The Impact of Music on Locomotor Skill Performance in Children

Julieann M. Berg
Casey M. Breslin*

Temple University

Keywords: physical education, dance education, asynchronous music, rhythm, gross motor skills


The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of asynchronous music on the performance of locomotor skills in a group of children ages 9-12 years. Statistical analysis revealed no significant differences in locomotor performance between the music and quiet conditions, t20 =  .142, p = .889.


The development of fundamental motor skills (i.e., running, jumping, hopping) contributes to cognitive, social, motor, and physical growth in children (Robinson & Goodway, 2009). Facilitating a timely and proper development of these skills is essential to keeping children healthy and active. Once learned, these skills lay the groundwork for the development of more specialized exercise and sport skills that can be retained for a lifetime (Stodden et al., 2008). Motor skills must be taught, and the continuous interaction between the learner and his or her environment can determine the competency of skill performance that is achieved (Clark, 2007). The constraints present in the learning environment can encourage or discourage different behaviors and may contribute to the reinforcement of skills throughout the lifespan (Haywood and Getchell, 2009). Haywood and Getchell (2009) define environmental constraints as characteristics of the world outside the body that encourage some movements, while discouraging others, and these constraints can be physical or sociocultural in nature.

The acquisition of certain motor abilities, including coordination and dynamic balance, is more crucial to the development of quality motor skills than other abilities (such as endurance and flexibility; Zachopoulou, Tsapakidou, & Derri, 2004). For this reason, the development of coordination should be emphasized in programs that aim to facilitate motor skill performance. Coordination can be developed through the use of a rhythmic element in movement programs and can determine the level of motor skill proficiency that is acquired (Zachopoulou et al., 2004). Music could be a facilitative constraint in movement settings, since moving rhythmically is an essential element of all coordinated movements (Zachopoulou et al., 2004). The rhythms of locomotor skills such as running, galloping, hopping, leaping, jumping, and sliding, can all be expressed through sound (Kenney, 1997).

The convergence of movement and music could increase the proficiency and coordination of a child performing skills of locomotion. Currently, children are taught to perform skills of locomotion in a variety of environments, the most common being physical education within schools, where music may or may not be utilized. Music and movement education programs emphasize the importance of rhythmic ability to locomotor skill performance (Derri, Tsapakidou, Zachopoulou, & Kioumourtzoglou, 2001). Research conducted by Zachopoulou et al. (2004) showed that movement programs for children ages 4-6 years that involve a rhythmic accompaniment foster significant improvements in jumping and dynamic balance performance compared to physical education programs that do not include a rhythmic component. Children are able to better understand the elements of rhythm by expressing them through coordinated movements (Zachopoulou et al., 2004). A 10-week intervention study conducted by Derri et al. (2001) found that 4-6 year old participants in an early education combined music and movement program demonstrated significant improvements in the performance of hopping, leaping, horizontal jumping and skipping as measured by the Test of Gross Motor Development (TGMD). The success of these movement and music education programs emphasizes the importance of rhythmic ability to motor skill performance.

Research has shown that developmentally appropriate music and movement practices should be an integral part of early childhood physical education classes to foster the proper development of locomotor skills (Derri et al., 2001; Zachopoulou et al., 2004). However, there has been little research done on the topic of locomotor skill performance in grade school children and the best practices to ensure maintenance of skills. The use of asynchronous background music may enhance the performance of locomotor skills by offering a rhythmic backdrop that could aid in skill execution. The purpose of the present study was to examine the impact of asynchronous music on the performance of locomotor skills in a group of children ages 9-12 years. It was hypothesized that performing locomotor skills in the presence of music would elicit higher scores on the TGMD-2 locomotor subscale.



Participants were students enrolled in 4th or 5th grade at a private elementary school located in Philadelphia, PA. Following institutional review board approval, informed consent was obtained from primary caregivers of 29 children (of a possible 76 enrolled in grades 4 and 5 at the school). Eight of the original participants were excluded from the data analysis due to incomplete data sets or missing data, yielding a final sample size of 21 children (8 males and 13 females) with a mean age of 10.87 years (SD = 0.62).


