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3. Music, Song, Language

Communicative Musicality or Stories of Truth and Beauty in the Sound of Moving

Colwyn Trevarthen
p. 165-194


Pendant un demi-siècle, le cinéma et la télévision ont permis d’effectuer des micro-analyses portant sur la manière dont les nourrissons meuvent les différentes parties de leur corps avec grâce et intelligence dès la naissance, et ont permis en particulier de constater la façon dont un bébé dirige ses mouvements pour les « accorder » aux mouvements de sa mère, en tant que compagnon humain, de sorte que ses intentions, intérêts et sentiments soient partagés. Ces micro-analyses ont conduit les psychologues à réviser l’idée qu’ils se faisaient de la nature de l’esprit. Les forces vitales « musicales », manifestant un sens intime du temps, guide notre conscience d’être. La joie de jouer, chez l’être humain, relève d’une vitalité animale particulière, qui cherche à créer des projets narratifs artistiques, et qui cherche à communiquer le sentiment d’un message aux activités même les plus pratiques, à travers le chant et la danse. Ces forces conduisent les pouvoirs représentatifs du langage à décrire et à enregistrer les croyances et les explications culturelles conventionnelles. Cela représente une transformation importante pour la science de la conscience émotionnelle, transformation qui a des antécédents dans l’esthétique et dans la philosophie phénoménologique et morale. Elle a également une grande importance pour la théorie et la pratique dans l’enseignement et dans la psychothérapie.

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1. Preamble: Investigations Leading to Curiosity About the Autopoesis of Song and Dance — and Their Importance For Creative Thought and Communication of Culture

1For 50 years I have been enthralled by the spontaneous elegance and complexity of movements of infants, and how they respond with interest and pleasure to rituals of play, including cultivated musical creations. I was prepared to find that the human body knows from birth how to engage actions with events in a nearby outside world, from earlier work in neuropsychology on the processes that ensure perception serves action, and from reading about the embryology of brains. But I was surprised by the perfection and story-telling beauty of a very young child’s movements when alert in good company.

2The anatomy of a brain is created, as my principal teacher in psychobiology Roger Sperry had demonstrated, by selective neural growth that makes connections that map a space of navigation of the body for adventurous motor activity. An animal discovers the benefits and risks of moving about in its world with the ingrown sense of a “behaviour space” that anticipates what its body might perceive to be possible — ahead, behind, above and below, and to left and right — by propulsive steps of the locomotor system aided proprioceptive re-afference, and by an integrated set of organs for aiming “distance senses” of sight, hearing and touch. The “developmental patterning of the neural circuits” (Sperry, 1952, p. 292) makes a mind with curiosity for what moving can do and know. One that feels how to move its body with measured steps in space and time (Sherrington, 1955, chap. 4 “The Wisdom of the Body”, pp. 103-104; Goodrich, 2010, 2015; Trevarthen, 2015).

3Social life of animals requires synchronizing with the expressive parameters of willful and sensual moving. A science which accepts that having and sharing of mental states is a life activity made up of preparations and confirmations of experience in movement needs to investigate how movements are made, and how they can be used to communicate. To study the life of the social brain we may begin with this advice from Sperry

the entire output of our thinking machine consists of nothing but patterns of motor coordination. The neuro-humoral and glandular components may be disregarded in this discussion. We may also disregard the various by-products of brain activity such as heat, electric potentials, carbon dioxide, and other metabolites released into the blood stream, cerebrospinal fluid, and surrounding tissues (Sperry, 1952, pp. 297-298).

4The only way intentions, and memories or thoughts about them, can be communicated is by transfer of life principles that direct movements.

5One important corollary is that any electrical activities of the central nervous system recorded by a machine connected with the body are limited symptoms of sensory motor coordination for the body and brain in life-time activity, which includes communication in music (Turner and Ioannides, in Malloch and Trevarthen, 2009). We have to study movement itself — how it becomes self-organized and evaluated emotionally in space and in time through engagement with a natural environment to which it is adapted, including the active presence of other embodied lives moving with corresponding principles of control (Trevarthen, 2015).

6In 1967 I was given a wonderful opportunity by Prof. Jerome Bruner at the Center for Cognitive Studies in Harvard to use film with sound to record accurately what an alert and comfortable young infant might want to do by its own invention of movements with the most complex body among the intelligent tribe of mammals. We recorded babies when they were comfortable, and in quiet, attractive circumstances (Trevarthen, 1984). An early discovery was that even a two-week-old demonstrates the difference of awareness that intends to grasp the presence of a physical thing with its form, location and unintentional motions, from that other sense of being which recognizes the presence of life-with-awareness in another person, from their body form and movement. Even very young infants can know their mother as a companion in conscious activity, and they move with exaggerated expressions to engage her interest (Trevarthen, 1979). At the CCS we called the two purposes of the infant’s activity “doing” with a thing, and “communicating” with a person.

7The evidence of how a mother greets and is greeted by her very young baby by similar refined patterns of movement convinced me that humans have, and enjoy using, a very special power of mind-to-mind connection, or sensitivity for mind like that of the Self in the actions of an Other, and in the Other’s sensitivity for the actions of the Self. I took up the word “intersubjectivity” from phenomenological philosophy of Edmund Husserl, and the social linguistics of Jürgen Habermas. I stuck my neck out and wrote of the “innate intersubjectivity” of babies as an explanation of their communicative competence with seductive capacity to solicit responsive communication from other people, and to share narratives of moving with them (Trevarthen, 1979 and 1998).

8With this idea, and with evidence from detailed frame-by-frame plots of the infants’ actions, came awareness that the primary “language” of this earliest story-making is a song and dance of shared rhythms in expressive emotional and emotive movement. The idea grew that this sociable “motor intelligence” animates development of the more intricately fabricated acquirements of consciousness and their representations in spoken language. The rest is history, to which many have contributed.

9The inspired use of television photography, sound recording and motion-capture technology by a host of investigators to trace the movements of infants accurately in “micro-kinesic” descriptions, devised first to study whole-body communication with speaking by Ray Birdwhistell and William Condon, made it clear through the 1970s that we have to accept we are born to assist in the creation of meaning, and language, by moving all our parts in narrative ways with signals that enable matching experiences of objects and their uses between people. From birth, human beings ask questions and accept suggestions from companions by synchronizing the innate measures of an Intrinsic Motive Pulse generated in the embodied brain, negotiating elements of motor production (Trevarthen, in Deliège, 1999 and 2015). Sound recordings of dialogues between infants and adults have told the story clearly, and application of sophisticated acoustic analysis by Stephen Malloch (in Deliège, 1999) supported a concept of Communicative Musicality, to explain the subtle sharing of emotional rhythms and qualities that sustains mental engagement by all modalities in all narratives of feeling in movement. Researchers from many disciplines have found this theory helpful (Malloch and Trevarthen, 2009).

10To make a summary of the new psychological science of shared motor control that has been required to explain how a young infant communicates, I will first describe the features that distinguish animal movement from other dynamic phenomena that require no imaginative anticipation of their effects, study of which constitutes “motor physiology” and “motor psychology”. Then I will review the detailed findings from research analyzing movements of infants and young children that reveal how unsophisticated human beings participate in cooperative exchanges with affectionate companions, of states of mind and their emotional qualities (Trevarthen, 1986).

11A digression into the manifestations and cultivation of pan-human “musicality” in non-literate cultures, both extant and pre-historic, which complements and confirms the work with infants of different cultures that use writing and reading to record and invent meaning, will lead to evaluation of the use of non-verbal types of communication in art, education and therapy (Trevarthen et al., 2014).

12Finally the application of the concept of inter-subjective musicality to explain the generation of language and its learning to specify an unlimited range of cognitive elements will support philosophies that consider movements ordered in time and their sympathetic imitation as basic to all rational explanations and persuasions about what is “real” and “true”.

