There is one odd paradox present in our world: while we are highly technically advanced, most of us are basically illiterate. There is an international language that is not taught in public schools, and the lack of which leads to ignorance and a loss of spirituality. This is the language of music. Imagine our planet governed by technically equipped but spiritually undeveloped people. I get scared even thinking of living in this world, don't you?
I have been talking to music teachers in public schools, music performers, representatives of various education departments and even politicians. I tell them that people need music in its higher form, especially since mass media aggressively advertises destitute pop culture. The intellectual and spiritual stagnation and degradation are obvious.
I get various responses. Most of the time they say that
It has taken me a long time to make myself heard. For more than twenty-five years, I have been trying to make people understand the importance of serious public music education, and the problems we have with our contemporary music education.
Being gravely ill, experiencing the loss of his beloved, and thinking about suicide, Beethoven found his solace in music. That was when he created his Moonlight Sonata and Symphony No. 3. His pain was transformed into beautiful music when it could have become a force of destruction. What would you prefer to see in the hands of a suffering person: a weapon or a musical instrument? Music is the language of the soul. When not exposed to music, our souls become tongue-tied and destitute.
Moreover, the soul cannot be cultivated on the materials of contemporary pop culture. The aptitude of pop music is seriously restricted by the necessary rhythm patterns and the predictability of fashionable melodies. Our youth is chewing the gum, the main ingredient of which consists of the one-day pop singers and performers who "create music" by combining a couple of catchy melodic phrases with synthesizer variations. Everyone knows that we need to eat healthy food in order to keep our bodies young and healthy. Similarly, we desperately need good music if we wish to keep our souls healthy and young.
It is NOT true that the language of music can only be learned by a few musically gifted people. This concept originated from the inefficiency of public music education, and its inability to teach everyone. There are NO people that are not musically gifted, and there is no excuse that after several years of music study, most of the students can hardly read any music, and can play only few short music pieces by heart.
If you are told that your children are taught music at their school, in most cases THAT IS NOT TRUE. They are told ABOUT the music. They are told illusory tales about music and composers, and even allowed to blow recorders. The best your children can take home from such lessons will be a superficial familiarity with the concept of a couple of octaves, plus a complete inability to play even the most basic songs that require the use of both keys. With some luck, they might remember the names of a few famous composers, and listen to one or two classical masterpieces. This will become their perception of the world's musical treasures.
It is NOT true that children can begin learning music notes only after they reach the school age. It is a huge miscalculation built into the majority of common methods meant to rely on abstract thinking and memorization, the skill above and beyond the ability of many elementary school age children, let alone preschoolers.
It is NOT true that bringing efficient music education to public schools will require enormous financial investments. The only thing we need to do is to open our eyes and acknowledge the presence of the problem, and the urgent need to solve it as soon as possible. It is a huge miscalculation of our society to have created such an inefficient and largely deficient musical education system. It is not fair that serious music education is available only to children from prosperous families. The world is filled with music, and it is a cruel discrimination that children from the less well-to-do families do not have the chance to learn to understand music.
I came to the United States when I was thirty-three years old. At that time my daughter was six years old. I will never be able to get rid of my Russian accent while my daughter does not have it at all. It is interesting to know that the two centers of the brain responsible for speech and musical development are located near each other. The development of those two centers continues until the child is thirteen years old. Does this mean that we have ONLY 13 years to bring up an intellectually adequate child? No! This means that we have 13 years when the child naturally easy absorbs information, and quickly develops new skills to form a strong lifelong intellectual basis for language and music.
We get introduced to the wonderful world of music from the very first days of our lives. The infant is surrounded by the sounds of music. What music? This is an important question. I agree with most of the scientists - classical music, especially the pieces by Mozart, is the best basis for building your child's musical environment. Is this enough? Well, many people enthusiastically buy tapes and CDs named "The effect of Mozart" and then simply wait for the results of such "music education", feeling they have done their duty. It is almost like waiting till your child learns to read by having him or her listen to audio books continuously. This will never happen. You have to teach music to your child.
