Read the Episode #49 with Ann Kay, Part 2

Introduction

Here is the Crescendo Music Education Podcast – Episode 49. I’m so glad you could join me on this second part of my conversation with Ann Kay (for part 1, click here), keep listening, learning and being inspired. As a music specialist, which many of us listening, many people listening are music teachers, and I’m sure they’re going like me in my head? Gee, I’ve only been meaning to do this, you know, for so many years, I need to work more with my early childhood teachers in my school, I need to work with them. Because I know, that’s where my head’s going.

About ‘Read the Episode’: Sometimes, we would rather skim visually than listen to a podcast! That’s a great way to learn too! The transcript of episode 049 of The Crescendo Music Education Podcast is below.


Easy Things for Parents to Do to Encourage Music Skills in Children

Ann Kay
Yeah, I think it could be easy. You know I don’t want to make it you know that you have to do workshops for them and everything. But it might be at a collective meeting that you asked for time. And you could provide them with fun singing games that they can use to consciously practice reading skills, you can ask them to download a free metronome on their phone. It’s very simple. Let’s see, I have one here.


Debbie
Oh, yes.


Ann Kay
You show that to the child, they can show that to the child, they can have the child keep this, can you match this? Can you pat your lap at exactly that same time, they can change the tempo, they can download a free pitch pipe on their phones. So that’s what our classroom teachers do.

And we say, Oh, it’s so important that children can match a pitch. So you play a pitch, “oooo” (sung) and the children try to match “oooo” (sung), a kindergarten teacher just sent me a video of her kids trying to match a pitch. And they were all over the board. I was like, oh, no, but I keep saying to them, you do it, and you have one child match. And then eventually, they’re going to match. But you have to do it over and over so that their brains are actually changing and developing.

So classroom teachers love this and so they can download that free app. And then on our website, we have the basic musical fitness assessment, it’s just on there. And I’m redoing it again, I’m revising it, given what the classroom, teachers are telling me. So we’re trying to put these aids right out on our rocknreadproject.org website. And then I am going to say this to music teachers. When I started teaching, I came right out of school, I really didn’t know much. You know, I’d had one elementary methods course.

Oh, boy, that’s not enough, right? We all know that. But no one told me about, they told me about the Kodaly approach, the Orff approach, but I didn’t learn it. So if anyone out there has not learned those approaches, to me, there may be in the future other approaches that are better or whatever. But what those approaches are is they approach every child as a musician, and sequencing the skills to become competent. And so we have a lot of teachers here, lovely people, but you know, now we are going to listen to the orchestra instruments.

The next day, we’re going to do a rainstorm on the Orff instruments. And there’s no sequence to building competence. So if we know that by five years old children can keep a steady beat, clap the rhythm, sing in tune, match a pitch, why aren’t we doing that? Why aren’t we helping children be able to do that? You know, it’s just like learning to swim. I know adults who don’t swim, but they can learn as adults, but they never did.

I’ve seen babies learn to swim. So that’s the basic physical skills. So those are my suggestions to music teachers reach to their classroom teachers, but tell them the research. And the brain research is available. Actually I should put the link on our website, I’ve got a Google Drive that has an eight or nine page bibliography of these research studies.


Debbie
Oh, wow.


Ann Kay
There are Neurological studies and there are other music studies looking at the connections between brains that make music and what else can they do, those brains? And they do it really well.


Debbie
Okay, I will get you if it’s okay, to send me at least some of your lists. And we’ll put it in the show notes. So that people who were listening can go to the show notes for this episode.


Ann Kay
Great.


Debbie
Of course, it goes without saying I will have your web link for the Rock ‘n’ Read at the top. But if we have some more links, people can go in there and have a little explore because that is certainly one of the questions I wanted to ask is where would you suggest to go. So a lot of us here in Australia, we are hooked up or well, like I’m a member of but even if you’re not a member, we know of bigger better brains, with Anita Collins.