13As Barbara Goodrich (2010, 2015) has put it, “we do, therefore we think”. She emphasises that considerations, in line with Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological perception theory, support a neuroscience of thinking, and of musical art, focussed on how organisms and brains initiate consciousness to regulate and coordinate motor rhythms, rather than one that considers only the consequences in brains of the uptake, identification and combining of sensory inputs. She particularly appreciates two books by brain scientists. One, by Rodolfo Llinás, The I of the Vortex on the cellular mechanisms that integrate an active Self, is offered as a study of “motor primacy and the organization of neural networks: thinking as internalized movement”. The other, by György Buszaki on Rhythms of the Brain, explains how synchronized and “orchestrated” neural activity integrates states of consciousness, activity and memory in time.

14Music is the sound of human movement made communicable in elegantly sequenced “moving” ways, with emotion from inside selves. We need to understand how our bodies move with imagination, and the nature of emotions that evaluate the inner consequences of what we do, to appreciate how we communicate more practical and prosaic reference to things outside our bodies, and how we are persuaded to conceive our beliefs about them as “real”.

2. Psychobiology of Movement With Feeling

15Watching or listening to animals move, we sense they have purposes and emotions.

16Their actions are not just reactions to stimuli. Nevertheless rational philosophy and empirical psychology have chosen to analyse, study and explain movements as if they were responses of a physical machine, deliberately leaving the spirit or “soul” of movement obscure. This has been changed by scientists who have applied painstaking recording of natural, undirected movements that opens their awareness to a common temporo-spatial texture or creative ferment in all animal activity, and that brings to light common principles of self-regulation in individuals by feelings of well-being or danger, which also regulate social life.

17Charles Darwin led Victorian’s to a conception of animal life as a continuous process of self-creation and elaboration, and he founded a new study of forms of emotional expression as ways that animals and humans in their intimate relationships and societies transmit signals of inner processes of self-awareness and self-confidence in order to cooperate more intimately and effectively in reproduction of their kind, and in use of the environment. A major advance was made in the next century by Nikolai Bernstein, a young Russian who taught himself neuropsychology while employed to make micro-examinations of the movements of working or walking human beings at the Central Institute of Labour in Moscow. He traced the time course of movements of body and limbs in unprecedented accuracy by “cyclogrammetry” with cine photography. These discoveries fitted with physiological evidence put forward in the 1940s by Erich von Holst and others, including the founders of ethology, Konrad Lorenz and Niko Tinbergen, that animal movements find their purposes and are coordinated by internal rhythm generators or pace-makers that make prospective control possible, and that instinctively perceiving “affordances for action on the environment” involves systematic orientation of body parts and their senses with rhythms generated by “loosely coupled oscillators”.

18When Bernstein’s work was published in English in 1967 it supported a transformation of ideas about how direction of movements composed of activity a large numbers of muscles by “motor images” of their collective future sensory effects make consciousness able to determine the efficiency of actions, and their benefits and risks of disturbance. We were lucky to read his Coordination and Regulation of Movements at the same time as the films we made in Bruner’s laboratory in Harvard were displaying the complex, graceful and efficient displacements of an infant’s body, and their power for communicating.

19It became apparent that the anticipatory proprioception of muscle activity coordinating the trunk with proximal and distal parts of the limbs, and in the eyes, face and vocal organs could be signals of emotional states of mind that other people could sense “sympathetically”; and the infants ex-proprioceptive adjustment to objects they were attending to could be deictic signals for “pointing out” items in circumstances to help sharing interests or tasks, or for warning of dangers to be avoided (Trevarthen, 1986).

20In 1951 Karl Lashley drew attention to the fact that effective behaviour has always to prepare not just single acts, but sequences of movement that the mind has to “serially order” — to produce an effect, or to carry out a more extensive project, such as conceiving the message of a narrative. In Lashley’s paper, primarily intended to offer a psychobiological approach to the grammar of sentences, he made a further claim, shocking for any rational philosopher, that “analysis of the nervous mechanisms underlying order in the more primitive acts may contribute ultimately to the solution even of the physiology of logic” (Lashley, 1951, pp. 120-121). Accumulating evidence of primary motor intelligence is now undermining claims of the “cognitive revolution”, of the late 1950s, which gave support to a theory of intelligence as generated by abstract computational processes comparable to those invented for “machine intelligence”, omitting consideration of the special adaptations of the Self as embodied and emotional animal life experienced in the time of movement. A new and wider interdisciplinary cooperation is required to take us even further from behaviourism.

21Imagination for action is alive in a “window” of awareness of a few seconds known as the “psychological present”, and this is extended in projects to carry activities through circumstances to more distant objectives. This is how stories of the self as agent are made, and how persons collaborate in relationships to make valuable meanings for a cultural life or “habitus” that is preserved and recalled through generations, by “mimesis” (Damasio, 2010; Donald, 2001; Imberty and Gratier, 2008). A boost for the science of shared vitality in plans for movement came with discovery of “mirror neurons” and Antonio Gallese’s “shared manifold” hypothesis to explain of the function of sympathy for intentions in the making of social meaning (Gallese, 2005).

3. What Infants’ Actions Taught Us, and Their Mothers, About Story-Telling

22A developmental psychology more in tune with the discoveries of Darwin, the ethologists, and neurophysiological studies of motor control was ready to accept the shocking evidence, inspired by Freud’s interpretation of the causes of neuroses, that René Spitz and John Bowlby presented of the effects of isolating infants from maternal care. One discovery made when films of mother-infant interaction in warm and happy relationships took thinking further. Not only were the infants showing a special awareness and appreciation of maternal care and affection; they were, when well-supported to engage face-to-face with their mothers and to move freely, taking the lead. They stimulated sensitive and complex rhythmic engagements, in which the mother’s interest followed their initiatives to create dialogues of pleasure in mutual awareness. Subsequent work has shown that four-month-old infants, growing stronger powers of action and awareness, test the opportunities for shared intentions by engagement of the rhythmic sense of action, which they have shown from birth, in more playful rituals with humorous and provocative behaviours, including traditional action games (Trevarthen, in Deliège, 1999). They participate in story-making and, in daily life with family, a “proto-habitus” of “living memory in action” that is enjoyed and remembered (Gratier and Trevarthen, 2008).

23Daniel Stern, a child psychiatrist in New York, observed three-month-old twins with their mother playing games and was impressed with the will of the infants, and the creative imagination of their shared vitality, generated without rational representation of meaning. In his first book published in 1977, he recorded what study of his videos revealed:

24“The infant is a virtuoso performer in his attempts to regulate both the level of stimulation from the caregiver and the internal level of stimulation in himself. The mother is also a virtuoso in her moment-by-moment regulation of the interaction. Together they evolve some exquisite dyadic patterns” (Stern, 1977, p. 133 2nd ed.).

25In a lifetime of research which has transformed concepts of emotional communication and psychotherapeutic practice Stern gave rich significance to words for qualities of story-making in sympathy of movement — “attunement”, “relational affects”, “intermodal fluency”, “dynamic emotional states”, “proto-narrative envelopes”, “present moments of meeting”, “forms of vitality”, “forms of feeling”, and more (Stern, 1985 and 2010).

26Mary Catherine Bateson in Boston, applying her experience in anthropology and linguistics to make a detailed descriptive analysis, saw films of two- and three-month-olds interacting with their mothers, and she, too, was astonished at the intuitive cleverness of both the infant and the mother taking their parts:

[…] the mother and infant were collaborating in a pattern of more or less alternating, non-overlapping vocalization, the mother speaking brief sentences and the infant responding with coos and murmurs, together producing a brief joint performance similar to conversation, which I called “proto conversation”. The study of timing and sequencing showed that certainly the mother and probably the infant, in addition to conforming in general to a regular pattern, were acting to sustain it or to restore it when it faltered, waiting for the expected vocalization from the other and then after a pause resuming vocalization, as if to elicit a response that had not been forthcoming. These interactions were characterized by a sort of delighted, ritualized courtesy and more or less sustained attention and mutual gaze. Many of the vocalizations were of types not described in the acoustic literature on infancy, since they were very brief and faint, and yet were crucial parts of the jointly sustained performances (Bateson, 1979, p. 65).

