Using Music to Develop Literacy Skills

Music is instrumental in creating images in the mind. Adults make associations when listening to soundtracks of movies and even television shows. For example, on television, there is a series, “Law and Order.” When one hears the music, the show comes to mind. “Hawaii Five-O” has the same effect. Filmmakers use sounds to help the audience image a situation: a romantic scene has different music than a frightening scene. The music sets the scene and prepares the viewer. When one hears the sounds of crashing waves and seagulls, an image of a beach is created in a person’s mind. When one hears a bird tweeting, a vision of outdoors with trees is created.

Howard Gardner, an early childhood researcher, discovered that children have seven multiple intelligences that are used for learning: visual-spatial; bodily-kinesthetic; musical; interpersonal; intrapersonal; language; and logical-mathematical. This article will concentrate on the musical intelligence and how it relates to literacy. Music, according to Gardner, is not only related to singing or playing an instrument, but to using sound an music for expressing themselves. Gardner goes on to say that all children use music as one of the skills to problem solve. Gardner explains that language processes are part of the left hemisphere of the brain, music processes are part of the right hemisphere of the brain. By combining the use of both hemispheres of the brain with literacy and music, a young child is able to develop both hemispheres and create a balance. This helps develop creativity.

Professor Angela Solomon (Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Florida International University, Miami) did an action research study based upon educational research theorists findings on how music, when applied systematically, produced literacy in children pre-K-2. The following experiment was not listening to music while a story is read. It is music that fits into the fabric of the story, such as music in films that prepares the viewer for upcoming scenes.

In a musical experiment to test the relationship between music and literacy, teachers used “The Adventures of Harold and the Purple Crayon.” It is a story that gives the message that a person only needs a crayon and imagination to create stories. Teachers read the book to the children as an introduction to see themselves as potential authors. On the second read, the teachers used a musical soundtrack related to the story. The children were then asked to illustrate what they understood (comprehension) about the story. The final part of the experiment was to have the children listen to the music and talk about images that appeared in their minds. The teachers read the story one last time with the soundtrack. This time, the drawings had more details and followed story sequence. The children who could write, wrote detailed stories and many asked for extra paper to finish their stories. This experiment confirmed research by Mary Miché (“Weaving Music Into Young Minds,” 2002, Delmar Thomson Learning) that music enhances creativity and helps children to comprehend.

Music, as shown by the above experiment, when presented in a meaningful, purposeful, and systematic way, improves a child’s acquisition of language and develops literacy.