A child perceives the world through their senses at first. He thinks in colors and shapes. He loves pictures and loves to try everything with his own hands. He learns how to hold a spoon, to talk, and to tie shoelaces by doing it. He responds to our intonation first, before he starts to understand the meaning of our words. For example, the parent calls the baby's name using two tones. By the tones of the voice, the baby responds and understands the parent's call or what is being communicated. This is why the music language is the most important tool of small children's brain development. The melody of speech and the melody of song are the strongest influence on the child's brain from birth. More than 2300 years ago the ancient philosopher Plato once said: "Music is a more potent instrument than any other for education, and children should be taught music before anything else".
The human's brain is divided into 2 hemispheres: the left and the right. They are connected by a bridge called the corpus callosum. As you know, the RIGHT HEMISPHERE is in control of the LEFT part of the human's body, and the LEFT HEMISPHERE is in control of the RIGHT. The corpus callosum provides communication for the hemispheres. What you perhaps don't know is that each part of your brain has different functions and even different histories! Recently, it has been discovered that the LEFT HEMISPHERE is the base for logical and abstract thinking and that the RIGHT one is responsible for creative thinking, imagery and music. A long time ago, our RIGHT HEMISPHERE used to be more developed and we, like babies, perceived the world through its colors, images, melodies of voices, and emotions. Later on, our ability to collect information, sort it and be able to jump to abstract conclusions became a priority of the LEFT HEMISPHERE. Since then, both parts of our brain have been trying to find a harmonious balance and communicate like two big cities connected by a bridge (corpus callosum).
Many think that we have to introduce our children to the music basics much later, when a child is capable of abstract thinking and memorization. It happens most of the time because the majority of the music teaching systems in the world are based on abstract memorization and applies mostly to the LEFT HEMISPHERE. Such systems cause a great loss of valuable time for the child's brain development, not just music language development.
The language of Music differs from other languages by the fact that it applies to the oldest human senses and to the RIGHT HEMISPHERE because melody and emotions are the base of it. This is why children are open to learning the music language long before they fully develop abstract thinking. Music grammar, the actual reading of music notes, may be and has to be studied before any other language grammar. By building and mastering the skills of learning Music as a language, a child, little by little, is getting involved in the process of abstract thinking and memorization. By doing this both parts of his brain are becoming well balanced. This is why I consider Music language as the most important component of human development in the 21st century.
The learning of music language actively involves both parts of a child's brain, and builds up many connections between the neuron cells. There have been many publications about the influence of music lessons and piano on the brains of young children. The M. I. N. D. Institute in California is providing detailed research on this subject matter. Doctor Gordon Shaw, a leader of the project, recently published a book, Keeping Mozart in Mind , where he described exactly how piano lessons and music in general increase the ability to perform types of reasoning required for excellence in science and math, and why it is happening. At the beginning of the study, all the students scored at the national norm. At the end of six months, those who received piano lessons scored an average of 34 percent higher on the tests of spatial-temporal ability, while the other three groups (computer, choir and control group) showed no improvement on any of the tests.
Our intellectual accomplishments are literally in our ... hands!
We all love our kids. We want them to be happier than we have ever been. We want them to be healthier and stronger than we ever were. We want them to take more vitamins, and we also want them to be well built. When our kids are small, we mostly worry about their physical development, thinking that we have little to do with their intellectuality before they actually go to school. What we have to know, though, is that the physical development of children and their intellectual development are connected. I will try to explain why that is.
We may judge our small children's mental health by their physical appearance. If the child's reactions are fast and adequate, if there are no problems with coordination, if the child's movements are very flexible and precise, we may assume that the hemispheres of child's brain are well balanced and that "both cities" have great communication. Does that mean that a child like this is destined to be the best student in school? No, it doesn't! Everything is not as direct and simple as it seems to be from the first glance. Why? Because along with general motor skills, every human has fine motor skills.
Fine motor skills are vitally important for the intellectual development of any child. A link between the human hands and brain has been spontaneously discovered through centuries of observations! If one compares the skeletons of pre-historical humans and homo sapiens, the difference is not in the size of skull, but is the bone structure of the human hands. Homo sapiens have more developed and independent fingers. All pediatricians strongly recommend to young parents that they pay attention to the fine coordination of their children. This is done by giving them small objects, asking them to pick up small balls from the floor, and working with Play-Doh/clay. When you play with the tiny fingers of your babies, take a look at their reaction. Most of them just freeze with pleasure, amusement and great attention. They carefully watch what is going on and just love it!
