It is often said that music is a universal language. There is no doubt this is true. The purpose of teaching music is to learn the grammar and structures of this language, so one can be perceptive in listening, clear in communication, and expressive and articulate in performance. The study of musicianship gives an early musician the tools to build the foundation of their music. It teaches how to be oriented in the two great areas of music, rhythm and pitch.
Rhythmic fluency is the cornerstone of one’s musical personality. A musician with a tentative, herky-jerky rhythmic sense will never give a convincing performance. The student needs a method to be oriented and comfortable in the context of pulse and meter. Rhythm and movement are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other. I take advantage of this by using eurhythmic devices to keep track of pulse and meter. I find ‘rhythm talk’ tremendously useful in illustrating the subdivisions of the beat and rhythmic patterns. If you can say the rhythm, you have a shot at singing or playing the music credibly. With rhythmic fluency all is possible.
In the western tradition of music everything tonal evolves from the major scale. Any given scale degree always has the same tendency and the same level of consonance or dissonance. The leading tone demands resolution independent of the key of the piece. This moveable do approach creates functional hearing; hearing tendencies of notes within a melody, and qualities as well as scale degree of harmonies.
Because all of these very complicated processes go on inside each musician’s body, it is necessary to develop healthy and comfortable physical habits. This physical ease reduces stresses associated with performance.
Ideally these approaches yield a unity of knowledge, that is, an understanding on several different levels. The student can identify, sing, write down, play, and explain the material studied. Eventually it creates the ability to go back and forth between the analytical and instinctual approaches to music. This is the best of both worlds.
Lastly, it is tremendously important to motivate the student. Enthusiasm on the teacher’s part goes a long way towards convincing the student that they want to learn the material rather than that they must learn the material. There is no stopping someone who has a hunger to develop musically when they are given the appropriate tools.
Much like a smile needing no translation, music is central to the human experience everywhere. I give my students the language of this wonder.