Music I have always loved. He who knows music has a good nature. Necessity demands that music be kept in the schools.
– Martin Luther
Growing up as a minister’s son, I spent countless Sunday mornings and evenings singing hymns and psalms by way of hymn and psalter books. It was during these experiences that I learned how to read music. The church in which I grew up was an exceptional singing congregation with many musicians and trained singers and this, no doubt, helped my progress in sight-reading. However, the value of singing by way of notation well surpassed my ability to hear the harmony parts around me. Music notation gave me the ability to see the harmonies for myself, teaching me about music’s rhythm, melody, harmony, dynamics, and structures. These understandings began expanding my musical knowledge to the point I discovered how little I actually knew about music. This might sound depressing, but to anyone who is passionate about something, it is extremely exciting to realize that you have just begun to understand that which you love so much. It is like being given a taste of what it means to be married for thirty years while still in your first year of marriage.
In American evangelical churches today, screens and different styles of music which do not include notation are becoming more and more the norm. As a result, our church pews have less and less need for hymnals and psalters. Even the musicians who lead music in church will often have chord progressions written down compared to notated music on a staff. Please do not hear me saying this is wrong or anti-biblical. I am saying that we as a culture, even within Christian culture, are becoming more and more disassociated with music notation and this is slowly informing the next generation of artists and leaders that music notation can be separated from music education or at least be deemed not important.
One of the keys to music education is music notation. The ability to read music will only further one’s desire to pursue his or her musical ability within singing or playing an instrument. Personally, this was most evident in my experience teaching music at Mandala Fellowship. In just one year, every student improved in reading and singing music. As a result, each student improved at his or her own instrument, as well. This reality had little to do with my ability to teach and, rather, came about as a result of the amount of singing we did together through sight-reading. Although I am not sure how many of my students would agree, I believe it was our time spent sight-reading and sight-singing that gave them more of a desire to sing and play together.
Over the past several months, I have had the privilege of working with Classical Conversations MultiMedia team in writing a music theory curriculum for Challenge I (ninth grade). One of the focuses of this new curriculum is music notation. In short, music notation is a set of signs and symbols used for representing music. Even more than that, music theory, like mathematics, teaches one how to think and problem solve. We hope this new curriculum will teach students how to think about music in order to pursue music with passion and integrity. In one respect, the study of music theory and music notation will give any student a humbling recognition that music’s potential and limits are well beyond any man’s ability to fully comprehend. Music gives us yet another example of the grandeur of our Creator and His immeasurable character. Countless quotes by famous composers have echoed this inability to fully comprehend music:
Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music.
Music is the one incorporeal entrance into the higher world of knowledge which comprehends mankind but which mankind cannot comprehend.
Before the twentieth century, the ability to sight-read music was an assumption in almost every field of musical study. With the changes in popular music over the past several decades, one does not need abilities in music notation to play or create music within many popular music genres that exist today. Technology has enabled many to take very different musical routes compared to prior periods of history, even in higher education. With today’s computer software, “musicians” are now able to create popular music with the ease of pre-existing loops and samples that require no knowledge of music notation. Artists today, in general, are far more likely to understand editing or mixing software than they are able to sight-read a piece of music. It seems that music notation is becoming more and more irrelevant in today’s pop culture and consequentially, this has made music notation more important than ever.
An education in music notation helps students read music so they can learn and apply musical structures for themselves. Perhaps most importantly, music notation gives a glimpse into history and the music literature that has been handed down to us by some of the greatest musicians who have ever lived. It would be unwise of us to ignore these pieces of music. Classical Conversations believes that we parents must take back the core components of a well-rounded education and give our children the tools that nurture their thirsts for learning. Music education that implores instruction in music notation will help train your children to embrace music with passion.