28. What Can the Music Alphabet Do?
Having graduated school, college, and music university, and having taught music for more than 30 years, I have never met a colleague that seriously taught children the Music Alphabet. This is unbelievable!
We teach children the alphabet of our language long before they ever go to school. In the U.S., for example, every toddler knows the “Alphabet Song.” Having learned the names of the letters, children easily add their visual representations to memory. On this foundation, the phonetic sound they make when read is also added. With this preparation, it isn’t difficult to form syllables and words from the letters. And only when the child is familiar with all of this comes the time to work on grammar and rules. Through this method, the alphabet ties the sound of letters with their written representation. It obviously serves the fundamental familiarization of any language. Yet with music, everything is topsy-turvy! We start with grammar, teach the notes one at a time, and for some reason, we don’t teach the alphabet at all.
What is the music alphabet? In form, it is a sequence of notes of the musical system that can be spoken aloud. But in essence, the music alphabet is the fundamental base of music reading, crucial to the comprehension of the interrelatedness of music sounds, and the tie between speech and music logic. This alphabet is not simply speech, but not quite music. It doesn’t require singing by pitch yet, but already calls for music logic in sounding out and articulation. It is the natural bridge from speech to music.
Resources for the development of hearing and voice are embedded into the Music Alphabet. This is the key to reading melodies, intervals, and chords. It is at the foundation of procurement of sound from an instrument, because in any instrument, the sound apparatus is organized in a set pattern.
At the moment, educators try to tie the memorization of notes to the lines of the music staff, ignoring the notes’ context in a united space, such as the Grand Staff. This is unreasonable because:
- Each note is a part of a united whole. It doesn’t exist all on its own, but is connected to all of the other notes in a music context. One must know not only one note’s location on the music staff, but must be familiar with all of the space that surrounds it. Ideally, one should be able to internally hear the note’s harmonious constructions, possible melodic paths and possibilities. Playing each note, a musician should be able to name it, sing it out loud or in his head, and trace it forward by several bars. This is what constitutes firm music logic, and knowledge of the Music Alphabet helps to understand the logic of the language of music.
- Notes of the alphabet follow a specific order. An alphabet is an orderly and symmetric system. It helps one to understand the visual logic of the language of music: music notation.
- The use of the Music Alphabet prepares the student for the spatial regularity of music. Knowledge of the order of the notes transfers to the keys, where he will understand that “Do” is three keys away from “Sol,” etc. Later this helps to quickly play the jumps in melody, double and triple notes, and chords. Work with the music alphabet prepares the hands of a person for music reading.
- The auditory memorization of speech is one of the most stable and innate skills. With the help of the articulative memory, a child learns to speak. To leave out this prized skill is simply stupid. In my classes, there are children with very poor music hearing. At first, they effectively memorize music pieces depending on articulation (the naming of the notes). Articulation becomes music, and the music tugs out the development of hearing and memory. The music alphabet helps to develop music memory through articulation.