What Is Creativity and How Do Music Educators Develop It?

Version 2When asked to advocate for music education, one of the frequently given pieces of evidence is that music education develops creativity or creative thinking. While this sounds reasonable, at times it can be difficult to find much creative activity in the things that students are asked to do in both general music and music performance classes. In order to know what classroom activities really teach students to be creative, we first need to define what creativity and creative thought is. Merriam-Webster defines creativity as the ability to create, and creating as bringing into existence, or to produce through imaginative skill. In essence, a creative person engaged in musical activity causes new artistic work to be made and work that is set apart from other work in the same genre or style by original, fresh, new elements not known to or utilized by others who have also caused new artistic work to be made.

At the root of creating a musical work then, is the imagining of musical ideas that can be the materials with which music is constituted, and which can be shaped, transformed, and otherwise formed and expanded so that they come together with artistic integrity, forming a work which effectively realizes the creator’s intent. So at the very least, music education which claims to be developing creativity needs to be training students in imagining musical ideas, and in selecting from many generated ideas those that are most preferred, and then organizing them into an original form that is to some degree both unique and personal that sole creator of music.

For those of us who are products of music conservatories wherein our musical prowess was demonstrated almost exclusively through playing or singing scales, arpeggios, etudes and classical solo repertoire all written by others, this territory into which I have just ventured of creating rather than recreating music may well feel intimidating. Nevertheless, I fully believe that we can make no legitimate claim to developing creativity or creative thinkers in music if we are not engaging our students in musical thinking and creating. So let me know offer some suggestions on how we might proceed in doing this. It will, to be sure take some of us out of our comfort zones, but that is fair, because having not asked our students to do this sort of thing much or at all before, we will be asking them to go out of their comfort zone, so why not us too.

When it comes to generating musical ideas, I first run to jazz. Here I find ample opportunities for myself and my students to generate improvised musical ideas without feeling inhibited by judgment. It starts out simply, using Gordon tonal and rhythm pattern as a basis. First, students echo tonal and rhythm patterns so that they establish familiarity with them. These become the basis for the “riffs” they will improvise at a later stage in the process. For now, it is simply a matter of “repeat after me.” All of the patterns are the same number of beats, and I keep them all in common time. This is important because improvisors need to be comfortable with generating ideas of uniform length so that they fit into harmonic rhythms or “trading” formats. I start this activity with my 4-year-old Pre-kindergarten students, and continue it on through upper elementary.

After students have gained proficiency singing and chanting patterns by rote, the rules of the activity can be changed. Now, I sing those same patterns again, but students must sing a pattern that is different from the one I sang. The students can sing any of the other patterns they have learned (selecting) or can make up one of their own (generating). Students can repeat a pattern they heard another student sing or chant, as long as it is different from the one I sang or chanted.

For the 4-year-olds, that is as far as I go, but with the older students, I next introduce them to “trading fours” as jazz musicians do. This involves improvising a four-measure melody in common time, and then waiting for a partner to improvise a different four-measure melody that is a logical continuance of the first one. Students can do this art-of-teachingactivity with singing voices, or with pitched (for melody) or non-pitched (for rhythm only) musical instruments. By this stage, the older students are really enjoying this, because they are creating something their own, and they are playing their own creation on instruments, which is something they naturally enjoy. It is great hearing my music room full of student’s original musical ideas flying back and forth. Students are “thinking in music” much like a world language student thinks in the language he or she is learning. Most importantly, students are actively engaged in being creative.

Co posing or improvising original work is not the only creative musical activity. Arranging the musical work of others also brings into play a good deal of creativity. It is worthwhile asking questions like, “If Beyonce had written this music instead of Ravel, what do you think it would have sounded like?” or, “this music was written for a piano solo, but all we know how to play are xylophones. How could we re-arrange the left and right hand parts so that we could play it on xylophones?” This develops a different kind of creativity; not the kind that brings something into existence that wasn’t there before, but the kind that takes something that already exists, and introducing new approaches, perspectives and ideas into it. This is the kind of creative thinking that employers value, and, knowing that musicians do these things, why they will seek out musicians to fill non-musical positions.

When students are engaged in creative activities, they are doing something that requires them to imagine. They must form some kind of image in their minds of something that does not yet exist, but which they have within their ability to bring into existence.  Rote learning fills the memory with the raw materials that will be utilized in the act of creating, but it is not in itself a creative task; therefore, copying a director’s interpretation, or improvising only pentatonic melodies is of limited creative value because a requirement to bring into existence or to imagine a new form is not needed to copy. I have found truly creative classroom activities to be artistically rewarding, even while they are also challenging. The lifelong enjoyment of music is so much more than pure consumerism. It needs to engage the imagination in creative activity, and this is what we must train our music students up to do.

Eclectic Application of Major Music Education Methods

Version 2Elsewhere in this blog I have written about the strengths and weaknesses of Kodaly, Orff, and Gordon approaches to music education. Those articles assumed that it is beneficial to grab strengths from each approach, mixing and matching them into a teaching method that is better than strictly adhering to any one of them. In this post, I will discuss in more practical terms how those methods, and the practices of Dalcroze also, can be combined in a complementary fashion.

