From Sound to Sign
GARY E. McPHERSON & ALF GABRIELSSON
One of the most contentious issues in music pedagogy concerns when and how to introduce notation to a beginning instrumentalist. Most current teaching introduces musical notation very early in the process, perhaps because many teachers believe that beginners who are taught by ear will never reach the same level of reading proficiency as children who are introduced to notation from their earliest lessons. In contrast, proponents of the sound before sign approach argue that children will have difficulty learning to read notation unless their musical knowledge is sufficiently developed for them to be able to relate the sound of what they can already play with the symbols used to represent them. Our review of literature results in the identification of six principles that can be used to develop the complex range of skills needed for a child to become musically literate.
A curious contradiction in music pedagogy is that teaching practice is often in conflict with theories of instrumental teaching about how to introduce notation to a child. Whereas most children learning an instrument in Western styles of education are introduced to musical notation from their very early lessons, prominent instrumental teachers throughout history have advocated that ear playing should be emphasized before the introduction of notation.
Up until the mid-nineteenth century the teaching of instruments was regarded as a craft whereby knowledge was passed from one generation to the next by word of mouth, often through a form of musical apprenticeship. During this time, composers and teachers did not separate technical practice from more general musical skills; rather, the goal was to develop an all-round musician by inte-