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Every Child a Composer

Music Education in an Evolutionary Perspective

Nicholas Bannan

This book breaks new ground in drawing on evolutionary psychology in support of advocacy for music education, and the presentation of innovative musical pedagogy. The book adopts the perspective that musical experience is the birthright of all human beings through the decisive role it played in the evolution of our species, the traces of which we carry in our genes. The author draws on scientific developments in acoustics, neuroscience, linguistics, archaeology and anthropology to examine theories that have emerged powerfully during the last twenty years and which argue for the significance of the practice of music as foundational to human culture. This position is examined in parallel with research into how children learn musically, and the role that creative decision making plays in this. A series of strategies is presented that explores collective creativity which draws on vocalisation, the use of gesture, and instinctive responses to harmony to develop musical imagination.

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Chapter 5: Harmony Signing: Commencing with monophonic work


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Harmony Signing: Commencing with monophonic work

Participation in activities related to Harmony Signing can begin at any age. The foundations for intuitive and expressive engagement with harmonic vocalisation need, however, to be laid securely. Few musicians would argue with the view that this is best done in infancy, through singing games and the earliest possible exposure to social music-making in which the activities of carers are visible, even tactile – as well as audible (Trehub 2001; Trevarthen 1994; Fernald 1992). Research has confirmed that our earliest memories may be of musical phenomena experienced in the womb (Woodward 1993; Lecanuet 1996; Lamont 2003). Harmony Signing has proved effective as a means of recapturing something of such early experiences so that participants are able to develop aural discrimination, vocal control and kinaesthetic awareness in a sequence that establishes learned responses on the scaffolding of instinctive reflexes. Foremost in such a programme of learning is the means by which Harmony Signing operates through social interaction. It offers a genuine opportunity to learn from ‘mistakes’ because even ‘mistakes’ have positive outcomes.

Singing scales to numbers

The simplest way to introduce Harmony Signing can be through singing scales to numbers:

From an early age, children will be able to chant this sequence of numbers to ‘ladders’ of pitch, both up (forwards) and down (in reverse). Equally, advanced students and adults will be able to make sophisticated connections between such number-sequences and...

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