27My findings led me to follow many infants with their mothers through the first eighteen months to two years, and, like Stern, I became interested in changes with age, which seemed to me to be constructive transformations, not just in the motor capacities and sensory acuity of the infants, but in the motive processes that coordinated them, and that sought engagement with the mother’s efforts to be entertaining and appreciative companions (Trevarthen, 1979 and 2001). This quest to understand the infant as adventurer in stories of human nature complemented Attachment Theory of a dependent baby soliciting protection, nourishment and care. A human baby has an imagination that needs more than a “secure base” to develop lively, happy and provocative companionship with good friends in the family (Reddy, 2008).

28In my work at Harvard, to get a clearer conception of how the young and happy infant’s mind was coordinating a complex body now free to perform a wealth of actions with rapidly developing senses, I first made continuous recordings of eye-with-head movements made to locate and track an object, and films at 64 frames per second of reaching and grasping directed to objects suspended in front near of the baby (Trevarthen, 1984). Babies one or two weeks of age, when looking at and tracking objects with precisely coordinated rotations of head and eyes, were also aiming delicately shaped arm and hand movements towards the same objects, as if to touch or grasp them. Nothing in the literature had led me to expect these “pre-reaching” movements. But they were signs of intelligence that were readily picked up and responded to by the affectionate intuition and “fellow feeling” of an attentive mother.

29In the 1980s and 1990s there was a flourishing of understanding that infants are, as the paediatrician Berry Brazelton had found in the 1960s, born persons with active minds wanting to communicate states of interest in them with parents (Brazelton, 1979). Research turned to charting the beginning of language before speech and how young children master both their growing powers of body movement and their attraction to rituals of culture, including enjoyment of clever participation in rhythmic strategies of body games and musical play with song and dance.

30The “musicality” of early communication that Dan Stern had described, and its relationship to the syntactic patterns and prosody of speech, became a topic of interest in a science of dynamic self-other awareness (Papoušek and Papoušek, 1981; Bjørkvold, 1992; articles in Deliège, 1999). The personal presence of infants and the proud creativity of their playful, and teasing, intentions in relationships with persons they know well, as well as the avoidance and shame they show when confronted by the attention of mysterious strangers who may not appreciate their habits of enjoyment, are now much better understood as natural human capacities (Trevarthen, 2005; Reddy, 2008). They anticipate conspicuous developments in imitative conviviality and group celebration shown by toddlers beginning to speak (Bjørkvold, 1992; Nadel, 2014). All of this strengthens the theory that music and other celebratory arts are essential manifestations of the motives that enable human beings to find a place in a creative social world, and to learn to appreciate reality with meaning in it (Trevarthen, 1988, 2008, 2012, 2013; Trevarthen et al., 2014).

31The reciprocity of intentions that generates learning how to participate in proto-conversations and games with older infants has a foundation, as Emese Nagy demonstrated, in initiatives that a newborn can show to turn a request to imitate a particular expression of the face, eyes, mouth of hands into an item of exchange, by repeating the imitation as a “provocation” for the adult to repeat the proposed action (Nagy, 2011; Kugiumutzakis and Trevarthen, 2015). Observations on how infants in the middle of the first year participate in musical games with their parents and siblings bring proof that they sense the narrative form of a four-part verse or stanza. Comparison of traditional baby songs in many languages reveals a consistent story-telling format that is encouraged by the infants’ manifestations of preference for a variety of rhythmic motor activities which humans show everywhere — in walking, manipulating, gesturing, speaking, telling stories, composing a project or performance of actions (Trevarthen, in Deliège, 1999, 2008, 2012, 2015; Mazokopaki and Kugiumutzakis, in Malloch and Trevarthen, 2009; Powers and Trevarthen, in Malloch and Trevarthen, 2009).

32Using sophisticated computation methods of musical acoustics to study recordings that I had made of mother’s vocalisations in proto-conversational speech and song for infants’ appreciation, Stephen Malloch (in Deliège, 1999) defined the universal parameters of what he called “communicative musicality”. Subsequently he and I invited experts form many fields of human science to assess the theory that innate dynamics of the human body movement were regulated by generators of elements of expressive movement and a hierarchy of time intervals in motor excitations in the brain that are the same in infants and adults of every culture and that are essential for sharing and developing habitual states of mind among human beings (Malloch and Trevarthen, 2009).

Figure 1

Figure 1

Computer-mediated musical acoustic techniques trace the rhythms and changes in pitch and quality of vocalizations exchanged in a proto-conversation between a 6-week-old girl and her mother. The vocal utterances of both infant and mother are organized with the rhythm of musical notes grouped in bars, and they compose narratives of shared purpose with expression of vitality and feeling that defined the “communicative musicality” of human companionship (Malloch and Trevarthen, 2009).

33Malloch’s precise measurements of vocal events in proto-conversations and games with infants led him to propose that Communicative Musicality may be measured by identifying the elements of “pulse”, “quality”, and “narrative”, “those attributes, which are particularly exploited in music, that allow co-ordinated communication to arise” (Malloch, in Deliège, 1999, p. 32). To measure “pulse” he located events in spectrographs that recorded, for example, the beginning or end of a vocalisation, a peak of loudness, or a turn in pitch, and identified principal durations and separations of these. In a dialogue of 27 seconds between a 6-week-old girl and her mother (shown in Figure 1) and in a second recording of more vigorous vocal exchange between a 12-week-old and her mother, it was clear that the pitch level corresponding to C4 (middle-C) was a shared “horizon” of expression in the voice, above and below which the sounds moved. He found regular intervals between “bar lines” of around 1.5 seconds, the average duration of a word, and he identified regular component sounds between 0.5 and 0.7 seconds, as in steps of walking, or syllables. These were presented as turns in an exchange with the duration of a phrase or breathing cycle, between 3 and 6 seconds.

34Mothers and others do sometimes sing what we understand as artful “music”, composed and valued as traditional baby songs, the scores of which my be published for them to read. As Figure 2 of a woman singing “Rock-a-bye-baby” shows, the pattering of sounds through time in this case shows strong similarities to the spontaneous dialogue with the younger infants illustrated in Figure 1. That the words are of no importance to the baby, but may be amusing for the mother is made evident by the meaning of the lyrics for this song. One explanation is that it was written by an English immigrant to the United States who observed native-American women suspend their babies in birch-bark cradles from the branches of trees, allowing the wind to rock the baby to sleep.

35Infants very quickly learn to recognize a “favourite” song. The structure of ‘motherese’ in baby songs typically takes a dramatic form leading to a strong cadence or an ending with physical involvement (e.g., ‘Round and Round the Garden’ ending with “a tickly under there!”), suggesting that brain circuits which provide a sense of anticipation in a story to be shared are active in early infancy. Babies from 4 or 5 months, attending to their mother’s performance, often vocalize in matching synchrony with the intonation of the lengthened syllables of rhyming vowels, especially the final one ending the narrative.

Figure 2

Figure 2

A famous baby song illustrating the four phases of a ‘narrative’, which constitute four lines of the stanza or verse. The final vowels of lines 1 and 2 rhyme, as do those of lines 3 and 4. The vertical lines are separated by 2 seconds, and the whole verse is 28 seconds. (Pitch plot by Malloch, in Deliège, 1999, page 49).

