Introduction: Music, Literacy, and Numeracy

Current brain research is helping us understand of how children learn.  Neuroscience has allowed us to see the effect of music on the brain.  Musical participation stimulates brain activity, involving the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic senses.   The relationship between language and music has been recognized throughout history, particularly as words are expressed through melody and rhythm.  Melody is built on the natural phrasing, rhythm, pitch, accent, syllabication, and rhyme of language.   Music and math are linked through the natural proportions of rhythm and acoustics.  Music notation, like the written word or numeral, is a symbolic representation of sound in time.  

Research is currently being conducted on the impact of music on learning.  Studies indicate that the left and right brain functions used in processing music are similar to those functions used in processing language. (  Much of the music we share with children is sung -  vocal or choral music.  The lyric of a song is poetry, using extensive rhyme, repetition, rhythm, melody, and form.  Rhyme, rhythm, and repetition can provide us with helpful tools for short and long term memorization.  The rhythm, accents, and metric patterns of the words flow along above the steady beat.  The melody naturally flows up and down in pitch in imitation of speech and oral expression.  The musical phrases follow the rules of oral conversation naturally punctuated with the rising tones of a question and the response of the answer ending with a period.  The dynamics of sound relate to the volume of tones from soft to loud.  Musical notation is symbolic, using notes, rests, and symbols that have meaning much like letters, words, and sentences in language.  Written music reinforces the concepts of print with notes moving from left to right on the musical page along the musical timeline. 

The steady pace is measured by the number of beats per minute ticking along on the metronome.  Tempo refers to the speed or variation in the number of beats per minute.  Rhythmic values are measured in fractions in relation to a time signature indicating note values.  The musical staff is a timeline divided into equal measures of time.  The science of sound involves the frequency of vibrations (Hz) per second.  The mathematical formula found in the vibrations of tone is consistent.  The fundamental low tone beats at a slower frequency, constantly doubling to create the overtone series.  The mathematical mysteries of music have astounded researchers.  The M.I.N.D. Institute is studying the impact of music on human intelligence -  Studies show that students with musical training improve spatial reasoning which results in better problem solving and mathematics skills.  The famous "Mozart Effect" study examined college students who showed short-term improvement of spatial-temporal reasoning after listing a a Mozart Sonata prior to taking a test.   


Literacy Standards

Early literacy standards emphasize phonological awareness and oral language development.  The Early Reading First grants in No Child Left Behind examine how preschool age children acquire language, cognitive, and early reading skills.  Oral language development involves learning expressive and receptive spoken language, including developing vocabulary.  The use of the song lyric can be useful in helping children learning language and vocabulary.  Early literacy also involved developing alphabet knowledge and letter recognition.  Many publishers focus on learning letters and letter sounds through music.  These programs also develop the child's print awareness using musical cues.  One of the key components of early literacy is developing phonological awareness. Using songs, fingerplays, word games, nursery rhymes, jump rope rhymes, etc. can help children achieve phonological awareness.  Early Reading First documents define phonological awareness as:

(1) identifying and making oral rhymes;

(2) identifying and working with syllables in spoken words through segmenting and blending;

(3) identifying and working with “onsets” (all the sounds of a word that come before the first vowel) and “rimes” (the first vowel in a word and all the sounds that follow) in spoken syllables;

(4) identifying and working with individual sounds in spoken words.

One of the best websites for finding materials to use in your classroom is "Songs For Teaching" - This site includes lyrics and audio song files for download.  Featured are fingerplays, cheers, raps, chants, as well as songs on phonics, grammar, spelling, and phonemic awareness.  This site also has counting songs, multicultural songs, action songs, etc.  Coast Music Therapy - - includes many resources that are helpful for assisting students with learning disabilities with oral and written language development.  Research includes studies of using music to assist learning and development.  Their students examine music as a mnemonic device, music as an aesthetic to elicit attention, motivation, and positive mood, rhythm as a timekeeper for movement, and singing/chanting as a compensatory strategy for functional speech. Programs such as Zoo-phonics - - combine music and the sound of the letter with kinesthetic signals and visual print recognition as a way to strengthen concepts of letter sounds and learn phonics.  See the appendices for lesson ideas and examples of nursery rhymes, fingerplays, jump-rope rhymes, etc.

