Rhythmic movement and sound can be observed all around you in the ticking of a clock, the daily movement of the sun, the marching of a band, and the crashing of the waves. The chicka-dee-dee-dee of a bird, the inching of a worm, and the mother rocking her baby to sleep while humming a tune are all natural and instinctual. Joy-filled dancing of children and the evening song of the cricket and northern leopard frog reveal rhythmic movement and sound that is so inborn, they just have to come out! Dancing and singing of praises to our great God very naturally flow from creation and little children. It seems that moving to a rhythm and musical sound is something that is a part of natural law or divine design.
Charlotte Mason founded her educational philosophy upon biblical truth (special revelation), science, and her observations of children (general revelation). We too can find truth and “living” ideas through God’s revealed word in the Bible. This is called special revelation because it is only through reading the words of God that we can come to understand certain truths about Christ and the Gospel. Special revelation allows us to know more about God and Christ than we could ever know through observing creation alone. Even so, God is Creator. Anything that can be discovered about the world, any joy felt, any principle observed ultimately finds its beginning in Him (“The heavens declare the glory of God”—Psalm 19:1, ESV). We call this general revelation. Truth revealed in this way can be known by anyone willing to pay attention. Both Mason’s foundation of scientific research and her observation of children fall under the category of general revelation. But keep in mind that the Holy Spirit is the one doing the revealing in all of these areas.
Because I believe that Mason used both special and general revelation to develop her educational philosophy, I would like to utilize both as well to elaborate on one specific subject of her educational curriculum: music education. More particularly, we will be taking an in-depth look at Drill which included Swedish and musical drill, dancing, and rhythmic games. I know it might surprise many of you to read that Drill, which was the PNEU’s physical education element, is a part of music education. This is exactly why I want to address this in my post! I would like to define this subject more broadly as rhythmic movement because almost all activities that Mason included under the broad heading of Drill were rhythmic. The most exciting thing for me, as a music major who spent the past year in research, was to find that many of the drill exercises were also done with musical accompaniment. Sports, such as hockey and netball, were also listed in her programmes under Drill and were to be done as afternoon occupations. They are obviously not as rhythmic as dancing, but they do include some rhythmic elements such as running. Because they aren’t included in the morning timetables and don’t relate to music education, however, we won’t be discussing those in this post.
First, we will look at what special revelation reveals to us about music and rhythmic movement, then we’ll review what science and music researchers have to say. Following that I will share some observations of children both from Mason’s day and personal experience, and I will show how rhythmic movement is a living subject. These three pillars of knowledge can help form the basis for the Principles of Drill. I would like to use that order, since I think it’s how Mason approached the development of her method as well. In Part 2 of our series on rhythmic movement, we’ll get into the Practice of musical drill and rhythmic movement and look at how they were included in Mason’s programmes and what that might look like for us today.
What Principles are revealed to us by the Holy Spirit through Scripture?
Special revelation teaches us about God’s design for music and rhythm. The first thing that we learn about music is that it was created by God and is meant to be used by angels and men. Music has been a part of history since the beginning. Ezekiel 28:12-13 describes the making of Lucifer. Many Bible scholars think that Lucifer may have been created to worship in God’s presence forever until he was cast down due to his desire to be greater than God.
You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty. You have been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of your timbrels [a tambourine most likely with a drum head —a percussive, rhythm instrument] and of your pipes [a pitched instrument] was prepared in you in the day that you were created. (Ezekiel 28:12b-13, KJ2000, 2011, emphasis added)
The book of Genesis also mentions that Jubal, a descendant of Cain, was the “father of all those who play the lyre and pipe” (Genesis 4:21, ESV, 2016). The first example reveals to us that God prepared the workmanship of both pitched and rhythmic instruments at the creation of the angels. The second example shows that Jubal, an image-bearer, was a musician and father to all who make music. I love how these two examples display Charlotte Mason’s Great Recognition. Both God and man have roles to play. The workmanship is prepared in advance for us by God at creation. We need to co-operate with the work of the Holy Spirit by doing the work. In the fresco that Mason discusses in Chapter 25 of Parents and Children, music is part of that “workmanship” and a revelation of the Spirit of God. We play our role by making instruments and making music as image bearers.
