Early Childhood Music and Movement Association

ECMMA: Early Childhood Music and Movement Association

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The Parent Connection

The Parent Connection focuses on music learning during those miraculous years during which every child is a prodigy – early childhood. As a parent, grandparent, music teacher for 40+ years, music teacher educator, and early childhood music and movement specialist, Dr. Townsend brings a broad perspective to ideas and issues affecting parents and families.

Dr. Townsend has headed the music teacher education program and directed the instrumental program at Maranatha Baptist University since 1996. In that capacity, he teaches early childhood music and movement classes daily at the university's Kiddie Kampus, teaching infants through 4 year old children.


The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily promote official policy of ECMMA.



I sat, one June morning, on a Michigan State University classroom floor in a circle of teachers, ages 20 to 70. At 45 years old, I had not been asked to sit criss-cross-apple-sauce since… well… since it was called Indian style. And my body knew it. Always an athlete growing up, and still able to play a mean second base and smack my fair share of balls over the fence, I was NOT going to let these girls (practically everyone else in the class), know how much this was hurting my sacroiliac (almost as much as my pride). So I sat, and swayed, and sang, and did everything all the girls did – just a lot clunkier. (More clunkily?...)

It was 1996 and Cindy Taggart, the new music education chair at MSU, had encouraged me to attend a 2-week-long summer workshop in early childhood music. But I did not know that it was going to be early childhood music. I had just accepted a college teaching position in the neighboring state of Wisconsin, a state that, as far as I knew at the time, might not even have electricity. (They did.) Knowing that I would be teaching my first elementary general music class for college undergraduates that coming fall, I had asked Cindy, the new chair of the MSU music education program, if she might know of a summer class that I could take to renew my familiarity with Orff, Kodaly, Dalcroze, Suzuki, et. al. She assured me that she did. Sort of…

So on this Monday morning in June, across the circle to my right, sat Edwin E. Gordon singing, moving, chanting, and explaining his pre-audiation theories – before I had even heard of the word audiation, and five years before the word would show up in any dictionary.


On this morning I would learn several new concepts and names – Music Learning Theory, Audiation, Early Childhood Music and Movement, Phyllis Weikert – and especially, the mantra Sound Before Sight Before Theory. I would later come to realize that many of early childhood music’s most prominent names look to Dr. Gordon and his pre-audiation theories for major portions of their theoretical framework. And at the root of it all is the mantra that I learned that Monday morning at MSU, Sound Before Sight Before Theory.

I wonder how many realize that, embedded in the first three words of that phrase (Sound, Before Sight, ...), resides the entire musical rationale for early childhood music and movement – the entire musical basis for the existence of a group like ECMMA and all the groups and movements that embody the collaborative ECMMA mission.


In the 16 years since that June morning I have probably repeated the phrase 1000 times or more, while teaching scores of college classes and professional workshops. More importantly, MLT concepts have slowly infiltrated the way I teach all my classes – infants, aural skills classes, my capstone Music Program Administration course – and even my performing groups.

I would like to say that Dr. Gordon could not imagine the huge impact that his expansive Music Learning Theory has made on the teaching of thousands of educators of all ages, and of nearly every civilized nationality, but that would not be true. He knows. He knows that music education has been turned on its respective ear, and that publishers and teachers will spend the next 50-odd years figuring out how to translate his ideas, his research, and his influence into lesson plans, positively affecting the lives of tens of thousands of young musicians.

And this August, when Dr. Gordon presents his Keynote Address at the 2012 ECMMA Convention in Green Lake, Wisconsin (yes, they have electricity), those of us fortunate enough to attend will have yet one more opportunity to rub shoulders with a legend who has already positioned himself among the great names in music education history.

I hope you can join us. 2012 ECMMA Convention. One for the ages.


Jennifer Mulqueen Milton Jun 23, 2012

I was not aware that Dr. Gordon coined the mantra Sound before Sight before Theory. It makes a lot of sense therefore that one of its manifestations is an “entire musical rationale for early childhood music and movement”, and I so look forward to the opportunity this convention presents to continue fortifying this “revolution” in music education. I would especially love to learn how things are playing out in the general music scene once children leave family classes and enter school.  What is the vision for creating a path that can honor music learning in this way?

