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Left-brain and Right-brain in Singing

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Peanuts anyone?

Apparently the part of the left-brain that contains our language, intellectual information and repeated emotional patterns is no bigger than a peanut.  When I learned this, I had to do a serious rethink of what I valued and how unbalanced my approach to life and learning had become.

A bird does not sing because it has an answer.It sings because it has a song Chinese Proverb

Almost everything you read, from the Chinese philosophers to modern education, states: “experience is the best teacher”.  Yet for some reason we allow the “peanut” to tell us that this is not so.  It says:  “I must first have the information, then I will decide whether it will work.”  Our systems of education, business, and science have become slave to the very small “peanut”.  First we must prove that others will benefit, produce lots of plans, outlines and paperwork, then we are allowed to offer the experience.  Almost anyone will tell you that they learn the most when they leave school.

While what we learn is valuable, it is not nearly so valuable as the first hand experience of doing it.  In sport, the experience usually comes first; then the theory if needed.  Our methods of teaching singing have evolved into theory first and experience second, especially in classical singing.  It’s time to reconsider and provide a better balance of the way we use our knowledge.



1 Comment

  1. Thank you Meribeth, for voicing what has been a large part of my experience. As a student in a Steiner (Waldorf) school in Australia from Kindergarten I had the joyful experience of singing and music as an integral part of my education all the way through school. There were songs for the different seasons and festivals, and music and singing on a daily basis in the classroom from ditties to remember our “times tables”, to canons, part-singing, and so much more. We learned the songs, sang them in our own class or with other classes for concerts, and enjoyed music in all it’s forms. THEN – when we were more able to cope with more abstract concepts (middle primary [elementary] school), we gradually learned to read music notation, learned more technical terms and complemented what we already loved with “theory”. Our enjoyment of music was enhanced: but crucially we had the experience first.
    As an adult I have been privileged to be part of an A Capella group lead by an extraordinary lady and voice coach: Ganga Ashworth. She chose music that could be sung by a very diverse group (experienced/ novice/ music-readers/music non-readers). Usually the music came from African or other native cultures – Maori, Australian Koori and Islander cultures – music designed to be learned by imitation and experience. No wonder we sounded good as a group of un-auditioned people, even when we sang in many parts: this type of music was experienced long before there was anything theoretical about it! Ganga gives encouragement that everyone has a voice and something to offer, and we made beautiful music and had so much fun! The experiences through this group gave some the confidence and desire to pursue music more fully in their lives: learning to read music, offering songs for the group to sing, singing in public, and much more. Again, the joy of the expereince lead to the desire to learn more.
    Children and adults alike are much more engaged with learning anything if the experience is enjoyable: and like you, I’m not convinced that mountains of music theory before the experience of singing or playing an instrument is the way to spark interest.

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