Sequencing of Music Instruction

Instructor: John Hamilton

John has tutored algebra and SAT Prep and has a B.A. degree with a major in psychology and a minor in mathematics from Christopher Newport University.

In this lesson we discuss the ways to sequence music instruction. This includes ways for the music educator to encourage active, as opposed to passive, participation in the classroom, and to make the content come alive and be meaningful.

Music Instruction Sequencing

Have you or someone you know ever tried to learn to play a musical instrument or learn other music concepts and found it quite challenging? It is a difficult but often rewarding task which can be enhanced by the proper sequencing, or arranging in order, of the music instruction.

How can we clearly identify the correct sequencing of music instruction? After all, no rules are written in stone, and even the legendary music teachers disagree on the best order.

While many methods exist, some basic guidelines can be established.

Kodaly Method

The Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly is famous for espousing a technique of teaching music that is considered sequential in nature.

Kodaly recommended the following learning sequence:

1) Start with the folk songs of a child's own country.

2) Children should learn by hearing first, and try to keep a steady beat before learning the pentatonic (five-note) scale. Kodaly wanted to emphasize simple rhythm and timing before moving on to advanced concepts

3) Learn with pictures and abstractions such as hand signals. This is important because children will eventually learn to make an association between visuals and sound.

4) Finally, transition from the pictures to learning to read the actual sheet music

Kodaly recommended mastering sheet music last in the learning sequence

Sound before Sight

While ultimately no absolute criteria for teaching music exist, most famous music teachers believe that sound should come before sight. In other words, a student should undergo ear training before learning to read music. Instead of making the learning process passive, whereby the student sits while being lectured, the student should be an active learner.

Another debatable topic is whether to teach music concepts separately. For instance, three of the most important concepts are:

  • Melody - a simple way to think of melody is the part of a song you whistle to yourself. It is a sequence of notes that one may find pleasant.
  • Musical expression - this involves performing music with some emotion and feeling to an audience, and could even be a simple beginner dance.
  • Rhythm - this is sound expressed in a repeating pattern, like a steady drumbeat (or heartbeat).

Since it is so difficult for a novice to learn these three concepts all at once, they can be taught one at a time. Which one should come first? That is up to each music educator to decide. Only when students are comfortable with the three skills separately can they incorporate all three at the same time.

Sequence for Learning an Instrument

One guitar teacher named Nick Minnion recommends the following sequence for learning music, which allows the student to learn the basics before delving into complicated theory:

1) Chromatic scale - the common 12-note scale (A through G plus sharps and flats)

2) Major scale - a common seven-note scale utilized in Western music

3) Harmonization - the accompanying of chords to the basic melody

4) Chord sequence - often called chord progression, this is a series of several chords, often repeated in the same order

Learning Sequence in School

Remember that fun old circular plastic toy in which you would pull a string and a farm animal would make a noise? Identifying basic sounds is usually the starting point, after initially hearing the voices of adults. In school, starting out with a few simple notes on the recorder is a good place to begin, and it can be followed up with lessons on a keyboard. Further, students might sing in a choir, and learn the very basics of music history.

It should be duly noted that different music teachers have different theories, but many start out by teaching solfege, a system for learning to sing notes in a musical scale. The notes are Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Ti-Do, with the first and last notes being an octave apart.

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