Music and Musical Ability
Music and Musical Ability
Exposure to music and active participation in music making can enrich a child's life both immediately and over the long term, fostering creativity and self-expression, transmitting cultural values, and contributing to physical, intellectual, and social development. After years of cutbacks, school districts throughout the country are restoring programs in music and the other arts. In 1980 only two states mandated instruction in the arts as a requirement for graduation; now 28 do. Research has shown that listening to music has beneficial short- and long-term effects on abstract reasoning ability. The most publicized study is the one associated with the so-called "Mozart effect," in which college students who had listened to a Mozart piano sonata scored eight points higher than a control group on portions of an IQ test. In other research, the cognitive skills of preschool and elementary school-age children have shown improvement in response to music instruction. The renewed interest in integrating music into the school curriculum has also been influenced by the work of psychologist Howard Gardner, who, in his groundbreaking study Frames of Mind, challenged the limitations of traditional concepts of intelligence, listing musical ability as one of seven basic types of intelligence that need to be nurtured and exercised.
Development of musical aptitude
A child's involvement with music begins even before birth. Studies have shown that the behavior of newborns changes when they are exposed to melodies sung or played to them during the third trimester of pregnancy. Newborns are sensitive to both the pitch and volume of sounds, and they even react differently to different styles of music. In the first months of life, infants already have an impressive ability to discriminate among different pitches, and by the age of three months a baby can repeat specific pitches with a high degree of accuracy. An infant's sense of pitch also plays a role in speech development by making adult speech patterns more readily understandable, beginning with the exaggerated pitches and rhythms of baby talk, or "motherese," and extending to the pitch characteristics of ordinary adult speech, such as the tendency for voices to rise at the end of a question. An appreciation and understanding of the musical structures that predominate in one's own culture also begin in infancy. Six-month-olds can discriminate tonal relationships in a wide variety of musical scales, including those used in cultures vastly different from their own. By the age of one year, however, this openness has begun to disappear as infants' musical expectations become shaped by the acoustic intervals that characterize the music of their own culture.
Infants make their first rudimentary attempts at singing as early as eight months of age with musical babbling and show the ability to repeat distinct pitch patterns by 12 months. Coordination of movement and rhythm develops by the age of 18 months, as does the ability to repeat specific melodic intervals (as opposed to single pitches). When actual singing does begin, usually between the second and third years, words are learned first, followed by rhythm, and then pitch. By the age of five, a child has acquired a repertoire of songs. Kindergartners can typically recognize musical phrases and understand the concepts of tempo (whether music is fast and slow) and dynamics (loud and soft). Seven-year-olds can identify pitch differences as small as a quarter tone. A sensitivity to the concept of tonality (what key a piece is in) develops between the ages of five and eight, together with the ability to recognize harmonic changes, and is manifested in the ability to differentiate major from minor keys, recognize when a melody has been transposed into a different key, or identify an incomplete cadence (one that fails to resolve to the tonic, or "home tone").
A special musical talent that is now thought to be influenced by both heredity and environment is perfect pitch, the ability to recognize the exact pitch of any sound and, in return, to accurately produce any pitch without being given a starting pitch as a reference point. (Someone who can sing a given pitch with the aid of such a referencec point—also a special and valuable skill—is said to have relative pitch.) Although many trained musicians do not have perfect pitch, musical training does foster the development of this talent, which is much more prevalent among trained musicians than among the general population. Recent studies have found that perfect pitch tends to run in families. Researchers plan on studying the DNA of some of these families in hopes of isolating the specific gene that carries this gift.
