Music and Language: A natural rhythm to learning…


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Tony was a kindergarten student of mine who carried the weight of a speech impediment with him, much to his chagrin.  Other children laughed when they couldn’t understand what he said.

Tony loved to sing and play with puppets at choice time. To compensate for no puppet stage, I turned a table over that Tony could sing and act out his favorite songs and nursery rhymes behind.  While there, Tony’s speech problem didn’t matter.  He couldn’t see the other children laugh and they couldn’t see him strain to sing.  Tony, in his own world, was happy.  He shied away from speaking in front of others, but over time, in his “safe place”, Tony became confident with language skills.

One day, coming back from lunch, Tony tugged my sleeve.  “Ms. Ellington,” he said excitedly, “I wrote a song!”

“Wow, that’s great Tony!” I said.  “Would you like to share it with…”  I paused, and then said “the class?”

He nodded “yes” and I said, “Great!  We’ll do it as soon as we get back to class!”

In class, I told the children Tony wrote a song he wanted to share.  The children glanced at each other. No one said a word.  Tony stood up and sang a song about how much he loved the class, school, his friends, and me!  He sang and sang… and sang and sang… and sang and sang … The others sat listening with mouths wide open.  When Tony finished, a rousing throng of applause echoed throughout the room.

From that day on, Tony didn’t play behind a puppet stage. He was out in the open, communicating with friends!

From that day on, I realized the power of music to create enthusiasm for language learning and build self-esteem.

Music and its importance to learning


I was once asked what my greatest personal accomplishment was.  My answer was a no-brainer.  My greatest personal accomplishment was overcoming a birth defect to go on to make a living for many years as a professional vocalist, then teacher.

I was born with a hemangioma under my tongue which prevented me from speaking normally until after surgery at the age of five. The doctors said surgery would be too dangerous to attempt before then.  It turned out that the age of five was almost too dangerous.  As doctors were about to do a tracheotomy due to swelling, I began to breathe normally.  I suspect God had a long list of things for me to carry out with my voice!  🙂  Healing wasn’t easy and I had just come through years of being teased by other children.

The taunting left me embarrassed to speak so my parents encouraged me to sing to use my voice.  That I did! After surgery, my singing and a short stint in speech class found me off and running! (Or I should say “talking and singing”!)

Though my shyness remained, my junior high school music teacher helped me realize I had talent and encouraged me to use it. Because of his encouragement, I held many leading roles in high school and college theatre productions and went on to earn a living as a professional vocalist for many years before becoming a teacher.

MB900184975I have long shared with colleagues the importance of using music in the classroom – no matter student age.  I was thrilled to meet with my neurologist to review an MRI of my brain after falling and badly hitting my head weeks earlier.  He shared the pictures stating,  “All is well – you have a highly developed brain – especially your cerebellum.”

I knew the reason immediately.  “I have been a musician all my life!” I shared trying to contain my enthusiasm.

“We see this development in people having experiences in music from an early age on,” he shared.

Music has great significance to learning – especially to children who may lack self-esteem or sit through class day in and day out trying to fit a “one size fits all” educational expectation.  Learning is hard to without being provided creative experiences which create neurological connections that enhance learning.

One of the most important books on this subject is This is your brain on music written by Daniel J. Levitin.  For more information you may want to explore –

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Cover via Amazon

http://daniellevitin.com/publicpage/books/this-is-your-brain-on-music/

Enjoy and be sure to listen to music!