How Children Learn Music
Recent research in music education has shown that music learning happens through a process that is similar to language learning. There are five vocabularies to be developed: listening, speaking (singing/chanting in music), thinking/conversing (creating/improvising in music), reading and writing.
Think about the way we learn language: When we are born, we begin learning language by listening to the language spoken around us. The richer and more language sounds we hear, the better we will develop our own language skills. When we are ready, we begin to babble and imitate the sounds we hear, and eventually we learn to speak, first words and then phrases and sentences. In addition to imitating words, we learn to think in language and express our thoughts through language. After we have developed our speech, we learn to read and write words that are already in our speaking vocabularies.
Children begin learning music by listening to the music around them. The richer and more musical sounds they hear, the better they will develop their own musical skills. When they are ready, children begin to babble and imitate the musical sounds they hear, and eventually they learn to sing and chant. First they start with small tonal /rhythm patterns and then progress to phrases and songs. In addition to imitating patterns, children learn to think in music and express their thoughts through music. After children have developed their singing voices and rhythmic sense, they learn to read and write patterns that are already in their music vocabularies.
In order for children to truly understand music, it is important that the five musical vocabularies (listening, singing/chanting, creating/improvising, reading and writing) be developed in this sequence. This is why Field Elementary students first learn music “by ear” (through listening, moving, singing/chanting, and creating/improvising) before learning to read and write music notation. When the students are ready to read and write music, they learn to do so by associating notation with musical sounds, such as ta and ti-ti. The students continue through the sequence as they develop the skills to read music notation using the traditional time-value names (quarter note, eight notes, ect.) and letter names (B, A, G, ect.).