Date of Award

January 2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Katherine Norman Dearden


Young children engage in many activities, with play being the most prominent. Musical play occurs when children freely investigate sound through vocal, instrumental, or other means. Identifying the extent of musical play - and the role that gender plays in musical play - may provide important information about children's natural tendencies.

The purpose of this study was to investigate gender's role in three- and four-year-old children's musical play, and to investigate further the general nature of musical play. A grounded theory methodology was used, and data was gathered from field and individual child observations, and parent and preschool teacher surveys. A total of seven preschools in a Midwestern city participated, which included 111 children (48.05% response rate) and 40 preschool teachers (75.47% response rate).

Statistically significant differences were found between the children's musical play and children's age, sex, masculine and feminine play gender, and strong masculine and feminine play gender. No differences existed between the musical play of those having an androgynous play gender and the musical play of those having a strong masculine play gender, those having a strong feminine play gender, and those having strong play genders (combined).

The play environment provided by the teachers did not affect musical play frequency. Children who attended family music classes moved to music more during play. No differences were found between musical play and exposure to music at home, parents' self-reported musicality in the home, and the parent's musical background.

The children engaged in musical play for almost a quarter of the total free play time. The children used their voices the most (87.39%), followed by playing instruments and found objects (6.91%), and moving to music (5.70%). Vocally, the children engaged in vocal exploration the most (60.61%) and sang familiar songs the least (4.24%).

The type of play materials, group and solitary play, and some forms of teacher interaction enhanced children's musical play. Teacher interaction, however, was the most prominent factor in extinguishing musical play. Intense concentration and some instances of group play also extinguished musical play.