As a piano teacher and a music innovator, I have spent countless hours working with small children. I have come to a conclusion that by the age of 24 months, any human is capable of controlling each finger of the right and left hands and coordinating both hands. My students ages 2-3 were able to play the First Hannon Exercise, Chromatic Scale and C-Major, as well as nursery songs. They simply loved it like learning to ride a bike or to start skating. I was stunned to see the enthusiasm of children to do such advanced tasks that are usually considered boring. They were very attentive and interested! Small babies with unfocused eyes suddenly were transforming into very intelligent human beings after 10-15 minutes of working with their hands. After several lessons of music finger exercises, their ability to keep focused and proceed with more and more advanced tasks grew like a snowball. I had several two year old students who worked as hard as 6-7 year old schoolers for 30-45 minutes. All of them were NOT musical prodigies. They were just average toddlers. The difference between them and regular kids has been so obvious that I can't stop talking about it everywhere!
Music perception is as natural to humans as speech, and has even deeper roots in our subconsciousness because it is closer to our senses and feelings. Music is our inner bridge between feelings and thoughts. Unfortunately, the usual teaching approaches converted the music to a highly artificial and complicated science, and music learning into the memorization of a multitude of abstract incomprehensible rules, and a long dull drill. It is as if you try to teach a child to read by explaining all grammar rules first. Such teaching methods are very crude and ineffective for children, and created a myth that serious music education is only for a few selected.
To teach music to children mostly means to develop their natural music abilities, and tie them together. It can be easily proven that any average child beginning at age two is capable of:
I have to emphasize the fact that any average toddler with the right teaching approach is capable of doing the above written tasks without any stress or force. In my class I have several students of this age group accomplishing such tasks.
Every child deserves to be taught music as a language. What is this supposed to mean? If we teach children to march, to sing songs, and tell them about composers, does it mean they are learning the language of music? No! It means we are teaching children about the language of music.
By saying "Music Learning" I would like to consider the ability of any child to perceive music sounds on the comprehensive level, to visually recognize and differentiate the music notes on the Grand Staff, to sing the music notes and play them with their hands on a music instrument.
All the attempts to learn the music language as it is, without learning music grammar, limits children's full music development. Linking the sounds of music to abstract images, and tying them into the system provides a pathway from spontaneous music perception to the capacities of abstract conclusions. For example, a person with writing and reading skills is unlimited in the further development of their human speech.
From their early days, infants learn by accumulating and mastering skills. They do not learn to speak by simply memorizing the rules of grammar, syntax, and punctuation. Nobody ever analyzes the logical sequence of movements needed to tie shoelaces. In order to learn how to hold a spoon, the infant is never provided with the graphics of trajectory of the movement of the spoon with applesauce towards the mouth. Children learn to walk, speak, hold the spoon and tie their shoelaces by simply DOING all those things. Learning to understand the language of music is a skill similar to all of the above-mentioned ones. To accept this idea, you only need to agree to the fact that music is not an elite prerogative, but rather a language that can be easily learned and understood in all its beauty.
Every professional musician who has had his or her share of the intricacies of music grammar knows that we always employ our eyesight, hand, and throat muscles for reading the music notes. Also, everyone knows that our hearing plays an important part in this process. However, a musician never pauses on each note of the music piece in order to compare the image of the note Ti with the one stored in his or her mind. We analyze whole groups of the notes at the same time, and this process happens momentarily. The contemporary method of learning music notes by constructing unnecessary logical chains like "this note is placed on this line" or "Every Good Boy Does Fine" makes me think of a Russian person trying to learn the English language by learning Japanese first. Imagine the depth of absurdity that this method might entail!
Nonetheless, most music teachers use this very system to teach music to our children. Millions of kids throughout the world spend their time trying to abstractly memorize the placement of each note on the music staff. Well, let me tell you this: it is possible that the love for music that many kids experience from an early age might be viciously killed by our contemporary music lessons. Hours of abstract memorization make the learning process totally inefficient for preschoolers, and seriously deficient for children of school age. And then, millions of adults shrug their shoulders, feeling overwhelmed by guilt for not having enough patience to learn the notes by rote. Unfortunately, no one tells them that it is not their fault, but rather the failure of their music educators who tried to teach them using obsolete methods, just like the dentists of the 16th century tried to treat their patients' teeth using a chisel. Music teachers alone are responsible for global musical illiteracy!
