose to study this age group for an important reason.

"Children ages four to six are at the right period – they call it the critical period – where we see the largest increase in cognitive development during this period," said Bugos. "So this is the optimal period for them to participate in a music program."

Dr. Bugos takes an innovative and well-crafted approach to study the effects of musical training on these young learners. While this age group has been studied before, few studies have implemented randomized control trials.

In this study, participants are randomly placed into one of three groups: a music lessons group, a Lego training task group, and a no-treatment control group. This creates a scientific study that isolates the effects of music training and compares it to the outcomes of students who do Lego construction tasks as well as those who do not receive any training.

If children do not get assigned to their preferred group, they also have the option of participating in another group after the trial concludes.

The curriculum of this music study is designed to establish fundamental skills that children can build upon. The music program teaches vocal development, bimanual coordination, and improvisation skills in young children.

The 45-minute lessons meet twice per week. Children not only sing, but play instruments such as drums, mallet instruments, assorted classroom percussion, and iPads. Children are also introduced to reading musical notation.

The program also abandons the "do-as-I-say" music lessons of the past by giving children the opportunity to use their knowledge to improvise and create.

"Children benefit from the opportunity to play with music, especially when given new knowledge, tools, and ways of thinking", said Bugos.

Student learning in a group environment also adds to the educational experience of the study.

"I think this program gives them the opportunity to apply what they've learned --- certainly an opportunity to be creative, too -- and learn to work together in groups, which is an essential social skill for children to learn at this age," said Bugos.

Bugos and DeMarie are aided by a team of researchers. Graduating doctoral music education student Tracy Torrance provided special assistance during previous research sessions. In addition, the study is supported by undergraduate student researchers at USF. The study comprises students from Cellular and Molecular Biology, Chemistry, Integrative Biology, Music Education, and Psychology.

So far, feedback from parents of the child participants has been very positive. When children bring home music from class, the unexpected can happen.

"The children will practice songs during the class ... they'll take one of these sheets home, and then, often, we hear that they've sung them for the parents. They were actually correcting some of the parents on the rhythms and the melodies," said Bugos.

While no practicing at home is required, parents are continuously informed of their child's progress in the class and have the opportunity to help students reinforce concepts at home.

After completing this 10-week program, many children express an interest in continuing their music education. For students who wish to continue, Bugos gladly refers children to early childhood music programs that allow them to continue their music education. Bugos' study not only advances the field of early childhood music education but also positively impacts the lives of children through encouraging a lifelong love for the arts.

"While we're teaching music," said Bugos, "I think they're learning so much more."

Enrollment for August 2017 classes runs from now until the end of July. To learn about how your child (ages 4-6) might become a part of this exciting music study, please call 813-517-9625 or email Dr. Jennifer Bugos at bugosj@usf.edu.

 children in music study

Students in the Preschool Music Program learn to read musical symbols by tracking the notation as they sing songs.
Photo credit: Bryce Womeldurf