Music in Everything
Learning music is like combining all other subjects in one setting. On top of that, a musician must be able to multi-task and considering various aspects of expression on the go. Mix in a hint of performance anxiety and a conductor who likes to program challenging pieces for even the final concert of the year, and you get amazing workers.
From my first day in three-year-old Cherub Choir, through college music classes, and now teaching string orchestra and band, I have consistently seen bright individuals find their passion in music. I love working with beginning level players from day one. At the beginning I see them struggling to even hold their instrument properly and grasp the basics of the first few notes. Some students pick up music-reading quickly, while others learn better by ear. Regardless, they must comprehend note changes quickly to be successful with everything else involved in music: rhythm, tempo, dynamics, style, phrasing, articulations… Beginning Strings class breaks down each of these elements and applies them one-by-one to an instrument: violin, viola, cello, or bass. Students learn the fundamental techniques of an instrument and gradually combine more and more techniques at one time. Seeing their progress over time brings me so much joy.
Students quickly see how music incorporates other subjects. Math is used in counting and dividing notes multiple ways, while reading all the music symbols left to right compares to learning a foreign language. Singers often sing words in other languages and all musicians draw into the history and culture of a song’s origin. Physics shows up when violinists must tune exactly to A440 Hertz and we hear overtones and harmonics of the strings. A huge portion of classical music is sacred, or Bible-based, in nature. Students’ eyes light up (or dim disapprovingly) when they see these connections between music-making and other subjects they have studied.
With the Advanced Strings classes, my goal is to sight-read music often to make the technical aspects of learning music more easily accessible, therefore allowing more room for musical expression to blossom. I get caught up in the amazing complexities of music technique, but first and foremost, music was created by God for our hearts to worship Him! If students only think about music logically, it will sound rehearsed and inside the box. I urge students to put heart and feeling into what they are playing, to make it their own. They should use creativity to go beyond the markings on the page to make it expressive, with rises and falls, telling the audience their story.
Psychology reveals that “multi-tasking” is not truly possible, because the brain only focuses on one cognitive task at a time. I wondered how this was possible, when musicians simultaneously count, read, transfer notes on the page to their instrument, decide how to articulate, watch the conductor, move together, and add expression. This simply means that dedicated musicians have practiced all the basics of music so many times, these techniques have become second-nature, and no longer require cognitive attention. This frees up the mind to focus on the more stylistic, aesthetic elements over the techniques.Students involved in music co-curricular classes statistically score higher on tests and earn higher GPA’s. Although it is harder to measure if “music makes you smart” or rather, if higher level students choose music, regardless, music engages both sides of the brain and makes students think and express emotion in the moment of live music-making and work together with their comrades in a powerful way.