Music As A Second Language

The Music as a Second Language Approach

Little Kids Rock approaches music as if it were a language, a second language.

Why a second language?

Because no one is born into a family where music is the primary language.

The Music as A Second Language approach to music instruction draws upon the “Theory of Second Language Acqusition” by Stephen Krashen. It is, at first, deliberately non-notational. By emphasizing performance and composition over reading and writing, students acquire musical skills in a natural way and often times at accelerated pace. This creates a context rich in musical experience for young learners. This is well facilitated in an environment that encourages and allows for Approximation (experimentation) and that keeps students’ Affective Filters low (reduces student anxiety).

Ideally a child has the opportunity to “speak” or “play” music for a few years before they are introduced to the written system. Once a child can play and feels competent on their instrument they will have established a base from which reading music will have a much more meaningful context.

Download full paper – Music as a Second Language and Modern Band


Why teach music as a language?

Like spoken language, music expresses the full range of human emotions and does so by using its own distinct grammar, meter, cadence and phonemes. It has both a spoken and written form. Music, like language,must be learned from others who have already achieved some level of fluency. Finally, both language and music are primarily vehicles for human communication.

“Many people say, ‘music is a language,’ but it is seldom taught as one.”
– Victor Wooten, Bass Virtuoso


How Do We Learn Our Primary Language?

Infants learn to speak by listening to the people around them. They begin copying the sounds they hear and in a few years time they are able to communicate. A typical three-year-old child knows how to say hundreds of nouns and verbs but is unable to read anything. Children are usually not formally introduced to written language until they reach the age of five. At this point they have mastered the spoken language and are ready for the much more abstract written component.


What’s Critical in Learning a Second Language?

The “Theory of Second Language Acquisition” was developed by renowned linguist and educational researcher, Stephen Krashen. Krashen’s insights and theories form the cornerstone of much English as a Second Language (ESL) programming for immigrant children in the US today. His theory has five key ideas about learning a second language:

  • Encourage communication without concern about whether it’s “correct” – The most effective way to become fluent in a second language is to use a natural, subconscious process similar to the way people pick up their primary language. This process relies upon meaningful usage of the new language and natural communication. Speakers focus not on the “correctness” of their speech, but on the communicative act.
  • Minimize self-correction and self-monitoring – While learning a second language, the role of self-monitoring and self-correction should be minor, being used only to correct deviations from ‘normal’ speech and to give speech a more ‘polished’ appearance.
  • Avoid teaching grammar at first – Learning grammar first, is not the best way to learn a new language
  • Give easy to understand input – Messages in a second language must be consistently understandable to the learner. Messages are understandable to second language learners when they are just one step beyond his/her current stage of linguistic competence. The input should be easy enough that they can understand it, but just beyond their level of competence.
  • Keep anxiety levels low – Learners with high motivation, self-confidence, a good self-image, and a low level of anxiety are better equipped for success in second language acquisition. A student’s debilitating anxiety, low motivation and low self-esteem can and often do combine to form a ‘mental block’ that prevents successful second-language acquisition. Krashen calls this mental block the “affective filter.”

Who else thinks music is a Language?

There is certainly nothing new about likening music to a language. Poets, writers and authors have been doing so for some time now . . .

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

“Music is the language of the spirit. It opens the secret
of life bringing peace, abolishing strife.”
~Kahlil Gibran

“Music expresses that which cannot be put into
words and cannot remain silent.”
~Victor Hugo

“Music is well said to be the speech of angels.”
-Thomas Carlyle