Social Inclusion. Is there an App for that?

The possibilities for learner-centred musical development with mobile technology.

Prof. Graham F. Welch, Institute of Education, London 

10th November 2011

Can music-generating technology be deployed to promote a greater sense of social inclusion amongst children? This was the question Professor Graham Welch sought to address as a guest speaker for the Music, Mind and Brain students of 2011.

It can be argued that musical training develops skills not limited to the musical context per se, for example skills which have an impact on physical and cognitive development (Welch 2011). Our ‘bodymind’ exploits a neurologically unique combination of endocrine, limbic and nervous systems when it is exposed to music (Thurman & Welch, 2000). Anatomical evidence for the potential benefits of music training include the observation of structural differences of the brain such as increased size of corpus callosum (Schlaug, Jancke, Huang, Staiger, & Steinmetz, 1995); suggesting improved communication between left and right hemispheres, balance and attention. In addition thicker areas of the cortex have been observed (Bermudez, Lerch, Evans, & Zattore, 2009), suggesting music links to executive functions and memory. These differences in the frontal cortex might also be linked to emotional intelligence, a distinct characteristic of well-adjusted individuals (Goleman, 1995).

In addition to this potential to improve physical and cognitive development (Hyde, Lerch, Norton, Forgeard, Winner, Evans and Schlaug, 2009) through the engagement with music, Welch argued that music can also support social development, given that humans are designed to be musical and social creatures. Supporting the concept of music being neurologically multi-sited, he argued that musical training has the potential to assist in many areas of the brain, affecting functions such as speech and literacy development.

“Music does not happen in a vacuum, but always in a social context […]”, Welch added, referring to a recent fMRI study (Parsons & Cocker, 2009) which revealed that the active areas in the brain are different when someone sings alone, as opposed to when singing along with others. Is this the ‘social’ component of musical experience mapped in the brain? And if so, how can this component be developed further?

Thus, Welch aims to bring this link between music and social activity into the educational context.

Welch’s previous research in the context of the Sing Up project, exhibited that the active engagement of children during singing lessons correlates with improvements not only in singing but also in social inclusion (Welch, Himonides, Saunders, & Papageorgi, 2010). By what means can this musical training be exploited to create an enhanced sense of social cohesion within its participants, while at the same time keeping the experience enjoyable?

The answer came from the UMSIC project, the Usability of Music for the Social Inclusion of Children. By creating a rationale that music making using mobile phone technology can be applied to engender a greater sense of community cohesion, the UMSIC project was approved and funded as an Information and Communication Research (ICT-FP7) project by the European Commission.

To support this unique project, an interdisciplinary and international team was formed including musicians, psychologists, software developers, hardware designers, and engineers. With mobile phone technology supplied by Nokia, the team’s objective was to research, design and develop interactive software, based on a mobile device, which would enable children to create and share music easily, and trial this on targeted groups.

Whilst intended for children with any social or medical background, the team aimed particularly to assist children at high risk of marginalisation, as a result, children with learning difficulties (ADHD) and immigrant children became their priority.

Welch’s enthusiasm about the project was self-evident during the presentation of the team’s outcome: the Jamming Mobile (JamMo). JamMo was developed on a new mobile phone (N900) provided by Nokia, the industry partner of the project.  Working with more than 1400 children, between 3-12 years old, the UMSIC research team designed, developed and evaluated the programme. For 3-6 year olds a singing game was created, along with software allowing children to drag and drop music onto a backing track.  For older age groups, a “spinning icons” interface was used to listen to a variety of loop samples and compose from these.

During the analysis stages, the group employed various techniques to observe children’s use of the device and gather data through special questionnaires for children and teachers, adult interviews and real-time observations including video recording coupled with log-file (i.e. keystroke recording) analysis of the user’s behaviour.

Children helped the UMSIC team to design the interface and were enthusiastic to use this “cool” device; avoiding the paradox of school music being perceived as teacher-directed and “serious”.

Before presenting the final results Welch went one step further by presenting a short video of two 12 year old children filmed whilst composing music using JamMo.   He then asked the audience to identify which participant had severe ADHD.  No one could observe any symptoms of ADHD. Supporting the video, Welch argued that evidently JamMo improved self-regulation and musical productivity. In general, the project’s results reported that the musical collaboration was positive, reciprocal and intense for the ADHD group; despite the fact that they were working with a non-friend participant. JamMo moreover, received positive feedback for its effectiveness by teachers and enthusiastic reactions from its users.

The project evaluation results were promising as the social interaction through music was evident. The participants collaborated with each other, sharing ideas and compositions, and encouraging comments from their partners.  The JamMo enhanced individuals’ motivations and concentrations, and participants reported greater feeling of being in a group and being socially included. All these findings were significant according to the appropriate statistical analyses based on the social inclusion instrument data used for this project as well as other UMSIC studies internationally.

Based on UMSIC findings, it can be concluded that mobile music technology can support musical development and social inclusion especially with children in danger of social marginalisation. The cultural-distance between children can be reduced irrespective of ability, ethnicity, and gender. Moreover, there is clear evidence of intellectual, emotional and social engagement. Although the project cannot present any long-term impact of this interactive music-making software, the ability to create and learn music using a ‘cool’ and ‘new’ gadget will enforce children to use it and ‘have fun’ socially, while they increase their musical skills, language and social interaction. This might not be the panacea for a better community but it is evidently a useful tool towards achieving reduced marginalisation.

Mike South & Neo Kaplanis


Bermudez, P., Lerch, J. P., Evans, A. C., & Zatorre, R. J. (2009). Neuroanatomical Correlates of Musicianship as Revealed by Cortical Thickness and Voxel-Based Morphometry. Cerebral Cortex, 19(7), 1583-1596.

Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam Books, cited in Thompson, W.F. (2009). Music, Thought, and Feeling. Understanding The Psychology of Music. Oxford: University Press.

Hyde, K. L., Lerch, J., Norton, A., Forgeard, M., Winner, E., Evans, A.C., & Schlaug G. (2009). Musical training shapes structural brain development. Journal of Neuroscience ,29 (10), 3019–3025.

Schlaug, G., Jancke, L., Huang, Y. X., Staiger, J. F., & Steinmetz, H. (1995). Increased Corpus-Callosum Size in Musicians. Neuropsychologia, 33 (8), 1047- 1055.

Thurman, L., & Welch, G.F. (2000). Bodymind and voice: Foundations of voice education (2nd ed.). Iowa City: National centre for voice and speech.

Welch, G., Himonides, E., Saunders, J., & Papageorgi, I., (2010). Researching the impact of the National Singing Programme ‘Sing Up‘ in England: Main findings from the first three years (2007-2010). Children’s singing development, self-concept and sense of social inclusion. London: International Music Education Research Centre Press.

Welch, G.F. (2011). The Possibilities for Learner-Centred Musical Development with Mobile Technology. Invited lecture, Goldsmiths College, London (MSc Music, Mind and Brain), October 2011.


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