Anyone who does not have the basic knowledge of music grammar opens sheet music and sees only the black and white symbols which seem practically indecipherable. Every musician immediately deciphers these symbols and is able to hear the music they comprise. How does this happen?
Up until now, music teachers have been ignoring the fact that the musical symbols are first of all the graphic representation of the SOUNDS. In order to be able to recognize and read the notes, our eyesight needs to be TRAINED to differentiate these graphic symbols. This is a skill that we CANNOT acquire by abstract memorization of the placement of music notes.
Sounds have names. In the United States, they are called by the letters of the alphabet: A, B, C, D, E, F, G. This is a good example of the inadequacy of the contemporary teaching method. Day by day thousands of music teachers harm our children by presenting them with the names of the sounds that completely break off the connection between our perception of music and the sounds themselves. Such teachers bring up generations of musically half-literate people, some of which can only read the notes while others are only capable of playing music by ear.
This happens because music teachers do not know or do not want to know a few basic facts:
Will you keep quiet if you find out that the consumption of some globally used product is dangerous to people and potentially cripples them? That is why I can no longer keep silent seeing thousands of children being injured every day by the alphabetical music teaching system used by irresponsible educators.
The first musical instrument is our body. The first musical phrase emanated from the human throat. These two facts were well-known to the Italian musicians who created the Solfeggio musical system in the 11th century. Let me tell you about it.
How were the notes born? Why should we always remember about it?
It happened in a small Italian town called Arezzo, where there once lived a monk named Guido. Guido did not like the alphabetical names of the music notes. Indeed, nobody would like the fact that different sounds are written as one line and the duration of the sounds cannot be easily determined.
Guido was a genius. His idea was simple but straightforward: he invented lines. First, there were only four of them and they were colored differently for better recognition. At the time Guido was a conductor of a small church choir. Since the range of the human voice is rather moderate, Guido did well with the four line music staff. Nowadays we use at least ten lines, so that we can better represent the piano range or even hundreds of lines for orchestra notes. The human voice did not need that many lines, and Guido started with four. His next thought was about the names of the notes. He found help in a prayer.
The biggest problem of the monastery choir was the hoarseness of the monks' voices. While singing at weddings and funerals, the monks highly cherished the clarity of the voice and tried to sing both the Gregorian chants and the madrigals in honor of the Virgin Mary as clearly as possible. That is the reason for the enormous popularity of a prayer to St John in which the monks asked St John to get rid of the hoarseness of the voice. The prayer was sung in Latin. Each of its phrases would start with the next higher note, like this - Ut, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La. Guido based his note name system on these syllables, thus attributing to each note a name better suited for the human voice. ALMOST better suited. "Ut sounded too coarse for the musically sophisticated Italians and was soon transformed to a more convenient "Do". Where did the Si come from? (Si is called Ti in the United States for the sake of clarity, so that C and Si would not get confused.) Si is an abbreviation of the name Saint Ioannus, the prayer to whom has turned to be the basis for the Solfeggio music system.
This new system, invented by Guido in the 11th century, grew extremely popular in Europe and America. Gradually, people have forgotten the name of the inventor. However, the saddest thing is that we seem to have also forgotten the importance of the audio-vocal perception of music. While the meticulous Italians hurried to switch the inconvenient UT with a more musical DO, our modern music teachers, being the holders of Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Music, do not hesitate to use the impossible for vocalization syllables of C, D, E, F (!), G (!), A, B. Not only do they not think that they harm children, they also claim that the alphabetical system is ESSENTIAL in learning music, since children cannot learn music notes until they learn to read.
Many ancient philosophical texts advocate for the importance of starting the child's education with music. These texts tell us about the role that music plays in the formation of the child's mentality, soul, and even the body itself. In contrast, modern musical pedagogy lets us teach music to children only after they learn the letters - letters which are NOT connected to music! And this method has been practiced for several centuries! How striking is the ignorance of generations! How can we even talk about the progress of the musical development of the humankind when professional musicians are consciously annihilating all sprouts of understanding the language of music?
