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Why is teaching music like teaching reading?




If you were hiring a music teacher to teach your child, would you want that teacher to teach your child how to perform whole songs from the beginning? Or would you prefer that the instructor teach your child how to read notes and then progress to larger sections of music? When we teach whole songs to children, they must memorize each song. This song-by-song approach can lead to frustration and confusion. I think most parents would hire a teacher who would teach their child to read and play music developmentally, moving from sounds to notes to scales. Children who learn to read and play music step-by-step, from the parts to the whole, can learn to play almost any composition and, eventually, compose their own music.


How is reading instruction like music instruction? Like music, reading is a complex process that should be broken down into steps. The most effective way to teach reading is the most effective way to teach music-- and everything else: teach students to understand the parts so that they comprehend the whole. Complex systems require simple instruction. Effective teaching begins with systematic instruction that guides students from the simple to the complex.

Like music, reading is a complex process that should be broken down into building blocks. Sounds are the building blocks of music. Sounds are also the building blocks of spoken words and reading. Therefore, music and reading instructors must help students focus on sounds, which are the building blocks of each subject. To read music, students must know that printed notes stand for musical sounds. Students cannot read or play music effectively without knowing the sounds that notes represent. To read words, students must know that printed letters stand for speech sounds. Students cannot read or write effectively without knowing the sounds that letters represent.


Like music teachers, reading teachers must begin with sounds. Helping children understand the sound structures of spoken language is crucial at the beginning of their literacy journey. Instructors must help students learn that every spoken word consists of individual speech sounds or phonemes.


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