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I came across this on the Internet: A boy was filling out an application for 5th Standard in India (approx. our 5th grade). The boy did not know how to answer this question: “What is your mother tongue?” and so he asked his father. The father replied, “ Write: ‘Too long, does not stop for most of the day.’ Dr. Suzuki called his approach to teaching music the Mother Tongue approach because it uses basic ideas from language development.
Reading in the Brain by Stanislas Dehaene is a fascinating book on the biological processes of reading. Reading starts with learning phonemes (sound units) during the last months of pregnancy. At a few days after birth, babies can recognize the difference between ba and ga and will wail consistent with the specific pitch direction of their native tongue. By six months a baby’s vowels become adapted to the native sounds, and by twelve months the consonants follow suit. Babies in Japan no longer hear a distinction between l and r, and English speakers fail to hear the variations of t that Indian speakers readily distinguish. There are many specific examples. “The infant’s brain systematically extracts, sorts and classifies segments of speech,” detecting regularities, frequencies and [the phoneme rules of their language] while eliminating unacceptable sounds. “The child is not aware of his expertise nor can account for it.” And yet the babies brains grow in the specific regions during infancy that are needed for spoken language and reading. The more a child hears a language, engaging the brain in organizing the phonemes of speech, the better they will later speak and read. And the effect is cascading. The more a child learns, the more he CAN learn. (from p.197-8)
To my knowledge there is not a musical equivalent to phoneme. The word pitch describes the vibrational frequency of a note, but not timbre, dynamic or duration. Perhaps the made up word sondeme would work, (sound in Middle English is sonde). Whatever we call it, music is composed of sounds and when learning to play an instrument, those sounds need to be faithfully reproduced. How can a musical composition be played if the sondemes have failed to be unconsciously extracted, sorted and classified by the student’s brain? And yet week after week, the physically easiest part of the Suzuki method is forgotten, considered of less importance or ignored by busy parents. A hint: Your teacher can tell if the student has been listening.
How many hours do your children hear English during the day? They all speak so well! How many hours do your children hear the Suzuki CDs during the day? Hmmm.
© 2010 Susan A. Sommerville
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