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Music Learning Theory in the classroom

Music Aptitude
Researchers believe that music aptitude, like most other human traits is normally distributed among children at birth. The musical quality of a child's surroundings, or lack thereof, soon affects their innate music aptitude. It is believed that music aptitude is highest at birth and begins to fall after birth if the music environment is lacking. The sooner children begin to enjoy a rich music environment, the sooner their music aptitude will begin to move upward toward its birth level, and the closer it will come to reaching
and remaining at that level throughout life. Researchers believe that by age nine, music aptitude can no longer be changed by a rich music environment, even one of extremely high quality. It is truly birth to nine years of age of a child's life that shape their music ability.

Music and Language
During our classes you will hear the instructor singing songs with and without words and chanting rhythmic patterns with and without words. These tonal and rhythmic patterns provide the “listening vocabulary” for each child. The three stages of Preparatory Audiation include:

  • Acculturation — music immersion through hearing a variety of tonal and rhythmic patterns which build a listening vocabulary
  • Imitation — the beginning of recognition of and the ability to reproduce tonal and rhythmic patterns
  • Assimilation — the ability to reproduce nearly identically the patterns that the children have heard.

Children must be provided with a rich musical vocabulary, just as they are provided with a rich language vocabulary. Consider how children learn a language. As newborns, they hear words spoken all around them, and even before they understand these words, they absorb what they hear. Soon (typically around 9 months) children begin to vocalize what they are hearing. They are “breaking the code” of the language of their culture. This progresses from listening to imitation to the ability to improvise their own phrases and sentences. This later leads to reading and ultimately writing their own language. The same is true in music-children need to be immersed in a variety of musical modes, keys and rhythms to establish a rich vocabulary that they can use as a basis for their future musical studies. The goal is to guide children through “tonal babble” and “rhythm babble” in the same manner that we guide young children from babbling to intelligent speech. The instructor will use many different songs in many different keys, modes and rhythms to awaken the musical brain. We will use imitation and assimilation to flow through the beginning stages of tonal and rhythmic babble. To expect a child to learn to sing songs, with or without lyrics, without first being able to sing tonal patterns and to chant rhythm patterns, is like expecting them to recite poems before they can speak individual words, phrases and sentences.

Movement
During our classes you will see the instructor flowing her body in space while singing and chanting. This modeling provides the basis for the development of the four basic areas of movement. The elements of movement (time, weight, space and flow) used in the class are based upon the teachings of Rudolph von Laban. He believed that each time we exert effort we do so with an interacting combination of those four elements. Time exists as sustained (slow) or quick movements; weight as strong or gentle sensations of body weight; space as direct or indirect in focus; and flow as free or bound bodily tension. Laban believed that dancers have positive control of each one of these elements in isolation before combining them in rhythmic movement and specific dance steps.

In essence, he was saying that dancers should learn to coordinate their bodies independent of learning specific dance routines, rather than repeated drill and practice of specific combinations. Children exiting tonal and rhythmic babble and mature musicians share a fundamental task: to be fully aware of ones' whole body. Researchers believe that young children are able to teach themselves such awareness
by engaging their whole bodies in flowing movement that is continuous, using straight and curvy pathways, and emphasizing a variety of body parts. The Laban method of movement attempts to positively control the energy and tension that is ever present in our bodies through continuous flow. If a musician is able to positively control energy and tension they can engage successfully in music performance. That is, they will
breathe, draw the bow, reach for an upper octave and finger a difficult passage successfully. The building blocks for such an accomplishment begin early in life, both for music and movement.

 

 

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