Category Archives: Uncategorised

Playing Music in the Dark – How Blind Musicians Learn and Thrive

When asked to name one famous visually impaired person, many of us will recall a musician. A lot of that is because musicians are in the public eye more than others, but it also points to the great success that many blind musicians have enjoyed. Visually impaired musicians such as Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Ronnie Milsap, and Doc Watson have had success across a variety of musical genres. Neuroscientists have long studied that which initially seems like a challenge to the visually impaired tends to grant an advantage in music. One determining factor is how their brains develop through the connection of music and movement.

 Brain Development in the Visually Impaired

Scientists have long known that hearing and touch are enhanced in the blind. The space in the brain dedicated to vision is made available to those senses, enhancing the capacity to hear music and touch instruments. Blind children pay much more attention to everyday sounds compared to those with full sight. One study that considered many different sources found that children who were blind at birth or an early age are 4,000 times more likely to have perfect pitch than their sighted peers.

But some kinesiologists have looked at how being blind may actually impair one’s ability to feel the beat due to lack of visual-spatial feedback. The visually impaired often move their heads or body in a different way than the rest of us in order to better access their surroundings. This movement is also a method used to trigger echolocation, just as they often use a stick to tap and listen for the sound bouncing off the ground or other objects. For blind musicians, this movement is then connected to the rhythm of the music to help them keep beat and time. Studies have also shown that individuals who were blind at birth or an early age develop greater vibrotactile abilities and have shown a higher ability to detect beat asynchrony than those with sight.

Teaching Music to Blind Children

There are still a lot of stereotypes about visually impaired children being harder for music teachers to teach. These tends to stem from the traditional method of teaching children through sheet music. But with a propensity for better pitch and beat detection, visually impaired children are likely to learn music at a greater rate with the right approach. Children’s music programs that emphasize music and movement at the earliest stages are better geared to teach blind children. The aural approach enables them to establish a foundation for playing by ear. Once that foundation is established, sheet music in braille is available for blind children and teachers.

Many visually impaired individuals have excelled in music and gone on to achieve some of the industry’s highest accolades. The part of the brain not dedicated to sight provides greater function to the other senses. Hearing and touch in blind individuals are enhanced to provide a better detection of both pitch and beat. Those abilities combine with movement to help the visually impaired better navigate the world and learn music.

How Music Helps to Achieve New Year’s Resolutions

It’s the new year, and with it comes all the reflection and hopes of a better year ahead. Many of us have set goals for 2024, whether they be physical, mental, financial, relationship, or work related. Unfortunately, statistics show an estimated 80% of new years resolutions are broken within the first few weeks. However, there is hope. There are many resources that provide helpful methods for staying within that elusive twenty percentile. Music has been shown, in several ways, as one such method to help achieve goals. For example, Improved fitness (48%) and improved mental health (36%) both ranked in the top five most common new year’s resolutions. Both of these goals have a heavy physiological element to them, and music has been shown to help.

Music Helps Kick Addiction

Addiction is when you have a strong physical or psychological urge or need to do something or use something. Goals regarding improved mental or physical health are often associated with some kind of addiction. The association between addiction and adverse physical and mental well-being is well documented. Whether the goal is it to stop drinking as a coping mechanism, give up sweets or excessive eating, cutting down screen time, or to quit smoking, the addiction typically influences the physical or mental ailment. Music has been shown to help with addiction in several ways, therefore helping to achieve physiological goals.

Music Soothes the Savage Beast

Music therapy and music-based interventions have been used for some time to treat all kinds of compulsive and addictive behavior. Music therapy treatments include music listening, songwriting, music assisted meditation/mediation, and active music making. Simply listening to music helps to open the mind to learn new useful insights through therapy. Furthermore, music has been shown to increase one’s tolerance for frustration, improve interpersonal communication and self-esteem. All of these benefits of music therapy help to calm those who may be having physical and mental withdrawals from impulsive actions or addictive behavior. The act of learning or practicing music also provides another benefit for those who are trying to reach new life goals.

