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From the April 1993 issue of HOME SCHOOL BRIEF
(Excerpts of this article are reprinted w/ permission of the Rutherford Institute.)

INNOVATIVE TEACHING: Teaching Critical Thinking Skills With Music by Andrea Cannon

The value of music study has been recognized since ancient times. Greeks and Romans accepted it as a natural element in a well-rounded education, and the classical European culture produced some of the finest musicians the world has known. Music study aids in our ability to learn. We teach the "Alphabet Song" to our pre-schoolers and they never forget the tune. Standardized test scores among high school band, orchestra and choir students rank consistently higher than the National Average, a fact which any school music director will proudly tell you.

Music study is an excellent aid in the development of higher-level thinking skills. Music requires multiple disciplines - eye/hand coordination, breath control and simultaneous movement of several body parts. The notational system requires instantaneous calculations based on figures on a staff. Virtually every culture has its own styles of music and instruments that provide a key to their lifestyles and values. Physics and science lay the groundwork for analysis of the nature of sound and how instruments can be improved upon. Structural forms in music and literature are similar and the addition of words to a song is poetry. Many music students enter other professions as adults, but they retain their love of music and appreciation for the arts.

Private music lessons pay high dividends in helping our children to gain discipline and to learn skills which tie them in to a rich tradition. As technique improves, so does self-esteem and the value of that will last throughout their lives. Pursuing the study of musical principles can begin without an investment in instruments or lessons, however. Musical concepts are easily found in each subject area and can be used as activities, experiments or discussion topics. First, choose short pieces familiar to your children. Popular music is acceptable as a starting point, especially if they are not acquainted with more "classical" styles. Discuss the following: - Is the song fast or slow, or does the tempo vary? - What kind of mood or feeling does it create? - What distinct sections can you hear? - What instruments are used? How do they help express the mood of the piece?

Next, compare and contrast this piece with others. Choose selections that are both similar and different. Compare an "oldie" to a current hit, or a symphonic piece to a solo piano composition. Use the radio to analyze random selections and get accustomed to a variety styles. Public libraries also have many types of recorded music available.

When you study different cultures, research what their unique musical style is and what instruments help create the sounds. What makes this music different from ours? What in their background contributed to the inventions of these instruments?

Tuning forks, glasses of water, and any musical instruments available to you are good tools with which to begin experiments on how sound travels, which mediums conduct it better and much more. Some such literature is found in libraries, but once you get started, you'll soon discover new ideas of your own.

The most basic use of math in music is counting. Tap out patterns of two, three and four beats and have the children count along giving the first beat stronger emphasis. Later, vary your patterns by alternating them, and by using unusual combinations.

Our children are surrounded by electronic images and sounds from personal computers to video games to synthesizers. We can capitalize on their interest in these by challenging them to see multi-dimensional applications in their studies. In this way we give them vital tools to use as they grow..."


The following examples were excerpted from the book "GOOD VIBRATIONS: Using Music and Sound to Enhance the Curriculum" by Jim & Andrea Cannon

"FOR EXAMPLE"

SCIENCE: SOUND is made of VIBRATIONS. Hold a rubber band, pluck at it and watch it vibrate. Listen to the sound. Experiment with different sizes comparing the sound each makes. The lower sounds vibrate more slowly than higher ones. The difference in speed is called FREQUENCY. 

MATH: Musical instruments enable us to hear exactly what certain speeds sound like. An "A" note above middle C has 440 vibrations per second. The next "A" above it has 880. The next, 1,760. Do you see a PATTERN? Now calculate the next "A" three octaves above middle C. By using math, you can figure out that it is 3,520. 

SOCIAL STUDIES: Each countries' CUSTOMS, language and way of life are unique from others in the world. The many varieties of food, clothing and music help to illustrate each land's CULTURE. Why do you think the BRASS instruments were developed in Europe? Why were more types of percussion instruments developed in AFRICA than in other cultures? Why is the GUITAR so closely associated with Mexico?

LANGUAGE ARTS: One way we COMMUNICATE is by using WORDS. Music is communication which uses NOTES. If the notes move quickly, it can suggest a happy, excited feeling. To create a somber or sad mood, try using longer, lower sounds. Choose a mood or feeling and think of two words that describe it. Now, hum a beat or melody that you think helps express this mood.

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