Ann Kay
I’ve met with her, yes.

Quick Tip: Find Opportunities for Information


Debbie
So she’s lovely. I’ve done an interview with her too in an earlier episode. But we’re always looking for links and things we can pop in our newsletters or little things we can say to parents on a parent evening, you know, we’re always looking for that sort of thing. My favourite thing is slipping in information into concerts. So if we’re having our choral concert or our band concert, and you know, the parents just have to come along because little, you know, little Johnny’s in the band, so they’re there. So why not just slip a little bit of this information in?


Ann Kay
And parents, if they knew that their child’s musical skills are important for other things? They would they would look at it differently.


Debbie
Yes.


Ann Kay
And why don’t they know? Well, most people don’t know the research.


Debbie
No. So we will, we’ll get some links off you. And hopefully, we’ll do some more individual looking. And also, we should all probably hop on and get that book that you mentioned, Of Sound Mind, that sounds like that should be worth a read.


Ann Kay
That would be fun. Yes. It talks about her 30 odd years and she’s still working, still running the auditory neuroscience lab at Northwestern University. Dr. Nina Kraus, and there are about 10 researchers there with her. It’s fascinating.


Debbie
So we’ll have to give the link to her work too won’t we.


Ann Kay
Absolutely.


Debbie
Okay, I’m just writing some of this down as we go.


Ann Kay
Yeah. And what I love about it is their their link is called Brainvolts. Brainvolts, I just love it.


Debbie
Brainvolts is it?


Ann Kay
Yes. Is it Yeah. And they look at music, it’s about how the brain processes sound. And then it’s ancillary correlations.


Debbie
So there’s lots of things, we need to dig further into this.


Ann Kay
And I don’t think it’s, I think it is a mind set, a different mindset than maybe we’ve had as music teachers. I’m not here to criticise any teachers, I don’t blame anybody. But when people say we ought to be able to justify music for musics sake, and I’d say, Okay, how’s that working for you?

And they say, not well, those people, they don’t get it, they don’t value it, and I go, okay, so if we keep saying the same thing over and over and expect a different result, you know, that’s the definition of insanity. So I have a completely different view of advocacy.


Debbie
Oh, I would love, we’ve got to get to that, but before we get to advocacy, because I want to get to that, but I want to hear your nuggets of fabulous.


Ann Kay
Well I was kind of reading those nuggets of fabulous that we found by working with classroom teachers, they just, they love this, like the downloading the metronome, and the pitch pipe.


Debbie
Love it, love it.


Ann Kay
It’s so simple. And so we say, you know, it’s not complex, and give them singing games, the ones you’re even teaching in your class. I mean, okay, we learned, you know, whatever it is, last week in the class, give them that, or record it for them or however the kids already know it. The teacher just needs to say to them, okay, we’re gonna start, we’re gonna play Obo-shi-notten-totten or whatever it is, kids are gonna go, you know, in their classroom.

Yes, teachers often think they don’t have time to do this. Once they know the research. I say, you don’t have time not to know this. What it is is a shift of how we think about it. Not our attitudes. I mean, we all are experts at teaching music. Oh, I’ve had classroom teachers, though, say to me, I am not teaching music. I go.

So right up front. I always say this is not a class, this course is not about you teaching music at all. It is not going to be you teaching rhythms and all that. No, no, no, no, that’s the specialist. Your job is to get all the children making music, just making it, dancing to it. Take a dance break, find the beat with your feet.


Debbie
I like that. It’s about making music with them. Rather, that’s a good word. It’s a good way to say it.


Ann Kay
Not to be teaching the music. No, no, that’s why we have music specialists. Yeah. And then they say, oh my gosh, we need more time with more music specialists. I had no idea this was so important. But you got to give them the brain research first. And then the research that it works.