Learning Music Helps to Keep and Redirect Focus

We are all familiar with the adage “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” When we are striving to achieve new goals or keep resolutions, especially when it involves avoiding addictive behavior, it is often helpful to have something new on which to focus. This helps to keep our minds (and hands) away from the unwanted behavior we are trying to change. Learning a musical instrument is beneficial in many forms, including improved cognitive function, mindfulness, and discipline. Many addictions are physical as well as mental, often having tactile associations. Learning a musical instrument provides new tactile sensation and occupation. For example, the hand to mouth fixation of smoking or drinking can be purposefully interrupted and replaced by learning to play a keyboard. Finally, learning a musical instrument creates new pleasure associations that can replace addictive behaviors, while providing achievement that can be easily realized.

Music can be a catalyst to help those who have set new goals and resolutions for the new year. It provides a tangible and measurable example in which to see results and realize potential. It helps to calm and create an open mind, while providing a form of replacement for undesired behaviors. Learning music at an early age, such as engaging in early childhood music programs, prepares children to achieve their goals later in life. 

Using Nature to Teach Children’s Music

Throughout our time on earth, humans have always had a fundamental connection with nature. And with the discovery of instruments dating back as far as 40,000 years, music has certainly been woven into our culture before written history. Experts from various fields of science believe that music even predated speech, as early humans communicated through sounds and movements that mimicked their natural world. While the research on the connectedness of music and language development is still relatively young and limited, the relationship of nature and music is well established.

The Relationship Between Nature and Music

All of the world is vibration. In fact, it can be said that earth itself has a constant “heartbeat” of 7.83 beats per second created by global electromagnetic resonances caused by lighting in the ionosphere. Called the Schumann Resonance, this “vibration of life” is believed to be connected to and have influence on bioregulation in humans. Despite the theory of a biochemical connection to nature itself, recorded history has shown that music and nature have been indisputably linked. Every known culture in the world partakes in some form of music. In fact, there is a scientific study devoted to the study of music and cultures called Ethnomusicology.

While it is hard to trace the origins of music in early humans, many primitive cultures have music that mimics and involves sounds of animals and the natural world. These were used for communication, hunting, storytelling, and ritual. Much later, nature continued to influence great classical compositions, including Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 ‘Pastoral’, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, or Brahms’ C Minor Symphony. Nature has continued to inspire music across the ages and all genres.

Using Nature to Teach Children’s Music

Nature based education is not a new concept but has gained attention in recent years because of the threat of climate change and increased severe weather events. Yet using direct interaction with the natural world has been utilized by teachers and caregivers for generations. In fact, a prominent nature-based education initiative, Nature Study, was followed in the United States between the 1890s and 1920s.

Musikgarten Nature and Music

Early childhood music teachers will often take their classrooms outside to help develop listening skills while demonstrating the connection between nature and music. They may ask the children to sit still and listen to birdsongs or the running water in a babbling brook. This helps not only to demonstrate musical concepts, but also self-control and respect. Many songs about nature and the animal kingdom are featured in children’s music, while early children’s music curricula are based on the concept. Many modern musicians use natural sounds exclusively as content for their compositions and to teach others about the fragility of our ecosystem.

Finally, many instruments can be created with things found in nature including hollow logs, dried gourds, or even river rocks and sticks. But the instrument that can always be used anywhere is voice. Singing in and about nature inspires children to respect their environment while enjoying the multitude of musical sounds it provides.

Ella Jenkins – First Lady of Children’s Music

Anyone who is involved in children’s music is familiar with the name Ella Jenkins. Given the honorific title “The First Lady of Children’s Folk Song,” Jenkins is an iconic American folk singer, multi-instrumentalist, and perhaps most impactfully, a beloved children’s music writer and performer. Her 1995 album of children’s songs, Multicultural Children’s Songs remains the Smithsonian Folkways most popular release. Jenkins has spent her life devoted to helping children find enjoyment in music, appearing on many children’s television shows including Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, Sesame Street, and Barney. And in 2004, Jenkins received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. She remains an inspiration and mentor for many children’s music educators across the globe.