This study was conducted in the gymnasium of a private elementary school located in Philadelphia, PA. The testing was conducted during the participants' normal physical education class time. Children whose parents had completed informed consent forms would remain in the gym for assessments while the other students in the physical education class moved outside for an outdoor activity led by their physical education instructor.

Figure 1.The testing environment, as arranged during data collection.


The TGMD (Second Edition; TGMD-2) is a valid and reliable measure of fundamental motor skills for children (Ulrich, 2000). It is a norm-referenced standardized test commonly used to evaluate the motor skill performance of children ages 3-10 years. However, for this study, we did not compare participant's TGMD-2 scores to the normative population data so we were able to measure the skill proficiency of children older than 10 years. Only the locomotor subscale of the test was administered, which comprises six skills (i.e., running, galloping, hopping, leaping, jumping, and sliding). Three to five performance criteria were evaluated and two trials were recorded and scored for each of the six skills. A score of 0 was given if a criterion was not met and a score of 1 was given if a criterion was met. Thus, the range for scores for the locomotor subscale was 0-48.

Design and Procedures

This study began after approval from the Institutional Review Board for Research Involving Human Subjects was received. Those who participated were only allowed to do so after parental consent and child assent were obtained. During their normal physical education periods, the 21 participants were assessed using the locomotor subscale of the TGMD-2 in two conditions – Condition 1: Music, Condition 2: Quiet. The testing was administered with groups of three to five children at a time. All assessments were videotaped and the administrator of the test was trained by an examiner with over five years of experience administering the test according to standardized procedures. After the administrator properly executed a skill, each participant had two trials to perform each skill. On testing day, participants were randomly assigned to which condition (Music or Quiet) they would experience first. Once participants completed assessment in their first randomly assigned condition, they would complete assessment in the other condition, for a total of four locomotor trials (two trials in each condition). Children whose locomotor performance indicated they did not appear to understand the skill were provided an additional demonstration by the administrator and asked to repeat the trial.

All 21 participants' performances were later reviewed via videotape and analyzed using the locomotor scale on the TGMD-2 by the first author. A research assistant, blind to the purpose of the study, also analyzed each participant's performance to verify accuracy. Using Cohen's kappa coefficient (Cohen, 1960), inter-rater agreement was calculated and deemed appropriate if it was between .80 and 1.0 because that would indicate high inter-rater reliability.

Experimental Design & Statistical Analysis

A repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) with protocol order received as a factor was conducted to test the assumption that the protocol order received (i.e., music condition first then quiet condition and vice versa) would have no effect on TGMD performance. To examine differences in locomotor performance, the independent variable in this study was sound conditions, either music or quiet. In the music condition, the song 'I Like to Move It' was played. The artist of the song is will.I.am and it was produced by Interscope Records in 2008. This song had a fast tempo (127 beats per minute), and many of the children in the age group we were testing were familiar with the song due to its association with the motion picture Madagascar 2. In the quiet condition, no music was played. In both conditions, a researcher provided verbal instructions and physical demonstrations to the children as described by the TGMD-2 Examiner's Manual (Ulrich, 2000). The dependent variable in this study was the performance on the locomotor subscale of the TGMD-2.

To ensure inter-rater reliability, data coders were trained to code participant behavior using the TGMD-2 criteria by a motor development expert with over five years' experience assessing children's motor skill development with the TGMD-2. Training continued until the data coders reached 90 percent agreement in their codes, and then all of the assessments were checked for agreement in their codes of locomotor performance to reduce the influence of expectancy bias because the primary investigator was one of the two data coders. Inter-rater reliability between the data coders was 91.16 percent.


All data analyses were conducted using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences, Version 21. The repeated measures ANOVA examining whether protocol order received impacted performance under the two conditions revealed a significant difference, F(1, 19) = 5.958, p = .025. The research question examined whether locomotor performance was influenced by the presence or absence of music. A paired samples t-test revealed no significant differences, t20 =  .142, p = .889. The means and standard deviations for the locomotor performance during the music condition was 31.81 + 4.21, while for the quiet condition, the means and standard deviations were 31.71 + 3.00. These findings show that performance is not impacted by the presence or absence of music.