36The appeal of the melody of such a song to the “spirit of companionship” in the animated body of a baby is vividly illustrated by the case of a Swedish mother singing “Mors lille Olle”, composed by Alice Tegner and much loved through Scandanavia. The five-month- old baby is totally blind, from birth. Nevertheless she “conducts” the familiar sounds of her mother’s voice with delicate skill with her left hand, which she has never seen, sometimes leading the mother’s expressions by 300 milliseconds (Trevarthen, in Deliège, 1999; Gratier and Trevarthen 2008). We have to interpret this as a natural “translation” of the story-form of the sounds of the mother’s voice, from within her body, into sensations of expressive movement in the infant’s body. This is the essence of human embodied intersubjectivity for sharing narratives of meaning with the pulse of life, and its “musicality” (Trevarthen, 2012 and 2015). In attempting to understand the emotional quality of mutual awareness that regulates vocal communication between human beings of all ages, we have to interpret the “tone” or “quality” of the sounds emitted from the mouth. Malloch defines “quality” of the voice in the engagements he studied as “modulated contours of expression moving through time”:

These contours can consist of psychoacoustic attributes of vocalizations — timbre, pitch, volume — or attributes of direction and intensity of the moving body. These attributes of quality will often co-occur multi-modally, such that a wave of the hand will accompany a “swoop” of the voice. […] Pulse and quality combine to form “narratives” of expression and intention (Malloch and Trevarthen, 2009, p. 4).

And we conclude:

These “musical” narratives allow adult and infant, and adult and adult, to share a sense of sympathy and situated meaning in a shared sense of passing time. […] The “poetic form” of proto-conversation, its rhythmic and prosodic regulation, has been recognized by David Miall and Ellen Dissanayake. […] It will be clear that when discussing communicative musicality we are using the words “musicality” and “musical” in a very particular way. When we talk of the “musicality” of mother–baby interaction, we are not talking of what we generally understand to be music, with its known composers and performers. Music is moulded by the forces of culture […] we are pointing to the innate human abilities that make music production and appreciation possible. And not only music, also dance and any other human endeavour that could be considered one of the temporal arts, such as religious ceremonies or theatre—all instances of “the human seriousness of play” (Turner 1982). We define musicality as expression of our human desire for cultural learning, our innate skill for moving, remembering and planning in sympathy with others that makes our appreciation and production of an endless variety of dramatic temporal narratives possible (ibid.).

4. Human Musicality Cultivated As Musical Art, With and Without Literacy

37John Blacking, an ethnomusicologist, recorded how music and dance are inherent ways humans invent and share cultural habits (Blacking, 1988). They do so whether they are blest with the skills of literacy to describe, remember and analyse the stories made in movement by writing about them, or whether they rely on live speech and works of art, including song and dance, to identify and transmit experiences deemed to be of importance. He concludes that the basic process of meaning making and meaning sharing that is called culture is one that depends on the expression of feelings, on the real or imagined presence of human agents that welcome beauty and virtue in their actions, or hate their opposites.

38He asks:

Are dance, music and other artistic activities … simply optional extras which can help children learn in a pleasant way word-based and technical skills and moral values, and to acquire a sense of group identity? Or are they essential forms of knowledge which are necessary not only for a balanced personality but also for the development of cognitive capacities? (Blacking, 1988, p. 91).

39Blacking’s field work among the Venda in Southern Africa, observing how children build their personalities and knowledge of their culture with the aid of performances of dance and music, led him to conclude that “aesthetic/artistic cognition, embodied in non-verbal communication was a key constituent in early developments of the “power of the mind” […] which made cultural evolution possible” (ibid, p. 95). And he went on to make the following point:

Although the power of the mind is a social fact, it is not entirely independent of the operations of the brain, and especially the differential but complementary functions of its two hemispheres. Capacities for artistic cognition in general, and for dance and music in particular, appear to be located in the right hemisphere of the brain (ibid.).

40Blacking notes that practice of skillful use of musical abilities may involve complementary use of the left hemisphere with its special adaptations for mastery of “propositional/discursive” communication as opposed to “performative/expressive”. I return to this important psychobiological distinction of how the brain employs the body with different states of mind below.

41I discussed, in the same volume, the ways families in Scotland and Nigeria, with their different past, and different languages respond to the vitality and development of their infants, noting both effects of the adult reactions and preferences, and strong similarities of affective and creative behaviours of the children, which, in turn, affected how they were responded to (Trevarthen, 1988). Most similar were, not the advances in cognitive schemata for object use, or the sounds older infants made to express themselves, but the demonstrations of interest in artful play and involving others in it.

42In our book Malloch and I invited chapters by authors who looked at the clearly “musical” or “music responsive” behaviours of infants in Greece, Japan, Sweden and Scotland when they make and share or hear stories in sound, focusing on rhythmic and prosodic or melodic expressions and bodily engagement with them, and in some case their role in leading the child toward a particular language, or musical culture (Mazokopaki and Kugiumutzakis; Powers and Trevarthen; Eckerdal and Merker). Our authors could “understand” and describe common features of motivation and movement for “communicative musicality”, comparable to those Malloch (in Deliège, 1999) had defined, but the infants were also ready to be “inducted” into their culture by their endowment for vocal learning, with the help of rich verbalization in their mothers’ “infant-directed speech” in the sharing of the rituals of action songs (Eckerdal and Merker). As Merker has made clear, humans, but not apes, live to belong in a ritual culture, with many specific and complex ways of doing actions, including ones for technical and artistic creativity (Merker, in Malloch and Trevarthen, 2009)

43I think it is important to stress that all detailed ethological or ethnomusical studies of musicality of infants and young children support the view that the child is not only a learner, but an active creator of their cultural abilities. A child is born with The Muse Within (Bjørkvold, 1992). Their imitative learning is an activity with initiative, and their will to provoke teaching of new expressive activities is alive from birth, as Emese Nagy showed.

44Clearly, infantile musicality does not depend on literacy, even though a mother may be singing a baby song with lyrics she learned from a book. In ancient cultures with no literacy, with far longer oral memories of startling events and personalities than we literate moderns can present, artful rituals and games abound, telling stories of creation and ancestors as “songlines” to their young children, who, playing freely, participate and enjoy them, along with other daily practices of more practical importance, such as finding food. There is evidence that human nature has been musically active for tens of thousands of years, or maybe 150,000 years, and possibly the psychobiology of soothing emotions of song, as between mother and child, was employed among Neanderthals (Dissanayake, in Malloch and Trevarthen, 2009, p. 26).

45Per Aage Brandt also proposes that, “musical practice preceded the symbolic or intentionally semiotic, message signaling of modern humans” (Brandt, in Malloch and Trevarthen, 2009, p. 31) and he defines the essential function of art as projecting direct personal presence, which remains an essential syntactic device as the “subject/agent” in all forms of transmission of meaning and knowledge.

In all known languages, regular intonation patterns connect lexical items and syntactic constructions. Linguistic expressivity includes and integrates levels of “musical” phrasing, from syllabic quantity, stress and tone, to clause melodies and syntactic emphasis, and from there to global intonational profiles marking utterance modes and discourse genres (such as “narrative” versus “argumentative”, “exhortative”, “imperative”). In modern phonetics, it is accepted that intonation profiles universally distinguish imperative, interrogative, affirmative and affective modes of utterance meaning (ibid., p. 32).

46He remarks on the common dynamic features of messages in cultural forms of communication — “in poetry, language and music are made one by a surprisingly smooth mapping from the former to the latter” (ibid., p. 33). These are the “vitality dynamics” of Daniel Stern (2010), which are essential for the traffic of meaning in a society of “dialogical minds”, as Ragnar Rommetveit proclaims (Rommetveit, 2014).

5. Inventive and Compassionate Musicality for Communication in Education and Therapy: Case Studies

47Forms of communication that regulate the poetry and musicality of speech, song or gesture, have a fundamental place in education, when teachers are using their dialogical talents to enrich the experience of the young so they will be active members of a culture, including its music (Rommetveit, 2014; Trevarthen et al., 2014).

48In what follows I summarise contributions of experts in chapters of our book on Communicative Musicality (Malloch and Trevarthen, 2009) regarding the expressive qualities of communication in teaching and therapy.

49Fred Erickson interprets the use of “speech prosody” in classroom talk with young children. He says, “my assumption is that rhythmic patterns of speech and body motion point us to next moments that are of particular importance informationally. Each successive now moment is a moment in a process of created real time” (Malloch and Trevarthen, 2009, p. 450). Any moment of this intentionality in a communicated message has an emotional aspect, however “dry” the matter, and it attends to the reactions of the listener/observer in what Erickson calls “an ecology of mutual influence”. This is how collaborative musicality of narration puts life into meaning, and meaning into life, and how the message of instruction becomes important to the learner, or learners, and memorable.

