Limelight Article: Richard Gill
Every child needs music: Richard Gill still arguing 50 years on By Richard Gill on Jan 19, 2013 filed under Classical Music | 1 Comment and 144 Reactions Music education does not just make children more musical; it unleashes their creative powers. This year marks my 50th anniversary as a music teacher. Over the course of the last 50 years I have witnessed many changes to the ways in which music is taught. Not only changes to the teaching of classroom music to infants, primary and secondary students, for example, but also significant changes to the way in which instrumental music is taught. The changes to classroom music teaching are evident in the way in which many teachers of music have embraced in part, or sometimes wholly, the educational philosophies of musicians such as Jaques Dalcroze, Carl Orff and Zoltán Kodály. It is also quite common to see teachers adapting aspects of all three of these philosophies in conjunction with their own ideas, applying to their teaching methods the things that they know work especially well with their own classes.
The advent of the Suzuki and Yamaha schools, along with dozens of other approaches to teaching instrumental music, have altered the path of teaching, providing teachers with the guidance they need and often the repertoire they need to teach.
What I have come to learn in this time is that there is no one perfect method to teach music and no single solution which suits every circumstance. I have, however, learned that singing should be the basis of all music learning, irrespective of the method chosen. Dalcroze, Orff and Kodaly, were they alive, would offer a chorus of approval for this idea.
Before children can hold instruments, even simple hand-held percussion instruments, they can, given the appropriate assistance and examples, sing and reproduce pitch in some form or another. This requires the simultaneous learning of the texts of songs, nursery rhymes, games and the like, from which they build a huge repertoire of music they can perform alone and with others.
From singing they can also learn to analyse sound, learn to discriminate ways in which pitch and rhythm are used, learn how pattern and repetition work in music and subsequently build a vocabulary of sounds and ideas which they can use in their own compositions. Every child should have the opportunity to make his or her own music: it is the prime reason for teaching music in the very early years.
All this learning should be done in conjunction with movement from a very early age. The use of movement enhances all musical learning, as movement tends to assist the understanding of music’s essentially abstract concepts in a physical way, without having to find words to explain these abstract ideas. In short, singing and moving as early as possible in the life of a child will bear significant fruit in a special way.
We learn music because it is good. We learn music because it is unique. We learn music because it stimulates creativity at a very high level. No other reasons for teaching music are needed. If the Federal Government is serious about education then it should mandate music education in the early years of a child’s life. Australia has never been in greater need of creative minds.
The lines below from the insightful and erudite author and philosopher, Iris Murdoch, are lines I read often. I apply aspects of this philosophy in saying that music education doesn’t make you musical but may provide you with the resources to discover how musical you are or how musical you can become.
“Education doesn’t make you happy – nor does freedom. We don’t become happy just because we’re free – if we are – or because we’ve been educated – if we have, but because education may be the means by which we realise we are happy. It opens our eyes, our ears, tells us where delights are lurking, convinces us that there is only one freedom of any importance whatsoever, that of the mind, and gives us the assurance – the confidence – to walk the path our mind, our educated mind, offers.”
A truly educated mind has had music as part of its education. Every child in this country should have an opportunity to have a truly educated mind.
Copyright © Limelight Magazine. All rights reserved
This article appeared in the January 2013 issue of Limelight Magazine.
Freya and Cal decided to practice their acoustic air guitar skills in the gorgeous
sunshine yesterday. Cal even sang a little song while playing! Freya’s guitar was
a little big, but she did a great job problem solving and figuring out a way to play
anyway! I love our little musicians!!
Last Thursday Annie, Jack, and I picked some books to read on the playground and one
of them was based on a song. At the end of the book was the sheet music for the
song. I showed it to my friends and they were fascinated by how much different
sheet music looks compared to what they find in the books we read. "Those are
funny looking," Jack said when he was looking at the notes on the page. Annie
asked if I could sing what the music said, so I used my finger and pointed at
each note as I sang it. I asked them if they wanted to try to do it too and they
both said, "Yes!"
We began to clap a 4/4 rhythm and started to sing. A couple of measures
in Annie said, "Can we just say la la la instead of the words? It's confusing
trying to say them and sing at the same time." So, we started singing with La
and clapping the rhythm at the same time. When we got to the end Jack said,
"That was cool!" Annie said, "Can we do it again?" So, we proceeded to clap the
rhythm and sing the song simultaneously 15 more times. We even got a comment
from our neighbor about how much he enjoyed hearing a Christmas carol in
After doing it together 16 times Annie and Jack both asked if they could
each do it by themselves. Annie went first and when she got to the end of the
song she laughed and said, "That's really hard to do! I liked clapping the
rhythm though, it helped me remember." When Jack finished his turn he got a huge
smile on his face. I said, "Jack, that was fantastic!" He said, "I know. I know
all about keeping the beat." I asked him how and he said, "Taige's drumming. It
teaches me about how many times I should clap." I pointed to the time signature
and asked him what it meant. He said, "That means there are four notes so we
would clap four times." I was blown away by his knowledge!
The very next day, Annie noticed a book full of different musical scores.
We spent over an hour that afternoon clapping out the rhythms to the songs in
the book and singing la la la to the notes simultaneously. We had a wonderful
time, and Annie loved how our clapping and the notes we were singing were
I can't wait to see what our next musical adventure has in store for me,
Liz, and all of our friends!
The Sound of Our Own Music
Ever since that February day that Dawn and I partnered in Dance Studio play with the children we have been thinking about how we might enable children to write, sing and dance their own music-making. We think we found a start!
On Monday evening Dawn and I copied sheet music off the internet and provided children with strips of paper to compose their own musical phrases.
A small table was set up in the kitchen area with pens and examples of music.
When Nolan arrived on Tuesday morning, I seized the opportunity to explain the music writing concept. Nolan drank in the information I fed him and got right to work placing whole notes on his music-strip. Afterward I sounded out his song for him, Nolan wrote several more phrases and eventually began reading his own compositions.
Many children dove into writing single phrase scores as they arrived and investigated this new activity in meaning-making. Each child seemed instantly inspired by the prospects of creating their own sound.
Early Wednesday morning Anya J revisited the table for a new day's turn. She scribbled long lines across her page one after another in fast furious fashion and then sought to hear the sound. Sometimes asking me to interpret and sometimes interpreting herself.
I talked about writing notes. This led to Anya creating 3-parts in her phrasing: Very high upper notes, midline scribbly rolling lines and very low notes. I talked about the 3 parts she created and with Yolanda's help each of us performed a section. Anya chose to sing high notes, I sang low notes and Yolanda sang the rolling middle lines. It was exciting for me to feel the child, the teacher and the parent all singing together--WOW! What a great way to start our day.
Later we went outside and children wanted to pick up where they left off on yesterdays show. We had left the stage at the center of the yard all we needed were the drums (upturned buckets and sticks). Mo showed some serious skills as did Westin who said he plays at home with Harper on their drum set.
On reflecting on this experience I marvel at the fun of 'loose parts' and inventing our own instruments of play. It's all part of the satisfying feeling of the experience, like enjoying our Mickey Cake and Thursday Bread. We had to work purposefully, use our imaginations and bring to life our ideas within the limits of our resources. Yes, I'm sure it would be very wonderful to have a half-dozen drums and drum sticks, but recycling the sound of an old pot and the beat of a few fallen branches from our beloved tree and sharing the limited resources in a circle of quirky percussion and song was an exercise in thinking outside the box.
And that sort of practice is what our Littles need as they take hold as leaders in our world. ~Liz
Dawn and Liz