Educational CyberPlayGround

With a Simple Tune, Students Improve In School

Submit your song

QUOTE 2006
You no longer hear kids say: "I know that song"
Now all you hear kids say is: "I've got that song"

Capture Culture
Phone in your song to the National Children's Folksong Repository.
By Kathryn Masterson

WORCESTER - It's almost impossible to walk out of Joan Munro's classroom without humming the catchy chorus that has lodged itself in your brain:


the only mammals that can take to flight,


nocturnal creatures that come out at night.

That's exactly Munro's goal.

"Music helps lift reading off the paper - the words come alive to the kids," Munro

A reading specialist at Worcester Elementary School in the Methacton School District, Munro said she has found that using music to teach reading has helped her students unlock the mysteries of words, sentences and paragraphs.

Her research joins a growing body of work that in recent years has linked music to math scores, reasoning skills, brain development and intelligence.

Last year, Munro conducted a research project with third graders behind in their reading levels. Teaching reading through songs improved the students' accuracy, phrasing and fluency in reading, she said. The same way a song sticks in the memory long after facts have faded, the words connected to melodies stayed with the young readers, Munro said. "It's almost an anchor to hold on to - students are just not thrown into an ocean of words," she said. One lost boy in the research group came to the project with stilted, monotone reading. Then, he didn't like reading. Now, he volunteers to read out loud, and does so with expression and phrasing. And he has joined the chorus. The language and fine arts instructors - including reading, speech, music and art - began collaborating about five years ago, music teacher Kathryn Ballein said. Ballein and Munro had been attending workshops in their respective teaching areas that presented research linking music with reading and other learning skills. They began sharing their teaching materials, and soon noticed positive results, Ballein said. The collaboration reinforced what Munro earlier suspected: that rhythm could help young students struggling to read, she said. Years before, when she taught in Norristown, she worked with a young girl who could barely read from a book, Munro said. But when the girl rapped, clapped or snapped, her reading improved greatly. "I thought, 'Bingo! There's something to this,' " Munro said. While the rhythm, phrasing and dynamics of music are helping children read better, the reading skills also may possibly improve musical learning - especially reading music - at the same time, Ballein said. The Worcester teachers now are sharing their experiences with other educators. Munro has presented her research and their findings at local and state conferences. She hopes to create a ripple effect by sharing with other teachers the benefits of music, which she calls the universal language that grabs children's attention and keeps it. On the morning she taught the bat song, she had the rapt attention of 18 kindergartners who sat on the brightly colored alphabet rug and sang along with a tape while following in their books. After singing challenging words such as nocturnal and mammal, they got out their writing journals and each wrote a sentence about a bat and drew a picture. Back on the rug, they shared the stories. "Five years ago, I would not have thought this reading-writing connection was possible," Munro said. "I'm convinced music was the influence."

"Kids don't go around singing nursery rhymes, They are into popular music. First- and second-graders, they listen to the radio."

Also see: NYT Songs in the Key of Lit -Ways to use Music to study Literature



Darren Wicks
Victorian Branc President
Kodaly Music Education Institute of Australia

There is an old African proverb that says 'if you can speak, you can sing. If you have feet you can dance.' Such a proverb illustrates the very natural role that singing has in African culture and its place as a necessary part of life. In modern Western culture today things are largely different. Many misconceptions exist about singing and the nature of singing. Singers are often celebrities whose gift is prized as a mystical and God-given talent. Those who do not consider themselves to be singers often approach singing with fear, inhibition or a great deal of inferiority. Moreover, these may be people who, in other senses, demonstrate a good deal of musicality.

Who can sing?

Any person with a normal speaking voice and an undamaged vocal and auditory mechanism can learn to sing. In fact Christy (1979:2) points out that the vocal mechanism and its action needed for both singing and speaking are the same. Singing is merely an extension of the voice. Even infants, who can barely utter a word, have been found to sing familiar tunes and intervals. "Every child, without instruction, does everything required to sing; he breathes, utters sound, and articulates words. The objectives should be to learn to refine the way in which to do those things" (Bertaux, 1989: 96).
To say that anyone can sing is not the same as saying that everyone is equally gifted at singing. Of course there will always be individuals who sing better than others do. The reasons for this can be many and varied. Yet this does not preclude the simple fact that every person is capable of singing and, through instruction, improving the way they sing.

Who should sing?