50Nicholas Bannan, a composer and choral conductor who teaches Music Education and who studies music as a feature of human evolution, writes with Sheila Woodward, also a professor of Music Education with interest in how music supports well-being from foetal stages through to adolescence. Both treat music education as a response to the natural, and healthy, enthusiasm of the child for sharing expressive motor skills. They believe that, “when teachers take time to observe children rather than instruct, they gain information about children’s musical behaviours, their developmental stages, the role of music in their lives and, by implication, the roles of the teacher that may be most effective” (ibid., p. 475). “The human body is a rich and versatile personal resource for musical expression. Refining, regularizing and repeating the fundamental form and timing of movements with elaboration are innate in the child, and they lead to dance, song and poetry. Agility and control in experiences of manipulation are precursors for the playing of musical instruments” (p. 476).

51This psychobiological approach to the intuitive musicality of childhood as “basic existential experience” is also taken by Charlotte Fröhlich. She observes that “following the teachings of Carl Orff and Émile Jaques-Dalcroze, music pedagogy has brought music and movement together, and more time has been given to improvisation in both classroom music lessons and instrumental teaching” (p. 495). But the psychology of music is, she believes, handicapped by an empirical method with tests which, “largely concerned with relationships between measures of audition and movement, fail to elucidate the fundamental processes of motivation”. She contrasts this with the work of “anthropologists and infancy researchers, who accept more inclusive descriptive methods that allow for creative or spontaneous causes of experience” and that lead to the different conception that an “integrating, purpose-satisfying process of consciousness is at the core of our artistic and social experience — in babyhood, childhood and adulthood” (p. 495).

52In her teaching, Fröhlich encourages spontaneous artistic experiences to flourish using Daniel Stern’s concept of the fruitful present moment in psychotherapy and everyday life, and she values the lasting benefits from deeply felt musical experiences. These principles are illustrated with examples of learning in an ideal setting she has created in Basel, Switzerland for lively music making in groups.

53Lori Custodero, of Teachers College in New York, explores musical experiences in interactions of infants and children with adult musicians, teachers and parents, as well as collaborative sessions with creative professionals, to develop a theory of practice related to Bjørkvold’s vision of The Muse Within, recognizing the rich benefits of improvisation in movement to make or respond to music, for adult artists and for young children. Custodero interrogates expert performers who are composers while they play, recording their gestures with music making and in dialogue, with “a shared concept of narrative”, and especially the process of “getting started”. And she extends this with research on “the artistry of childhood” with or without commentary by parents and teachers — out and about in town, in a restaurant, or more intimately at home, in Taiwan and in New York. She concludes that the child has the right to participate in music as a private experience, and that “communicative musicality for teachers begins with listening and observing; by risking and respecting the intimacy of musical experiences, they reap reciprocal rewards, learning not only about their students, but also about themselves” (p. 528).

54Finally I exemplify, once again, the concept of spontaneous collaborative learning by “musicking” with reference to the rich experiences of Helena Maria Rodrigues, Paulo Maria Rodrigues and Jorge Salgado Correia, in Lisbon. Helena and her brother Paulo are creators of theatrical performances on stage of Opera Tutti that involve babies, toddlers, their parents and professional musicians and dancers in intense experiences of musical celebrations. They observe the participation of the children and the interactions with their parents and the artists.

55Their chapter is in two parts. First they interpret a celebration of parent-baby companionship called “Bebé Babá”, described as “an educational and artistic project with babies and their parents”, where adults and babies explore shared creativity, and then present their story on stage to an audience. They show that “babies are sociable, enjoying festive activities in a group” (p. 592) with joyful musicality.

56Correia, a lecturer at the University of Aveiro, Portugal, is an expert performer of contemporary flute music with a background in philosophy and music. He is interested in the science and psychology of music performance and creative strategies for teaching and learning. Here he reports a study of music students preparing for high-level performance using techniques that encourage the realization of the actions and roles of narratives, moving as characters in the story. They are encouraged to leave behind thinking about technical difficulties and give full attention to their embodied interpretation.

In this context, the performance teacher’s job is to engage the students in a more or less creative reading of the musical score, trying to develop processes of interpretative meaning construction, in opposition to the textbook emphasis on technically focused practice, which is potentially constraining, or, worse, destructive of artistic confidence. […] The method of instruction […] was designed to explore how teachers of performance can guide their students to be more aware of the musical narrative as it unfolds, and less attentive to the separate elements of the performance (p. 597).

57Turning attention to the use of music in therapy, we note that Music has powerful emotional roots and a capacity to inspire and share feelings of well-being for those who suffer memories of fear and loneliness. Stephen and I invited contributions from practitioners who use non-verbal poetics in their work to strengthen the initiative and self-confidence, and to calm distress, of the people they wish to help. Attending to “raw” affectivity of narrating “in the moment”, they conceive therapy differently from a psychoanalyst who is trained to attend to verbal accounts of emotional suffering or fearful obsessions recollected. They are inspired by the work of Daniel Stern, who reacted to their interest as follows in his Introduction to the 2000 edition of The Interpersonal World of the Infant:

One consequence of the book’s application of a narrative perspective to the non-verbal has been the discovery of a language useful to many psychotherapies that rely on the non verbal. I am thinking particularly of dance, music, body, and movement therapies, as well as existential psychotherapies. This observation came as a pleasant surprise to me since I did not originally have such therapists in mind; my thinking has been enriched by coming to know them better (Stern, 1985, p. xv).

58Tony Wigram and Cochavit Elefant describe how inventive turn-taking dialogues of dynamic expressions of feeling in music can be used for both assessment and treatment of children with the severe developmental disorders of autism and Rett syndrome, observing that, “human communicative musicality, evident in parent–child interactions from birth, comes alive with people of all ages when music is shared as the medium for therapeutic dialogue” (Malloch and Trevarthen, 2009, p. 423). Their work proved that, “for Rett children, even though they experience a drastic developmental regression, music can be helpful in developing social relatedness, attention, primary communication and in stimulating movement, functional hand usage and learning” (Ibid., p. 429).

59Jacqueline Robarts, a Senior Therapist at the Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Centre, London, and teacher of clinical improvisation, records a case study of a young child who after early sexual abuse became unable to communicate meaningfully with others. After three years of regular music therapy, the child began to express her emotions in ways that were no longer overwhelming for her: “She was increasingly able to reflect on her feelings, using complete sentences in a normal tone of voice, rather than fragmented words screamed or whispered as though triggered by a hallucination in which the past invaded the present” (p. 395).

60Music therapy may be practiced to help individuals to freer enjoyment of life and communication, and it also can benefit from the power of music to inspire a community.

61Mercédès Pavlicevic and Gary Ansdell are researcher/practitioners at the Nordoff- Robbins Music Therapy Centre in London. Mercédès is also Associate Professor in Music at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, and Gary is Honorary Research Fellow in Community Music Therapy at the University of Sheffield. They describe how through “collaborative musicing” in groups people can move to awareness of their intrinsic interconnectedness, an experience they call “multi-subjective”, in which we both lose and enhance subjectivity by “transcending our separate skins, towards one collective Self” (p. 369). They illustrate with concrete situations where people meet in and through music experiencing beacons of hope against illness, social inequality, fear, and cultural fragmentation that weaken human companionship (p. 373).

