What’s An Eighth Note? Do Elementary School Music Students Need to Know?

elementary school music What is an eight note? Ask any average adult and the response will probably be “I da-know”! Even in actual musician’s circles you might get the same answer. Many fine rock bands are self taught and can’t read a note. Go into a church. The congregation of course can read the words but has to follow the organ and choir for the melody. Even the volunteer choir members, in most cases, can’t read the notes. They learn by rote. Each section learns it’s harmony lines by repeating them over and over until committed to memory.

That brings us to the elementary school music curriculum. There are many music concepts that we teach in grades 1-5. Singing is what usually comes to mind when music class is mentioned. But how about movement like marching or dancing. Probably listening is the most important activity because it provides a common thread that pulls the other concepts together.

Notice that I didn’t include note reading. All through our lives we sing. Kids sing along with shows on television (rote), birthday parties (rote), sing-a-long CDs and videos, playing with their friends at recess, you get the idea! Even teens and adults sing along with car radios, or TV commercials. Who doesn’t know and can’t sing “Nationwide is on your side” or “Break me off a piece of that Kit Kat Bar”. Don’t forget sporting events and “Karaoke bars”!

Movement to the beat comes in handy, boys march around the house playing soldiers, and girls get together in their bedrooms and learn the latest dance moves they saw on the tube. Teens demand school dances and of course when they get older, want to dance at their own weddings. No written notes.

We listen to concerts, radios, movies, tv, and who knows what else and music can make you feel happy, sad, scared etc. but still no note reading.

So why do elementary music curriculums demand reading notes? I have pondered that question to no avail. As a public school music teacher for 30 years, every few years I had to attend a curriculum development conclave. And every time we met those sincere (I think) music educators sat down to come up with some new teaching innovations. At the end of the two day session, nothing was changed. And yet my colleagues acted so proud of what they accomplished.

At another workshop, the general consensus was that it was our divine mission to teach those young minds all of the above or they would not achieve full, complete lives.

Now think about it. Students are exposed to notes and their time values once a week for about 10 minutes out of a 45 minute general music class, then they would forget about it all week long. Kids have math a half hour or more each day with exercises and they still don’t get it. What chance does an eighth note have? Basically, unless a student in second or third grade practices the piano every evening to reenforce what she learned, nothing will be remembered. You may as well be shoveling s#&t against the tide!

Why do we teach note reading in elementary school? I can not come up with a legitimate rationalization for teaching eighth notes in general music classes. “I da-know.”

In a perfect world, an elementary school music class would involve listening, feeling, playing along with rhythm sticks while marching around the class, singing of course, and lots of fun and laughter.