Sound Before Sight-Using Patterns to Build Musical Literacy

A key component at every level of South Florida Music’s curriculum is the practice of simple rhythm and tonal patterns to build musical literacy. From our youngest babies to our piano students, reinforcement of patterning occurs in every class.

Why are these patterns so important in developing musical literacy? To better understand, let’s think about how a child learns language:

From the time the auditory system develops during the 2nd trimester, babies are constantly absorbing the many sounds in their world. As babies find their voices, they begin to imitate the sounds they hear, and start to associate simple common words with items in the world. While this labeling may not be perfect at first (not all toys are “ball,” not all people are “mama”), through time and experience, proper differentiation begins to occur. The now toddler begins speaking, first in individual words, and later in full thoughts and sentences. As the young child grows, the alphabet and familiar words are introduced visually. Writing goes hand and hand with reading as the child continues on his or her learning. As vocabulary builds, unfamiliar words are identified using context clues and generalizations. The sounds come first–sight comes after. Only after this basis is established can a child begin to independently approach language and be truly literate.

An age appropriate path to musical literacy is developed in much the same way. In our Music for Babies classes, our youngest musicians constantly hear and absorb simple rhythm and tonal patterns, presented by the teacher on a neutral syllable and echoed by their caregivers. They may even begin to experiment and try to imitate the ba ba ba’s and lu lu lu’s for themselves. Through our Music for Toddlers level, the neutral syllable is reinforced as children are encouraged to continue to find their voices and echo both as a group and individually. We introduce the musical language (labels) in our Musical Cycle of Seasons classes for three year olds. Here, our “ba ba ba’s” become “du-de du’s” and our “lu lu lu’s” become “sol mi do’s” as the Gordon rhythm language and Solfege syllables are added. However, our focus is still on SOUNDS-hearing, chanting, and singing.

At this time, children may start recognizing the patterns they have heard since birth in context. Hey–the start of “Mouse Mousie” sounds like our “sol-mi-do” pattern! A short rhythm tapped on a drum or played on an instrument is identified as “du-de du-de!” At this time, we are ready to add written notation–the element of SIGHT.

The four year olds in our Music Makers at Home class practice identifying both duple and triple rhythms they hear using pattern cards. For homework, they draw patterns and practicing singing them to share with their friends in class. As a simple melody is introduced on the glockenspiel, we look in our music to find the patterns we practiced reading on our cards. Upon progression into our Music Makers Around the World class for five year olds, the patterns become more complex, turning into full melodies as our musical knowledge grows.

By age six, our Music at the Piano students have hopefully developed a basic “musical vocabulary.” Using what is familiar, they begin to be able to make inferences and approach new, unfamiliar songs. We continue to look for familiar patterns, listening and reading with our now developed ear to make sure the notation we see matches the sounds that we hear. Writing assignments help reinforce the aural patterning the children have been exposed to since they were babies, and the most exciting assignments are when we get to be our own composers! Our proudest day as teachers is when we can distribute a brand new piece of music, and the students are able to read and play the song independently. This is when we know we have achieved our goal–that each child that comes through our program departs as a musically literate young musician.

Karen Flanary
Administrative Director and Instructor
South Florida Music

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