62The research and publications of Karen Bond, Associate Professor and Coordinator of the Master of Education in Dance in the Department of Dance, Temple University, Philadelphia, and previously a pioneer in the development of the field of dance therapy in Australia, focus on participant engagement and meanings in dance. After being inspired by her infant daughter’s vitality, “sensory–emotional delights, full of breathy duets of dipping and twirling, finger dancing and shared rhythms”, she made an extended inquiry into the meanings and effects of dance for six non-verbal children with deaf-blindness and became interested in an emergent social phenomenon she called an “aesthetic community”. She says, “Over the course of an intensive dance program, children and participating adults began to look to me like a cohesive communicative unit […] Group affect in terms of excitement, humour and playfulness evolved into a general ethos of celebration” (p. 401). And she concluded, “Considering the severity of the children’s communication challenges, this finding may be salient to our understanding of the human nature of dance”. She had discovered that the principles of the Laban theory in dance therapy could be extended to explain the effectiveness of dance for children with sensory impairment.

63Nigel Osborne as Reid Professor of Music at Edinburgh University is a renowned orchestral composer, describes how he has pioneered the use of music in therapy for the rehabilitation of children who have been victims of violent conflict in the Balkans, the Caucasus, Africa and the Middle East. His work treated the stressed children as members of a community of human beings in recovery.

64Osborne describes, first, how he set up creative workshops for affected children in collaboration with local artists in the besieged city of Sarajevo, then how in Mostar, after major hostilities had ceased, he helped set up, with the charity War Child UK, music and other creative arts hours in the primary school timetable, “to deliver both the essentials of the national curriculum and therapeutically directed content”. He explains that

the objective was not to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but to help the population at large deal with a variety of aspects of personal and social damage and loss, among which symptoms of PTSD played a role for some children. The children’s responses were immediate and unambiguous. It was not unusual for generally melancholic and reticent groups to leave a session laughing and dancing, or groups containing large numbers of hyperactive children to leave calmed and focused. […] It would be fair to say that in the non-clinical therapeutic aspects of the work, the children led the process by their responses (p. 333).

Osborne is led to make these insightful observations on the power of music:

Music appears to navigate the ocean of emotion in fluid ways, at times riding the surface, at times diving to the depths. […] The emotional power of music lies not only in its rhythms and tempi, but in melody, the flow of intonation and expression, […] and in harmony, timbre, structures, patterns, cognitive challenges and surprises. Some of these features operate at the acquired level of culture and in the experiences of individuals. Others are more universal and basic. […] In work with traumatized children, the widest possible range of musical/emotional potential is essential. Effective work with these children usually requires a wide repertoire of local cultural traditions, including popular, folk and classical music, and whatever useful materials may be appropriated, adapted or translated from neighbouring cultures and other world cultures. These experiences are liberating for children who have been trapped by war in isolation and confined spaces (pp. 348-349).

65He then offers, “a proposed biopsychosocial paradigm for a musical/creative arts intervention for children who are victims of conflict”, listing evidence for effects of music on, “basal metabolism, emotion, feeling, mood and related symptoms of PTSD […] (affecting) hearing, sensing, the heart, respiration and movement (p. 349). These are connected to psychological concerns, including cognition, memory, communication and hope, and related symptoms of trauma such as poor concentration, amnesia, avoidance, detachment and depression … psychosocial concerns involving identity, trust, self-belief and creativity, and associated symptoms such as depersonalization, lack of trust, self-confidence, motivation and anger, (which are) linked directly to both social and biosocial concerns such as socialization, social communication, attachment, social cohesion and synchronization (p. 350).

66Thus Osborne describes a fundamental coherence of physiological, psychological and socio-cultural regulations in the life of a human being, all susceptible to the beneficial influence of musical communication. This range of phenomena involved in musical behavior and its communication poses a challenge to the science of the brain as regulator of human activity and experience (Trevarthen et al., 2014).

6. Brain Science of Musical Impulses for Human Life and the Meaning of Habits in Society

There are certain aspects of the so-called “inner life” — physical or mental — which have formal properties similar to those of music — patterns of motion and rest, of tension and release, of agreement and disagreement, preparation, fulfillment, excitation, sudden change, etc. (Langer, 1942, p. 228).
We believe that the evolutionary roots of musicality must lie in the repetitive rhythms and emotions at the source of moving. Especially important are the emotional sounds by which birds and mammals communicate. We mammals are social creatures who depend critically on resonance with the inner purposes and concerns of others (Panksepp and Trevarthen, in Malloch and Trevarthen, 2009, p. 108).

67To introduce a brief glimpse of how theories of brain function may be related to musical behavior and its experience, and might explain how music can, by engaging the inner spirit of the mind, excite emotion, and contribute to the narration of meaning in a human relationship, I show a picture of a newborn infant girl 4 days old (Figure 3). I believe she demonstrates a talent for moving her body and its senses with feeling, and an immediate interest in engaging these impulses to affect another person who is offering her attention, both of which are properties of musicality. These must be innate.

68The cerebral neocortex and the cerebellum of baby’s brain are undeveloped, but the “inner life” of Susan Langer is there, and it has the dynamic patterns of moving with emotion of music. Ava and her grandmother are beginning to share a musical story.

Figure 3

Figure 3

Ava is addressing her whole self-awareness as a “performer-in-relation” to her grandmother, who is holding her comfortably and speaking gently to her with affectionate, musical tones. At 4 days old, the baby appears to want to be an active partner in the “story”. She is posed like Leonardo’s portrait of St John the Baptist, right hand raised to accompany pursed lips and intent gaze, left hand directed down to herself. She does not vocalize, but resembles a singer who presents herself in voice with gesture (see Davidson and Malloch, in Malloch and Trevarthen, 2009).

69The asymmetric posture of this baby is typical of newborns displaying communicative intent with hands (Trevarthen, 1986). It expresses an innate difference between emotional regulations on the two sides of the brain, below the cerebral hemispheres, which becomes elaborated with maturation of the higher functions of mind, for moving the body in changing circumstances and with new purposes with emotional care for its well-being, and for developing intelligent experience and for sharing it socially in language (Trevarthen, 2005).

70Jaak Panksepp, a neurobiologist who has advanced our knowledge of the primary emotional systems of the mammal brain, interprets the evolution of song and music as follows.

The emotional power of music may have strong linkages to the evolution of basic motor and emotional systems of the brain. Most movements have distinct rhythms and basic emotions are characterised by distinct affective sounds in all mammalian species, and these sounds may have been critically important pre-adaptations for the emergence of the melodic stream of music in humans. […] The evolutionary infrastructure for music may be largely subcortical, and the emergence of emotional proto-musical communications in our species (e.g. motherese) may have set the stage not only for the eventual discovery of music but also for the emergence of propositional language (Panksepp, 2009, p. 229).

71The neurochemistry of autonomic and visceral sensorimotor systems has many functions in the new-born infant. Among other functions, it generates the enteric neuropeptides that regulate our viscera and the emotional systems of our brains. All these structures link the inner life with actions seeking to use cooperative environmental resources through expressions that signal intentions and feelings to others, enabling affectionate cooperation (Narvaez et al., 2013). Every gesture, look or cry that tells others how we feel or what we intend to do employs organs evolutionarily built within our human bodies and animated by our ancient, subcortical animal brains before we greet our mother’s indulgent gaze and recognise her voice as the one we heard before birth.

72In their comprehensive review of recent brain imaging research on states related to musical experience and performance, Turner and Ioannides note limitations of available methods. They comment that “Only a small fraction of published and planned studies are relevant to the study of the innateness of musicality. Most are concerned with music as an acquired cultural skill, which may or may not shed light on whether the brain structures involved are uniquely suited to the task” (Turner and Ioannides, in Malloch and Trevarthen, 2009, p. 175). Distinct differences have been found in how the left and right hemispheres of adults share the processing of simple tone sequences in speech and music, but these may be due to acquired skills.

73Turner and Ioannides suggest,

There is a particular need for longitudinal neuroimaging studies of the development of musical perceptions and skills, especially in ecologically valid contexts, such as mother–baby interactions. These could allow us to determine the way in which musical expression may precede language, and to relate music with rhythmical movement and expressive gestures that are adaptive, minimizing the influence of acculturation. […] Existing studies do not often control the tasks or stimuli sufficiently well to pinpoint and fully characterize the differences in brain structures involved (ibid.).