Regardless of the method used, music education involves teaching students to sing, play instruments, move and dance to music, create music, perceive, understand and respond to music, and connect music to the other arts, other disciplines, and to their daily lives. These are included in the national standards under the artistic processes of create, perform, respond, and connect. As we examine the major methods, it is helpful to determine how each approach goes about teaching each of these. Of them, connecting is arguably the least often addressed. Connecting sometimes gets lost in preparing performances for presentation or teaching concepts through listening activities. A careful look reveals that both Kodaly and Orff valued the connecting piece.

Kodaly insisted on using folk song literature from the children’s own culture as the basis for developing musicianship. This immediately brought cultural and structural familiarity with the music, and fostered connections with the everyday musical experiences of children who heard and sang this literature often. Beginning tonal training with the descending minor third is well known among Kodaly teachers, yet it was not so much that there was something intrinsically preferable about that interval, but that it was one that the children were most often exposed to and most often were



heard singing intuitively. Those who have debated over the supremacy of the descending minor third have pointed out that it is not so prevalent in musical cultures that are not primarily pentatonic based. American folk literature, for example, has many more instances of ascending major thirds than descending minor thirds, and for that matter has many more instances of the sub dominant which is completely absent form pentatonic songs. That is why successful American application of the Kodaly approach such as Feierabend’s First Steps in Music and Conversational Solfege early on use “do re mi” songs which of course feature that ascending major third.

Orff’s approach to rhythm makes fundamental connections to language. Orff took the natural rhythm of words, and transposed them into musical patterns to teach with the words. Learning poems, rhythms and chants that feature targeted rhythm patterns and meters is a natural way for children to progress musically. Those targeted patterns and meters can then later be read and notated using standard music notation. Movement,



dance and speech are all melded together as the way children experience music, develop creativity, and become artistically literate. As with intervals, it is best to use rhymes, chants and poems that are products of the child’s own culture, so that the patterns are familiar. Translations of texts from other countries and cultures can at times be awkward, creating rhythmic dissonance that makes learning more difficult. Again, grounding music education in culturally familiar contexts is the key.

The Dalcroze approach has not gained the popularity in the United States that those of Orff and Kodaly have. This may be due to the emphasis on the dance and movement aspects of the approach in a setting where singing and playing of instruments is more highly valued, or it may be that when it comes to singing, Dalcroze championed the “fixed do” type of solfege which has largely been ignored in the United States especially by Kodaly specialists who maintain a strong preference, for the “moveable do” system. Even so, Dalcroze’s emphasis on movement and dance can easily be found in Orff’s method because Orff also regarded movement as crucial to music learning and understanding. Orff practitioners use of body percussion and the playing of barred instruments with movements that transfer over from body percussion are rooted in Dalcroze principles. Dalcroze Eurythmics were built on the belief that movement gave meaning and depth to ear training and improvisation experiences. Those movements are put in motion in the form of playing percussion instruments in the Orff method.

The eclectic practitioner will seek out the cultural and musical context in which he or she teachers, and choose those portions of each method that are the best matches. My own teaching has developed over the years into a blend of elements from all of the methods I have discussed so far. After Kodaly, I regard the singing voice as the primary instrument through which music education takes place. After Dalcroze, I regard the body as the primary means through which rhythm and meter is understood, and freely have my students use movement, and prefer the fixed do system of solfege. As I have discussed elsewhere, I have found my students develop better pitch with fixed do, and it is helpful in transferring notation to instruments, substituting solfege syllables for note names. After Orff, I enjoy creating opportunities for children to improvise and explore their own creativity, especially through vocal improvisation from age 4 and upwards, and of experiencing movement to music through the movements used to play barred instruments. Movement, singing and playing instruments are all useful in teaching each of the musical elements, which I regard as rhythm, beat, meter, pitch, phrasing and timbre. The use of movement in particular also is useful in teaching musical expression, as the body naturally becomes expressive when moving to and interpreting music.

I have found much success using Feirabend’s First Steps in Music to combine elements of Kodaly, Orff, and Dalcroze. While primarily a Kodaly application, Feirabend’s work also integrates improvisation (arioso) and movement into the lessons of First Steps. Learning from the sample lesson plans, I have learned to seamlessly include singing, movement and exploration in every lesson. Also, using First Steps in Music as an entry, Conversational Solfege continues this work, but with a greater emphasis on the Kodaly



elements, presented in a way that is consistent with Music Learning Theory (MLT). Music Learning Theory was developed by Edwin Gordon out of his research into how people learn music. He found that music is learned in a way similar to that used to learn language. While there is much more to MLT than what I will present here, the elements presented in Conversational Solfege reflect the sequence of teaching patterns by rote on a neutral syllable, teaching the same patterns by rote with rhythm syllables (not words as in Orff, or Curwin syllables as in Kodaly), associating patterns learned with syllables to notation, reading familiar patterns from notation, reading unfamiliar patterns from notation, writing familiar patterns, and writing unfamiliar patterns both in ear training activities and in creating music. Like Orff and Dalcroze, Gordon also found that rhythm and meter cannot be learned intellectually, but only though movement.