I want you to know that teaching your children music using the alphabetical method is BAD for your children's musical development. I want you to let your music teacher know this. Do not hesitate to make the music professionals broaden their horizons in music education methodology. It is better than closing your child's gateway into the wonderful world of music.
We always start learning a new language by studying the alphabet first. Many of us know that the language of music also has its alphabet that consists of the seven notes - Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La and Ti or C, D, E, F, G, A, B. However, knowing these names does not bring you closer to learning the notes!
People make a crucial mistake trying to liken the music language to the other tongues! In order to learn to read the notes we need to spatially orient ourselves in the musical alphabet. What does this mean? This means that memorizing the alphabet from left to right is not enough because it is absolutely necessary to learn it backwards as well. One needs to train the skill to quickly pronounce it starting from any note. Only then you will be able to read the notes efficiently!
Have you ever tried to pronounce the note alphabet backwards? Do-Ti-La-Sol-Fa-Mi-Re-Do? C-B-A-G-F-E-D-C? This is not easy, is it? Moreover, the sounds of music always change direction of their movements. That is why we need to concentrate on building up the skill of the "inner" vision of the note alphabet.
Our company, DoReMiFa Soft, has developed an interactive software program that helps users work on this important skill. While learning music with our software, you will have an opportunity to construct a wide variety of alphabetical sequences in unpredictable combinations, thus mastering the skills necessary for reading music pieces.
There are 27 letters in the English alphabet. In the note alphabet, there are only seven notes. How are people unable to remember the notes, while all of them know the letters?
There are many possible ways to introduce children to the alphabet. Take any book of ABCs - and you will see that the letters are presented not as ordinary black-and-white symbols but rather in the form of images which are suited especially for the kids' perception. First, a graphic symbol of a letter portrayed as a familiar image becomes associated with its phonetic representation. Then, a child gradually acquires a skill of forming the syllables - the skill that constitutes a solid base for the development of the ability to read words and sentences. Similarly, there are many methods aimed to teach children the note alphabet. However, the quantity of musically illiterate people proves the absolute inefficiency of these attempts. Even grown-ups experience difficulty recognizing the black-and-white symbols of the music notes on a five-line music staff, let alone preschoolers. Therefore, it is necessary to TRANSFORM the music note symbols into the images that will be better perceived by young children. We cannot count on the successful learning of music grammar without this adaptation.
Let us begin with a simple exercise. Take a look at the notes placed directly on the lines and those in between the lines. If located close to each other on the music staff, such two notes are almost impossible to differentiate for a novice. For a musician, this task is a simple routine. Nonetheless, modern music teachers never start the child's music education by training him or her to quickly recognize the note positions, although the importance of this skill is undeniable.
My program is developed in such a way that young children of two years old start by learning to distinguish the notes. Thus, by the time they turn three, they have already mastered this skill. How do they accomplish this? In Soft Mozart, we present the note symbols as girl-notes and boy-notes. Girl-notes are colored in red, and boy-notes are colored in blue. Why girls and boys? Simple! Children perceive the world as a myriad of images. Two- and three-year olds already know that the world consists of boys and girls.
Our software helps children start developing their eyesight and hearing from two years of age which assures the uncomplicated transition to reading the music notes. Soft Mozart teaches children not only to differentiate the notes according to their positions on the music staff, but also to read the notes in accords and melodies in their correct sequence.
Now, let us take a look at the five-line music staff. Can you imagine how hard it is for a child to understand that all notes are equal even though they are located on different lines and between the lines? This is much too abstract an idea for the preschoolers to accept.
Our first notion was to widen the black lines and make them look even with the spaces in between. That is how we came up with the game called "Boys and Girls": girls live on the black streets, boys live on the white streets. This game helps children focus their attention on the equality of lines and the spaces in between the lines. Later on, we colored the lines in green and brown. I will tell you more about this in the next chapter.
Every beginner has a hard time trying to distinguish the lines of the music staff. I remember my own childhood: it seemed impossible to differentiate Sol from Ti and Ti from Re only because Sol was located on the second line, while Ti was on the third, and Re - on the fourth line. However, children can easily master this skill if they are correctly taught. Unfortunately, up until now, music teachers have undermined the significance of such visual exercises.