Music contains both rhythm and pitch. We saw in the Ezekiel passage that God created means for both elements with the workmanship of the timbrels (percussive or rhythmic) and the pipes (pitched). There are also different ways of expressing rhythm and pitch in the Scriptures. All music is in some ways rhythmic, but singing and pitched instruments like harp and flute are often more pitch-oriented in the way we listen and participate. Rhythm and movement are more overtly included in Scripture through percussive instruments such as the timbrel and through dancing or marching to music.
Another revealed truth is that music was created for worship. I believe the following passage, moreover, indicates that dancing is not only for worship but also for accompanying times of joy, gladness, and rejoicing. David writes in Psalm 30:11-12, “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” (ESV, 2016, emphasis added)
In the Scriptures, music and rhythmic movement were also used in times of war—before, during, and after battle. As the Israelites prepared to defeat Jericho, they walked (or possibly marched in unison) to the continual sound of trumpets:
And just as Joshua had commanded the people, the seven priests bearing the seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the Lord went forward, blowing the trumpets, with the ark of the covenant of the Lord following them. The armed men were walking before the priests who were blowing the trumpets, and the rear guard was walking after the ark, while the trumpets blew continually. But Joshua commanded the people, “You shall not shout or make your voice heard, neither shall any word go out of your mouth, until the day I tell you to shout. Then you shall shout.” (Joshua 6:8-10, ESV, 2016, emphasis added)
Sometimes we see musical and rhythmic worship and the execution of God’s holy vengeance in the same passage:
Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song,
his praise in the assembly of the godly!
Let Israel be glad in his Maker;
let the children of Zion rejoice in their King!
Let them praise his name with dancing,
making melody to him with tambourine and lyre!
For the Lord takes pleasure in his people;
he adorns the humble with salvation.
Let the godly exult in glory;
let them sing for joy on their beds.
Let the high praises of God be in their throats
and two-edged swords in their hands,
to execute vengeance on the nations
and punishments on the peoples,
to bind their kings with chains
and their nobles with fetters of iron,
to execute on them the judgment written!
This is honor for all his godly ones.
Praise the Lord!
(Psalm 149, ESV, 2016, emphasis added)
This passage might make us uncomfortable. All the same, we trust God to fight battles for us, and we can rejoice in his justice and that all he does is right and good. We can teach our children that it is right for us to rejoice with singing and dancing as God helps us to be strong in spirit and mighty in battle. Paul teaches us in Ephesians 6:10-12:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (ESV, 2016)
After Pharaoh’s army was destroyed in the Red Sea, the women danced and played percussion instruments:
Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing. And Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.” (Exodus 15:20-21, ESV, 2016, emphasis added)
I believe that the true and living way that Mason discovered in the Bible includes expression through music with both pitch and rhythmic movement. The Scriptures teach us to sing, play instruments, and move to music in worship, in celebration, in sadness, and even in war. Miss Mason very thoroughly covered these living ways in her programmes so that children could learn to love God and love neighbor through music, as in all other subjects. Singing (Sol-fa, folksongs and hymns), music appreciation, and instrumental music include both pitch and rhythm. It is primarily in Mason’s Drill subjects where we get a stronger focus on rhythmic movement, which we saw expressed in the Battle of Jericho and Miriam at the Red Sea. Now that we have seen what Scripture has to say about rhythmic movement and music, let’s take a look at general revelation, first through scientific and musical research and secondly through the observations of children.
What Principles are revealed by the Holy Spirit through science?
I want to share a little bit of “old” research and a little bit of new. The Parents’ Review articles and the books Mason chose for the PNEU programmes reveal to us the types of scientific information she had access to. Modern researchers continue to study the area of rhythmic movement because it is so effective at training the whole person.