The most effective way to be an eclectic practitioner is to learn and practice the methods of each approach, adding in new ones as the teacher is able until they are comfortable and natural, and then to draw on any and all techniques and methods regardless of from which method they come, as the need, context, or purpose arises. Doing so equips the music educator to be maximally effective.

Sound Before Sight Is About More Than Teaching Songs

Version 2“Sound before sight” is a popular way of saying that music is most effectively taught first aurally, and then by associating what has been learned aurally with visual representations, such as standard music notation. Music Learning Theory and the numerous resources that follow it guide teachers in developing musical literacy according to these principles. Generally, Music Learning Theory is most often referenced for teaching repertoire to students, be it to singers or instrumentalists. But there is a larger principle to pull from this as well, and it is that teaching about music should not precede teaching the music itself. This is perhaps no more evident to music teachers than in reflecting on our own undergraduate music theory analysis classes. How many of us sat through expositions of an harmonic analysis of a Beethoven sonata that we had never heard, but for which we were expected to identify the chords, cadence types, and other compositional techniques. How much more interesting, relevant, and enjoyable it would have been if we had first had been given the opportunity to become familiar with the sonata movement, to enjoy it as it was meant to be enjoyed, as an expressive, exciting musical masterpiece, and only then been directed to go back and analyze this music which by that point we would have already grown to know and love.

While many of us are not teaching Beethoven sonatas, or even advanced music analysis in our general music or performances classes, we nevertheless do tend to teach as we were taught, and have, from time to time, taught the history or theory of a musical work before giving our students the opportunity to listen and gain familiarity. It is not uncommon for teachers to begin with a heavy dose of direct instruction, largely verbal, on the history of, or the form of, a musical genre or work, respectively. We have allowed ourselves to be convinced that we must first know about a musical genre or work before we can enjoy listening.  If we are teaching a unit on the blues, we start by finding books on the blues, and present information to our students. Any music that we play for them is intended to illustrate or demonstrate what is being described or explained verbally. We forget that the music was around before the history was written, or the music theory was developed. The history of the blues is in the music, not in the books written about that music. To truly understand the history of the blues, listen to the blues. Listen to early blues singers, and discuss the lyrics being sung, and the plight of those singing. Before the blues was a jazz form, it was an outlet for souls heavily burdened with more than their share of hardships. The history of the blues is in those lyrics, in those voices, in those expressions one can hear in recordings such as those published by the Smithsonian Institute, and by Folkways. Hearing the music creates the proper impetus for a substantial dialogue between students and teacher, and between students, about the historical and cultural contexts of this music.

As students listen to more and more examples, they will doubtless pick up on similaritiesFeed Your Brain Music to more recent music they are more familiar with; perhaps jazz blues, or rock blues, or the gospel music they worship with at Sunday church services. These connections advance the instruction in a way that is relevant to students, and is in fact student driven and student centered, which the best instruction is. In this scenario, the book material, which is the traditional starting point, biomes supporting material to add depth to the body of knowledge students are building primarily through first hand encounters with the music itself. The encounters, strengthened by book knowledge, also begin to qualify the students to write about and discuss the music in similar ways to the authors of the books. In this way, those students are practicing scholarship, an opportunity denied them when the authors of published books are allowed to be the primary focus of instruction.

This is not to say that books should be avoided or ignored. Books and the teacher’s own expertise are needed to increase the depth of knowledge, and to guard against misinformation being constructed by unknowing students (or teacher). The books can also serve as encouragement, as students find that their own conclusions and connections are supported by published writers. This way of learning, by listening first and then acting upon what has been heard second, is also in line with the way students naturally learn music. When students teach each other how to sing or play a song, you rarely if ever find them going to the library to read about the song, or even to gain possession of the musical score. They listen first, and learn and teach each other by ear.

Once learned, any further instruction to which they are introduced about the song is met with excitement and interest, because it is about something they have already learned on their own. I fear that teachers, like my undergraduate music theory analysis professor,  too often squelch desires to learn by front loading instruction with book learning, delaying the actual experiencing of music until all but the most devoted student has lost interest. The fact is, it is more fun to learn how to do something when we have already seen someone else do it, when we know what the result of our actions will be, and when that result is something that we are highly motivated to acquire because we are excited about being able to do the thing, which in this case is to sing, play, or analyze a musical work.

There is also the matter of retention to consider. Most of us will remember a tune longer than a fact about that tune. In fact, I frequently can remember a tune even if I cannot remember even its title. But, once I have that tune engrained in my memory, my brain can attach facts about it to the memory of the tune, making it much more likely I will remember the information about the tune, than if I just tried to memorize the information, but hadn’t committed the tune to memory. When I begin to sing a tune, I can then remember what someone has told me about it, whereas I cannot recall what someone has told me about the tune if I don’t first remember the tune. Remembering the tune is the sound. Information about the tune follows second. This is, most likely without exception, the best way to teach music.