74To identify brain systems that make and appreciate music, and tell its stories, we have to remember that melodies are invisible, and that they are made in time with rhythmic body movements, by which they both express and excite feelings of beauty and affection.

75Movements making music signal stepping with the whole body, moving of objects with the hands, and expressing heartfelt feelings with the voice, throat and mouth.

76Ideas of where future research may lead can be suggested from the evolution of systems that regulate rhythms of movement and their use in social life, and especially how they might be adapted to hearing and producing sounds that convey the “vitality dynamics” of behavior.

77Research on the neurobiology of animal play demonstrates that the executive circuits for social joy are indeed situated below the neocortex, and that the whole neocortex is massively activated by the impulses of play at both neuronal and genetic levels (Panksepp, 2009). In other words, early play, much undervalued in early educational systems of the “developed” or “industrial” world, which concentrate on training of language, mathematics, and other practical skills, and accepted standards of social obedience, helps build our intellectual abilities and sensitivities (Trevarthen, 2013). A restricted curriculum, especially when it is applied in the early years, is to the detriment of children, and potentially of culture (Bjørkvold, 1992).

78The anthropologist Victor Turner, who studied meaning-making in African cultures, presented in a book entitled From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play his concept of “sociodrama” as a creative “ethnography of process” that shared the experience of celebrations and imaginative projects in which “something new may be generated […] the ‘flow’ of action and interaction […] may conduce to hitherto unprecedented insights and even generate new symbols and meanings” (Turner, 1982, p. 79). He commented that in Cartesian dualism, separating subject from object, us from them, “the deep bonds between body and mentality, unconscious and conscious thinking […] have been treated without respect” (ibid., p. 100).

79Time and time again, ambitious leaders in their efforts to regulate society have created rules and regulations and imposed laws for cultivating health and education. From the days of Plato and Aristotle, they have insisted on the need to regulate and restrict play, to impose discipline, structure and definition or prescription to learning.

80People of all ages and in every community share the pleasures and pains of body movement. Their urges for relating intimately are strong in early childhood and adolescence, and in old age, when capacities of body and mind are changing more quickly, and when learning about and “making” the world are not the primary preoccupations (Trevarthen, 2001). The brain moves the body with rhythm as it feels, and it is from the start concerned with the measured vitality of the body (Trevarthen, 2015). Later, higher and higher variations of emotions arise to express this vitality. Before birth, a child shares its building of autonomic regulations of inner well-being with the mother, including her states of motivation and emotion. During the first year after birth, the child’s separate body, with growing freedom to move with awareness of the world, takes over the task of mediating with a mother’s intimate care, using expressive vital rhythms that express emotion with hands, eyes, face, and voice.

81The neuroscience of moving in time is intricately linked to the evolutionary neuroscience of emotional well-being and its expression for social cooperation (Panksepp, 2009). This neuroscience has, in return, been enriched by research into the life of infants and how it is sustained by intimate affections of parental care. The cerebral hemispheres of an infant adapt in different, complementary emotional ways, not only to develop intelligent awareness and memory of what the objective world affords and its benefits and dangers. The infant brain is primarily concerned with the receptive and expressive functions that arise through the intimate affective attachment, body to body, animated by love or, on occasions more sadly, by fear or hate (for many relevant reviews, see: Narvaez et al., 2013).

Figure 4

Figure 4

Ana Almeida in the Institute for Music and Human Social Development (IMHSD), Edinburgh University, records how four- and five-year-old children move their bodies when they hear music. Each was invited to move within a square while musical rhythms were played for them. They were told “when you hear the music you move as you wish and when the music stops you freeze like a statue”. These three children move with their whole body, running, jumping and arresting their movements, making eloquent gestures with their hands, translating the rhythmic patterns and moods. Their faces glow with delight. The children create a variety of performances, responding to the beat and changes of tempo, each child expressing an individual repertoire of movements (Almeida, 2015)

82Toddlers enjoy exploring new and exciting powers of whole-body movement (Figure 4): jumping, running, dancing, singing and talking enthusiastically with playmates of all ages in a familiar community (Custodero, in Malloch and Trevarthen, 2009). They can create in their play their own “children’s musical culture” full of audacious experiments in sound (Bjørkvold 1992). Obviously the range of expression for participation in musical behaviours is transformed by developments of the body and of the brain that moves it and senses the movements (Narvaez et al., 2013). At the same time as they are becoming fluent in use of language, young children also respond enthusiastically to encouragement to engage in creations of body movement and to the sounds of song and music. They move in felt immediacy with the human-made sounds, using their whole bodies skilfully. They are capable of making creative productions that combine all the arts (Trevarthen, 2012 and 2013).

83Eminent scientists have opposed the reduction of brain function to hypothetical cognitive or input processes in mechanisms for perception and learning, forgetting the motivating foundations of experience. By studying the anatomy and physiology of nerve tissues and their growth, they have, like Sperry (1952) established that the brain is shaped as an integrated dynamic system primarily for regulating its output in rhythms of self-sensed body movement (Damasio, 2010; Llinás, 2001). Now attention is turning to how the adaptations for ensuring that individual activities by single subjects are effective in engagement with the physical environment have been transformed in evolution for inter- subjective coordination in social systems (Ammaniti and Gallese, 2014). Research is making it ever clearer that our fundamental emotional structures engender dynamic patterned actions as well as motivation and feelings, which serve to sustain the flow of creative collaborations, both practical and playful (Csikszentmihalyi and Csikszentmihalyi 1988; Panksepp, 2009). The function of the brain is to make the body engage the environment by moving its muscles in coherent ways with refined economy of the physical and chemical energies required to sustain mental balance. Good living moves harmoniously with efficiency and with experimental good humour. Illness and distress cause actions to be weak or impulsive, to meet the environment erratically and cause inner pathologies and conflicts in communication. Young children, especially, need responses that express harmony of affection in a time and space where they can discover life freely.

7. Conclusion: Natural Philosophy of Musical Meaning and Narrative, a Challenge to Conventions of Psychological Science of Individual Intelligence, and the Truthfulness of Verbal Thinking

Culture is activity of thought, and receptiveness to beauty and humane feeling. Scraps of information have nothing to do with it.
Alfred North Whitehead, address on The Aims of Education in 1916.

84The innate rhythms and emotional expressions of an infant’s behaviour, and their strong response to beauty of dance, singing and music, prove that birth is an event in an already active coming to life of a human being, with special abilities for play with meanings in engagement with the vitality dynamics of affectionate human company. Later the child will master new ways of moving with the unique intelligence of a body adapted to link its agency and emotions with loved companions, ready to take part in use of the rich inventions of a particular culture with its habitus and language. But, while new skills accumulate, the foundations of motivation and emotion that grow in the foetus remain through a lifetime as inspiration for new discoveries of meaning, however sophisticated their logic may become.

85The realisation of new intelligence by learning needs playful exercise of communicative musicality, and can draw on its resources if the growth of life with purpose becomes threatened by physical, conceptual or social trauma.

86Science of the psychobiology of human becoming and belonging has a perpetual problem comprehending the ontogeny of the intuitive powers of infants, and how they give the foundation for learning practical and rational skills, and facts. It is too easy for the research strategy of collecting “reliable” evidence by planned experiments, rather than exercise of empirical wisdom harvested from responsible, responsive and properly sceptical experience. The rationalist seeks too firm explanations in the responses of a single thinking mind to the outside physical world, and regards inner motives and sense of time in movement, as in music, as perhaps entertaining, but irrational and potentially distracting from clear understanding.

87I close with the conclusions of two critics of the Cartesian philosophy, whose position appears to me to be firmly supported by what we have learned about the essential role of musical play in early development of companionship and understanding, and by knowledge of how the human brain elaborates a fundamental asymmetry of the anatomy of motives and feelings for a lifetime in movement.

88As has been mentioned, Ragnar Rommetveit, a Norwegian psychologist and linguist convinced of the primary importance of dialogue for human life, and of the moral foundations for its contribution to cultural achievements and understanding, has given inspiration for those of us who have tried to comprehend the human nature of meaning in early life of a child.

