Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Music Education

Major Professor

Jack Heller, Ph.D.

Committee Member

C. Victor Fung, Ph.D.

Committee Member

David Williams, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Sheila Woodward, Ph.D.


Cognition, Interpretation, Perception, Listening, Nuance


This dissertation was a continuation of study on a theory of a learning window for the perception of expressive qualities in music and speech. The proposed theory suggested that a practice window must overlap a learning window before it closes around the age of 10. This dissertation sought to determine whether children older than the proposed learning window continued to improve in speech and musical discrimination skill, or leveled off in this ability. It also examined the impact of gender and private lesson experience on discrimination ability.

Instrumental music students (n = 292) attending a public magnet school for visual and performing arts in North Carolina between the ages of 11 and 18 participated in the study. Each student was administered a forty-item listening test containing 20 speech items and 20 instrumental music items. Each test item consisted of three short speech or musical phrases. All three phrases in each item were the same written words or notated music, but one phrase was different in interpretation or expression from the other two phrases. Two of the phrases were intended by the performers to be the same in interpretation or expression and one was intended to be different in interpretation or expression. Subjects were asked to determine which of the three phases in each item was different in interpretation or expression from the other two.

Results of the study suggested that students with prior private lesson experience scored significantly higher than those students that had never taken private lessons. This study seemed to reinforce the proposed learning window for speech and music interpretation in that interpretation ability did appear to level off.