Debbie
Okay. And I love that. And yes, this whole thing has, oh, they were amazing suggestions and thoughts. Love it. There’s so much I’m taking away. I am writing little bits down here. So I don’t forget, I’ll just have to rewatch. Now let’s get on to advocacy because you said you’ve got some slightly different thoughts there around advocacy.


Ann Kay
I’m going to be blunt.


Debbie
No, blunt, be blunt.


Ann Kay’s Views on Music Advocacy


Ann Kay
I have been blunt already. So to me our advocacy for music education has not worked. So when I went to school there was only one book that we read, called Our Philosophy of Music Education. And it was written by Dr. Bennett Reimer, who has since passed away. It was the only book out there that we read. I mean, we read other things. And you know what he said? He said, our job as music teachers is twofold.

One, the gifted and talented, and two the rest of the population that’s going to be sensitive music consumers. I was about 20 years old in the class in my undergrad, and I said, Excuse me, Dr. Erickson, if I was going to be a math teacher, and I said, my job is the Gifted and Talented math students, and the rest are going to be sensitive math consumers, so they’re not going to get the same education. I would be fired.


Debbie
Yes you would.


Ann Kay
And that was, I mean, the class wasn’t a large group of us going to be, you know, wanting to be music teachers, elementary music teachers, but I remember it to this day, and everybody went, Oh, I hadn’t thought about that. So when you think about it, the high school music teachers here are teaching only the ones who want to be there, and whose parents pay for those lessons.

And they outscore the other kids academically, and wow. So to me, this is an equity issue. Now that we know the brain science, it becomes an issue of equity, because why are you not giving that to all children?

So I know, Anita, oh, you know, she’s an instrumentalist. I’m a vocalist. I’m an instrumentalist, too. But I don’t think we have enough music teachers to give music lessons to all the children, but we have our bodies, our voices, they are the first instrument, we have all we need to become musically competent, musically fit, and musically competent children for all. I’m saying it’s time for a bold new goal. And that goal for a nation, for a state, for a school district is, to me, musical fitness for every child.

Now, how fit? How competent? Can they go “do, ti do. fa mi do”? Or can they sing with solfege and hand signs or can they clap the beat, can they read the music? I mean, we could get in arguments, how competent all day. I’m just talking about let’s start with basic competence for all children, and then take it on from there.

So to me, we’ve got an elite system in this country, don’t know about Australia, but it’s an elitist system, those who pay for it, get it, those brains are different. At one time, I had a simulation where I had, this was in the year 2000. And I was traveling all over the country. And I said, I’m going to give you a court case, pretend court case. A hundred high school seniors suing their district because they got the music appreciation route, and they dropped out at 14. And the rest went on, you know, they are musically competent.

You know, they scan their brains at kindergarten, and they scan their brains when they exited at 18. And they found out everybody’s going, what are you talking about scanning brains? This is, you know, 20 to 23 years ago, that I created this. And I said, they’re suing the district for $20 million because they didn’t get the music education competence. And their brains look different. Their national scores in reading and math are less. And so break yourself in a little juries. And let’s discuss this.

Well, they were like, what? And so they came back and I said, so what did you decide jury number one? And they said, the kids get the 20 million, but they have to take it out and piano or in music lessons? Oh, they were very creative. But at first they said, well, brain scans, they’re gonna we’re gonna do that. Now we might think maybe we are going to do brain scans when a kid enters the system and when they exit, and guess what the kids that had the music, education, the music instruction, not the appreciation route.

They outscored all the other kids and there are many studies showing this. There’s a Canadian study I just read with like 10,000 students they looked at, and the kids who were still instrumentally active were outscoring all the other kids in in the in the other academic areas. So that would be my bold new goal, musical fitness for every child. Or we can say music competence for every child. Parents care about brain development, they’re amazed to learn that new Brain Sciences found that this is really key to reading.

So just hook it with reading. If you can’t read, you can’t succeed. And we have a huge reading problem in the United States. In fact, the nationalist test found that two thirds of our students, fourth and eighth graders are not proficient in reading. Two thirds are not proficient. Now, either the test is bad, or we got a problem teaching reading.