Musical Fractions That Make Sense

Version 2The nomenclature we (except for those who use the quaver family of names) really is not very useful. Whole note, half note, quarter note, eighth note, and sixteenth notes are the terms by which teachers, both of music and of other subjects, connect music to fraction arithmetic. As far as it goes, they are correct. All of those names, that is, quarter, half and so forth are fractions, but fractions of what? They are fractions of a measure in common time. Because those names only apply to four-four meter, their meanings are irrelevant to every meter except four-four. What’s more, I’ve never, in 31 years of teaching, found a student for which knowing a quarter note was one quarter of a whole note really helped him or her perform the more accurately. Of much more value is that the quarter note is, at least frequently, equal to the pulse of the music; the ictus, the beat the coincides with what an ensemble conductor is conducting.

From there, it is helpful to know that eighth notes are two equal divisions of the quarter note pulse. It is not at all helpful to know that one eighth note is one eighth of a measure in four-four time, and, as I have pointed out, even less helpful if the child is not performing music in four-four meter. Eighth notes are the division of the quarter note pulse into two equal parts, or the dotted quarter note pulse into three equal parts. Stated as a fraction,  one eighth note is either one half or one third of an ictus beat. That is the sort of musical fraction that is helpful. There are two or three sounds of equal duration during each pulse. That is helpful, because musicians mostly divide beats, not measures. Quarter note pulses can be further divided into four equal durations, and dotted quarter note pulses can be further divided into six equal durations. When this occurs, those divisions of the beat are called sixteenth notes, and each sixteenth note is either one-fourth or one sixth of a beat. Even this fractionalizing is of limited value, because the performing musician is not measuring individual durations in relation to the beat, he or she is gauging how to evenly distribute a number of sounds over a single pulse. Nevertheless, fractions of a beat are more useful than fractions of a measure. Every note value less than the value of the ictus is a division of the beat, and the process by which beats are divided are an example of the mathematical operation of division, which includes fractions.

Notes that are longer than the duration of the ictus are elongations of the beat, and the process by which beats are elongated are an example of the mathematical operation of addition, including adding fractions. Once more, we don’t really care that a half note is half of a measure in four-four time, or that a whole note occupies the duration equal to an entire measure in four-four time. We do care that a half note is the duration of two ictus beats added together, and that a whole note is the duration of four ictus beats added together, though in both cases the quarter note must be the ictus for this to be true.

It is useful to think of note values as not only fractions of the ictus, but also as fractions of note_hierarchyeach other. Practicing sixteenth note passages while audiating an eighth note beat in a piece where the quarter note is the ictus, a practice referred to as subdividing, is used by many students and teachers as an effective way of achieving rhythmic evenness. Such thinking also facilitates shifting the ictus from, for example, the quarter note to the half note when the feel of the music suggests as much. This often happens when the composer transitions the music from a rhythmic section that is best understood in quarter notes, to a broad melody that comfortably soars above all in half notes. Understanding that those still present quarter notes are each half as long as the now predominant half notes makes the shift natural and enjoyable.

Thinking of note values as fractions of other note values also facilitates understanding rhythm when the ictus is not the quarter note. Knowing that  a quarter note is half of a half note, and that an eighth note is half of a quarter note makes dividing or elongating the half or eighth note ictus possible, and the concept of divisions and elongations of the beat transferable. Indeed, it is important for students to understand once they have begun to read music that any note value can be the ictus, and that it follows that any note value can be divided or elongated. Indeed, a whole measure can be the ictus, and a half note a division of the beat. It is also important to understand that before students begin to read divisions or elongations of the beat, they must learn them aurally, so that when they do read them, they have a sound to associate with what they see. Music Learning Theory (Gordon) and Conversational Solfege (Feierabend) both provide well researched and classroom tested procedures for doing this.

We cannot conclude our discussion without raising the issue of meter signatures. Though these look like fractions, and are frequently wrongly notated in texts as fractions and aurally referred to as fractions as in “three quarter time,” they are not fractions. Three-four meter does not indicate three fourths of anything. Instead, it is a convenient way of indicating that there is the equivalent of three quarter note durations in each measure of music. There is no way of knowing from a meter signature how the ictus is divided, whether into two or three divisions, nor is there any way of knowing what the ictus is. The bottom number of the meter signature may, and often does coincide with the ictus, but it frequently does not as well. That said, more often than not a meter signature with a 4 as the bottom number and a number evenly divisible by two but not three as the top number  has beats divided into two equal durations, and a meter signature with an 8 as the bottom number and a number evenly divisible by three as the top number has beats divided into three equal durations, though eight-eight meter is an exception to this (see Toccata by Frescobaldi).

Attempts to correlate music with Common Core Mathematics with fractions can be made with note value nomenclature, but such connections are not helpful or even confusing to music students. Connections between music and fractions are more advantageously made concerning fractions of ictus beats and fractions of other note values. While traditional nomenclature can and does continue to be used, the bases for names such as quarter and half notes is only relevant to four-four meter.

