Music Literacy: The Q's nd A's of Music

Interactive Influences on Reading

Question: It's said that in a classroom, the climate, the student, and the textbook features are all important and have a relationship with each other. How would you rank the order of the these items, by giving them a percentage based out of 100%, and why would you rank them as such? Also, what are your perspectives on these three items within the classroom as it applies to music literacy?

Mark: Answering this question from the perspective of a music education person, I would say that the climate is most important and would give it 40%. The student and the textbook (which in the case of a performing ensemble would consist of the music being performed) I would rank equally at 30% each. My reasons for these rankings include the following: (1) music classrooms often have large numbers of students, sometimes even approaching or exceeding 100, so the climate is paramount to getting anything accomplished; (2) the textbook, or in this case the music being performed, must contain examples of the concepts that are to be taught, otherwise it's impossible to meet academic standards in the music classroom; (3) students are obviously a big part of what goes on on the classroom, but I believe that a good teacher who chooses good literature and who maintains an appropriate atmosphere in the classroom can accomplish a great deal of teaching and in turn produce excellent learning with almost any student who comes to the class.

When thinking about music literacy, again, these three items are very interwoven with each other and all are important. If the climate in the classroom is one of teaching and learning through the use of standards and not by using rote techniques, then the learning will be appropriate in terms of music literacy. If music is chosen that not only represents the concepts being taught, but is also at the right level of difficulty for the group, then literacy will occur. If the music is too difficult, then rote teaching tends to be the norm and students learn through imitation rather than through reading. Obviously, the teacher's skill has a great deal to do not only with the climate, but also with the management and the teaching of the students. If all is well-managed, then music literacy should indeed be an end result of the interaction of these three things in the music classroom, in particular in the large ensemble setting, which is what I was mostly thinking about as I answered these questions.

Betsy: I, as well my content specialist, agree that the climate and the reader are very close in terms of their importance to the learning process. If an unmotivated student in a poor learning was given the most wonderful text in the history of the world, I believe they could not overcome either their lack of motivation or the poor climate they are learning in. For the student to overcome either a poor climate or their own lack of motivation, they would need an extreme change in the factors in their life. Text features are important, but this part of the literacy process can be more easily overcome.

My content specialist mentioned that while many motivated students (ideal readers) may try to overcome the climate in their learning environment or a poor text, it might not be possible. These three factors make up literacy, because of their vitality to the process; without one of them, you will be hard pressed to excell as you would have.

How is Music Literacy Different?

Question: According to the article,"The effects of music on the emotions are commonly known. However the effects of music on the brain and thinking are demonstrable. Research has shown that during an electroencephalogram (EEG), music can change brain waves and make the brain more receptive to learning. Music connects the functions of the right and left hemispheres of the brain so that they work together and make learning quick and easy. Brain function is increased when listening to music and studies have shown that music promotes more complex thinking. It can make connections between emotions, thinking and learning (Davies, 2000)."

Based on this observation and study, what makes music literacy so different and special compared to other content areas? Knowing what music can make the brain do as it pertains to music literacy, why don't other content areas make the brain react in the same manner?

Mark:I'm not really sure what makes music literacy so special, but my gut feeling is that it is because the act of listening to and/or making music is one that requires both brain hemispheres, whereas other areas require only the use of the left hemisphere. Because music is connected with emotions, the use of both hemispheres comes into play where it does not with other subject areas. Music really does connect thinking and emotion in a way that other subjects do not, except for the other arts.

Diversity in the Classroom

Question: It has been predicted that in future years, the classrooms will grow and increase in diversity and classrooms will comprise of more diverse students. How do you or how would you handle a classroom filled with more diverse students and knowing that they may come from different musical backgrounds?

Mark: This is an interesting question, especially in light of the fact that these kinds of things are often later in reaching music performance groups than they are in reaching the more general school population. I do think that there will eventually not only be more diversity of students in the music classroom, but also that music offerings in public schools will become more diverse. In other words, to reach more of the general student population, I think there will eventually be more classes for nonperformace students - things such as guitar, world drumming, music appreciation, and perhaps even traditional instrumental offerings for beginners at the middle and high school levels.