89In a recent summary of his 50 years of work in dialogically based linguistics, enlivened by early childhood memories of his own coming to language through mastery of a local dialect at his home in Norway, Rommetveit supports the proposal that the science of language is necessarily a “moral science” with ethical responsibilities. He takes support from philosophers of human relational nature and experienced teachers who have inspired his conviction that we live creatively as companions, through and in communication. He draws support from Mikhail Bakhtin, Valentin Volosinov, Lev Vygotsky, William James, George Herbert Mead, Hans Georg Gadamer, Martin Buber, Jerome Bruner, James Wertsch, Johan Asplund, and Michael Billig. All stand opposed to a “monologically based communication theory inspired by information technology […] (with) narrow individualistic psychological theory and abstract systems theory” (Rommetveit, 2014, p. 36). All presume the truth of Martin Buber’s statement: “The Human Being Becomes an I in Relation to a You”.

90Clearly the new psychology of intersubjectivity in infancy is in agreement, as is that which observes the development of language in early years, before schooling. The place of a musical sense that animates both self-discovery and friendship and the creation of rituals that celebrate meaningful occasions is confirmed (Trevarthen et al., 2014).

91The difference between single head rational appreciation of disembodied experience and dialogical understanding of meaning negotiated in relationships with aesthetic and moral evaluation is also given fundamental importance by the work of the Scottish writer and psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist (2009). He has made the most comprehensive survey of evidence that the strong lateralisation to the left hemisphere of the skill of speech, performed and heard as a behaviour for semantic intelligence that labels topics of personal, individual interest, out of the world, is complemented by a capacity of the right hemisphere to stand guard of living enterprise with alertness for the context, including dialogic relations with other minds and their feelings.

92In his Chapter 3, on Language Truth and Music, McGilchrist, after noting the power of infant communication, considers the evolutionary function of song as presented by Robin Dunbar:

Our pre-lingual children communicate with us — not always, it is true, with desired clarity, but effectively enough. […] For our primate ancestors, who clearly had no speech, body language played a vital role in social cohesion, especially in prolonged sessions of mutual grooming. One theory is that singing, a sort of instinctive musical language of intonation, came into being precisely because, with the advent of humans, social groups became too large for grooming to be practical as a means of bonding. Music, on this account, is a sort of grooming at a distance; no longer necessitating physical touch, but a body language all the same. And, the theory goes, referential language was a late evolution from this (Dunbar, 2004). […] Communication, after all, does not only mean the kind of language we use to talk about things. Music is communication — but it speaks to us, not about things. It does not refer (to a third party): it has an “I-thou” existence, not an “I-it” existence. […] The fact that we now communicate mainly through language shouldn’t blind us to the equally important fact that we do not need it for most types of communication. Most of our communication goes on without it anyway, whether we like it or not, and language may even make some kinds of communication more problematic (McGilchrist, 2009, p. 106).

On the same page, considering Thought Without Language, he extends the argument as follows:

Surely, though, it may be said, even if language isn’t strictly necessary for communication, its advent was necessary for humans to become the thinking beings they are, capable of forming concepts, making judgments, taking decisions, solving problems, all that is characteristic of our highest functions? Well, not really — in fact, not at all. The belief that one cannot think without language is yet another fallacy of the introspective process, whereby thinking in words about language only serves to confirm the importance of the verbal process.

McGilchrist concludes his text, after quotes from a number of thinkers reporting the experience of divided existence, with this explanation:

Scheler described the human being as a citizen of two worlds and said that all great European philosophers, like Kant, who used the formulation, had seen as much. What all these point to is the fundamentally divided nature of mental experience. When one puts that together with the fact that the brain is divided into two relatively independent chunks which just happen broadly to mirror the very dichotomies that are being pointed to — alienation versus engagement, abstraction versus incarnation, the categorical versus the unique, the general versus the particular, the part versus the whole, and so on — it seems like a metaphor that might have some literal truth. But if it turns out to be “just” a metaphor, I will be content. I have a high regard for metaphor. It is how we come to understand the world (McGilchrist, 2009, p. 462).

93I present this consideration of the mental processes, more or less conscious, of human communication of two minds, for study with the picture of Ava. She is indeed animating her expressive body in two ways — with two sets of metaphors. Can her right hand be said to be potentially referring to “alienation”, “abstraction”, “the categorical”, “the general”, “the part”, etc., while her left indicates “engagement”, “incarnation”, “the unique”, “the particular”, “the whole”, and so on? I am sure her impulses to left and to right are different, but less abstract, more intuitive. Maybe the right “says”: “here is the idea I am offering you”, and the left says: “this how we may feel about it”.

94The communicative musicality of the movements of gesture and vocalization of infants and young children, and the singing responses of their devoted parents, siblings, peers and teachers give us evidence of how enjoyment of life in all forms of movement can become the meaning of a lifetime in culture, and the source of particular arts, techniques, beliefs, and scientific theories (Trevarthen et al., 2014).

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1
Légende Computer-mediated musical acoustic techniques trace the rhythms and changes in pitch and quality of vocalizations exchanged in a proto-conversation between a 6-week-old girl and her mother. The vocal utterances of both infant and mother are organized with the rhythm of musical notes grouped in bars, and they compose narratives of shared purpose with expression of vitality and feeling that defined the “communicative musicality” of human companionship (Malloch and Trevarthen, 2009).
Fichier image/jpeg, 92k
Titre Figure 2
Légende A famous baby song illustrating the four phases of a ‘narrative’, which constitute four lines of the stanza or verse. The final vowels of lines 1 and 2 rhyme, as do those of lines 3 and 4. The vertical lines are separated by 2 seconds, and the whole verse is 28 seconds. (Pitch plot by Malloch, in Deliège, 1999, page 49).
Fichier image/jpeg, 152k
Titre Figure 3
Légende Ava is addressing her whole self-awareness as a “performer-in-relation” to her grandmother, who is holding her comfortably and speaking gently to her with affectionate, musical tones. At 4 days old, the baby appears to want to be an active partner in the “story”. She is posed like Leonardo’s portrait of St John the Baptist, right hand raised to accompany pursed lips and intent gaze, left hand directed down to herself. She does not vocalize, but resembles a singer who presents herself in voice with gesture (see Davidson and Malloch, in Malloch and Trevarthen, 2009).
Fichier image/jpeg, 68k
Titre Figure 4
Légende Ana Almeida in the Institute for Music and Human Social Development (IMHSD), Edinburgh University, records how four- and five-year-old children move their bodies when they hear music. Each was invited to move within a square while musical rhythms were played for them. They were told “when you hear the music you move as you wish and when the music stops you freeze like a statue”. These three children move with their whole body, running, jumping and arresting their movements, making eloquent gestures with their hands, translating the rhythmic patterns and moods. Their faces glow with delight. The children create a variety of performances, responding to the beat and changes of tempo, each child expressing an individual repertoire of movements (Almeida, 2015)
Fichier image/jpeg, 72k
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Colwyn Trevarthen, « Communicative Musicality or Stories of Truth and Beauty in the Sound of Moving »Signata, 6 | 2015, 165-194.

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Colwyn Trevarthen, « Communicative Musicality or Stories of Truth and Beauty in the Sound of Moving »Signata [En ligne], 6 | 2015, mis en ligne le 31 décembre 2016, consulté le 01 avril 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Colwyn Trevarthen

Colwyn Trevarthen, from New Zealand, is Professor (Emeritus) of Child Psychology and Psychobiology at The University of Edinburgh. He studies development of brain and body in infancy and how children move, communicate happiness, and maintain well-being in creative play and shared learning. He is interested in how rhythms and expressions of ‘communicative musicality’ in movement share emotions, motivate learning of language and other cultural skills, and support therapy for developmental misfortunes. He has Honorary Doctorates from the University of Crete, the University of East London, and Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, a Member of the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters, and a Vice-President of the British Association for Early Childhood Education, and has received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the British Psychological Society.

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