I have often questioned myself why music pedagogues have never thought of transforming the note symbols into images suitable for children's perception. I believe the answer to that is that music education has long been considered an elite prerogative. Therefore, beginners had to adapt to the "correct" understanding of the note alphabet, while it would have been much easier to modify the symbols of the notes in accordance with the rules of human physiology. Sadly, the existing inadequacy of music education techniques has resulted in the overabundance of musically illiterate people.
The piano is considered to be the "king" of all instruments. I truly consider piano as the most important instrument of intellectual training for young children. Why?
It is a blunder of the majority of the world's musicians to indifferently contemplate and accept the fact that one musically illiterate generation follows another while doing nothing about it. Being snobbish towards elementary music education, restricting the serious music education to the elite club of a selected few, they fail to create a wide audience to appreciate their work. The public knowledge or ability in any area may be imagined in the form of a pyramid. The base of the pyramid is the number of people involved in the activity, and at the top of the pyramid are the prodigies, who achieved the most. When we teach everybody to read and write, we give the most talented people a chance to become writers, and the rest of the people the ability to enjoy and appreciate their art. Nowadays, the "pyramid" of music education has a very weak base, and serious music just gets no cultural nor financial support from the wide public.
I wish one day to see parents hurrying, not only to a baseball tournament or a football game, but also to a public piano contest or a music festival. I am dreaming about a time when people will gather together to celebrate not only physical, but intellectual talent. I am looking forward to the time when playing music and performing favorite songs will become a common family activity. It is hard to over estimate the changes that might begin in such a society. Music has the ability to develop the intellectuality of people, as well as their spirituality, along with compassion and warmness towards each other. Above all else, music is a language of our souls. This is why I have a dream to see new generations of people with more advanced spiritual levels.
It is very sad, but we have to admit that we live in a musically illiterate world. Maybe my dream seems unreal because of this. However, it is not as hard as it was ten years ago to give people the fundamentals of music education, that is, the ability to play with both hands and read music notes. Computer graphics and interactive computer software is the ideal tool of fighting music illiteracy.
If you have ever observed your kids playing video games you might have noticed that they may stay focused for a long time doing the same tasks. For example, in "Mario 64", the hero "dies" endless times doing certain tricks and the players start the game from the beginning over and over again until they master this particular trick. This feature of video games could be very helpful while building the skills of students, studying any subject, language and especially music. Within our program "Soft Mozart", the instructional aspects of video games are heavily used. Our games help children to master very important modes to play piano or to read the music score an endless amount of times. By gaining "points" and having fun while playing colorful games, our children don't realize that they are learning something others might find boring. All that we did was turn computer and piano keyboards into a video game's remote control.
Our program develops the visual reaction of people to music notes. It also develops the music ear and memory, dramatically improving the fine mobility skills of children from 2-3 years old and older. On top of that, it develops very advanced skills to play piano with both hands and to read music on the Grand Staff the way we read books.
We are teaching music as an independent international language by applying to the RIGHT HEMISPHERE of the human brain, which is responsible for music, emotions and images. Original exercises are disguised in fun games developing skills required for proficient music score reading and piano playing.
The method succeeds in attracting any student, and providing him/her with extensive music practice which is the key for fast progress. No player ever feels defeated by playing our games. We are using the most sophisticated math formulas that provide a very sensitive response to what the player does and may bring the player from the very bottom of the game to the very top. It all depends on how advanced the player is. It is hard to believe, but our games are designed for very small children and advanced students of any age at the same time.
Our program is unique because we have provided a straight link between the horizontality of piano keys and verticality of the music notes. Gradually with the help of clever transformations, every player will understand the music language as a strong and powerful, logical system. The transformation is helping to develop the spacial imagination of beginners.
I believe we have created a powerful program that is capable of stimulating and developing the brains of young children, fighting music illiteracy, and providing a remarkable tool for the development of human hands. If considered as a straight link between human hands and the human brain, we are absolutely confident that if the program is placed in educational institutions (public and private schools, daycare centers, households, home schools, etc.), it would lead to an astounding intellectual increase in our future generations. Smarter individuals - can we refuse such to our world?