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What is Musical Literacy?

Updated: Aug 7, 2023


When learning a foreign language there are four major skills necessary to become truly fluent in that language: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. In learning music, we need to develop the same four basic skills in order to gain fluency.


In music, listening requires understanding what is being heard, speaking involves improvising and performing, reading is interpreting the notation for both comprehension and performance, and writing is composing.


So how do we develop musical literacy?


Just like learning a language we do it by learning to recognize patterns... what do the patterns sound like? What do the patterns look like? And how do we produce that pattern on our instrument?


And just like learning a language, it's easiest to do this with simple music. We don't read our babies the encyclopedia (well, most of us don't!), but we start with board books, move to picture books, then chapter books, and then more advanced formal writing (academic, legal, etc.).


Learning to recognize these patterns is easiest when first starting a musical instrument (or even before, with early childhood music programs like Musikgarten), but it's never too late! Nearly everyone can learn to hear, see, write, and perform musical patterns. These patterns form the basis for developing a strong understanding of the "grammar" of music. Without this understanding, we're simply "decoding" the notation on the page and translating it into something we can play on our instrument. Developing musical fluency, opens the door to musical expression.


Musical expression is like the expression we use in spoken language. When we read books to children, it's so intuitive to read the book with all the voices and expression. And when we achieve that in music, the result is just as delightful.


In instrumental music lessons (and the emphasis is truly on music), we regularly sing, move, analyze, and perform. These activities together, help each student develop fluency in the language of music and help form the foundation for a lifelong love of music.



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