Music, motivation and mental functioning in learning

A number of scripts in the Reflections/Readings section are set to a background of classical music: some orchestral, a few to keyboard.

This is more than a matter of aesthetics. Music—any music (Six Songs…)—affects the mind. Good music can sharpen the senses, enhance awareness, create the neural cross-connections on which comprehension, insight, storage and retention (memory) depend.

The appropriate musical backdrop establishes the mental circuitry in which verbal content is more vivid, best assimilated and most easily available in relevant situations. Recurring exposure to fine music is a downloading of the software that makes the human organism human.

The musical structure of a song—rhythm, melody, phrasing and dynamics—is a matrix that holds/arranges the content of the lyrics: the metadata under which the content is entered, organized, encoded.

Adding music to the mix of course content not only adds value to the content; it multiples it. Poetry is more easily recalled than prose, With music there are further memory pegs that often lead to the complaint “I can’t get the thing out of my head” with an advertising jingle.

Almost all of us have had a teacher who used homemade songs to help us learn grammar, math formulas, other sequential operations or information lists. Singing the alphabet to the tune of “Twinkle, twinkle little star” is a basic example. The song “What are the capital cities of Canada?,” (TAB) designed to upper elementary students, is another.

This section is focused on Canadian content. We leave Glenn Gould, Maureen Forrester and other great classical artists for background to nonmusical activities. Here we will feature folk songs, traditional and composed by Canadians, about Canada and Canadians.

Hungarian composer and music educator Zotan Kodály (“code-eye”) said that music education should begin with folk songs in one’s own language/culture. This relates music to the rest of life and gives us a sense of time and place. Canadian Classroom follows this principle.

This section contains a bank of Canadian songs linked to other lists and selections. Singing will be a staple of our 49 days on the road: at meals, in movement, class, recreation and small groups, as content as well as when we need a break or change of pace. Knowledge lived is knowledge learned; content sung is inspired and assimilated!

3 Rs – The songs in this section include Rail songs, songs by Canada’s English speaking bard Stan Rogers (a few with French translation) and Regional songs – a small sampling of the huge spread of peoples and locales that contribute to the Canadian spirit.

There is inevitable overlap between these categories. Stan wrote at least two rail-related songs, and most of his works are rooted in one or more of Canada’s regions. You’ll also find a sampling of some of the other singer songwriters that followed the 1967 centennial of Confederation. A few of these (Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen) are still performing.