Why is reading music important?
Many singers and lots of rock and jazz musicians do not read music. So why does music literacy matter? One reason is that research has shown the “brain gains” children receive from musical experiences are directly tied to reading and making music. Another is that brain imaging has shown 90% of the brain is active during reading and making music. It’s the only activity that gives your brain such a workout! A third is that music reading can help children who struggle to read words. A study reported this month from the journal Neuropsycholgia found that reading music appears to create new pathways in the brain that process written words and letters more effectively. Finally, being able to read music allows us to recreate the wonderful legacy of music that composers over the centuries have left, and put our own musical ideas down for others to recreate!
However, the symbols we use for representing music are complex. They must show pitch level, sound length, scale system (what key), meter (the organizing pattern of strong and weak beats), dynamics (loud /soft), tempo (fast/slow), articulation (smooth or disconnected) and more. It’s a lot of information to absorb and interpret quickly as you read and produce music!
Most of us are familiar with musical symbols, but we may not remember exactly what they represent. Since Fuzzy Little Caterpillar is designed to present some of these symbols to children, here’s a quick tutorial to refresh your memory.
• Oval note heads indicate pitch levels by where they are placed on the lines and spaces we call a staff.
• These pitch levels are given alphabet letters A through G.
• A clef sign on a staff fixes the pitches at certain levels. The G (treble) clef’s inner curl always circles around the G line.
• Pitches have been measured in frequency (cycles per second). A 440 means the sound waves move at 440 cycles per second.
• Note heads are “decorated” by being filled in or having stems and flags to show the length of the pitches.
• The lower time signature number tells what kind of note receives one beat (4 means the quarter note does).
• The upper time signature number tells how many beats are allowed in one measure (between bar lines).
• Since the first beat of every measure is usually a strong one, the top number also helps us figure if beats are grouped in 2’s or 3’s.
• Key signatures (flats and sharps) are to let us know what scale we are using.
There are many systems for teaching children music reading, but the widely used method developed by composer Zoltan Kodály (koh-DAH-yee), is similar to the way music concepts are presented in Fuzzy Little Caterpillar. Kodaly believed that everyone who can read words has the ability to read music. And should!
Hope this helps! Next blog: Why everyone should sing!