Ella Jenkins’ Humble Beginnings for a Children’s Music Icon

Jenkins’ was born in St. Louis on August 6, 1924, but grew up mainly on Chicago’s South Side. As a child, she loved games, especially those involving music, rhythm, and movement. Jenkins was introduced to the music of renowned blues musicians such as Memphis Slim, T-Bone Walker, and Big Bill Bronzy, by her uncle Floyd Johnson, a harmonica player. As her love and interest in music grew and her family moved to different neighborhoods around the south side, she explored various styles of music, rhythm, and children’s games in the streets as well as local black churches. During this time, Jenkins also enjoyed dance and performing, which allowed her to attend concerts at the local theatre. She often contributes her “sing and response” style of music by hearing Cab Calloway perform there. Graduating High School in 1942, Jenkins went on to earn an associate’s degree from Woodrow Wilson Junior College while working at a Wrigley’s gum factory. It was at Woodrow Wilson that she became interested in music from other cultures through her Mexican, Cuban, and Puerto Rican friends. After graduation, Jenkins moved to California in 1948 in order to increase her opportunities and expand her musical repertoire.

From Music Acolyte to Accomplished Composer

While attending San Francisco State College, Jenkins continued her pursuit into the music of other cultures, learning Jewish songs from her roommates. After graduating with a B.A. in Psychology with minors in Child Psychology and Recreation in 1951, she moved back to her beloved Chicago. Despite having no formal music education, in addition to singing Jenkins learned over the years to play a multitude of musical instruments including the ukulele, pipe organ, harmonica, piano, and a variety of percussion instruments.  Jenkins began writing songs while volunteering at recreations centers, and was soon hired as a Teenage Program Director. While performing with young people on the street one day, she was asked to perform on a local public television show, The Totem Club. Jenkins continued to play various shows and events, and in 1956 decided to become a full-time freelance musician. Moses Arch, the founder of Folkways Recordings heard Jenkins and offered to record her songs. Her first album, Call and Response was published as 10-invh vinyl in 1957. She recalls, however, that times were not always easy in those days, as she slept in different places each night, often facing racial discrimination.

Composing and Performing her way to Beloved Children’s Music Icon

In the 1960s, Jenkins met Bernadelle Richter, who hired her to perform at an American Youth Folk Festival. They soon developed a relationship and within a few years were business partners, with Jenkins composing and performing while Richter handled the business. In 1966, Jenkins released the best-selling title in the history of Folkways (Smithsonian) Records, You’ll Sing a Song and I’ll Sing a Song. She has continued to compose and perform ever since, with her 32nd album Life of Song published in 2011. Other entities continue to publish her classics in different educational compilations, such as the Get Moving Ella Jenkins and recently released 123s and ABCs, which features her core principles of careful listening, singing, and improvisation.

Ella Jenkins is one of few artists to have recorded both for Smithsonian Folkways and for Moses Asch’s original Folkways label. She has enjoyed a long and prolific career distinguished by a genuine love and appreciation for the minds and hearts of children. Three generations of fans are still singing along with “Miss Ella,” while the next generation of children can learn the ground-breaking songs of Ella Jenkins on Smithsonian Folkways. The accolades Jenkins has received include, but are not limited to, a Pioneer in Early Television citation, the Parent’s Choice Award, a KOHL Education Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, Best Variety Performer Award from American Academy of Children’s Entertainment, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers. She has also served as a U.S. delegate to numerous countries with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Generations of children have a deeper understanding of the world through Ella Jenkins participatory music.

How Music Instruction Reduces Screen Time for Kids

Parents and teachers alike understand the challenges that screen time poses to children as well as adults. Prior to the Covid pandemic, kids ages 8-18 were spending up to 7.5 hours on average in front of a screen for entertainment. More than half of that time was spent watching television. COVID-19 and the lock-down made matters even worse. Despite the need to attend online classes for school, overall digital device usage increased by 5 hours, with adolescents averaging even higher at 8 hours a day.

As our children’s screen time has increased substantially over the past decade, the ill effects of it on the physical and mental well-being is being studied more and more. Pediatric health professionals and children’s educators alike highly recommend other means of entertainment for children to offset this epidemic. Children’s music education is one such means of entertainment that helps reduce screen time.

The Health Effects of Screen Time in Children

Children’s health professionals point to many issues that may arise in children that are exposed to an excessive amount of screen entertainment:

  • Impaired emotional and social intelligence.
  • Sleep deprivation and disturbed sleep cycles.
  • Mood problems such as irritability, depression, anxiety, and ADHD.
  • Poor self-image, weight problems, and body image issues.
  • Vision issues such as eye strain and myopia.
  • Neck pain and carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Social isolation and fear of missing out (FOMO).
  • Phantom Vibration Syndrome, where a person imagines their phone is ringing or vibrating when it’s actually not.
  • Obsessive, excessive, compulsive, and impulsive use of digital devices.

