The Importance of Early Music Musical Training

Oliver Sacks: And you’ll find that even a few minutes of five finger exercises will make functional changes in the brain, so the brain’s response to music in physiological terms is almost immediate although obviously it would take months or whatever to have anatomical changes. But a year of Suzuki training will produce physical changes in the brain, and there have been studies looking at the brains before and after a year of training. And so whatever gifts a  person has or doesn’t have, musical training seems to be very important, the more so if it’s early.

If music can so alter the brain, at least the musical parts of the brain, when people are young, one would wonder the role of music in education, and whether this enlargement and benefit can spread to other parts of the brain, whether it will facilitate reading, memory, concentration, focus, and there’s quite a lot of evidence that this is the case, and therefore strong arguments for including music in education. But I stress this is something beyond the so-called Mozart effect. A little Mozart under the pillow, a teaspoon of Mozart, while it’s very pleasant and it may introduce people to Mozart, in itself, that’s not enough. There needs to be real engagements with music and a lot of it.

An Introduction to the Concepts of Music, by Nick Peterson

Publisher:  Cengage Learning Australia
ISBN:  9780070161078

An essential resource for any teacher (and students as well), Nick Peterson has produced a comprehensive tool for the NSW curriculum (especially Stages 5-6), explaining in succinct and relevant ways the concepts, elements or “ingredients” of music. These concepts as stated by the Board of Studies are texture, duration, pitch, tone colour, structure, dynamics and expressive techniques.

Working through each concept, the author has provided great ideas to explain what can be very confusing to students. The text is littered with superb visuals, grids, charts, diagrams and score extracts. Backed up by audio examples on CD, the written word is given meaning by the listening experience.

I have often told students that the Aural Skills paper in the Music 1 course does to some extent test literacy skills. What is difficult is putting into words what one hears. For instance, in the concept “Tone Colour”, colour is a word belonging to the visual realm. That not being confusing enough, combinations of instruments in their lower register are often described as being heavy, a term associated with weight. In their middle register, they can be said to be warm, which is a descriptor of temperature; and in their upper register, the sound is frequently described as being bright, a characteristic of light.

Not only does this text help in deciphering the vocabulary, but it will also help students in oral accounts in viva voce presentations.

Clarity is paramount in Peterson’s work and accompanied by some crazy cartoons, he achieves this and much more with a touch of wit.

The application of these concepts in the study of real music is the subject of Chapter 7, whilst the final 3 chapters outline typical HSC Aural questions, answers and clues to students in attempting this work. Finally, a useful glossary will put into sharp focus the terms once and for all.

I know this will be a well used text in my classroom this year and beyond, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Richard Gill: The young person’s guide to the orchestra … is lacking

If you are interested in reading more about the national curriculum and the music education debate, click onto Richard Gill’s article in The Sydney Morning Herald (Sept 2009):