The Difference Between Visual Meter and Aural Meter in Music

2011 Symposium2

Of all the structures and elements of music, meter is arguably one the most confusing. This is due at least in part to the fact that unlike rhythm and pitch, and to a lesser extent unlike dynamics and tempo, our Western system of music notation is often vague or imprecise when it comes to representing meter. To illustrate this, consider Beethoven’s famous “Ode To Joy” melody. For a person hearing this for the first time, or for a person hearing this without ever having seen it written down, the meter for this melody sounds like it is organized into alternating strong and weak beats, or what we would call two-four time. Every indication from listening alone supports this analysis. The music proceeds in patterns of strong, weak, strong, weak beats, and strong, weak measures. For us who have seen the melody written out, we know that Beethoven notated it in four-four time. So which is the correct meter, the one we hear, or the one we see? For most people, it is by necessity the one they hear, because most concert goers have never and will never read the printed music. I dare say that a great many classical music lovers don’t read music at all. To all of them, it matters not at all how Beethoven in his score, or Pearson, Sueta, Kinyon, or anyone else who has ever transcribed “Ode to Joy” for band, chose to write it down. All that matters to a member of a concert audience is what he or she hears, and how he or she interprets and understands what is being heard.

Before going on, it will be helpful to define meter. Meter is the grouping of beats into patterns of strong beats and weak beats. If every other beat is strong, then we call that duple meter. If every third beat is strong, we call that triple meter. The problem comes in the fact that any note duration can be heard as a beat. An eighth note can be a beat, or a quarter note, half note, dotted quarter, dotted half, and so forth. Any of these can be considered the beat of a given piece of music. Not only that, but several of these durations can be heard as the beat at the same time. In Beethoven’s Ode To Joy, we commonly consider the quarter note as the beat, but the half note  or even whole note could also be heard as the beat. The designation of a quarter note as the beat is subjective and even somewhat arbitrary, because an equally strong case can be made for any of the other durations. We can choose to insist that the time signature is four-four so therefore the quarter note gets one beat, but of all the choices, that is probably the least musical of them all–it discourages the beautiful flow and friendliness we all love and associate with this tune.

The truth is, we give far too much importance to measures and far too little importance to meter. We can hear and experience meter, we can neither hear nor experience measures–they are a notational convenience that is at best an unreliable indicator of meter.  What we really should be concerned with is how parts beats are divided into throughout the course of the music. No matter which of the durations we choose for “Ode to Joy,” when one beat is divided, it is always divided into two equal parts, and never into three equal parts; therefore, this melody is in duple meter, no matter what kind of note we decide gets one beat, an no matter how many beats we think are in each measure. The quarter note is divided into two eighth notes, the half note is divided into two quarter notes, and therecite-budvjj whole note is divided into two half notes, which is divided into two quarter notes, which is divided into two eighth notes. We see from this that metrical structure is hierarchical, but not in a mathematical sense as implied by those rhythm hierarchy charts found in instrumental method books, but in a cognitive sense in that our human brains intuitively organize rhythm into the very sorts of hierarchies I just described. It is a perceptual hierarchy, not a visual one.

To explain this further, we need to recognize there are two kinds of beats. These were described by Gordon as tempo beats and meter beats. If you suppose that the half note is equal to the beat in “Ode to Joy,” then the half note duration is the tempo beat, sometimes also referred to as the ictus. The duration which is the equal division of the half note, as we have seen, determines what the listener perceives as the meter. In our Beethoven example, this was the quarter note duration, because two quarter notes divide the half note beat into two equal parts. The quarter notes, then, are the meter beats, because they determine the meter. There are two meter beats (in this case quarter notes) for every tempo beat ( in this case half notes), and so the meter is duple.

The difference between tempo beats and meter beats is most evident in the so called compound time signatures. Consider six-eight time, which is often referred to as compound duple. It is duple because there are two tempo beats per measure, and it is compound because each tempo beat is divided into  three meter beats. The word “compound” is meant to point out that there are elements of both duple and triple meter present simultaneously. This is in contrast to “simple” duple, in which there are only elements of duple meter–two tempo beats per measure and two meter beats per tempo beat. But all of this brings us back to talking about measures instead of what the listener hears. No one really perceives the meter of “Barcarolle” from Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffman and the meter of Strauss’ On The Beautiful Blue Danube to be different, yet the former is written in six eight (compound duple) while the latter is written in  three four time (simple triple). The number of meter beats in relation to one tempo beat is all that matters. The music can be notated in any number of ways, and it will sound exactly the same. The most sensible and uncomplicated way of understanding meter is to think of it as something we hear, an aural meter, and not something we see in notation.

The Truth About Meter in Music

2011Symposium_1_2I don’t think many of my students think about meter when they are listening to music. They are aware of a melody, of the tempo, of the beat and rhythms, but they are not so aware of the meter, at least not consciously. I’ve noticed that meter is not so much something that must be taught as something that students must be made aware of. Music exists rhythmically in several levels all at once. A child listening or singing a song and asked to show the beat with his or her hands may move to a quarter note, eighth note, or even sixteenth note beat without any prompting. I am often fascinated to watch my four-year-old students when I ask them to show me the beat with a patsch. Most will show me the quarter note beat, but some will intuitively patsch eighth notes. This is especially true if the song begins with eighth notes as, for example, the French folk song “Pierrot” does. If the child taps the rhythm, tapping quarter notes when they occur and eighth notes when they occur, then that is a different thing; but when the child maintains the eighth note patsch through the quarter notes, he or she is audiating the eighth note beat; what Gordon calls the micro beat.