Children’s Music Education to Reduce Screen Time

Pediatric health care professionals recommend exposing children to other activities to reduce their screen time as well as increase their interests in other entertainment. Teachers of children’s music education have long known the positive impacts that music classes have on a child’s well-being during their developmental years and beyond:

It is clear that as technology increases at a greater and greater rate, it will compete for the attention of humans in developed societies. Children are even more susceptible to the negative impacts of excessive screen time in their developmental years. Supplemental music lessons offer an alternative to screen time while providing all of the benefits that music instruction offers to kids – including self-imposed limitation of screen time; increased problem-solving skills, time management and prioritization; increased self-awareness and social skills, and more.

Leveraging the New School year for Your Music Studio

With late Summer and early Fall comes a return to school for children, and during that time parents are starting to organize their new schedules. Unlike the Summer months, where both student families and music teachers alike have vacations and travel, the school year creates a more consistent and expected routine. This time of mental scheduling and organization presents an opportunity for children’s music studio owners to re-establish connections with students, while prospecting new students as well.

Reaching out to Present Music Student Parents

This may seem like a no-brainer, but as music studio owners prepare their classrooms and curriculum for new fall classes, they sometimes overlook the “low hanging fruit.” The school year is a time of transition for children and parents alike, when they both weigh what commitments they want to make and what they want to leave behind. As children grow, parents want to give them more and more power to make decisions over their lives.

“Do you want to play soccer this year?”, or “Do you want to continue with music class this year?”, may be some of the questions asked when preparing for school. To make sure that your music studio is top of mind with parents, here are some tips:

Tips for Keeping Your Children’s Music Studio “Top of Mind”

  • Reach Out – Just before the school year begins, provide a schedule of your fall classes. Do this by email, phone call, text, or ALL THREE! If you use more than one “touchpoint” method, spread them out over a few weeks before your enrollment. Parents have different preferences for receiving information, so using several is a good idea both for initial touch as well as multiple touches.
  • Provide Options – The regular school day of 8 AM to 3 PM is a thing of the past for many parents. Provide several class options at different days and times in the afternoon, so that parents can find what suits their new schedule best. For infants and toddlers, morning classes often provide the best options. Think about a classes that are just after average school drop-off or pick-up so that parents can combine trips with younger children and older siblings.

Reaching Out to New Music Students

Most children’s music studio owners understand that it costs much less to retain current customers than to attract new ones, but they also want their business to grow. With the new school year comes new opportunities to gain new students to the children’s music classroom. Here are a few tips to leverage the school year to gain new students:

  • Join and Support Organizations – If your music studio classes are occupied by students from one or two main schools, get involved with those schools through both time and monetary support. If you do not have a child in the school and cannot join the PTA, support them through sponsorships. With elementary school funding diminishing every year, PTAs, clubs, and sports organizations are always finding new ways to raise money through business sponsorships. These printed publications, signage, and apparel sponsorships are often much less expensive than traditional advertising channels, and much more focused on your target audience. Think about offering an incentive to encourage first time parents, such as first music lesson is free, a discount on first course, etc.
  • Offer Referral Programs – Parents talk, and WOM (word-of-mouth) advertising is one of the best forms of marketing your business. Offer existing parents a discount on classroom materials or course fees if they refer a friend to your music studio. Make this program known through the same communication methods listed above, as well as handouts after classes. You can also provide a discount for two new parents that join the class together. Be creative with your referral promotions!
  • Offer Classes to Pre-K – Many Pre-K administrators are looking for creative and enriching ways to fill their student’s days. Consider approaching these centers and offering a single introductory session with babies or toddlers in exchange for the administrators including your marketing offer in their communication with parents. While you may have to create a different kind of class than normal for a classroom with just a few teachers instead of parents, it is a good way to network with the pre-K organizations. Teachers talk to parents about what their child enjoyed that day, and your music could be a part of it!

