Dr. Houlahan Responds
to a New York Times Guest Article
Amplifying Musicality: The Power of Singing and Playing by Ear in Instrumental Instruction
In recent years, there has been a growing understanding of the importance of playing an instrument by ear, as captured in Sammy Miller’s thought-provoking article ” We’re Teaching Music to Kids All Wrong,” published on Sept.23.2023 in the New York Times. It is indeed a valuable skill that allows musicians to develop a deep connection with their instruments and the music they create. By relying on their ears instead of solely on sheet music, musicians can tap into their creativity and intuition, resulting in a more expressive and personal musical interpretation.
The Benefits of Integrating Singing with Instrumental Instruction
I want to expand on the significance of incorporating singing into the mix. Recent research has shed light on the important role that singing plays in establishing a solid foundation in music. Integrating singing into instrumental instruction goes beyond musical development and nurtures cognitive abilities. Students engaging in music education frequently display improved memory, attention, and problem-solving skills. By embracing singing alongside instrumental learning, we can unlock a treasure trove of benefits that extend to other academic subjects. Despite this, singing often gets overlooked in traditional music education. Integrating singing into instrumental instruction can profoundly benefit students.
Singing and Playing by Ear in Professional Development
Through my experience with Sound Thinking Interactive in providing professional development in this area, I have witnessed firsthand how incorporating playing by ear and singing can enhance students’ musical abilities and overall learning experience. When students sing alongside playing their instruments, they can internalize music holistically. This holistic approach helps improve their reading skills as they gain a deep understanding of musical structures, patterns, and phrasing.
Foster Deeper Emotional Connections and Academic Success
Moreover, the incorporation of singing cultivates a deeper emotional connection to the music for students. It allows them to fully immerse themselves in the musical expression, resulting in more authentic and compelling performances. This emotional connection not only enhances their musical abilities but also translates into increased success in other academic subjects. Research has shown that students who participate in music education often display improved cognitive abilities, including enhanced memory, attention, and problem-solving skills.
However, I agree that integrating singing into instrumental instruction presents certain challenges. Instrumental teachers may lack confidence or experience when it comes to incorporating singing into their lessons. Additionally, they may have limited resources and materials to support this approach. To address this, music schools, colleges, and conservatories must acknowledge the importance of singing and provide comprehensive training for aspiring professional musicians.
Curricular Resources and Training for Singing Integration
Developing curricular frameworks, lesson plans, repertoire suggestions, and assessments that outline how singing can be integrated into instrumental instruction would be highly beneficial. One of the goals of Sound Thinking Interactive is to provide these kinds of materials to music
teachers. This would equip them with the tools and knowledge to confidently incorporate singing into their lessons. Fine arts directors and school principals should prioritize providing professional development workshops, courses, and training programs focusing on research-based methods for incorporating singing into instrumental instruction. By doing so, we can ensure that music teachers have effective teaching techniques to enhance students’ musical experiences and improve learning outcomes.
Fostering Well-Rounded Musicians
Incorporating playing by ear and singing into instrumental instruction is essential to developing well-rounded musicians. By nurturing a new generation of musicians who are skilled vocalists, instrumentalists, expressive communicators, empowered learners, and contributors to a more vibrant society, we can truly harness the power of music education. It is crucial for all stakeholders, including music educators, schools, and institutions, to prioritize integrating singing into instrumental instruction and provide the necessary support and training to foster a rich musical experience for students.
Dr. Micheal Houlahan
Micheál Houlahan is a Professor of music theory and aural skills and Chair of the Department of Music at Millersville University of Pennsylvania. After graduating from St. Patrick’s College, National University of Ireland he was awarded an Irish Arts Council Scholarship for graduate studies in Hungary and a Fulbright Scholarship for doctoral studies at the Catholic University of America in the United States.