But what if before we get to the reading, the brain that’s enabled for sound kind of, you know, learns to read pretty easily, wow, parents should know that. And then I’m saying be unstoppable. As music educators, you are unstoppable Debbie, you are. But be unstoppable in advocating for musical fitness. But we better be sure that we as music teachers are modeling, that they’re going to build these skills.

It’s not just you know, make a rainstorm today, and tomorrow, we’re going to do something else, you got to build those skills. And it’s not easy to build skills, sequentially, you got to Monday’s lesson has to hook somehow to Wednesday’s lesson, you know.


Debbie
Yes, you cannot beat, you must have good pedagogy, you must have a clear developmental sequence. I don’t care what label you give yourself.


Ann Kay
Right.


Debbie
I relabelled myself as a Kodaly teacher because to me, that was the logical route. And it’s voice based, but you call yourself whatever you like and you use whatever techniques.


Ann Kay
There’s no approach in the sky that’s the perfect approach.


Debbie
But you have to have a sequence and good pedagogy to go with that, you know, you need to have a whole lot of approaches to practice those known concepts to really solidify. But that to me, that’s it, you’ve got a good sequence, and you’ve got some good pedagogy, then you go for it.


Ann Kay
Yeah, I looked at our state, and we have like 250 advisory councils in our state. We have a legislative, a legislature, a branch, you know, that decides all the laws. But we also have these advisories. And then we have a governor of the state. So I looked at what are the advisories, well there’s one on autism, there’s one on dyslexia, there’s one on early childhood, there’s one on blah blah blah.

There is not one advisory in our state, on music, of any kind, that shows somehow we as a music profession, have not been able to tell people why this is so important. So there may be many other ways to advocate. But to me, the only advocacy that’s going to work going forward in 2023 is brain science, the brain science, and people have argued with me, well, just because the brain is a musical brain does it? Yes, it is different. And let’s see the correlations. No, they said, Well, that doesn’t cause it. Because you have a different brain musically and you’re better at auditory processing, and all these things you’re saying that doesn’t cause reading achievement?

I said, Well, it’s highly correlated, brains that don’t have that aren’t reading well. If the brain can’t tick, tick, tick, it’s usually going to struggle with reading. So yes, it’s correlated. But pretty soon, we’re gonna get to more causal.


Debbie
Yeah, I was gonna say it sounds to me more causal. I mean, if it’s, the brain is set up, ready to more readily read.


Ann Kay
There’s about a third of children who it doesn’t really matter how they’re taught to read. They just like phoom, once they realise that the symbols, but you have to decode the symbol, just like we know as music teachers, you can’t just show the child the notation.

Oh, keep looking at it, you’ll get it, it doesn’t work. Same with letters, you’ve got to know that the squiggle on the page means a sound. And of course, that’s why I found the Kodaly approach and I realised it’s sound to sight. Maybe you get to literacy, but what it really is, it’s a singing approach that trains the ear. Yes. That’s what it is. It’s an ear training approach.

And later, you go and read the squiggles on the oh, that means, “Oh if doh is in a space and B is in a space and so is in a space and they’re all in their place.” (sung) Okay, then, but I already have it in my ear, reading teachers are the same, a lot of sight to sound is going on. Look at the letter and what if the child looks at the letter B and doesn’t remember, they don’t have auditory memory for ‘ba’ the sound is not encoded, neurologically.

And then the next day, the teacher says, Okay, here’s a B, what sound does it make and the child? They can’t remember it? It’s not there.

So that’s what I say on the last advocacy would be to start a Zap the Gap Campaign. That’s what we’re doing here. We’re telling people that we think we could zap the gap in reading achievement between those who just tend to learn naturally easily whatever approach they’re taught. And the two thirds of them that don’t, that the majority do not.


Debbie
Those numbers are scary, those percentages are scary.


