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The Musical Brain


Musical Intelligences
California Music Standards

Elements of Music







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.

  • What are the common elements in music, literacy, and numeracy?
  • How can music promote literacy?
  • How is the brain stimulated with musical activity?
  • How does singing a lyric and chanting a nursery rhyme promote phonemic awareness?
  • In what ways can singing and playing music help children develop language communication skills?
  • How can phrasing, pitch, modulation, accent, and syllabication be taught through rhythm and melody?
  • What is the relationship between music and mathematics?
  • How can math concepts be strengthened through rhythmic activities?
  • In what ways can music help with memorization?
  • How can reading music symbols support the process of learning to read text?

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.

Next: Literacy Standards

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