Fostering music appreciation
One of the best ways for parents to foster an appreciation for music in their children is to provide a positive role model by demonstrating a love for it themselves, exposing their children to recorded music and concerts and,
Babies who are exposed to music at home are often able to sing even before they start talking. From the beginning, parents can enhance the bonding process by singing to their infants. Young infants the world over prefer lullabies and other quiet songs with a narrow range of pitches and simple, repetitive melodic patterns. By the middle of the first year, livelier songs can be added, including interactive songs such as "Old McDonald," in which the baby can participate by making sounds or rhythmic movements. Favorite songs often include those with lyrics about animals, including animal noises, and parts of the body, which can be touched in rhythm to the song. Singing can calm infants, provide an accompaniment to familiar routines, and reinforce mastery of new words. Infants can also benefit from exposure to recorded music, musical mobiles, and musical toys, such as stuffed animals that play a song. Between the ages of six and nine months, they can begin playing with musical toys activated by turning knobs or other types of manipulation.
Toddlers love imitating sounds and moving to music. Parents should not be alarmed if a toddler cannot sing in tune or keep a beat accurately, as these are abilities that often develop later. Musical development can be enhanced by listening to a variety of music, especially lively music, which toddlers especially enjoy, and playing musical games that involve both song and movement. Toddlers can also use simple rhythm instruments, such as beating on drums or makeshift percussion instruments, shaking maracas (real or homemade), and jangling bells. Toddlers can be sung to (and with) at many times throughout the day, even when riding in the car.
Preschoolers can play vocal pitch-matching games and begin learning to recognize the sounds of different musical instruments and associating them with their pictures. If there is a piano in the household, they can begin experimenting with it. Games that involve clapping and moving to music, and also "freezing" when the music stops, are popular at this age. Awareness of musical form also develops as children become able to master songs in which verses alternate with a chorus. Preschoolers can also begin learning simple anecdotes about specific composers and pieces.
Several systematic group approaches to musical training, all imported from abroad, begin at the preschool level. The most well known is the Suzuki Talent Education program, begun by the Japanese educator Shinichi Suzuki as a method for teaching the violin, but later extended to piano and other instruments. Suzuki's "mother tongue" approach teaches music to children in a sequence of steps that is modeled on the way they learn language; listening comes first, followed by imitation and, finally, reading and writing. Children first listen to recordings of pieces they are to study and then learn them by rote, and the study of musical notation is worked into the lessons later. Parents, who attend both the private lessons and monthly ensemble classes, take part in practice sessions and actually learn to play along with their children. Regular ensemble playing with other youngsters is an integral part of the program.
Another program originated by the Japanese is the Yamaha music education program, which provides a background in both classical and popular music. Children progress through a two-year sequence of instruction between the ages of four and six in classes of eight to 12, with parents attending all activities and helping their children at home as well. Activities include singing and whole-body movement, with an introduction to the keyboard but no formal instruction in piano or other instruments.
Dalcroze Eurhythmies, developed at the Geneva Conservatory of Music by Emile Jacques-Dalcroze, stresses physical movement and creativity. Children learn about the elements of music—melody and dynamics as well as rhythm—through natural, improvised movements. They also study sight-singing with solfège syllables (do-re-mi, etc.), ear training, and keyboard improvisation. Dalcroze training is offered through special programs, often under the auspices of a music school. Some private teachers also use its techniques for teaching rhythm.
Two other methods, both developed by well-known 20th-century European composers, include the use of folk songs as an introduction to music. The Orff Schulwerk approach, introduced in the 1950s by German composer Carl Orff, emphasizes dance and other rhythm activities, making use of both folk songs and speech patterns familiar through nursery rhymes and children's games. It is also known for the special percussion instruments developed by Orff that can produce both rhythms and melody. Many music educators in public and private schools use Orff s methods as part of their teaching approach. The other modern composer to create a system of music education was the Hungarian Zoltan Kodaly, whose approach, developed in the 1920s, was first introduced to the United States in the 1960s. Created for children aged three and up, it focuses mainly on developing a good ear and rhythmic sense through singing, making use of the nursery songs and folk music of a child's native country. Children learn to read and write music through
In the elementary grades children can be taken to young people's concerts, which feature appropriately short, colorful pieces that hold their attention in programs that are significantly shorter than those performed for adults. They can also start becoming familiar with different types and periods of music by listening to recorded music at home and reading short books about music and composers. After the age of six or seven, children mature in ways that are conducive to beginning private instrumental study. Mastery of new skills becomes an important goal, one they are willing and able to work toward through practice, including practice that involves repetition. Their fine motor skills continue to develop, resulting in increased speed and dexterity and, by the age of nine, increased ability to use their hands independently. Hand-eye coordination also improves.