The Hungarian composer, Zoltan Kodály was adamant that singing should be a part of the educational experience of all children. He theorised that since the human voice is the most natural instrument, it should be used extensively in music education. "It is a long accepted truth that singing provides the best start to music education." (Zoltan Kodály in preface to Szonyi: 1974: 5, 7).
Anyone who is involved in any form of music instruction should be given opportunity to sing. As Bertaux points out, "Well tuned singing is important not only to the satisfaction of aesthetic ends, but to the development of music understanding as well. Research supports the conclusion that the musical ear develops best when singing is an integral part of both vocal and instrumental music instruction" (1989: 92).
Throughout history great musicians have known the importance of singing in music education. Musical knowledge acquired through singing is internalised in a way that musical knowledge acquired on a musical instrument (an external addition) can never be. "Singing frees students from the mechanical demands of their instruments, making it easier to focus attention on the shape of a phrase - how the beginning, middle and end combine to form an expressive whole." (Dalby, 1999: 22). Thus instrumentalists of all levels of experience can benefit from singing as a regular part of practice.
It is not possible to sing a group of tones derived from a specific intervallic combination without understanding the structural origin of the pitch sequence. Development of music reading skills through vocal participation ensures the pupil's actual involvement with the music
(Bobbit, 1970: 154).

Why sing? - Audiation

Audiation is to music what thought is to language (Gordon, 1999: 42).
Audiation is a term coined by the noted educator Edwin Gordon and refers to the ability to imagine sound or hear music in the mind with understanding. It takes place when we hear and comprehend music for which the sound is no longer or may never have been present. One may audiate when listening to music, performing from notation, playing "by ear," improvising, composing, or notating music. Through development of audiation, students learn to understand music. Understanding is the foundation of music appreciation, the ultimate goal of music teaching.
When we listen to someone speak we must retain in memory their vocal sounds long enough to recognize and give meaning to the words the sounds represent. Likewise, when listening to music, we are at any given moment organizing in audiation sounds that were recently heard. We also predict, based on our familiarity with the tonal and rhythmic conventions of the music being heard, what will come next.

Singing plays a crucial role in formation audiation skills. The famous singer, Pete Seeger put it well when he said, "Music teachers sometimes overemphasis the importance of learning to read music early. Would you teach a baby to read before it could talk? Should a teenager study dance notation before learning to dance? Musicians need in the beginning, to train their ears, their vocal chords, or their hands, and to develop the sense of music that tells them when to sing what"

Instrumentalists, as they develop their skills, should also incorporate singing as a component of regular practice and instruction . "Singing is basic to musicianship. Instrumentalists must learn to sing through their instruments in order to play musically. The goal is to play the instrument as an extension of the mind's inner audiation instrument" (Dalby, 1999: 22).


Singing is the pathway to effective pedagogy and to becoming musical. Because the voice is primarily a physical phenomenon, it provides 'direct' access to the music. Anyone can and should sing and " even the most talented artist can never overcome the disadvantages of an education without singing." (Z. Kodály).

BERTAUX, Betty (1989) "Teaching Children of all ages to use the singing voice" in Readings in Music Learning Theory Chicago, Illinois: GIA Pub.
BOBBIT, R. (1970) "The Development of Music Reading Skills" in Journal of Research in Music Education Vol 18
CHRISTY, Jan A (1979) Foundations in Singing Iowa: WMC Brown.
DALBY, Bruce (1999) "Teaching Audiation in Instrumental Classes" in Music Educators Journal, May
GORDON, Edwin (1999) "All about Audiation and Music Aptitudes" in Music Educators Journal, September ed.


In a 1994 feature in the Los Angeles Times, writer Maia Davis describes a motor-skills class at an elementary school in Ventura, California: With all eyes trained on their teacher, the group of second-graders at Ventura's Mound School tried to follow her every move as they clapped their hands, slapped their thighs, and kicked their heels to the tune of bluegrass music.
But some children were struggling: Their hands hit their left knees when they should have gone to the right. Their legs flew up into kicks at the moment that they should have hit the floor.
"It's kind of hard to get the message down to your legs as fast as the music," 7-year-old Kerianne Hewitt said.
The elementary school launched the (motor-skills) class four years ago based on RESEARCH showing that the ability to respond physically to a musical beat is closely linked to children's skills in reading, writing and concentration.
"We have noticed (the class) helps kids concentrate and hold their attention span longer". We have seen kids who have difficulty reading and writing improve because they are able to organize their thoughts better," said Principal Beverly McCaslin.
Teacher Joanne Bowie leads the motor-skills instruction every Friday for each of the school's first through fifth-grade classes. During some classes, the students clap, march, or jump rope. In others, they recite poems to music. "I try to present it in a variety of ways just to keep the interest up," Bowie said.
But the goal in all the class activities is to help children learn to keep a steady one-two beat with the music. Bowie bases her instruction mainly on workshops she has taken from Phyllis S. Weikart, a retired physical education professor from the University of Michigan. A nationally recognized expert in motor-skills development for children, Weikart maintains that children should begin to develop an innate sense of timing when they are infants.
When care-givers pat or stroke babies to the tune of a lullaby, for example, they are helping the children make a connection between what they hear and what they do, Weikart said in an interview from her Michigan home. That "hearing-feeling connection," as Weikart calls it, is what allows children to listen to something that is being said or watch something that is being done and follow the directions. What you're linking is action, thought and language,' she said. And having a sense of inner timing allows children to speak or read in whole sentences instead of just one word at a time.
But studies show the number of children with the ability to keep a steady beat has declined in recent years, from a range of 80% to 90% to about 10%, Weikart said. "I feel it's probably the most fundamental of all the problems we face in education today," she said. (Weikart) believes that the fault lies partly with adults who mistakenly believe that children respond better to the rhythm of words or syllables than to a steady beat.
Many adults today, for example, clap the hand game "Patty Cake" with children to the rhythm of the words' syllables rather than to a steady one-two beat. "What's happening today is that the children are receiving movement stimulation in rhythm rather than in beat," she said. At Mound, Bowie said she finds at the beginning of each year that only about one-third of the students can independently keep a steady beat. By the end of the year, the number climbs to two- thirds. And the children said they have become more confident about their abilities to move to music. "I was just really shy (at first)," 8-year-old Jordan Frye said. "It's just really neat to see that you can dance."