Ann Kay
Yes. And of course our state test says that 60% are reading proficiently, but the national test that’s done in every state says that two thirds of our kids are not proficient on the national test. So people argue about well, is the national test too hard or whatever? I can’t, can’t go there.

But I’m saying, we as music educators could change the dialogue. What if auditory processing, music making, music skills that develop that, could zap the gap in reading? I mean, wow, why wouldn’t we say that? Why would we continue to cling to music for music sake? I’m like, music for brain sake. Thank you very much.


Debbie
Oh, I love it. I think that’s some really good advice. I think there’s lots of things we could do as music teachers.


Music is a Gateway Art


Ann Kay
I also say that music is the gateway art. A lot of people say, Oh, we should give them all art. And I say absolutely, I took drawing lessons, I mean I took whatever. Theater is great. I mean, I love it. All right. But music is like the gateway drug. You know, like, whatever. Smoking is the gateway drug. I don’t know. But musics the gateway art. Because the fetus starts hearing at four months. It’s the first art form that the baby learns, sounds.


Debbie
Yes it is.


Ann Kay
So that is the gateway. And any musician is going to be more interested in arts of all kinds. It’s the gateway art.


Debbie
Yeah, I love it. I love it. That is fabulous.


Ann Kay
So just get them music making. And then we can add drama, theater and art, visual art. And I’m for it all.


Debbie
Yes. And one of the battles that we are fighting here, it’s really important for people to not know that as music educators, we are not saying don’t do the other arts, what we’re saying is do the other arts but do not diminish music in order to do the other arts.

Of course, the other arts are essential. But yeah, let’s get this music thing happening and happening properly. And like you said, it’s the first one, I recall so vividly my first little boy, when I was pregnant with him, I just remember how much he loved and I was actually in the classroom then for a little while. So I taught ordinary classroom for a while.

But every time I did a music lesson with my kids, or a music lesson, of course, with the next door kids and that because you know, you get to do the extra music. I just remember how wild he went. In my womb. Every time there was music lessons, and the kids would actually see they go, I can see your baby moving. So absolutely. It is the first of the arts, that we all experience.


Ann Kay
It’s not better than, it’s just biologically the first thing. A sound mind is fast, when we sleep we are still hearing. The sound mind it is, and what is it? It’s vibration. We call it music. Its vibration, its sound. And it’s the way the brain hears it that makes a difference, for a lot of things. Yeah.

So of course, why do we say the original brain train? I used to tell my students, this is not the brain drain class, this is the brain train class. You’re doing this to train your brain. I used to say this 30 some years ago, and they’d like you are the weirdest woman ever. I go Yeah. But that’s what we’re up to, brain training. And that was way before any of these diagnostic tools told us that this is important.


Debbie
I like it. And you’re also on this unstoppable train. The brain train.


Ann Kay
No draining the brain. We’re training the brain, and we’re training it for music making. But you know, should somebody say Oh, you have to choose, you could be a competitive tennis player or a musician. I said, No, I’m gonna do both. Thank you very much both and I’m training my brain to do a lot of things. And it’s not either or, it’s both and. So I you know the arts, music is the gateway. That’s the first sense to develop.

Oh, I asked reading teachers of the five senses. Which one is most important for reading? When I do my workshops, and I say Don’t Don’t, don’t say it out loud. But I bet you’re thinking sight. I said let’s think about how a blind person learns to read, they’ve got great auditory processing, they can’t see how do they learn? Touch, my fingers, I’m learning to read with Braille, they’re gonna learn to read very well, because their auditory is so good.

Now let’s take people who are deaf and hard of hearing, very hard for them to learn to read. What do you know, the number one sense for reading is sound. And they don’t think about it that way. They think about it as sight. Yes. So we are the sound experts. Music teachers, thank goodness, we have music teachers, we are the sound experts.