Performance adds an important dimension to the musical experience of children in the elementary grades. Many children naturally enjoy performing, and giving them a head start while they are young can reduce their experience of stage fright at later ages, when they are naturally more self-conscious. Children who are taking lessons can play in recitals organized by their private teacher or by the music school where they take lessons. All children can perform in school vocal or instrumental programs. Other activities, such as Sunday school or summer camp, can provide additional opportunities to perform, both as a solo and with an ensemble.
By adolescence young people have usually begun developing musical interests of their own, often including various forms of popular music. They may begin building their own CD and/or tape collections. Parental attempts to restrict their children's taste in music at this point are not constructive, and all efforts should go toward broadening rather than limiting their musical experience. Interests in different types of music can coexist, and a love of classical music or jazz, especially when nurtured by instruction and active participation, can survive a teenager's enthusiasm for the latest rock group. Teenagers can attend classical music concerts and participate in performing ensembles at school. Participation in student orchestras, marching bands, or choirs can promote self-discipline, teamwork, and social skills. Musical theater productions can become the high point of the school year, giving teenagers valuable performing experience. Young people with a serious interest in classical music can attend music camps, enter competitions through their schools or through local musical organizations, participate in musical activities through their church, and join music clubs.
Although children receive varying amounts of music instruction in school, private study of a musical instrument produces a proficiency in and understanding of music beyond what can be provided in a classroom setting. Private music lessons also encourage confidence, self-discipline, an ability to use time efficiently, and the development of both intellectual and motor skills. Private instruction also protects a child from the bad habits that can develop when people attempt to play instruments on their own without the benefit of close individual supervision. Bad playing habits, especially those developed over extended periods of time, can significantly delay progress on an instrument once private lessons are started. Depending on the instrument and teaching method, young people begin private music lessons at any point from the age of three through high school. Research has shown that the method of instruction is less important than the student's attitude and level of commitment, the relationship between the teacher and the student, and the degree of parental commitment and support.
Children can begin studying most instruments while they are in elementary school but should not start voice lessons until adolescence (age 12-14 for girls, 15-17 for boys). Because of individual differences in rates of physical and mental maturation, it is impossible to specify exact ages at which all children should begin study. However, some general guidelines are possible. Piano, violin, and recorder can be begun at the youngest ages, although quarter-size or half-size violins are needed for young children. With the Suzuki method of instruction, discussed above, children begin instrumental study at earlier ages than with other methods. It is possible for Suzuki instruction to begin as early as three or four years of age because of several distinctive features: students begin playing by ear before developing the ability to read notes; parents participate in lessons and practice sessions; and students do much of their playing in groups. Because most other types of instruction rely on playing from music right away, children cannot begin lessons until they are old enough to start reading music, usually around the same time they are beginning to read and write in school.
Conventional lessons on piano and violin (using a quarter-size instrument) can generally be begun at the age of six or seven. A child can begin playing a half-size cello as early as seven years of age. The study of woodwind and brass instruments (flute, clarinet, piccolo, oboe, bassoon, trumpet), which makes demands on a child's still-developing lung capacity, begins somewhat later,
The greatest challenge in making music lessons work is maintaining a consistent practice schedule. Practicing an instrument on a daily basis regardless of one's mood, schedule, or energy level requires greater self-discipline than most other activities a child engages in. It is a solitary, repetitive task that usually requires extended periods of time before significant results are seen. Practicing can be done much more effectively if the teacher gives the student pointers on how to practice, rather than just instructions on what to practice. Although practicing should not become a steady source of conflict between parents and children, parents do need to provide a certain amount of coaxing and encouragement on a regular basis. It is helpful to set up a regular practice routine so that practicing becomes an integral part of a child's daily schedule.
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