Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Education


Evidence shows oral language development in early childhood plays a critical role in social, behavioural and academic development and Australian research indicates that speech development difficulties are relatively common. Research suggests that participating in high quality music education from early childhood not only helps develop musical skills but also induces benefits in aspects of oral language skills, including phonological abilities. Researchers have suggested that music might be a useful and engaging form of intervention for preschool-aged children with oral language delays or disorders, however, to date little research has been conducted to test this. Underpinned by Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory, a concurrent triangulation mixed methods design, consisting of a quasi-experimental study and multiple case study, was used to learn about the effects of the “Tuning In” (TI) music program upon the phonological abilities and use of oral language of four and five-year-old children. TI is the music education program of the Shoalhaven Youth Orchestra, which is based in regional NSW. A five-month intervention was conducted involving 45 children attending four early childhood education and care (ECEC) centres. Children at two centres received a 30-minute weekly TI session taught by a specialist teacher, while children at the other centres received the music programs offered at their centres. Data collected included a pre-intervention parent survey, and pre- and post-testing of the children’s phonological awareness (PA) and phonological memory (PM). Each TI centre formed a case in the multiple case study and data collection included a researcher journal, educator interviews and an attendance and participation record.

The TI Group made significantly greater improvements than the Comparison Group in Sound Matching (an aspect of PA) (p <.05), and strong trends were also found across PM tests. These results were supported by the multiple case study, which found that the quality and quantity of children’s speech improved, particularly in children with language disorders. Children were found to engage strongly with the TI sessions. Warm and responsive relationships between the music teacher and children contributed to the children’s engagement in music and to their motivation to communicate. Several music- specific “active ingredients” were identified, including providing a variety of music experiences to develop beat and rhythm skills, which supported children’s engagement and learning. Providing children with choice to participate in different ways was also found to lead to increased participation rates over time.

This thesis provides an important contribution to literature on how music in ECEC settings could be used to support children’s oral language development, particularly for those with language difficulties; a thus far under-researched field. The TI program demonstrated positive effects upon the development of the phonological skills and children’s use of speech for a range of purposes, and highlighted the critical role that social relationships play in children’s development. This thesis also demonstrated that group music sessions conducted in ECEC settings could be used to complement traditional interventions for language development problems.

FoR codes (2008)

130102 Early Childhood Education (excl. Maori), 1302 CURRICULUM AND PEDAGOGY, 130201 Creative Arts, Media and Communication Curriculum and Pedagogy, 200408 Linguistic Structures (incl. Grammar, Phonology, Lexicon, Semantics)



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.