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Sounds of Intent in the Early Years

‘Sounds of Intent in the Early Years’ developed as a natural extension of the main Sounds of Intent project in the second decade of the 21st century. This was a logical step, as the original Sounds of Intent framework made substantial reference to empirical data from work in the field of music-developmental psychology. A new framework was proposed, for children in the early years who were developing ‘neurotypically’, based on Sounds of Intent Levels 2–5. It was first tested by Angela Voyajolu, who undertook 125 observations of 58 children (aged 10 weeks to five years) engaging in musical activities, over a period of around six months, on their own and with other children or adults (Voyajolu and Ockelford, 2016; Ockelford and Voyajolu, 2020). Voyajolu subsequently gathered a further, more substantial set of data, comprising 796 naturalistic observations of 44 children in the early years over a period of a little over two years (Voyajolu, 2020).

In both cases, analysis of the data (in the first study, largely cross-sectional, in the second, mainly longitudinal) revealed that a logistic regression captured the underlying trends of musical development most effectively. Regressions of this kind form an S-shaped or sigmoidal curve, implying that development begins slowly and gradually accelerates towards a period of more or less constant rapid growth, before the pace of change slows and eventually levels off.

It is of interest to note that similar patterns are found in other areas of human development such as the acquisition of language. It emerged that, while the Sounds of Intent levels were useful conceptually in marking key music-developmental milestones, and of value in gauging what may be typical or exceptional across a population, musical development on an individual level is neither a linear nor a clear-cut process, with overlapping levels of engagement whose boundaries are fuzzy.

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The Sounds of Intent in the Early Years Framework can be represented as a set of concentric circles that map precisely onto Levels 2–5 of the original; the concepts described in each segment are the came, though the language is changed somewhat to reflect the different context.

The four elements that apply to each of the main descriptors are captured in an expanded version of this figure.

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Having established how children’s capacity to engage with music typically develops in the early years, it was possible to investigate the impact of different profiles of ability and disability on musical development, and a series of projects have been undertaken or are underway in relation to blindness (examing, in particular, three eye conditions: septo-optic dysplasia, retinopathy of prematurity and Leber congenital amaurosis), learning difficulties, autism and deafness.