To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to explore how low-income Hong Kong Chinese parents perceive the importance of musical training for their preschool children. In addition to an increased level of happiness, which the previous experimental study  also observed, this study showed that these parents perceived many other benefits of the training programme for their child, including improved confidence, observable positive behavioural changes (i.e. development of independence and social manners), and enhanced parent-child relationships. Our findings are consistent to previous studies that have also examined community-based music programmes targeting children in other age groups [17,18,19]. Parents in this study perceived more benefits than previous studies which may be due to the combined different components of music in our musical training programme including singing, dancing and exploration of musical instruments [20, 21].
Our findings show that most of the parents overlooked the potential beneficial effects of musical training on the psychological and social well-being of their children before joining the programme. This also explained why we found it difficult to recruit this population for participating in the musical training programme. The findings suggest that when promoting musical training to low-income parents, more and better information should be given to highlight the benefits for their children. For example, information leaflets and videos could be provided. Indeed, although most parents in the present study perceived the benefits of the musical training after joining the programme, they emphasised their inability to pay for extra-curricular activities for their children, especially continuous musical training. More resources should be allocated to facilitate the continuity and sustainability of such free programmes for underprivileged children. Importantly, lack of recreational activities has been strongly associated with poor psychological and social well-being, and a higher risk of suffering from depression in underprivileged children [5, 6, 28]. The free musical training programme, which is a leisure activity that has been found to be effective to promote underprivileged children’s overall well-being and quality of life , might be an appropriate and useful strategy to ameliorate such detrimental effects of poverty.
Poverty has been strongly associated with negative parenting practices that consequently hinder parent-child relationship [29,30,31]. In this study, parents claimed that the musical training programme fostered positive parent-child relationships by promoting interpersonal interactions. The findings show that children shared the things that happened during their music lessons with their parents, and some even taught their parents how to dance. This finding aligns with previous studies in which children aged 5–12 years who joined music groups spent more time talking with their parents [32, 33]. Jacobsen et al.  suggests that this can lead to a stronger sense of self-perceived parental competency in communicating with their children, and to a greater number of constructive parent-child conversations. Positive relationship formation has also been found to contribute to some social benefits associated with higher levels of self-esteem in children .
The findings of this study suggest that musical training is an important activity for fostering positive behaviour in children. At the same time, it can help prevent the development of behavioural problems, which is consistent with the findings of previous studies [34, 35]. Parents in this study mentioned that their children demonstrated personal development and increased social adjustment after participating in the musical training programme, such as being more independent and more willing to get along with others. It can be argued that these positive developments in children contribute to changes in parents’ perception towards musical training programmes.
This study had several limitations. First, it appears that mothers were more willing to participate than fathers. A gender difference in perceptions about the impact of the programme may affect our results. The involvement of both fathers and mothers is recommended for future studies. Second, we used proxy informants (i.e., parents) in this study because the children involved in the musical training programme were too young to provide reliable information. Third, we used the self-report data collection method that was susceptible to social desirability bias, especially for an underprivileged population .
Implications for practice
This study enhanced our understanding of parents’ perspectives on the importance of a musical training programme for their children. The qualitative approach further explains and evaluates the findings of the previous experimental study in a real-life context . In particular, these parents’ perceptions of the importance of the musical training programme might encourage wider adoption and maintenance of regular musical training in the future.
Given the potential psychological and social benefits to underprivileged children of a musical training programme, healthcare professionals, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and schools should explore coordinated efforts to promote such programmes at the community level. Our findings also increase awareness about the involvement of music educators in programmes which aim at promoting children’s psychological well-being. Additionally, increased governmental resources, particularly financial support, allocated to underprivileged children, would improve and widen the opportunities for those children to receive musical training as a way to promote their psychological and social well-being. Ultimately, the risk of underprivileged children developing psychiatric illnesses as a result of the adverse effects of poverty may be mitigated by this community programme. Our musical training programme can be a reference for other countries and regions to promote early childhood music education.