The United States Department of Education has focused on developing early literacy skills.  Free brochures are available on the web.  The parent guide, "Put Reading First," includes suggestions on how to help the young child learn to read and provides us with definitions of terminology used in early reading.

If your child is just beginning to learn to read

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Phoneme - A phoneme is the smallest part of spoken language that makes a difference in the meaning of words. English has about 41 phonemes. A few words, such as a or oh, have only one phoneme. Most words, however, have more than one phoneme: The word if has two phonemes (/i/ /f/); check has three phonemes (/ch/ /e/ /k/), and stop has four phonemes (/s/ /t/ /o/ /p/). Sometimes one phoneme is represented by more than one letter.

Grapheme - A grapheme is the smallest part of written language that represents a phoneme in the spelling of a word. A grapheme may be just one letter, such as b, d, f, p, s; or several letters, such as ch, sh, th, -ck, ea, -igh.

Phonics - Phonics is the understanding that there is a predictable relationship between phonemes (the sounds of spoken language) and graphemes (the letters and spellings that represent those sounds in written language).

Phonemic Awareness - Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate the individual sounds--phonemes--in spoken words.

Phonological Awareness - Phonological awareness is a broad term that includes phonemic awareness. In addition to phonemes, phonological awareness activities can involve work with rhymes, words, syllables, and onsets and rimes.

Syllable - A syllable is a word part that contains a vowel or, in spoken language, a vowel sound (e-vent; news-pa-per; ver-y).

Onset and rime - Onsets and rimes are parts of spoken language that are smaller than syllables but larger than phonemes. An onset is the initial consonant(s) sound of a syllable (the onset of bag is b-; of swim, sw-). A rime is the part of a syllable that contains the vowel and all that follows it (the rime of bag is -ag; of swim, -im).

California Standards and Frameworks

Locate the English/Language Arts, Mathematics, and Music (Visual and Performing Arts) content standards and frameworks on the web.  You may wish to save the file on your computer by right clicking or holding the button down on MAC and selecting "save target as" or "save link as" to save these standards on your own computer.  Some will be Adobe Reader pdf files and others will be web html files. 

Additional Standards Resource Websites


California English and Language Arts Standards and Frameworks 

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English-Language Arts - An Essential Discipline

"The ability to communicate well - to read, write, listen, and speak - runs to the core of human experience. Language skills are essential tools not only because they serve as the necessary basis for further learning and career development but also because they enable the human spirit to be enriched, foster responsible citizenship, and preserve the collective memory of a nation."

(From the Introduction to English/Language Arts Standards -

How Does Music Relate to the California English-language Arts Content Standards?


Word Analysis, Fluency, and Systematic Vocabulary Development
Students know about letters, words, and sounds. They apply this knowledge to read simple sentences.

Concepts About Print

Phonemic Awareness

Decoding and Word Recognition

Vocabulary and Concept Development

Reading Comprehension
Students identify the basic facts and ideas in what they have read, heard, or viewed. They use comprehension strategies (e.g., generating and responding to questions, comparing new information to what is already known). 

Structural Features of Informational Materials

Comprehension and Analysis of Grade-Level-Appropriate Text

Literary Response and Analysis

Narrative Analysis of Grade-Level-Appropriate Text

Writing Strategies

Written and Oral English Language Conventions

Listening and Speaking

Resources for Literacy:

How Does Music Relate to the California Mathematics Content Standards?

Students understand small numbers, quantities, and simple shapes in their everyday environment. They count, compare, describe and sort objects, and develop a sense of properties and patterns. 

Number Sense

Algebra and Functions

Measurement and Geometry



Statistics, Data Analysis, and Probability

Mathematical Reasoning

Resources for Math