Playing music can be good for your brain Stanford study finds it helps the understanding of language Stanford University research has found for the first time that musical training improves how the brain processes the spoken word, a finding that researchers say could lead to improving the reading ability of children who have dyslexia and other reading problems.
The study, made public Wednesday, is the first to show that musical experience can help the brain improve its ability to distinguish between rapidly changing sounds that are key to understanding and using language.
The research also eventually could provide the "why" behind other studies that have found that playing a musical instrument has cognitive benefits.
"What this study shows, that's novel, is that there's a specific aspect of language ... that's changed in the minds and brains of people with musical training," said researcher John Gabrieli, a former Stanford psychology professor now at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge
John D. E. Gabrieli, Ph.D.
Grover Hermann Professor in Health Sciences and Technology and Cognitive Neuroscience
Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences
Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology Gabrieli Lab
Building: 46-4033
phone: (617) 253-8946
"Especially for children ... who aren't good at rapid auditory processing and are high-risk for becoming poor readers, they may especially benefit from musical training."
What's promising about the study, researchers believe, is the notion that the brain isn't an immutable organ fixed at birth but is adaptable -- that, with training, people can change their mental agility. The study focused on adults, but researchers want to expand the scope of their work to children as early as next summer.
One education observer cautioned against pinning too much on the research until it's proved that music actually helps children read better. No other studies have shown that music has any real impact on reading ability.
"We need to make sure we're not promising parents and kids there are these magic bullets they can rely on -- that they don't have to work at learning to read, that they can play music," said Michael Kamil, a Stanford education professor who has not yet read the study.
All the research was performed at Stanford in 2004 and was presented Wednesday at the Society for Neuroscience's annual meeting in Washington, D.C. It will be published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences in December.
The researchers used adults -- from 28 to 40 individuals, depending on the part of the study -- divided into musicians and non-musicians matched by age, sex, general language ability and intelligence. To qualify, the musicians must have started playing an instrument before age 7 and never stopped, practicing several hours every week.
Researchers first had the two groups listen to three tone sequences of different pitches in rapid succession. As the various tone sequences were played faster and faster, the musicians outperformed the non-musicians in their ability to distinguish among the tones. Functional magnetic resonance imaging scanners, or fMRIs, showed that the musicians had more focused, efficient brain activity as they did this.
The researchers then examined how musicians and non-musicians processed similar word syllables, like "da" and "ba." A person has only a 40,000th of a second to differentiate between the two sounds when the physical signal hits the ear, and the musicians made those rapid auditory distinctions more accurately and quickly than non-musicians did.
When the two sounds were clearly different, like "da" and "wa," the two groups performed similarly, the differences emerging only in the finer distinctions.
"The musicians are better able to detect small differences than the non-musicians, which is surprising," said Nadine Gaab, a postdoctoral associate who moved from Stanford to MIT with Gabrieli. "Non-musicians have the same experience with syllables as musicians."
Other research has shown that musical experience improves the ability of people to hear pitches and increases verbal memory. But until now, no one has explained why mastering a musical instrument plays a role in that, Gaab said.
Many children who become poor readers have a trouble making rapid auditory distinctions, Gabrieli said. That becomes a reading problem, because when the teacher explains that this letter is a "p" and this one a "b," a student with poor processing ability might not hear the difference.
"Once they don't hear the difference, the thought is that they're going to have a hard time" understanding the difference when the letters are written on a page, Gabreli said.
He and the other researchers would like to do a study as early as next summer involving children with auditory deficiencies who are struggling to read to see whether a summer of musical enrichment hones their language skills and helps them hear language better.
That is the kind of study that needs to be done, said Kamil, the Stanford professor who urged caution in looking at the latest study.
"Unless he's demonstrated that it makes a difference in the real world, and you have some kids there and they learn to read better, I would be reluctant to attach any real significance to it at this point," Kamil said. "I'm not saying it won't work, but we really don't know."