Above are just a few examples of how to leverage the new school year to grow your children’s music studio. As parents settle into a new routine, they are looking for some extra-curricular activities for their children throughout the school year. Music and the arts is an important part of balancing a child’s healthy growth in mind, body, and spirit.

The Relationship Between Music and Islam

Continuing our exploration of music and its relationship with the major religions of the world, the following is a brief and imperfect discussion of Islamic civilization and musical influence. Our last blog post covered Hindu music and its nearly inseparable relationship to musical worship. One cannot discuss Islam and musical traditions without various conflicting opinions, and even contradictions in terms. Generic terms for ‘music’ or activity recognized as involving ‘music’ have never been applied orthodox practice of Sunni and Shi’a Islam. The view of scholars and theologians vary widely as whether music in Islam is strictly forbidden to generally forbidden but with varying restrictions that do not lead listeners into temptation

Music and the Quran

Part of the source of disagreement in the Muslim world about music and Islamic worship stems from the term ‘music’ and that the Quran does not explicitly refer to music itself. However, scholars on both sides of the argument have interpreted certain passages for and against tolerance. Those who contend that music is strictly forbidden in Islam point to phrases such as “And of mankind is he who purchases idle talks to mislead others from the path of Allah…”, whereas ‘idle talks’ has been translated as the amusement of speech or theatrics.

Others refer to Allah giving the prophet David the ‘gift of the Psalms’, poetic in structure and character, as evidence of allowing music as long as it did not lead to sinful acts. There are some Sunni movements of Islam, including the Salafi and Deobandi who strictly interpret the Quran and hadith (a record the words, actions, and silent approval of the prophet Muhammad as translated through chains of narrators), prohibit music in all forms as haram (forbidden).  

Some Exceptions for Music in Islam?

There is also wide variety of opinions over what expectations can be made to the prohibition of music for Muslims. Examples of what is allowed can range from vocals but not instruments, only certain instruments (such as a one-sided drum and tambourine) or vocals only if the audience is of the same gender. In the opinion of some scholars, including some Muslims, a number of Islamic rituals have at least some musical relevance. The first of these is the call of prayer by the mu’ethín, the caller to prayer, which they believe provides the choice of the right mu’ethín to be based on his musical voice and its emotional impact to worship.

The second cited example of a musical act is in reading the Quran where the musical voice gained popularity, especially with the development of ‘ilm al-qiráa , “science of the recitation”. Indeed some Shia and Sufi orders use instrumental accompaniment to music as part of their worship. Many Muslims believe that it is not music itself that must be forbidden by Islam, but that the subject matter of the music itself does not mention forbidden practices such as alcohol, sexual connotations, or presented in a sexually coercive manner. For many, judgement seems to be the key.

 Music and Islam in Modern Society

Despite the prohibition of music by some Islamic scholars, devotional/religious music as well as secular music is very well developed and popular. Secular and folk musical styles can be found in Arabic, Egyptian, Iranian, Turkish, Algerian, Moroccan, Maldivian, and others. Music is used in many public Islamic religious celebrations today across the globe, including Ta’zieh, Ashurah, Manzuma, and Thikiri. Secular music of all kinds also abounds in the Muslim world, including such familiar genres as rap, rock, jazz, and folk, and pop. In some places where strict Islamic interpretations are enforced, however, this music must be played and enjoyed behind closed doors and in secret.

The subject of music in Islamic civilization continues to be the subject of debate between scholars and theologians. Above all, the debate seems to stem around whether it is music itself that is forbidden through hadith or that it is the subject matter, intent, or delivery of music that deems it sinful and forbidden. We will conclude our series on the relationship between music and the five major religions of the world next with an exploration of Judaism.

The Relationship Between Music and Hinduism

Over the last several months, we have been discovering the inseparable relationship between music and the world’s major religions. Beginning with the connection that prehistoric worship and utility shared with rhythm and voice, we have continued our journey by exploring those links into more formalized musical forms as practiced in Buddhism and Christianity. As with these two world religions, Hinduism also has a rich history and tradition of music in worship.

