“Music is the universal language of mankind.”
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Ask any musician or music lover and they will agree that music, is in and of itself, a language.  You can be literate in music.   And once this happens whether you become literate in reading, writing, creating or listening to music, a whole new world emerges for you.

This month we’ve been looking at how music and literacy are interconnected and how one can help the other.  Today, think about how music is a language all its own.  People learn it through sound first.  It is embedded deep within us when we are babies, some say this is true before we are even born.  We learn rhythm, intonation, and melody through our mother’s sonorous voice.  We experiment with music at an early age, cooing and gurgling, banging on pots and pans, touching a piano, moving our bodies to the music around us and copying the songs we hear as we sing along to familiar tunes that play.

As time moves on we learn how music can be written down in notation: a whole note, a quarter, positioning the notes on a staff to make melody.  We learn to read it and produce the sounds just as the composer intended. Our level of engagement can increase as we listen to new music, learn to read and write music, and create it.  Some advance to become avid musicians, people who express their views on the world through sound.

Does this sound familiar?  It is the same process we go through to become literate in a spoken language.  First we hear it and take it all in, then we experiment with the different sounds and eventually create words with our mouths.  As time progresses, those sounds are connected to a notation: letters, punctuation, grammar.  We learn to read and write it.  Some people advance become writers or poets, expressing themselves through words.

Is music literacy? Yes! That is one reason why it creates such wonderful parallels to spoken language literacy.  (And one reason why it should be taught in school as it’s own core content area.)

In what ways are you literate in music?  You don’t have to be a musician to be so.  We are all literate on our own level, in our own right.  Whether you read and write music, create music (perform, compose, improvise) or listen to music, your are at some level of music literacy.  Now relish the idea that you know and are continuously learning the possibilities of this beautiful language – a language for all mankind!


Celebrate Music and Literacy by taking advantage of Elizabeth’s book Inspired by Listening, a teacher resource book for integrating musical listening experiences into the classroom.  The book is on sale this month only (March 2011) at 20% off!