Table 1.Participants' Scores on Locomotor Skill Subscale

ID Number
Run Gallop Hop Leap Jump Slide Locomotor Scores
  1 2 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 2
05 8 7 8 8 2 2 6 6 4 4 8 8 36 35
08 8 8 7 6 2 2 4 6 2 3 7 8 30 33
10 6 7 4 7 1 2 6 6 5 5 5 7 27 34
11 6 8 7 4 2 2 4 6 4 4 6 7 29 31
12 6 5 4 4 2 2 5 6 5 4 5 4 27 25
13 6 6 7 5 2 2 5 4 4 4 7 8 31 29
14 8 8 6 5 2 2 6 6 7 6 5 6 34 33
15 8 8 8 8 5 3 4 5 6 3 8 8 39 35
16 8 8 5 4 4 6 6 6 3 2 8 6 34 32
17 7 6 6 8 2 4 6 6 4 4 5 5 30 33
18 6 6 8 7 4 4 6 6 5 5 7 7 36 35
20 8 8 8 8 4 4 4 5 1 0 6 7 31 32
22 8 8 6 6 4 4 4 4 6 5 8 8 36 35
24 6 7 5 4 4 5 5 5 1 2 2 5 23 28
25 8 6 4 5 2 4 2 2 1 0 8 8 25 25
26 6 6 8 8 5 4 4 4 4 2 7 8 34 32
27 8 8 6 6 4 3 5 6 3 0 7 7 33 30
28 5 7 8 7 3 5 4 4 2 2 7 6 29 31
29 6 6 6 8 4 4 4 5 5 4 8 8 33 35
30 6 5 8 7 5 4 4 2 7 6 8 8 38 32
31 8 6 8 7 4 3 4 6 1 2 8 7 33 31
M 6.95 6.86 6.52 6.29 3.19 3.38 4.67 5.05 3.81 3.19 6.67 6.95 31.81 31.71
SD 1.07 1.06 1.47 1.52 1.25 1.20 1.06 1.28 1.94 1.83 1.56 1.20 4.21 3.00

Note: Condition 1 (Music) and Condition 2 (No Music)


The refinement and maintenance of locomotor skills are essential during childhood so that children can more fully explore their world (Gallahue & Ozmun, 1998). The quality of locomotor performance can be enhanced through the use of rhythmic elements in movement programs. The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of asynchronous music on the performance of locomotor skills in a group of children ages 9-12 years. The findings of this preliminary study do not support the hypothesis that music, acting as an environmental constraint, will improve the performance of locomotor skills in children as measured by the TGMD-2. The results show no significant differences in performance within the music and quiet conditions, which suggests that asynchronous music does not necessarily improve or hurt locomotor skill performance in children ages 9-12.  

A possible explanation for the nonsignificant findings pertaining to the research question is that 14 participants received the quiet condition first (followed by the music condition), while only 7 participants received the music condition followed by the quiet conditions. Thus, the assumption of homogeneity of variance was violated in this study. It is possible, given the large standard deviations of TGMD-2 scores, that the protocol order received influenced the results of this study. Future researchers should assign an equal number of participants to each treatment group to ensure that this factor does not interfere with findings.

Another explanation for the results of this study is that perhaps music affects motivation more than performance. Specifically, the literature suggests that motivation related to music may improve performance in locomotor skills. The TGMD-2 is a measure of gross motor skill performance by children. It does not measure the children's perceptions of the testing environment or the children's intrinsic motivation and enjoyment. Anecdotal evidence from our study suggests that participants' locomotor performance may have been impacted by these factors. Two participants exhibited behaviors that may suggest that music is motivating and enjoyable in locomotor performance settings. These behaviors were "practicing" skills during the music condition and not during the quiet condition and singing the song used in the music condition during the quiet condition. One participant exhibited a behavior that may suggest that rhythmic elements aid in the performance of locomotor tasks. This behavior was tapping out the rhythm of the gallop for other participants during the quiet condition. Although we did not quantitatively measure these behaviors, they still suggest that music may be motivating and may provide facilitative rhythms during locomotor skill performance.