Micro beats are divisions of the beat. Going in the other direction, their are elongations of the beat. Both of these terms assumes a single “beat” to which shorter and longer durations are compared in determining whether they are divisions or elongations; however, another way of looking at this is that there are several levels to the music. There is an eighth note level, a quarter note level, and half note, whole note (in common time), one-measure, two-measure, phrase long levels, and so forth. This view was stated in A Generative Theory of Tonal Music by Lerdahl and Jackendoff. In establishing the one-measure level, the listener intuitively perceives a recurring pattern of strong and weak beats, and assigns a metrical structure to the music based on the perceived pattern. Because much of our Western music is in duple meter, Westerners tend to have a bias toward duple meter, and will favor duple meter in the seconds it takes to establish a pattern. If duple doesn’t “fit” the listener will try another way of organizing the beats, continuing until the right match is found. When I am teaching the concept of meter to my students, I try to bring this intuitive process to the surface; instead of telling them what the meter is of the music they are singing or listening to, I have them try both duple and triplemeter signatures patterns either with conducting or chanting, and let them discover which pattern fits and which one does not. The wrong meter is usually obvious to nearly everyone, because the perception of metrical structure is, as I said, intuitive and therefore subconscious for a listener familiar with the musical genre to which he or she is listening.

Familiarity then, becomes the most important strategy for teaching meter. In other words, as students listen to more and more music of a particular idiom, they will intuitively become more and more successful in detecting the meter of music from that idiom. They can be helped with singing, chanting, playing, and movement activities, but the basic ability to perceive metrical structure is already there. This is important to keep in mind, because meter in this context is natural and self-evident through the music. Meter should never be an unnatural concept that is taught with a theoretical definition and a forced demonstration of unmusically exaggerated strong beat, distorted to make an obvious demonstration of the definition. Strong beats are not just the product of performed accents. Although nearly all music has meter, very little of it has explicitly accented notes on the first beat of each measure. Remember, the music is what is heard, not what is written. Strong beats are more the product of relative duration, parallelism, articulation, and rhythm patterns, than just accents.

The Amazing Human Musical Mind, Part 3

2011Symposium_1_2There are practical implications to just the impressive array of musical thinking even the youngest children are capable of. Because young brains are so musical, they must be given every opportunity possible to experience music and to grow in musicality. Edwin Gordon, a pre-eminent authority on music psychology and early childhood music, has emphatically written that if a child does not gain musical learning during the first 18 months, what would have been learned cannot be fully recovered later. Children need to have music in their environment right from the start. Parents and caretakers who sing to infants are doing great work. Infants love it, and while they are happily listening to the singing, their brains are connecting with the music, and laying the neural foundations for high musical achievement later in life, and possibly greater aptitude in other areas, especially language acquisition and spatial reasoning.

Young children’s ability to perceive music intelligently soon goes beyond comparing one sound to another. Around three years, children begin to understand emotion in music. Researchers found that 3-year-olds could model happiness and sadness by moving a teddy bear into different positions upon hearing sad or happy music. While older children in the study, those up to age 6, could do this more successfully than the 3-year-olds, the youngest children still demonstrated a high level of sophistication in understanding musical emotion.

Researchers have also found that infants 6 months old preferred consonant intervals to dissonant intervals, and preferred the correct version of a Mozart minuet to a version in which many intervals were altered to be dissonant (Trainor & Heinmiller, 1998), infants detected a change in meter when the rhythm suggested a strong metric framework, and when the meter was duple, (Bergeson & Trehub, 2006), and infants detected mistuned notes in diatonic scales (Trehub, Schellenberg, et al, 1999). So yes, every baby can be a critic.

Children learn musical patterns through listening, just as they learn letter and word pattern. Dr. Gordon calls these learned musical patterns a listening music vocabulary. He made the urgency of exposure to music in early childhood clear when he wrote, “Neglect and misdeeds in informal guidance in early childhood music leave many children who enter school at five years of age bereft of a music listening vocabulary.” Gordon goes on to explain that music a child encounters through the media is not enough, because there is not enoughMusicEar variety, and because there is no human interaction involved. What parents would allow their child to learn language solely from recordings of spoken language, while never speaking in the presence of the child? Indeed, it is noticeable when a child’s primary caregiver is the television set. There is often an observable deficiency in literacy readiness. Neither should we accept a child learning music only by listening to recordings. Children need to see free, continuous body movements to learn timing, and see movement and breathing to attain musicality. I’ll have more to say on the use of movement later. Only through intentional encounters with music in a variety of keys and meters sung by a responsible adult can a child fully develop musically and therefore cognitively.

The Amazing Human Musical Mind, Part 2

2011Symposium_1_2Since Friday, I have been sharing a presentation I gave at two conferences of the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI). In this session, I gave an overview of what the very youngest human minds can do musically, and how early childhood educators who are not music teachers can still include music in their programs. Today I begin with discussing why educators who are not music teachers should care about music instruction in their classrooms.

