The problem of musical learning in an interactive scenario

How does musical learning in children take place? How is it affected by old and new technologies? These questions are directly relevant for setting the background to the MIROR project.

Recent studies dealing with musical invention in very young children (2-4 years) have suggested that the origin of new musical ideas is structurally anchored in the development of sympathetic interaction established between the adult and child while playing with musical instruments (Young 2004, Burnard 2006, McPherson 2006). Furthermore, according to some developmental theories, the adult/infant relationship has an important role in the affective and cognitive development of the child (Fogel 2000, Malloch 2000, Trevarthen 2000, Stern 2004, Imberty 2005).

The question therefore arises as to which models of cognitive development and learning are produced when these relationships are established not between two human subjects, but between a child and a machine. New technologies can be considered not only as "tools" for didactic support, but also as languages and "brainframe" (De Kerckhove 1991) that affect, form and profoundly shape the processes of music learning and the musicality of children. In a review of music technology in education, Webster (2002) concludes that there is a scarcity of research on using music technology with young children. The reasons for this may lie in ideologies and established traditions of early childhood music education practice.From birth children are immersed in everyday musical worlds mediated increasingly by digital technologies. They arrive in pre-school education equipped with a range of competences and concepts about music and musical process derived from these experiences. The issue is not whether digitised technologies should be part of early childhood music education (for if early childhood education purports to ?start with the child', then they are already present in experiences children bring with them), but:

  • how pedagogical approaches need to transform in order to best serve the competences children have, (Folkestad et Al. 1998, Young 2006).

  • the lack of collaboration between the system design and educational communities. More precisely, the community of ITS (Intelligent Tutoring Systems) is mainly interested in the issues related to designing novel systems that integrate pedagogical goals in musical systems. On the other hand, experimental psychologists have mainly studied the impact of existing music software for music education, rather than being actively involved in the system development.

  • the lack of music education in schools and pre-schools for childhood and early childhood: music education is still often absent in primary school, and even more so in nurseries and kindergartens, in spite of the important role the musical experience and expression plays in children's daily life. Recent studies, however, have not only shown how in-service training of pre-school teachers may lead to a more systematic didactical approach in music but that the origin of new musical ideas is structurally anchored in interaction between the adult and the child and among children (see, e.g. Addessi & Young 2009; Burnard, 2006; Ilari & Gluschankoff 2009; McPherson, 2006; Pramling Samuelsson et al, 2008; Young, 2004).

The MIROR project
In this context, we decided to pursue the concepts and technologies known as
Reflexive Interaction, initially elaborated at the SONY FRANCE-Computer Science Laboratory in Paris, which represent a new generation of computationally augmented musical environments.
The effectiveness of the promising pedagogical concept has been largely demonstrated through previous researches carried out since 2003. The experiments (the pilot protocol, didactic experiences in the kindergarten, experiments in teaching improvisation classes) have shown the extraordinary potential of these new generation of software for educational purposes not only in the specific field of the music education but also in the wider field of learning strategies (Addessi & Pachet 2005, 2006; Ferrari, Addessi, Pachet 2006; Benghi, Addessi, Pachet 2008, see The scientific results of these experiments have been recognised by several scholars who are experts in music education and technologies, and who have highlighted both the technological and research methodological innovations of these studies: Webster (2007), Burnard (2007),
Thiebaut (2006), Also Bryan-Kinns (2004), Fober (2006), Fober, Letz, Orlarey (2007), Mc Gregor (2007), Young (2008),
Building on the promising results of these studies, the MIROR project aims at
developing the potential of IRMS and turn it into a novel form of pedagogical software and associated pedagogy. The main output of the project will be the MIROR platform, and will be specifically designed for musical education in young children, at the school and at home, and in more general way in the kinder centres, children hospital departments, centres for mother and child, etc.
The possibility of making and sharing music allows individuals to recognize themselves in a community, but often the formal/informal music is not accessible to everyone for some reasons. Thanks to its technological and pedagogical characteristics, the MIROR platform will exploit the social potential of collaborative music making, and represents not only a revolutionary appliance for learning/teaching music education with young children, but also a powerful tool of aggregation and (music) education in situation of multicultural conflicts, desertion of school, and "cultural poverty".