More directly related to your question, I think that we will have to work harder to meet the needs of a more diverse student population by thinking differently about literature that we choose and making a more concerted effort to include music from different cultures and music of more varying styles. We will also need to do a better job of focusing part of the teaching and learning on the concepts that make some of this music different from the more traditional offerings that have been given by middle and high school performing groups. In other words, our instruction has traditionally been focused on learning to play or sing the music rather than learning deeper concepts about the music and I think this will have to change as the diversity of the student population (and hopefully of the teaching profession as well) changes.

Musical Advocacy

Question: Many critics state that music is only important in the academic world because it has been proven to improven students' achievement in other classes. While this is great 'advertisment' for the music classroom, some worry that by promoting music as a subject to help other subjects, music's importance on its own is being weakened. Is it alright for music teachers to talk about the benefits of music on students' performance in other classes, or is the cost too high?

Betsy: Here is what my content area specialist had to say on this matter:

"I do think that it is important to show how the study of music helps students in other academic areas, but I feel even more strongly that advocates must emphasize the importance of the merits of music education for its own value. Some of those values are the development of aesthetics, the constant self critique and refinement of performance leading to beauty and quality, and a means of expression that goes beyond the spoken word."

I agree with him entirely. It is wonderful that music can assist in student achievement in other academic areas, but it is most important that music be shown as a discipline that has its own advantages.

Music as a Tool for Learning

Question:The article states in one of it's paragraphs,"Music also creates an environment that is conducive to learning. It can reduce stress, increase interest, and set the stage for listening and learning. The similarities between literacy acquisition and musical development are many. Therefore, teaching that combines music with language arts instruction can be the most effective (Davies, 2000). Furthermore, it is important for emergent readers to experience many connections between literacy in language, music, and in print."

What are your thoughts and feelings about this paragraph as far as what it is presenting, and what are your view points when the article mentions teaching that combines music with language arts instruction can be the most effective?

Mark: I agree completely with the first part of what you present from the article, i.e. that music creates a positive environment for learning and that it can increase interest. I also agree that there are many similarities between language acquisition and musical development. In fact, I believe that music is a language and therefore has its own syntax, much of which is developed in the same way that spoken languages develop.

Finally, I agree with the notion that emergent readers should experience connections between literacy in language and in music, but the last part of this needs some qualification, in my opinion. If the goal for combining music with language arts instruction is to teach language arts, then I think this combination might well be the most effective way to teach. If, however, the goal is to learn music content, then I'm not sure the same would hold true. In other words, I think music can enhance language arts instruction for the reasons indicated in the article, but I'm not sure that the reverse holds true to the same extent. Students come to school more well-versed in language than in music, so teaching music content may not be enhanced by language arts to the same extent that the reverse is true.

Musical Patterns in Musical Literacy

Question: "A child's initial introduction to patterned text often first occurs in songs, chants, and rhymes that are repeated over and over again throughout childhood. Once children become familiar with this patterning, they are excited and able to participate in shared reading, writing and other oral language experiences. Concepts about print become more meaningful, and conventions of print are learned in context. Additionally, substitutions in songs, chants or poems can provide for real language experience opportunities. When emergent readers see printed words in the text again and again, they come to identify those words and phrases by their similarities and configurations."

Based on the quote from the text in the article, what are your thoughts and opinions on what the quote stated? How important are musical patterns in music literacy and how do these patterns transfer to other content areas?

Mark:Patterns are crucial in musical contexts. This is how young children learn the syntax of music - through chants, patterns, nursery rhymes, and such things. Even as musical experience is gained and students become older and more proficient, patterns are crucial to all that we do. For example, in woodwind playing, scale patterns are necessary in order to be able to play complex technical passages. Rhythmic patterns are essential for all musicians - it is by reading the patterns that we are able to be proficient at reading complex rhythms.

I think these concepts do carry to other subject areas, although I'm certainly not an expert on that. What I do know from study and from experience is that music is a language that is learned in a similar way to the spoken language. Young children learn spoken language by imitating patterns that are spoken by those around them, and likewise, young people learn musical language by imitation. If the musical environment is not rich, a young child will be more likely to struggle later with musical concepts because they have not learned it at such an early stage in their development.

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