BOSTON (As Broadcast on Sept. 26, 2012) This is a point that will be revisited several times in this series: The seven arts and sciences are the basic building blocks of a society. Although the exact titles my vary, some version of these seven elements can be found as the principle elements of any society that has ever existed and continued. The one element that does not vary from society to society is music... the universal language and oft ignored bridge for people of different learning styles.
Every generation has it's music and self- expression; thus I'm not going to knock the current sonic path that music has taken, except to say that it is void of the complexities and challenges found in the music of older generations. Suffice it to say that the music of today is a cruel, karmic answer to the electronica explosion of the 1980's causing many musicians of those days to ask, "can music get any blander and more sterile?" Leave it to generation "Y-Not" to prove that it could, but I digress. The point is, listen to some music that stretches and challenges the mind.
Pregnant women are often advised to play music for infants in utero to stimulate cerebral activity prior to birth. While the Western scientists who documented the positive effects of this practices focused on classical music, elements found in jazz, African drumming, Native American, Blues and Caribbean music provide the same stimuli. For example, the parts of the brain stimulated by Bach would also be stimulated by Thelonius Monk, Parliament Funkadelic, and Louis Armstrong; the parts stimulated by Mozart would also be stimulated by Duke Ellington, Quincy Jones... the parts stimulated by Liszt and Chopin will also be served by Oscar Peterson and Art Tatum.
For the visual/ tactile learner, music is the auditory path to both mathematics and logic/ reasoning skill development. The polyhedron for example (a 3 dimensional, spherical object comprised of twelve distinctive, flat sides and twelve lesser sides created by the joining of the larger) is said to be the visual representation of a chromatic (12- tone) scale. The beats in a measure, intervals between notes, and note values (quarter note, half note, etc.), and chord structures are applications of algebra, geometry, and trigonometry; and the pitch and value of tones and notes are applications of calculus.
Unfortunately, many schools and school systems across the country are cutting or have cut their music programs drastically or have gotten rid of them all together. So, as parents it's up to us to see to it that our children are both exposed to music as well as encouraged to gain experiences with a musical instrument.
During the week, in the evenings for at least 30 minutes a session, set aside some time to turn off the television and listen to music together. While your favorite albums and artists are fine, take this as an opportunity to challenge yourself and your child and listen to music that is not a part of your routine. Music of different styes and cultures. This is how I discovered that I liked the bagpipes and the kalimba. Mix it up! Play some classical, jazz and punk, or some Afro Latin, Indian and Ska in the same evening. Create a list of musical vocabulary terms (measures, keys, scales, chords, melody, phrases, themes, variations, etc.) and incorporate this into the discussion about what you're listening to. The same way that all great writers are great readers, all great musicians are great listeners.
For younger children, starting around ages 4 or 5, encouraging them to learn and play hand drums and hand percussion instruments strengthen eye - hand coordination, sequencing, and fine motor skills. If a child moves on to other instruments, these skills are essential; and even if they don't, these skills are essential in other aspects of their life.
Many folks use the expense of instruments and music lessons as the central excuse to not expose their children to musicianship. Thanks to stores like Target, Wal-mart and Best Buy, such instruments as guitars, keyboards and drums can be purchased relatively inexpensively. Within the last twenty years, pianos have become one of the most given away items in America. The reason for this is the decline in American families having music and the playing of instruments as a staple in American life. As people get older and/or pass on, the old pianos found in their parlors and basements become items placed on Craigslist by younger relatives who see no value in owning one.
As for musical instruction, if the lessons offered at the local music store or community arts academy are prohibitive, a little research and ingenuity can help you find your way around it. There are often older musicians in the community who offer lessons at little or no cost, just to keep their own chops up. There are community- based music programs like bands and orchestras that also offer training and experiences to newcomers. also, thanks to technology there are computer programs, DVDs, and books for beginners in music. See what works for you and your child.
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