But we don’t think of it that way we think of, well, I have a special gift and I’m trying to impart that. No, no, no, no, this is very simple. Sound. It’s just about sound processing, helping people process sound, moving to the sound, patting to the sound whatever


Debbie
This is, and it’s the perfect, this is the finisher. And I’m actually not sure what you’re going to choose. This is when you get on your soapbox.


Ann Kay
Like I haven’t been on it yet.


Debbie
Well, I do think that you rather like being on that soapbox. And can I say I am with you, sister. I am on my soapbox all the time. Part of the reason why I started the whole podcast thing. We just have to sell what we do because what we do is so vital.


Ann Kay
It has. It’s incredibly important.


Debbie
It is, so I guess that’s my soapbox, but now to yours. So to finish off this amazing interview.


Ann Kay
The minute I met you, I met you here in the States. Yes. Who is this fascinating woman. Because yes, you are.


Debbie
Oh thank you, I was trying to think was that in Georgia or Minneapolis?


Ann Kay
I don’t know. Atlanta, Georgia. I gave the keynote. So I don’t know if it was that one.


Debbie
It was 2016.


Ann Kay’s Soapbox


Ann Kay
That was probably the last one. Well, Minnesota, Minnesota. We had it since then I went to, but I passed president of the National and I’m not going anywhere because I’m not teaching kids now. I’m going to a workshop and I’m like, Oh, I’m so excited about learning this and then I don’t have kids, you know. Well I’m gonna end with a quote. And this quote comes from Howard Goodall from England.

And it was a keynote speech he gave for the American Choral Directors Association, north central that was here in 2010. So quite a while back, but I took notes. And he, he was marvelous. He was the one who, who got the Ministry of Education in England to do Sing Up. And Sing Up was a four year, 70 million from the government, retraining of classroom teachers to do what we’re talking about.

Get all children singing, and they did all sorts of singing games, and the teachers had so much fun. Fun. Absolutely. The main thing is fun.

So here’s what he said, I just love this. “Singing is the outward manifestation of our souls. It’s not a luxury. It’s not a plugin, it’s not a nicety. It is not a small entertainment for lunchtime, for some of the children. It is every child’s birth, right. You know, humans make music for a multitude of reasons that we started that way. And, and now we know that brain development is one of them. Singing and acquiring basic music skills can unlock every child’s brain potential for language and literacy by the age of five”.

So by committing to the goal of musical fitness for every child, we can help zap the gap in reading achievement. So like you say, sing today read forever. The singing is first, the singing it is all? And then what does it do? So we will find out more from brain scientists as we go.

What it actually does, but we shouldn’t wait. We shouldn’t wait. And nothing we’ve done here in Minnesota really. Music still being cut. Still being marginalised, still being viewed as entertainment. It’s sad. And so really, let’s just boil it down to a basic thing. And so basic musical fitness for all children.


Debbie
So inspirational. Thank you so much for speaking to us today.


Ann Kay
Thank you.


Debbie
So thank Ann and we’ll have to do this again.


Ann Kay
Bye bye, thank you.



Sign-Off


Debbie
This podcast is brought to you by Crescendo Music Education connecting supporting and inspiring music educators. In the show notes you’ll find links to Crescendo’s social media platforms. Pplease connect with me and be part of the Crescendo community. You might consider becoming a Crescendo member, for a low annual fee you can access hundreds of files worksheets, printables workbooks, repeat workshops and webinars and receive great discounts on events. So come and connect with me Debbie O’Shea. See you in the socials.

Just for Laughs

As we know laughter relieve stress, don’t lose sight of the funny side of life. The machine at the coin factory just suddenly stopped working with no explanation. It just doesn’t make sense.


Links Mentioned in the Episode:

Book Recommendation: Of Sound Mind: How Our Brain Constructs a Meaningful Sonic World

Metronome Apps with Pendulum Swing:

Pitch Pipe Apps (C-C)

Ann Kay’s Website and Resources:

Where to find me:

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