Read an Excerpt
Music Learning Theory for Newborn and Young Children
By Edwin E. Gordon
GIA Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2013 GIA Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Those who teach children and understand child development jest they would like to pass away young as late as possible. They know potential to learn is never greater than the moment of birth and then gradually decreases. The most important time for learning is from birth (if not before) until eighteen months, the critical period during which a child learns through exploration and unstructured guidance by parents and other caretakers. Following is the sensitive period from eighteen months to three years, during which a child continues to receive such guidance. Between ages three and five, a continuation of the sensitive period, a child begins to receive structured as well as unstructured guidance at home and preschool. What children learn during the first five years of life forms foundations for subsequent educational development, which traditionally begins when they enter kindergarten or first grade and receive formal instruction. The younger children are when parents and teachers begin unstructured and structured informal guidance to develop foundations for learning, the more children will benefit from future instruction.
Significance of Early Childhood
Children's loss of opportunity when foundations for learning are being established cannot be amended. Only compensatory, not remedial, instruction may be offered when they are older. Remedial instruction is not possible because what children did not develop early in life cannot be developed in later life to the extent it could have been attained earlier. What is lost cannot be recaptured. For example, older persons do not learn a second language as quickly or flawlessly as a first language. A first language is learned more easily because it is acquired intuitively whereas a second is learned deliberately. Although compensatory instruction is possible, a teacher can only assist children in progressing to the extent their early foundations will allow. Given two children born with similar capabilities and motivation, the one guided in accomplishing foundations for learning when older will not learn as much as the other given similar guidance at an early age.
Neurologists, pediatricians, biologists, and psychologists associated with universities and research institutes believe an abundance of neurological connections (synapses) take place prenatally and during the first eighteen months of childhood. The cortex consists of cells (neurons) interconnected by axons and dendrites stimulated by syntactic activity. Nature provides a child with excess of cells to make these connections, both before and after birth. Although a brain keeps growing and reaches approximately 90 percent of adult size by age five, unless cells form complex neural networks and negative blocking is avoided, unused cells are pruned and not recaptured. Peak times for learning are diminished.
There are approximately 100 million neurons and 1,000 billion synapses in the human brain. Before age three, given a normal environment, a child's brain makes 700 synapses every second. Synaptic connections among neurons are vital and significant. Unless a multitude of links are made within and between neurons, potential for learning becomes limited for newborn and preschool children, and appallingly, exponentially as they grow older. Dormant brain cells dedicated to one sense of perception cease to exist or are directed to making associations with alternative senses. For example, when music guidance is not forthcoming, especially during the critical age, children are diverted from developing intelligent music listening and performance skills, setting a template for life.
Guidance and Instruction
There is a difference between guidance and instruction in music. Guidance is informal whereas instruction is formal. Informal guidance may be structured or unstructured. When guidance is unstructured, a parent or teacher naturally exposes a child to culture without specific planning. When guidance is structured, a parent or teacher plans specific lessons. A distinguishing characteristic of both structured and unstructured informal guidance is neither imposes information or skills. Rather, children are exposed to their culture and encouraged to absorb it. Structured and unstructured informal guidance are based on and operate in consequence to natural sequential activities and responses of a child. As children are born out of the world, not brought into it, their instincts and intuitions need nurturing. Formal instruction, however, requires in addition to parent or teacher specifically planning what will be taught, teaching be organized into allotted time periods. Children are expected to offer cooperation and give specific types of responses.
Home is the most important school young children will ever know and children's parents are the most important teachers they will ever have. Most parents are more capable of guiding and instructing their children in developing language and arithmetic skills than music skills. That is not necessarily because parents are incapable musically, but because many, themselves, were not properly guided and instructed in audiation when they were children. Thus, they become unwitting, if not unwilling, participants in an unavoidable and unfortunate cycle.