"Motivational music" is defined as having "a fast tempo (>120 bpm) and a strong rhythm and is proposed to enhance energy and increase bodily action" (Karageorghis, Terry, & Lane, 1999, p. 2). The song chosen for use in the music condition, 'I Like to Move It' by will.I.am had a tempo of 127 bpm and a strong rhythm, due to its regular, repeated, and easily recognizable pattern of sound. Tempo may be a motivational quality in movement settings because the speed of the music may influence the pace of the movement performed. A strong rhythm or beat may influence individuals physiologically by heightening arousal levels, increasing their heart rate or raising their blood pressure (Karageorghis et al., 1999). These effects on the body may support a more intense form of movement. In addition to these internal factors of music, cultural impact and personal association are considered to be external factors that affect one's perception of a piece of music as motivational (Karageorghis & Priest, 2012). However, no motivation measure was in place to record the participants' perceptions of the learning environment under both conditions.

Music can also provide intrinsic pleasure for its listeners, elicit emotions ranging from a very low to very high intensity, influence an individual's arousal levels, and spur action tendencies, or adaptive psychomotor responses  to a specific situation (Bishop, Karageorghis, & Kinrade, 2009), such as a locomotor task. In a study by Coombes, Caruraugh, and Janelle (2007), the speed of a motor output increases when stimuli invokes an emotional response, as compared to a neutral stimuli. Music that invokes an emotional response in its listeners through cultural or personal associations may affect speed or amplitude of motor skill performance, as well as general skill proficiency. Thus, it may be that the music used in this study inspired the children to perform the locomotor skills faster, or that the children enjoyed performing the locomotor skills more with music, but the criteria for scoring performance on the TGMD-2 does not measure these variables.

In the present study, only one type of asynchronous music was used as opposed to using (both asynchronous and synchronous) different pieces of music in order to measure the motivational and rhythmic impacts of each. This study measured the impact of asynchronous music on the performance of locomotor skills in a group of children ages 9-12. Using asynchronous music in an exercise setting means that the participants made no conscious effort to synchronize their movements to the rhythms of the music. Furthermore, the participants were not specifically instructed to do so. According to Karageorghis, Terry, and Lane's (1999) conceptual framework for the prediction of responses to music in exercise and sport settings, asynchronous music is better known for its motivational qualities in movement settings, i.e., rhythmic response (tempo), musicality (harmony and melody), and cultural impact. Since the song that was played in the performance environment was one that most of the participants were familiar with, this may have contributed to the motivational influence of the music. If we were to test a piece of music for its ability to enhance performance by way of its rhythmic elements, a synchronous piece of music that would complement the rhythms of the locomotor skills being tested should have been used.         

Additionally, the TGMD-2 may not have been sensitive enough to pick up on changes in locomotor performance between the two conditions. A more complex motion capture system (i.e., Dartfish software) may have been able to detect differences in movement quality between the two conditions. These differences could have been detected in the amplitude, or size, of the movement, meaning how big or small the participants moved. The speed of movement could also be compared between the two conditions if a more complex motion capture system was used. Many of the children tested had already reached mature development of their locomotor skills so that the effect of music on their performance may have been too minimal to detect using the TGMD-2 measure. An older age group was chosen for TGMD assessment with music because older children would have more experience with locomotor skills than younger children. However, a ceiling effect may have occurred with the older, more experienced movers.

Future research is needed to examine the motivational impacts of asynchronous music on locomotor skill performance in grade school children. It would be beneficial to determine if movement education programs that incorporate music are more likely to increase maintenance of proper locomotor skill execution and adherence to movement programs. Dance education classes often use background music during movement sequences, so participants in these classes could be compared to participants in movement programs without musical elements to see if levels of motivation, adherence, or skill execution are different.

In summary, music provides many different benefits for participants of movement programs, including motivation, enjoyment, and a rhythmic accompaniment that may influence speed or intensity of movement. Thus, the results of this study suggest that asynchronous music does not appear to be detrimental to children's motor skill performance, and therefore, practitioners may choose to incorporate music during motor skill assessment as the literature suggests it may be motivating for some children.


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