Author: Mary E Saurman

"Learning takes place when the activity is (1) receptor-oriented, (2) context-oriented, (3) repetitive, and (4) participatory… Indigenous music embraces all four of these learning components. Not only are the words in the people’s spoken language, but the music is also in their traditional music system."

Research shows that music is an effective tool for memorisation. Mary Saurman describes what is needed for effective instruction and shows how music meets many of these requirements: it is receptor-orientated, uses repetition, is participatory, and has intrinsic motivation because it is a part of people’s culture. She offers examples of how music has enhanced literacy programs across the world. Finally she outlines several steps to incorporating music into a literacy program: consider music’s function in the community; ask questions of when it’s used; what it’s used for and who uses it; then consider which song categories and styles are appropriate for literacy; and finally begin to use it!

Resources to download:
 Nancy Schaefer  |    Thu 13 May 2010, 14:42

I agree that especially where music is valued by a people group, it is important to incorporate music into the literacy program. At least one of the post-primer booklets produced by the Farefare people was a song which Farefare women had composed while they were learning how to treat their children for measles.

In producing the Farefare primers we also made use of music in that songs were part of some of the traditional stories we were able to incorporate in the primer series (“The use of recorded text material for stories in Frafra primer construction” in Notes on Literacy vol 21). These were very popular lessons and they enhanced the effectiveness of the primers because it demonstrated that writing and reading were an extension of something the Farefare people already valued highly.

The most effective use of music for Scripture Engagement that I have seen was in a workshop led by Paul Neeley in Ghana, sometime in the early 1990's. We had finished the Buli translation of Revelation and Paul came to help a group of translators and musicians determine which of their music forms could be used to set parts of the book to music. From what I remember the song that made the Bulsa people happiest was a rendition of part of Revelation 21 following the songs the Bulsa people sing when they bring a new wife to her husband's home.

 Robyn Terrey  |    Mon 17 May 2010, 02:08

Music is not only a facilitator of literacy learning but in one of my experiences in implementing an adult literacy program in the Philippines was in fact the means for learning in that I based the adult program around 7 well known hymns/Christian songs. Most of the students knew the songs from memory so predictability in learning was high. The repetition of the songs that I chose was strategic in enabling and encouraging learning and the students loved singing the songs together - not only from memory but being able to follow and read the words. Having been a strong advocate for a phonics approach to literacy I was hesitant at first to try this whole language strategy but seeing the results and the way the students responded caused me to shift my thinking and change my practice.

 Joy Anderson  |    Sun 13 Jun 2010, 10:16

We found that in the O'odham language as people were singing the songs that one man came to be able to lead the songs because he had learned to read by singing the songs in the O'odham language. We were leading the songs when we told the people we would not be here next, he said he would lead them as he could now read after singing these hymns.