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Building Young Children’s Music “Vocabulary” Through Audiation

Teaching Kindergarten music can be challeng- ing at times. What do you do with twenty-five or more students, many of whom are experi- encing music instruction for the first time? Too often, Kindergarten students do not come with the necessary readiness to sing, match pitch, or move to a steady beat. How we frame our expectations and develop those musical skills in our youngest students can set them on a path for musical success.

Last summer, I read an article published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) that spoke to the importance of vocabulary development in young children (Colker, 2014). The term “Word Gap” was used to define the difference between young children who heard and en- gaged in a rich vocabulary in the home versus those students who did not. It turns out that, the more words a young child hears, the richer the child’s vocabulary. Vocabulary develop- ment serves as a predictor for success in both reading and school in general. It made me think about a child’s music vocabulary and the impact this may have on a child’s musical development. It makes sense that the same could be true musically. Do students who hear and engage in richer music “vocabulary” experience greater success in music and music reading later in life?

Kindergarten students often want to make mu- sic but may lack the music “vocabulary” neces- sary to do so. Think of the child who speaks the lyrics to “Twinkle, Twinkle” but cannot sing the melody or the child who split-second imitates you but cannot sing the song indepen- dent of you. How many of our students hear their parents sing or chant in the home? Most of our students hear music through television or radio instead of actively engaging in music making with a live adult model. What if we gave our youngest students the opportunity to listen and audiate (thinking and understand-


ing musical sounds) in music class before we expected them to make musical sounds? In doing so, we could build our students’ music vocabulary, thereby gaining the readiness for music instruction at the elementary level.

What is audiation? Edwin Gordon (2012) de- fines audiation as “hearing and comprehending music in one’s mind that may or may not be aurally present” (p. 389). Many music educa- tors use the term “inner hearing,” but audiation is more than hearing music in your mind. It is the ability to think critically about the music as well. We audiate when we listen to a piece of music and make decisions about the tonality or meter of the song. We audiate when we listen to a piece of music and make predictions about the upcoming phrases or cadence. We audiate when we sing one part but hear the underlying harmony in our mind. For some musicians, au- diation develops naturally. For others, myself included, audiation is something that needs to be taught explicitly and nurtured throughout our musical development.

Guiding young children to audiate can be chal- lenging, but it is imperative to their musical development. On the first day of Kindergarten music, I teach my students the word “audi- ate” as simply thinking music. I ask them to think their name. Can they hear their voice saying their name in their mind? Next, I sing them a tonal pattern but ask them to think it instead of singing it. Can they hear their voice singing the pattern in their mind? That’s the beginning of audiation. I find it useful to point to my head as I model audiating with young children as a reminder that they are not merely listening but thinking as well. Listening can be a passive activity, but audiation requires engagement. In every music class for the first few weeks, my students audiate tonal patterns and songs but do not sing. I want them to have the opportunity to build their musical vocabu- lary through audiation, as well as listen to an

Jennifer M. Bailey

General Music

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