Have you heard of Edwin Gordon’s “Music Learning Theory” (MLT)?
Gordon wrote this book to explain the discoveries he made after many years of research about how we learn music. It is not a method book, it is more like a model for teachers/parents with ideas on how to help kids develop musical abilities. These ideas can be adapted to any method.
One of the most important things he describes is how we understand and process music by singing in our minds. He invented a term to describe this: AUDIATION. Audiation is not the same as auditory perception which occurs simultaneously when we receive sound through the ear. It’s the cognitive process in which the brain gives meaning to musical sound by capturing the internal logic of the relationships that weave sounds. Nor should it be confused with theoretical explanations, which talk about music and have only an intellectual component. “Audiation” is to music what thinking is to language.
He recommends exposing kids (since when they are babies) to different sound patterns: different time signatures and rhythms, and also melodies in the seven modes of the major scale. I have seen teachers who have developed methods based on the MLT, stimulate kids with “musical conversations” using different patterns. In one of the projects I worked on in Latinamerica, we did musical stimulation sessions with babies and their mothers, and it was magical. Babies that didn’t know how to talk yet, would interact musically with the teacher or the parent.
Some things I like about Gordon’s vision are:
- I love the idea of audiation. It makes total sense to me!
- Gordon believes that kids need to learn music like we learn a language: by being exposed to it and later, when they already have internalized how music works, they can start learning sight-reading, theory, etc. It’s like teaching kids how to talk first, and later how to read and write.
- Music is made of sounds and movement, so that’s the experience they need to have first!
- Just like in IFR, improvising is a big part of exploring, discovering, and learning music.
- I love how since the beginning, music is treated like another language that you process in your mind, that you can use to communicate with others and to express yourself creatively.
- They respect each student’s individuality, and they understand that each one needs to learn at his or her own pace.
- They develop a relative ear, like we do in IFR.
- And also, as we do in IFR, they don’t move their “1” in every chord or mode.
In case you are wondering, IFR is not based on MLT. David never read that book. But both are based on very logical observations about how we learn and process music. So it’s not a surprise that they have so many things in common!
To go back to Michiel’s question about how to teach kids with the IFR approach, I think that even though the method and the materials are meant to be used by adults, parents who are very much into the IFR method can adapt it to stimulate their kids. The ideas from MLT combine very well with all we teach at IFR. Some ideas:
- Sing, sing, sing! I can’t stress that enough. That applies to both adults and kids.
- Sing melodies to your kid in different modes. At first, only hum melodies, don’t use numbers.
- Use tension and release in your melodies and accompany it with movement (for example: with note 5, hands are in the air, and with note 1, hands fall down on the lap).
- When they are older, start singing using numbers. Some kids love Sing the Numbers!
- Play games of question and answer. You make a musical phrase that is unresolved and they have to sing an answer. That makes them imagine music, and not just imitate.
- When they are even older, you can sing and improvise together using just a few notes over simple chord progressions from Pure Harmony Essentials, like chords 1 and 4, or 1 and 5. You can even spend some time sing the roots and Melody Paths, so they can start to hear chords.
- Sing nursery rhymes in numbers.
- Play nursery rhymes or melodies with a keyboard or a xylophone while you sing the numbers.
- Always make it enjoyable like a game and not an obligation.
Here’s a PDF I made many years ago with ideas on how to start improvising with children. You’ll find question and answer games, how to introduce chords and how to observe chords sensations. It’s meant for kids who already know how to play some notes on their instrument:
PDF: Creativity in the instrument classroom
There is a podcast I love, by Heather Shouldice, a music teacher who uses a method based on MLT. In episode 1 she explains the concept of audiation very well. This is interesting also for adult IFR students!
She also has a YT channel where you can see her in action applying her method in the classroom:
Here’s a long interview they did at Musical-U to Cynthia Crump, President of the Gordon Institute for Music Learning. She talks about audiation, thinking music and the MLT approach:
Luckily, nowadays there are lots of music schools that teach kids through experience, movement, singing, playing, improvising, etc. So maybe you can find a music school or a teacher in your area who has an approach or a philosophy similar to yours. So, the musical stimulation you give to your kids will be a very nice complement to what the teacher does with them.