Now being the dedicated and outstanding teachers that you are, you may be going into a sort of panic right about now. You want to take advantage of that window of opportunity, but there are problems. “Well that’s great, Robert, but I don’t have the time or the expertise to be giving music lessons in my classroom.” If you’re thinking that, you needn’t worry. You don’t have to be a music teacher. Just using music in your classroom a little more than you may be doing now, in ways that are a little more targeted to the musical needs of children and their natural musical abilities will make a big difference. Let’s first see what very young musical minds care capable of doing musically, and then I’ll show you what you, yes everyone of you, can do with music in your classes.

I would like to explore the human brain at its very early stages of existence, even before a child is born. Just a short time ago, in 2013, researchers in Finland (Partanen, Kujala, Tervaniemi, & Huotilainen, 2013) found that a child still in the womb makes mental representations of a melody played outside the mother’s womb. They learned this by having mothers play Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star 5 times a week for their unborn child during the last trimester of pregnancy. After these children were born, at age 4 months, the researchers played altered versions of the song to them, and measured brain activity while they listened. They measured increased brain activity for unchanged notes compared to changed notes, and compared to children for whom the music had not been played in the womb, they showed greater brain activity overall. All this to say that, the 4-month-old children recognized music they had heard before they were even born.

In a study done in 2013, researchers found that infants between 4-1/2 and 6 months recognized phrase endings in Mozart’s



music, and not in Mozart’s music where the researchers changed the phrase endings (Krumhansl & Jusczyk (2013). In another study (Lonie, 2010), researchers found that 9-month-old infants could tell the difference between conventional and unconventional melodies as long as the last note was predictable. This is remarkable, that already, after just 9 months, infants know how music they have been exposed to is supposed to go. They have already begun to perceive musical grammar, just as they also perceive linguistic grammar. As children get older, and their familiarity with music further increases, they can tell the difference between conventional and unconventional melodies regardless of the predictability of the last note. Papousek and Papousek found that 2-month-old infants can match the pitch. loudness, and melodic contour, that is the shape of the ups and downs of the pitches, of their mother’s songs, and that at four months old, they can match rhythmic structure as well. These finding of musical abilities just a few months into life are so important. If these capacities are left unused for an extended period of time, they will weaken and fade instead of strengthen and grow. That is why it is so important for newborns and infants to be placed in a musical environment where they have the opportunity to match pitches and rhythmic structures with musical stimuli there for them to encounter. Already, at 2-4 months, the young child is demonstrating a degree of intellectual control over pitch and rhythm. Before he or she enters kindergarten, they will have added emotional response.

An amazing human musical mind

The Amazing Human Musical Mind, Part 1

2011Symposium_1_2Over the next days, I will be sharing a presentation I gave at two conferences of the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI). In this session, I gave an overview of what the very youngest human minds can do musically, and how early childhood educators who are not music teachers can still include music in their programs.

Before I go into the specifics of what a newborn and infant brain is capable of musically, and you may be surprised to find that those brand new brains are already quite musical, I’d like to highlight why teachers who aren’t music teachers should even give notice to music in their classrooms. Tom Barnes recently wrote a piece on the subject, and I will quote from him now. “An epic longitudinal study by researchers at the German Institute for Economic Research concluded in no uncertain terms that music training “improves cognitive and non-cognitive skills more than twice as much as sports, theater or dance.” All the way back in 1999, James Caterall, an arts education policy analyst at UCLA, found that students who studied music had higher grades, higher test scores, better attendance records and higher rates of community engagement than other students. That has a neurological basis too. Mathematics, especially, are aided by music education because it targets a very specific set of brain activity: the development of spatial-temporal reasoning. Highly developed spatial-temporal faculties are imperative for working through solutions to the complex problems in fields such as architecture, engineering, science and, obviously, mathematics. Even more compellingly, UCLA’s study found that these benefits were even more pronounced in students from low-income families, proving once again that music education plays a major role in closing the achievement gap. Disadvantaged students who performed with their school band or orchestra were more than twice as likely to be performing at the highest levels of math than peers who did not receive musical training.” When we ignore or minimize children’s access to music education, so much cognitive development simply never takes place. When you include music in your classroom, and encourage your parents to provide a musical environment at home, you are beginning furthering your children’s aptitude, their capacity to learn, literally for the rest of their lives.