Movement Matters Jun 24, 2012

Developmentally speaking, SOUND BEFORE SIGHT is accurate! Our hearing is already fully developed at birth, but vision takes years to develop.

Suzanne Burton Jun 30, 2012

Eric Bluestine, in his book, The Ways Children Learn Music states that this idea originated before Gordon. Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi influenced Lowell Mason who developed curriculum guidelines that included sound before sign and principles and theory after practice. (p. 35, 2nd edition).

Rick Townsend Watertown Jul 03, 2012

Yes, Jennifer. Dr. Gordon did not claim to have invented the phrase. This workshop was just my first introduction to the concept - and to its implications for early childhood music learning.

It was interesting, though, to hear his description of how the concept disappeared from our nomenclature and methodologies in the early 20th century - mainly due the great proliferation of printed beginning method books. The sequence actually became reversed, becoming the basis for music learning until Suzuki came along - followed by Gordon’s work.

See you at Green Lake! (-:

Julie Goodro Aug 09, 2012

I’m wondering why you seem to be leaving out Orff, Kodaly, and Dalcroze, especially as their work migrated to the US during this century?  They were pretty big lights who came along before Gordon and on whose work many of the EC music programs were built.  Am I being too picky?

Marilyn Lowe Springfield Aug 11, 2012

A response to Jennifer Mulqueen Milton’s question, “I would especially love to learn how things are playing out in the general music scene once children leave family classes and enter school.  What is the vision for creating a path that can honor music learning in this way?”

Music Moves for Piano applies Gordon’s “SOUND BEFORE SIGHT” to piano instruction. Through this audiation-based approach, children learn how to play what they sing, improvise to rhythm patterns, arrange songs, compose original music, understand the playing mechanism - how to make the piano keys sound in a physically coordinated way as well as what NOT to do, perform with ease, feel comfortable with the whole keyboard, play in different tonalities and meters, accompany, play duets, learn keyboard harmonic skills, understand the meaning of CONTEXT and FUNCTION. MUSIC LITERACY is a result of the SOUND BEFORE SIGHT or AUDIATION approach to learning music. What the student learns by sound and by the application of FUNCTIONAL/CATEGORIZED TONAL AND RHYTHM PATTERNS in a CONTEXT is applied to music notation at an age when abstract thinking occurs - usually around age 11.

Students become excellent readers because they have learned the meaning of symbols through sound and by experiencing through application different symbols. They have not been distracted from learning how to play, perform, and audiate by looking at notation before they have a fundamental grasp of the meaning of music.

To JULIE GOODRO: Gordon had the privilege of knowing the work of Orff, Kodaly, Dalcroze, and Suzuki and building on it. His Learning Sequence of tonal and rhythm patterns helps to make the works of these great men viable.

Linda M Fields Princeton Junction Aug 27, 2012

Marilyn has got it right!  When students are allowed to live, sing and move in the world of sound long enough, the creating/decoding of symbols will follow, naturally and playfully. Most of us ECM folks agree that this is the way music reading should be taught.  The challenge is encouraging patience in parents and other authorities.  Short-cuts are so tempting in this fast-paced world of ours.  So, it comes down to adult education.  Lorna Heyge referred to this in her interview in the July/August issue of Clavier Companion.  We have to keep advocating for the child, so they can receive the precious gift of well-used time to grow, discover and own the concepts of music in the same way that humanity did: sound before sight.

Andrea Sep 16, 2012

Hello,My name is Vandy Kamara and currently linivg and working ( studying) in Australia having settled here for the past four years. I went to the Huntingdon secondary school (HSS) Jui and a very proud product of that school. I would like to thank every one for still helping out there and providing the much needed help to my less fortunate brothers and sisters.I have tried over the years to get a diaspora old students association for the HSS jui but my efforts are getting me no where. I was wondering if there are any suggestions to get past students ( a lot out there) together and form this association with the aim of supporting the school back home. During my days at the school, we had students at the boarding home of the HSS from across West Africa ( Ghana, Liberia, Gambia etc) and I am sure we are scattered all over the world.Could someone help us with any suggestion/connection to keep the Jui school dream alive? Please feel free to contact me :nyaiyatta@yahoo.com ( Vandy Kamara, class of 82 – 87). My constant search through social networking sites actually led me to this Huntingdon Sierra Leone Mission site. Someone please help!

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