Date of Award

Winter 12-20-2012

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Middle-Secondary Education and Instructional Technology

First Advisor

Dr. David E. Myers

Second Advisor

Dr. Joyce E. Many

Third Advisor

Dr. Dana Fox

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Jodi Kaufmann






L. Michelle Mercier-De Shon

This phenomenological study of lived experience (Van Manen, 1990) explored the perspectives of four 4th grade children as they live in and live through music to formulate their musical identities. Framed within perspectives of symbolic interaction theory (Blumer, 1969), communities of practice (Wenger, 1998), and figured worlds (Holland, et al., 1998), data were collected using methods consistent with qualitative inquiry. These included: observations of quasi-formal music learning settings, in musical playgroups and during professional musicians’ presentations; close observations of children’s daily school lives; and planned discussion group interviews (O’Reilly, 2005). Findings emerged from the data via a bricolage of existentialist (Morrisette, 1999; Holyroyd, 2001) and interpretative phenomenological analyses (Smith, 2003).

Children in my study explored and expressed their musical identities through self-directed engagement across multiple modalities of singing, listening, performing on instruments, and creating music. They engaged with these modalities in individualized and shared ways. Singing was situated, by context and in concert with social and gender comparisons. Listening, performing, and creating encompassed a trajectory from experimentation to intentionality, with continually embedded exploration and musical play.

Findings indicated that children in middle childhood may actively shape their musical identities within a dynamic nexus of individualized and social continuums of music experience and learning. These continuums may be understood along three dimensions: development; components, i.e., music participation and learning; and processes. The developmental spectrum of children in middle childhood provides a fluid context for understanding musical identity, revealed not as a fixed entity, but through interweaving elements of their past, present, and future musical lives. Self-directed music participation and learning may shape musical identity and provide a context for its expression through both musical and social roles, as children enact musical behaviors through social interaction. Finally, children’s musical identity may be understood as a process, in which personal dialogue meets external discourses, as children continuously negotiate self-conceptions of musicality within and among their musical worlds. Findings indicate that music teachers may offer opportunities for exploration and musical play as a basis for concurrently nurturing the development of musical identities and fostering musical understanding.