Parents need not be amateur or professional musicians to guide and instruct children in understanding music. Likewise, they need not be professional writers, speakers, or mathematicians to teach children to communicate and use numbers effectively. Music is not an aptitude bestowed on a select few. Every human has at least some potential to understand music. Parents who sing with relatively good intonation and move their body with spatial flowing, continuous free movement and enjoy doing so, even though they do not play a music instrument, meet basic requirements for guiding and instructing children in music. Unless parents rise to responsibility, either by themselves or with assistance of teachers and friends, their children will develop only limited understanding and enjoyment of music. They will grow up to assume life and art are poles apart, because they never will have been given opportunity to discover art is life and life is art.
Preschool children are not approached as if they are young adults or kindergarten children, nor is assessment of development of their music capabilities based on comparisons with what adults can or cannot do. Young children learn as much, and possibly more, by themselves and from one another than from adults. Nonetheless, if adults devote necessary time to music development of young children and do not underestimate children's comprehension, young children will become comfortable with a multitude of varying types of music at an early age and, thus, strengthen positive attitudes toward music that persist throughout life. As adults, they will constitute more appreciative audiences, and, preposterous as it may seem, even read a music score as easily as a newspaper, magazine, or book. If music should become a profession rather than an avocation, it is best an unforeseen outcome.
Music and Language
Consider how young children learn language. As newborns, they hear language being spoken around them long before they fully understand what is being said. They absorb what they hear. Soon they vocalize sounds in imitation of speech, those typically found in various languages. By nine months, children acquire readiness to articulate sounds with their tongue necessary to speak the language of their culture. When adults and siblings speak to children on a one-to-one basis, they offer informal guidance in forming words. Soon young children naturally "break the code" of language and begin to imitate real words. By using words to communicate with others, they rapidly improvise their own phrases and sentences. Later they learn to read and write words and sentences heard and spoken.
The process of sequential development of the five vocabularies — listening, speaking, thinking, reading, and writing, in that order — begins at birth and continues after children enter kindergarten or first grade. Unless such a process, which develops through both structured and unstructured informal guidance, occurs early in life, children will not have necessary readiness to benefit from formal language instruction. To be successful in school, children enter kindergarten or first grade with at least basic listening and speaking vocabularies. In addition to acquiring productive listening and speaking vocabularies, it is to their advantage to be informally guided in developing effortless reading and writing vocabularies at home before they receive formal instruction in those skills in school.
Although music is a literature, not a linguistic language because it has no grammar, children learn music much the same way they learn language. Structured or unstructured guidance at home is necessary if children are to develop music understanding, similar to processes they are exposed to as they continue the sequential progression of learning language.
There are at least two stages to music babble. One is tonal and the other rhythm. Though there are probably more, they have not yet objectively been identified. A child may emerge from tonal babble and rhythm babble at the same time or from one before the other. If a child emerges from one or both music babble stages rapidly, her or his music aptitude is probably considerably above average.
During the tonal babble stage, children attempt to sing with speaking voice quality. Relationships among sounds they make have little or nothing in common with context established by culture. They have not yet learned to distinguish between a speaking voice quality and singing voice quality. The two voices are nested together at birth. Children hear the speaking voice much more than the singing voice, and, thus, are not guilelessly encouraged or motivated to experiment with their singing voice to learn what it feels like, not necessarily what it sounds like, compared to their more familiar speaking voice. Even when encouraged to sing, they may believe there is no difference between a speaking voice and singing voice. In the rhythm babble stage, children make different sounds and erratic movements. These sounds and movements are not in consistent tempo, they are close together, and contextually unnatural to adult culture. Though an adult typically cannot make sense of children's tonal or rhythm babble, children usually understand their own babble and that of other children.
Not only are typical newborns sung to less than spoken to, they hear music performed less than language. When they do hear music, it usually happens more as chance than intent. As a result, most children do not have opportunity to absorb necessary varied sounds of music in the same way they do those of language, and so ability to move through music babble is hindered. These young children are then unable to leave tonal and rhythm babble stages and develop formally tonal and rhythm listening vocabularies. Without such listening vocabularies to serve as readiness for further music development, ability to acquire "speaking" vocabularies in music becomes limited. Singing and rhythm chanting, the speaking vocabularies in music, relate to ability to relax and breathe freely, move the body in space with free flowing, continuous movement, sing tonal patterns, and chant rhythm patterns.
