Thursday, September 25, 2008

Interesting Article on Pitch Development Training

I come from a musical family. On those occasions we get together, we generally break out into spontaneous song. Usually these songs have four parts to them. In those cases where they don't, it's often more like five or eight.

Looking back on my childhood years, I find that I can't pinpoint the exact time that we became a musical family--it was just always so. We've nearly always had a piano in the home, even when we were stationed in Germany for four years. I remember my Dad occasionally arranging pieces of vocal music for weddings. I remember having groups of people from church over in our house for singing sessions.

And I remember, back in my pre-teen years (just as my voice was starting to change), how we'd all be crammed into the Toyota driving somewhere, and my Dad would suddenly pull out the pitchpipe, blow a C, and demand that we all start singing The Lord Bless You And Keep You (with the polyphonic ending!).

Daaaad! Not again!

This is a tradition that I fully intend to pass on to my children. :-)

The ability to read music, to glance at a page full of notes and know what's going on musically, has come in mighty handy over the years. And the ability to hold my own vocal part, when I'm the only one on that part--and my part is in difficult, dissonant harmonies with the other parts--has come in mighty handy too. But it didn't come easily, and it took a lot of practice. I'm not sure this is the sort of thing that one picks up by osmosis, even when one attends a church like ours, where we have a tradition of four-part A Capella singing. I managed to pick up these skills somehow; my wife, who grew up in very similar congregations to the ones I attended, didn't--at least not to the same degree.

So in the pedagogical division of labor in our little homeschool here, I'm the music teacher.

And I'm very interested in reading whatever material I can find on music education of children--especially the teaching of music theory, since a strong understanding of music theory is crucial to good sight-reading skills.

Well, in the Carnival of Homeschooling from last week there was an interesting article dealing with the development of the "inner ear". And by "inner ear", he's not referring to the Cochlea or those funny little bones or structures that keep you from listing to port--he's referring to the ability to "hear" the right pitches in the head, regardless of whether they are being played or sung at all.

In a really well-trained musician, this results in the ability that was portrayed in the movie Amadeus, where Solieri is reading the manuscripts of Mozart's music that were just handed to him, and is hearing the music in his head, without needing to have them played first. (And in an extremely well-trained musician, this results in the ability to write good music when you're completely deaf, as with Beethoven and Smetana.)

I'm not that ambitious. :-) But I have been thinking about the kind of musical training I need to give my kids. I've been giving regular piano lessons to the Fairy, and she's been doing well. We're going slowly, and she doesn't particularly like to practice, but she's making progress. But the little Angel on my Right Shoulder (or is it the Devil on my Left? I can't always tell) keeps insinuating that there's so much more that she needs to be learning--how to read the notes on the staff better, how to do scales, how to sing so that she matches pitches. She's definitely getting better at this last one, but I admit that my own pride sometimes gets in the way of allowing her just to be a little kid. She's a Power kid, for goodness sakes! This stuff should be coming naturally to her! Well, no. After all, she's five; I didn't start sight-singing until I was in the fifth grade, and I was, um.... abnormal.

But my wife tells me she loves me anyway. :-)

Anyway, check out that article. It's on the long side, and (to my mind) it rambles a bit, but that's only because he has a whole bunch of good points to make.


Thomas J. West said...

Thanks for reviewing my article. I'm glad that you found it interesting. In the "nature vs. nurture" debate, the ability to audiate and musical intelligence (the nature part) determines your starting point, while hard work and experience with matching pitches (the nurture part) builds upon that foundation. I have perfect pitch, but I didn't know I had perfect pitch until I got to my third year as a college music education major.

I invite you to read the other articles on my website, put my blog on your RSS, and subscribe to the newsletter. I am adding new articles all the time on a wide range of topics for all instruments and voice. I've had quite a few homeschooling families finding the information to be very useful.

Thanks again for the endorsement.

B. Durbin said...

I like your definition of "perfect pitch" better than the one I've always heard, which is "the ability to name any tone." That's great, but what if you don't know the names?

I have what I consider to be excellent relative pitch, approaching but not quite at perfect pitch. I can sing a song in the same key that I learned it years ago but if I haven't had it refreshed by hearing a recording or singing to a pitch, the key might shift over time. Except for "With Cat-like Tread." I'm never going to lose the pitch on that one.

As to the question of how to teach your children better, I learned how to sing in church. Yes, I'm Catholic. I thought all the jokes about non-singing Catholics were weird until I grew up and moved away and found out that my parish was one of the weird ones where the congregation sang along...

Anyway. I don't know what your church is like, but if it has hymnals, make sure you sing along with the book. Sight-reading gets learned almost by accident that way; I didn't know how good I'd gotten at it until I was in a chapel choir and learning new songs almost instantaneously.

Uvulapie said...

Patrick Kavanaugh, a Christian author, has written an excellent books on the subject: Raising Musical Kids. And only 66 cents (plus shipping) on Amazon!

Also Garrison Keillor had a humorous (very dry) story about helping your child pick which instrument they should play. For Lutherans it comes down to a harp or percussion.