NCKP 2013 (17) – Building Firm Foundations for Music Literacy by Janna Olson

Sat 2013 July 27 @ 2:15pm – Building Firm Foundations for Music Literacy by Janna Olson.

Edwin Gordon is a music education researcher who began what is known as the Music Learning Theory (MLT). MLT help students gain audiation. It uses a brain friendly learning sequence.

Ms. Olson shared how MLT has changed her life. MLT helps give students an excellent music education, not just skills in piano playing.

The philosophy:

(1) The process is more important than the performance. Audiation is the focus.
(2) Student motivation (immediate, not long term) and musical independence are the primary focuses.
(3) Everyone has musical aptitude. Aptitude is about potential. When you think about the things required to be a good pianist, they are largely non-musical. Concentration, focus, ability to memorize, grit, work ethic, discipline, etc.

Music aptitude is often hidden. Remember, there is no such thing as zero aptitude. When it comes to speech or reading, we bring them to a specialist to help the student learn. Similarly, audiation can be nurtured in everyone.

Music aptitude is highest at birth. The early childhood years are crucial.

Ms. Olson asked us to sing “Are You Sleeping?” in our heads and then repeat it is minor, and then again to triple meter. This is audiating.

Audition is the foundation for music literacy. Audition is about hearing music with understanding – not just copying. Audition helps music become the student’s own property. Best of all, audition can be taught!

We learn music similar to languages. In early life, we listen and hear the language. We slowly begin to speak, and then later learn to read and write.

First, music learning should involve listen, echoing, thinking, speaking, reading, and writing,

Music is actually made up of a surprisingly small number of different patterns. Notes are like letters – they only take on meaning when they are in context in patterns.

How can we apply this in the piano lesson?

Everything is a matter of proper sequence. So, we must begin with listening. We can begin with context. C-D-E is very different in C major than in D Dorian.

Another example is with rhythm. There are layers: pulse, meter, and rhythm. Macrobeats, microbeats, and the melodic rhythm.

The context of tonality is the resting tone, aka the tonic center. Tonality can be major or minor or other. Dr. Gordon uses solfege – moveable do with a la-based minor.

Students are taught to identify these elements of context as they are listening to music. This builds the foundation and then students can focus on content next.

Ms. Olson then demonstrated how she could teach a simple piece by Gurlitt using these MLT ideas. She would begin by preparing students with the rhythm first so that by the time the student plays the piece on the piano, they are already comfortable with the rhythm at the final tempo.

Audition can be developed through moving, chanting rhythms, singing, and playing. Things should be aurally based. Improvising and creating is important.

Ms. Olson stated that it was very challenging to for her 10 years ago to begin incorporating the ideas of Dr. Gordon in teaching, but she has seen such an increase in the music comprehensive in their students and increased motivation which results in increased skill and progress. Thanks to the work of Marilyn Lowe, incorporating MLT ideas in the piano lesson is becoming easier. (Check out Marilyn’s method, Music Moves For Piano.)

Edwin Gordon quote: “…the artistic culture of a society is not necessarily determined by the number of virtuosos in their midst but rather by the percentage of the population who participate in the making of music…”

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