What is music?
Music is so much part of everyday life that its nature and purpose are rarely questioned. It is a diverse and lifelong activity, enjoyed by people of all ages. As a universal part of all cultures, music exists in a great many forms, for a great many purposes and at many levels of complexity.
Music is a non-verbal form of communication that can convey ideas, images and feelings through selected sounds and symbols. Music is a source of history, reflecting the social and cultural context and the era of its creation; at times music can even portray the country, the mood of the people or the thoughts of the individual who lives there.
Music involves people in both making music and listening to music. These are unique ways of knowing because they entail the construction of sound patterns and structures through reflection and analysis. Music making is also a kinaesthetic activity, requiring the body and the mind to co-ordinate and interpret simultaneously.
Most importantly, music is an art that combines many concepts and techniques and uses them to inspire, to imagine, to invent and to express feeling. These are the features of listening and responding, performing and composing, on which the curriculum is based.
Music in a child-centred curriculum
Music is an indispensable part of the child-centred curriculum as one of the range of intelligences and as a special way of knowing and learning. Musical activity challenges the child to act in unique ways to listen discerningly to his/her own music and the music of others, to sing, play or read sensitively and accurately, and to evaluate critically. In posing these challenges, music contributes to the development of artistic awareness, self-expression, selfgrowth, self-esteem and multicultural sensitivity and, therefore, to the development of the whole child.
An important aspect of music in the curriculum is the way it contributes to the personal, social, mental and physical development of the child. Co-ordination of mind and body is achieved through singing action songs, playing singing games, tapping rhythms, moving to music and playing in time while simultaneously listening to others, following directions or reading from notation.
Speech development is fostered through working with vocal sounds, chanting, singing nursery rhymes and songs, experimenting with vowel and consonant sounds and learning to control breathing. Language development is enhanced through exposure to a wide variety of songs, containing new words, idioms and phrases. These words are used and extended in responding to music, describing sounds heard, feelings sensed, or stories related.
The development of listening skills, a critical aspect of all learning, receives special attention through the exploration of sound and the identification of and discrimination between sounds in the environment, leading to increased sensitivity to musical works. Listening skills are also emphasised in performing and composing activities, where the development of 'inner hearing' (or thinking in sound) is nurtured.
The development of both long-term and short-term memory occurs mainly, but not exclusively, through performing. Musical activities such as echo-singing and clapping develop short-term memory, while rote learning of songs, rhymes or games help to extend the capacity of long-term memory.
Opportunities to develop the imagination arise in unique ways in the music curriculum, through listening to familiar and unfamiliar musical works, hearing sounds internally, creating sound pictures or stories and expressing feelings and emotions in sound. This type of imaginative work also enhances spatial reasoning, which is the brain's ability to perceive the visual world accurately, to form mental images of physical objects, and to recognise variations in objects.
As a collaborative, interpersonal activity, music develops social skills through group performing or composing projects where ideas, instruments or specific skills are shared. It also provides opportunities for the development of lifelong leadership skills and fosters verbal and non-verbal communication. Music enhances the child's self-esteem through allowing him/her to see his/her own inventions valued and enjoyed by others, and to participate in singing games, songs, dances and group performances where each individual's contribution is vital to the group's success.
Music is an integral part of the childcentred curriculum, not just because it enhances other areas of learning but because it deepens the child's sense of humanity, teaching him/her to recognise beauty and to be sensitive to and to appreciate more fully the world in which he/she lives.