Friday, December 5, 2008

Music Learning in Childhood: Early Developments of a Musical Brain and Body

Music Learning in Childhood: Early Developments of a Musical Brain and Body
by Flohr, John W. and Colwyn Trevarthen
"Neurosciences in Music Pedagogy," pages 53-99 (W. Gruhn and F. Rauscher, 2008)

With the latest scientific discoveries in infants' brain and body developments in view, the different approaches of pedagogy methods in early childhood music education are compared in this article. Comparable to language, music stimulates the perceptual, motor, kinesthetic, and emotional development in infants' body and brain and also serves as a tool of communication with other people in the surrounding environment. In foetus, infants experience the first contact with environment through sound and movement: listening to mother's heartbeat and voice and being carried around in her womb. Through interaction with caretakers after birth, infants continue to enlarge their repertoire of perceptual, motor, and emotional reponses and develop corresponding areas in ceberal cortex, cerebellum, and limbic system of the brain. Through participation in games of singing and dancing, infants exercise their auditory, vocal, and motor systems by observation and imitation. Also, they experience pleasure and fulfillment in being socially engaged in interacting with other members of the community. The authors also review literatures in which movement, music, and emotion are believed to be developing as an overlapping whole in growing human beings. Pedagogue such as Emile Jacques-Dalcroze advocates the teaching of music in connection with movement and emotion, all three of which have to be physically experienced, first, before they could be internalized. An overview of chronological stages of infants' brain and body development is provided and aims to highlight optimal learning ages and activities on this timeline. This article concludes with citations from principles for early childhood practice by National Association for the Education of Young Children in the States, as well as a table of 13 different musical education preschool approaches and their characteristics. Providing educators with knowledge of the natural learning sequences of human beings, the authors would like to bring educators' awareness to examine the nature of their pedagogic methods (teacher-centered vs child-centered) and explore optimal learning conditions and stimuli for teaching music to children.

Review & Reflection
This article is enlightening not only in music pedagogy for children, but also for adult musicians who dedicate themselves to a lifetime of musical development and growth. Knowing how children naturally develop and learn music helps us to understand our own behaviours and learning path. Experience and tradition in pedagogy gives educators the "what" and scientic discoveries gives the "why." When the content and explanation come together, we are best able to absorb, internalize, apply, and transmit knowledge. Naturally, this article is full of very good information and leans on the overloaded side. It takes several readings to clarify the overall goals of the authors' intention and to keep them in mind while ploughing through pages and pages of information.What puzzles me is the page on why only human brains are musical (pp. 81-82). The authors explain why human brains are musical, but there are no support for why other animal brains are not.The parallel between learning language and music is also interesting - it resonates with Edwin Gordon's music learning theory, which I will be using in my future blog entries.

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