The Mythological and Historical Roots of Hindu Music

Indian music, called Sangeet, has mythological roots that is associated with heavenly singers, the Gandharvas. It was decided to bestow this celestial art upon humankind, but a suitable person was required to receive it into the world. The god-sage Narada, a traveling musician and storyteller predating the second century BCE is believed to be one of the mind-created children of Brahma, the great creator. Narada was chosen as the recipient of the musical art form, which Hindus say arouses the senses and creates spiritual vibrations that enhance devotion. Repetition and chanting often found in Hindu music helps connect devotees to humankind and their spirituality.  

Hindu Musician
Hindu Musician

Teaching Music in the Hindu Tradition

From the very early days, Hindu music was considered a means of moral and spiritual redemption rather than mere entertainment. The oldest musical texts are the Sema Veda, consisting of melodies or hymns for reciting during ritual sacrifice. The process of learning to play this music is believed to closely resemble traditional spiritual disciplines. Guru Mukha-Vidya, or knowledge which must come from a teacher, is based on three divine qualities that are inherent in the musical traditions – The guru (teacher), Vinaya (humility), and Sadhana (regular and disciplined practice). This pedagogical tradition of guru transferring knowledge to the disciple is the same approach that many children’s music programs and curricula teach today.

The Evolution of Sangeet and Hindu Music

In the second century BCE, Bharata Muni, a sage who is considered the father of Indian theatrical art forms, laid the foundations for two important principles upon which Indian music is now based – raga being the melodic scale, and tala being the rhythm. The resulting nine principle “mood” or “tastes” that Bharata Muni outlined were based on nava-rasa, or the belief that the primary goal of performance and arts is to transcend the audience into another reality to experience the essence of one’s own consciousness.

Modern Hindu Music and Worship

In Hindu music, there are both ancient traditions and contemporary songs, with mysticism and dynamism being common threads. Much of this framework is provided by two main classical music forms – Hindustani, from northern India, and Carnatic, from the south. Hindu Music is also as varied as Christian Music in the US, including rock, rap, and jazz, as well as taking influences from other cultures and nations such as Arabic and British songs. Instruments have also played a major role in Hindu music. The sitar, a stringed instrument, is common in Hindustani music, in which flexibility and improvisation shape songs. Carnatic songs are beat heavy and commonly feature a drum called the mridangam. Classical hindu instruments also include the tabla, include the flute, vinasitar, sarangi, santoor, and shenai.

Despite all of the variances in musical styles, nearly all Hindu music is considered to be divine, providing a means by which listeners and performers alike can concentrate on blessings and remember the good things in life. Its pedagogical approach to disciplined learning and practice under a teacher or guru can be seen in many children’s music education programs today. In our next post of this series on music and the world’s major religions, we will explore the relationship between Islam and music.

The Relationship Between Music and Christianity Part 1

Throughout history, music has been inextricably linked to almost every religion across the globe. While the very definition and origin of music is hard to define, it is clear that music has been a part of the very earliest forms of worship. This is evident in each of the major religions of the world, with each having their own distinctions as well as similarities. Buddhist music has musical roots in both instruments and chanting, through flute-playing Japanese Zen Monks or Tibetan recitations of sacred texts. Although its inception does not date as far back as some of the other religions of the world, Christianity has also had ties to music since its origins. While an exhaustive chronicle of music in Christianity would fill volumes, there are some high points to mention.

Music and the Old Testament

An exploration of the relationship between music and Christianity would not be complete without starting with the Old Testament. The Bible early in the book of Genesis, describes a descendant of Cain, Jubal, as “the first of all who play the harp and flute.” When we reach the story of the Exodus Moses and all the people sing a song, the first written song mentioned in the Bible that mentions the use of tambourines and dancing to celebrate the victory at the Red Sea.

King Saul of Israel hired a young man named David to play music for him in this court. This David eventually became king of Israel, but also continued to express himself through song, writing more than 70 Psalms that are revered worship material in Judaism Throughout the Old Testament, temple worship included the use of choirs, ram horn blowers (often referred to as trumpets in the bible, but are actually the more rudimentary shofars), cymbals, tambourines, drums, and some strings instruments such as the lyre. Singing and musical instruments play an important role in Old Testament music, from Psalm 150 telling worshipers to “Praise Him” with the trumpet, harp, lyre and clashing cymbals to King David putting specific people in charge of worship music.

Music was integral to their worship.

