Music Learning Theory for PreK12 Children

Music Learning Theory for PreK12 Children

EDWIN GORDON’S PRESCHOOL MUSIC LEARNING THEORY. Bitty Bops PreK12 Music Curriculum is structured on Dr. Gordon’s music learning theory for newborn and young children. In learning music, all preschool children learn through three basic stages: Acculturation, Imitation, and Assimilation. These three stages are progressively cumulative, because each stage forms a foundation for and is reinforced by the next succeeding stage. Music is learned in the same cumulative stages and learning sequences as is language, and many people think that music is a language, but that is not true. Music is not a language because it lacks grammar and parts of speech. But both language and music have syntax, which is why we comprehend logical order in both their sounds. Music learning happens in the framework of the syntax of orderly rhythm, tonal, and all music elements (music concepts).

STAGE 1: ACCULTURATION. Acculturation begins before birth in the womb and continues after birth when children begin to become musically acculturated in various ways. They may hear their parents, sisters, brothers, and other children sing and chant. They may hear music performed in the home. They may hear musicians in live performance on TV or in concert. They begin to distinguish sounds in their environment from the vocal sounds that they themselves produce. They learn to discriminate similarities and differences among sounds in their environment. As this process unfolds, they begin to change from being only hearers of sounds to being participants in the making of musical sounds. Acculturation has three sub-stages of development: (a) young children respond to their environment by listening, (b) children make babble sounds and movements that are not particularly related to the environment, and (c) children make music babble sounds and movements in response to the environment.

STAGE 2: IMITATION. Imitation is children first learning to discern differences in their responses to others, and second what are accurate responses and what are not. First, children become able to discern with accuracy what they have heard when they are not imitating. Children may realize that their own singing, chanting, and movements are not accurate imitations of others. Second, children attempt to move beyond their personal world of music and into the music world at large. They gain experience in recognizing patterns performed for them and attempt accurate imitations in response. Imitation has two sub-stages of development: (a) children become aware of sameness and difference between what they are singing or chanting and what another child or adult is performing, and (b) children begin to imitate with some precision the tonal patterns and rhythm patterns that another child or adult is singing or chanting. Children become aware of the way they are breathing and moving their bodies in connection with their singing of tonal patterns and chanting of rhythm patterns, and children consciously learn to coordinate with some precision their singing and chanting of tonal patterns and rhythm patterns with their breathing and the weight and flow of their body movements.

STAGE 3: ASSIMILATION. Assimilation is the stage in which children progress from imitation what they hear in patterns or what they see in breathing and movement without meaning (much like imitation of individual words when they are first learning to speak without knowing syntactical organization of the words) to assimilating pitch, rhythm, breathing, and movement into a syntax to create musical understanding. Children learn to perform patterns with further precision as they coordinate and assimilate the imitation of those patterns with their breathing and movement. Children in Assimilation are able to perform more accurately, using their voice or a musical instrument, together in groups as well as solo, and they are able to adjust their pitch and rhythm to make accommodations in performing in groups with others for a unified musical whole.

CAVEATS. There are three major caveats to Gordon’s Music Theory for newborn and young children. (1) These types and stages of learning overlap. (2) The chronological ages suggested for each stage are only approximations because there are significant musical differences among children as a result of their music aptitudes, music experiences, personalities, and physical capabilities. (3) Children may move from one stage to another without giving any outward evidence of when the change has or is taking place.

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