What do Whole-Language teachers and Music teachers have to learn from one another?
(adapted from a Research Forum article published, 1994, Lanley, BC School District)
Beyond such techniques, it is imperative, if we are to foster music literacy, that we surround ourselves with easily accessible and decipherable music. There are some places to begin in this task. Most schools I have been in have a text book room filled with old music texts no longer "up-to-date" that are rotting on the shelves These books should be in classroom libraries where children can see and look at them. Even if teachers cannot read music or show children how, their interest and perhaps even the teacher's interest can be sparked by just having these books to browse.
Another incredible tool is now becoming available to help in the task of making musical notation accessible. Computer programs are fast being developed that can notate music easily and play it back for you. By simply copying music from music books as outlined above on these programs, teachers and students alike can receive immediate feedback on how music notation works. The computer will play back the music for you immediately. A number of programs are now available with this feature. One of the most easily accessible and cheapest of these is Music Time. Very soon many of these will be even more accessible with musical selections available which play as the notation rolls by on the screen. Any school with a Macintosh computer, Can quickly create a library of simple public domain songs for use by the whole school to teach notation this way. Students will also be able to edit and recombine these at will to experiment with sound and composition in ways never dreamed of before.
But finally, beyond all this, (and indeed perhaps through the use of some of these and other strategies) we must begin to solve the biggest problem with making music literacy as universal as language literacy. That problem is the mystery and esoteric reputation surrounding music notation and indeed music itself. The overwhelming consensus among non-musicians out there is that you must have "talent" or a secret key or something in order to take part in music. By the time children are 10 or so they are already convinced that music isn't for everyone, but only the "talented." It seems to me that a major reason for this perception is the simple fact that it reflects what children see of the world. Once again we come back to the undeniable fact that we are not a musically literate society. The only people a child sees who reads music are musicians. This would be analogous to a situation in which the only people a child saw who read books were writers or the only people who used math were mathematicians. Why should it be so?
Ultimately the challenge is for teachers to begin to engage the learning how to read and write music themselves. I can hear the hue and cry as I state this challenge from the over-burdened teachers across the country. Of course it is true. We teachers are asked to do more and more all the time. We are asked to take on the role of parent, psychologists, counselor, health nurse, police, baby-sitter etc., etc. Once again however, perhaps we will find that whole-language theories present us with some possible solutions.
If teachers simply had access to materials described above with simple known songs displayed as prominently as language around the classroom, they would begin to acquire an elementary understanding of music notation. Not only that, we would all begin to gain an understanding of the process of acquiring written language fluency by learning right along with the children. The process would demonstrate once again to us that the process of learning comes as an organic outgrowth of attempting to make sense of the world around us. In this situation music could also become a tool for teachers to experience the "illiterate" condition of being a child again and expose to us the difficulties and joys of learning along with the children. Taken with this attitude teachers could, with no real "work" be exposed to some invaluable lessons on how best to teach their students to read and write language!
I leave teachers then with this challenge: If music is something you find enjoyable, give yourself the opportunity to discover all the power and knowledge that it can bring you and your students. Try one of the strategies presented here or find your own way to begin to find an understanding of written music. The discoveries it can bring will surprise and amaze you.
I am in the process of developing some of the materials described above. If you wish to take part in a research project on developing music literacy through whole-language methods or would like to preview some of the described materials, write me at
950 25th St. NW
Washington, DC, 20037, USA
Eakle, J. K. (1992). Music-a bridge to understanding: a philosophical rationale for musical literacy. Bulletin of the international Kodály Society, 17(1), 33-40
Froese, V. (Ed.)(1990). Whole language practice and theory. Scarborough, ONT: Prentice-Hall Canada.
Kodály, Z. (1964). The selected writings of Zoltán Kodály. London: Boosey and Hawkes
Littley, M. (1992). Current theories about language learning and their relevance to Kodály pedagogy. Bulletin of the international Kodály Society, 17(1), 50-54
Newman, J. M. (Ed.)(1985). Whole language theory in use. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational Books
Reimer, B. (1988). A philosophy of music education. Englewood Cliffs, NJ : Prentice-Hall.
Richards,M. H. (1971). Language arts through music. Portola Valley CA: Richards Institute of Music Education and Research.
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