Music and the New Testament

While as a boy, Jesus would have been exposed to the Jewish culture of his day including worship in daily life and at the festivals he attended. We do have a continuation of songs being written for worship and praise, much like the Old Testament, with Mary’s Song in the Gospel of Luke. Yet the only record of communal song in the Gospels is actually the last meeting of the disciples before the Crucifixion. Instruments are specifically mentioned in only a few places in the New Testament, such as flutes being played at Jairus’ daughter’s wake in Matthew, or trumpet that herald some end-time events including the rapture.

As Christians became persecuted after the death of Christ, they had to often worship in private, where loud instruments and praise music were not conducive to secrecy. But, this did not stop them from worshipping using music. In the book of Acts, the apostle Paul is arrested along with Silas, put in prison in Philippi, yet are still heard singing while imprisoned. Even with persecution many of the New Testament songs or hymns, such as the Benedictus, the Gloria, psalmody, and alleluias, endured and are still used in many Christian worship services today.

From praise music that was highly organized that incorporated singing, specific instrumentation and instructions for a large group to the simple act of two men singing while in prison, it is apparent that music plays an important role for worship throughout the Bible. Examples are too numerous to mention and would be hard to include in this format. In our next post we will explore the different types of worship music that have come about as Christianity spread.

A Short History of Do-Re-Mi

Anyone who has seen Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1965 hit The Sound of Music remembers the catchy song that Baroness Maria uses to teach the Von Trapp children to sing. The lyrics are “Doe, a deer, a female, deer, Ray, a drop of golden sun, Me, a name I call myself..,” and so on. While the syllables of Solfege, a system designed to teach the major musical scale, is assigned to do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti in English speaking countries, the sounding of each is cleverly used in the adored song. But the history of solfege dates way back to the turn of the 11th Century, and has been used by many early childhood music programs to teach the major musical scale.

The Origins of Solfege as a Music Teaching System

The system of solfege was invented nearly a thousand years ago by Italian music theorist and Benedictine monk, Guido de Arezzo, who was also the inventor of our bar note system still used today. A renowned teacher, Arezzo was looking for a simple notational system to teach the pitches of the six notes of the major musical scale to those who had never before had musical training. At the same time, this system teaches music students to site read. To illustrate this system, Arezzo brilliantly represented the hexachord through the Latin hymn Ut queant laxis, or the Hymn to St. John the Baptist.  Each successive line of the hymn used the syllable for each note – ut,re,mi,fa,sol,la, sung in the proper pitch. In the 8th Century, another Benedictine monk, Paulus Diaconus, aka Paul the Deacon, translated the words:

Ut queant laxis in Latin:
Ut queant laxis, resonare fibris
Mira gestorum, famuli tuorum,
Solve pollute, labii reatum,
Sancte lohannes.

Word translation by Paul the Deacon
So that our servants may, with loosened voices
Resound the wonders or your deeds
Clean the guilt from our stained lips
O St. John.

Musikgarten teacher using Solfege to teach tonal patterns.
Musikgarten teacher using Solfege to teach tonal patterns.

The Evolution of Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti

The solfege invented by Guido de Arezzo continued to evolve to even as recently as the 1830s. In the 1600s, Ut was changed to the open syllable Do at the suggestion of the musicologist Giovanni Battista Doni (Based on the first syllable of his surname) in order to complete the diatonic scale. Then in the nineteenth century, English speaking music educator Sarah Glover changed the “si” to “ti,” so that each syllable begins with a different letter. This is the version that was used in the famed song from The Sound of Music.

Two Types of Solfege in Modern Use

Still used for site reading training in many children’s music classrooms today, there are two main types of solfege – Moveable do and Fixed do. Moveable do, also called tonic sol-fa, has each syllable corresponding to a scale degree in the hexachord, and is mostly used in Germanic and Commonwealth countries, as well as the United States. In Fixed do, each syllable of the solfege corresponds to the name of a note, using the original “si” instead of “ti.” It is commonly used in Romantic, Slavic, and Spanish Speaking countries, and is also principally taught at the Julliard School in New York City.

Through an amazing conception and gradual evolution, the solfege system has been teaching music students and singers to learn the major music scale and site reading. While many remember it fondly from The Sound of Music, it endured from hundreds of years before as a tool to help early childhood music educators. Having changed slightly for different languages, solfege transcends them to speak the universal language of music.