Unless children experience an abundant and varied exposure to music before they are eighteen months old, they become preoccupied with language acquisition, and music takes a place of little or no importance. Even with extensive exposure to music, rhythm of children's spoken language significantly influences and affects how their tongues move to artistically and stylistically express music. Moreover, children who have been deprived of appropriate early music development usually learn only about music when they begin to receive formal instruction. They find it difficult to fully participate in making music.
Listening, Singing, and Rhythm Chanting
Although children usually hear music through media, and live music on occasion, adults sing as a means of guiding them to use their singing and rhythm chanting voices in the same way speaking to them provides a model to use their speaking voice. Just as all children learn to use their speaking voice, all children learn to use their singing and rhythm chanting voices. Whether they learn to perform musically (and to speak intelligently) depends partially on quality and quantity of structured and unstructured informal guidance and formal instruction. Unfortunately, adults rarely sing tonal patterns and chant rhythm patterns to or for young children, and when they do, children are expected neither to participate nor learn to sing tonal patterns or chant rhythm patterns with accuracy similar to the way they learn to speak words in language. Therefore, typically, children do not acquire a music listening vocabulary needed for developing singing and rhythm chanting vocabularies. And for children who use their own strategies, not enough time is spent assisting them to advance those vocabularies. An overzealous adult, however, inadvertently encourages or even demands children perform songs before they are ready. To expect children to learn to sing songs, with or without words, without first being able to sing tonal patterns and chant rhythm patterns is like expecting them to recite poems before they can speak individual words, phrases, and sentences.
Optimally, children's singing and rhythm chanting vocabularies are developed in interaction with development of tonal and rhythm listening vocabularies, and tonal and rhythm listening vocabularies are developed in interaction with singing and rhythm chanting vocabularies. It is a continuous cycle. Tonal and rhythm listening vocabularies and singing and rhythm chanting vocabularies become interdependent as children learn music. Development of one set of vocabularies without the others is an unacceptable option. For example, if young children are not encouraged to move in space flexibly and continuously in a free, flowing manner, they probably will not learn to chant rhythm patterns with flexibility and phrasing, and they may not develop a rhythm chanting vocabulary. Babies naturally begin to respond to rhythm with flexible and free flowing, continuous movement at a very early age. Unfortunately, it does not persist, not because of their own wishes but because parents are anxious to have them unnecessarily walk before their time, engendering rigidity. Without proper informal guidance in music, children develop limited ability to move spatially in a flexible free, flowing manner by the time they begin formal music instruction in school.
An analogy may help. Think of the body as a computer, the brain being the hard drive and remainder of the body software. The brain receives and retains information as a result of movement sensed primarily through arms and legs. Without the entire body providing input, the brain for all intents and purpose is deprived and remains dormant. That is, the body must feel before the brain can comprehend. It is axiomatic rhythm cannot be taught cognitively and directly through the brain as is traditionally and futilely attempted by many music theorists.
Formal Music Instruction
If children do not receive structured and unstructured informal guidance in music before they enter school, difficulties are exacerbated. The reason is related to how classroom music is taught in many schools. For example, for teachers to teach language skills in school successfully, children need to have acquired ability and skill to engage in speaking individually before they enter school, yet most children have never had a chance to perform music individually before they begin formal music instruction, and once they do begin formal instruction, they are seldom offered or allowed opportunity to perform solo in class. Most formal instruction involves teaching groups of children to sing by asking them to repeat in ensemble sounds a teacher or others make. Yet imagine outcomes in language learning if children were asked to speak only in groups, repeating what a teacher said. They would learn to imitate only what others around them are saying and so would not give meaning to what they themselves said. They might not ever create a sentence of their own to express personal thoughts. It is no wonder when classroom music is taught the way it usually is, many children are dispossessed of a chance to develop understanding of music. They are dismissed as being "untalented" by teachers and parents.
Excerpted from Music Learning Theory for Newborn and Young Children by Edwin E. Gordon. Copyright © 2013 GIA Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of GIA Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.