There is also the matter of intelligence. The days of defining intelligence as an I.Q. score arrived at from primarily choosing-beautiful-musicmathematical and linguistic data are fortunately a thing of the past. Those tests assumed a definition of intelligence that we now know was incomplete and misleading. The idea that a person possesses a single measurable intellectual capacity called intelligence is no longer defensible. Instead, people possess many autonomous intellectual capacities, among which are linguistic and mathematical ones. Howard Gardner, author of “The Theory of Multiple Intelligences,” wrote that to be considered an intelligence, the competency must entail the skills of resolving genuine problems, and finding or creating problems as a beginning for acquiring new knowledge. These, according to Gardner, are the hallmarks of “intellectual strengths that prove of some importance within a cultural context.” Besides mathematical and linguistic intelligences, people also possess a musical intelligence. People who possess a high musical intelligence are good at recognizing musical patterns and tones, good at remembering songs and melodies, and have absorbed from their environment a rich understanding of musical structure, rhythm and pitches. Such people can utilize these dominant skills to use rhythms and patterns to assist learning, and such people are particularly skillful in performing and composing music, and are skillful at understanding musical forms and structure when listening to music. Because this view of intelligence is based on skills, and because skills can be learned, intelligence can be increased through learning and practice, but only within a limited time window. Gardner also wrote that, “of all the gifts with which individuals may be endowed, none emerges earlier than musical talent. …except among children with unusual musical talent or exceptional opportunities, there is little further musical development after the school years begin.” Research done by Edwin Gordon, author of Music Learning Theory, support Gardner’s statement. Do you see what we come to here? There is a window of opportunity for children to develop their musical brains, and to take full advantage of developing their musical thinking potential, and that window shuts at the very moment in their lives when they are beginning kindergarten. The problem is that for many children, kindergarten is the first opportunity children are given to receive formal musical training, yet by then, it is already too late to recapture musical growth that was still possible during preschool years. If you and your parents don’t engage your children musically during the pre-school years, it will be too late to recover the learning and growth potential that could have been realized during those years.

Switching from One Rhythm Syllable System to Another: Helping Students Work Through The Transition

2011Symposium_1_2One of the challenges some music teachers face is sharing students with other music teachers. While it is great that a child might be in band, chorus, and or general music or other music offerings, if a child learns the same concept two or even three different ways, confusion can result. A music teacher must be aware of how his or her colleagues are teaching a concept, and either agree to teach using the same method, or reconcile the two or three methods so they become reinforcing and complementary instead of competing.

A case in point is how rhythm is taught. Throughout my career, I have noticed that the band teacher doesn’t always use the same rhythm syllables that I do. Many instrumental teachers use a system of counting the beat number followed by “and” for eighth notes and “e and a” for sixteenth notes. As a general music teacher, I used Kodaly syllables, where quarter notes were “ta,” eighth notes were “ti-ti” and sixteenth notes were “ter-ri ter-ri.” Later, I switched to using Gordon syllables. In either case, I found that students were not able to make the connection on their own between the band teacher’s number system, and either Kodaly or Gordon syllables. In the process of showing them how the rhythm syllables were a different way of learning the same thing, I realized that the three rhythm systems are very different. Possessing an understanding of these differences is important for music teachers because it impacts both bridging different systems for students, and switching from one system to the other. For example, in order to successfully switch from using Kodaly rhythm syllables to Gordon rhythm syllables, one must understand the functional differences between them. Today, I will walk us through how to successfully make the switch from Kodaly to Gordon. Keep in mind that while I prefer the Gordon approach, many outstanding music teachers employ Kodaly syllables with excellent results. My intent is not to argue in favor of one or the other, but only to demonstrate how to make the switch.


Zoltan Kodaly

The first difference is that Kodaly rhythm syllables are based on note values, and the relative lengths of notes. When the note value is equal to one beat, “ta” is used, and when there are two notes each equal to one half beat, ti-ti is used. In one case the sound that occurs on the beat is called “ta” and in the other case the sound that occurs on the beat is called “ti.” This difference is due to the fact that although both sounds occur on the beat, the duration of the sounds are different, and are therefore called by different names. As you might expect, this system works well for teaching note values, but allows students to overlook the placement of each beat as their attention is on the relative note values. Because of this, students switching form Kodaly syllables to Gordon syllables often will be unsure of the beat, or how rhythms relate to a beat. For this reason it is imperative that students always patsch or tap with the heels of their feet the pulse while they are chanting rhythms. Through the use of patsch and/or tapping heels, students can be taught that all Kodaly syllables that are chanted on a beat can be collected into a group of syllables. This group can be called the “du” group. Begin calling a ta, or ter a du, and you have begun the transition. For example, “ti-ti” becomes “du-ti,” “ta” becomes “du, ” and “ter-ri ter-ri” becomes “du-ri du-ri.” Make this shift aurally first, having students repeat patterns you chant for them, and without using music notation. Then, have them chant a notated rhythm the old way, and then the new way, eventually replacing the new with the old, until they have made the transition. Now, everytime a note occurs on the beat, it will always be called “du” no matter what the duration of that note is. Next, replace the second “ti” in a pair with “de” so that du-ti becomes du-de and du-ri ter-ri becomes du-ri de-ri. Use the same procedure of starting aurally and then connecting with notation. The final transition is the easiest, changing “ri” to “ta.” Triple meter patterns must be addressed also. The transition to “du” is exactly the same. The other Gordon syllables are slightly different. Du da di are three eighth notes, and du-ta-de-ta-di-ta are six sixteenth notes. Again, though, the transition method is the same, changing one sound at a time and changing first aurally and then rotationally. Do not rush into notation. Give the students all the time they need to make the switch aurally first.

Naturally, it is better to start children on one system and consistently use that system throughout their music education. There is no need to create the confusion that starting on one system and then switching over to another can create; however, if switching is necessary because separate music teachers some children have prefer different systems, teaching them how both systems work can be like learning a second language. Once fluency is achieved, they are able to understand both systems better, and can benefit from the strengths of each.