First, I want to share a portion of a Parents’ Review Article by T. H. Yorke Trotter, the principal of the Incorporated London Academy of Music. Trotter put into practice a system for educating children in music. His system was based on rhythmic movement and led to musical improvisation at a very early stage. Here we see some “old” thoughts from him on the importance of rhythmic movement and how it is instinctual to us as humans, and how it is important for our brain processes, community building, and emotional expression:
Now the instinct for rhythm is one of the strongest instincts that we possess. “Our consciousness,” as Professor Wundt puts it, “is rhythmically disposed. The reason of this scarcely lies in a specific quality, peculiar to consciousness alone, but it clearly stands in the closest relationship to our whole psychophysical organization. Consciousness is rhythmically disposed, because the whole organism is rhythmically disposed. The movements of the heart, of breathing, of walking, take place rhythmically.” (Introduction to Psychology, p. 5.)
And not only is this the case but the possession of this rhythmic instinct was a necessity to man for the preservation of the species. Primitive man could only maintain the struggle for existence by concerted action, and concerted action is not possible without the rhythmic instinct. To pull down the branch of a tree wherewith to fashion a shaft for a weapon, to pull up a stone, which should be sharpened into an implement for attack, it was necessary for men to work together according to a certain rhythm. And all through the history of mankind the same thing has prevailed. Man has reached his present position because he alone of all animals is able to co-operate with his fellows in the accomplishment of tasks which would have been impossible without the possession of this strong instinct for rhythm. The feeling for rhythm is engrained in our nature, and is one of the strongest instincts that we possess.
Moreover, it is by rhythmic motion that we find expression for our feelings, our emotions. The earliest form of art was no doubt the dance, and it was in the dance that primitive man found the means to give vent to what he felt. And so we get religious dances, war dances, love dances, and other kinds, all of which owe their origin to the desire of giving expression to the feelings in rhythmic motion. (Trotter, 1913, pp. 272-273)
Trotter sets up for us a lovely outline for three areas of modern research that are being covered today in regard to music and movement. He wrote about the body and mind functioning with rhythmic processes. This idea relates to current studies on how our brain and body development are impacted by rhythmic input. Then he talked about how rhythmic movement was used for building unity in community, and lastly he talked about using dance to express emotion, which relates to much of the research today centering around rhythmic movement and the development of language and reading! It’s exciting that modern researchers are looking into the same instinctual roles of rhythm with more scientific approaches. Indeed, a recent infant study demonstrates that body, brain, and language development are affected by rhythmic movement:
Sensori-motor synchronization (SMS) is the coordination of rhythmic movement with an external rhythm. It plays a central role in motor, cognitive, and social behavior.
… auditory stimulation, particularly the rhythmic stimulation included in speech, songs, and music are believed to play a pivotal role in the development of early infant communication via speech perception and production.
Spontaneous sucking, crying, and leg movements have been studied in the presence or absence of rhythmical auditory stimulation. Findings suggest that the interaction between movement and sound is present at birth and that SMS can be observed in special conditions and within a narrow range of tempi, particularly near the infant’s own spontaneous motor tempo. The discussion centers on the fundamental role of SMS in interaction and communication at the beginning of life. (Provasi, Anderson, & Barbu-Roth, 2014, emphasis added)
There is also current research on the instinctual, and I would say created, role of rhythmic movement in regard to working as a community:
Armies train by marching in step. Religions around the world incorporate many forms of singing and chanting into their rituals. Citizens sing the National Anthem before sporting events. Why do we participate in these various synchronized activities? A new study, published in the journal Psychological Science, suggests that when people engage in synchronous activity together, they become more likely to cooperate with other group members…
Societies rely on cooperation among their members to thrive and be successful. These findings suggest that cultural practices which involve synchrony (such as dancing, singing or marching) may enable groups to produce members who are cooperative and willing to make personal sacrifices, for the benefit of the group. The authors conclude that “synchrony rituals may have therefore endowed some cultural groups with an advantage in societal evolution, leading some groups to survive where others have failed.” (Association for Psychological Science, 2009)
Researchers are also finding that musical rhythms help to bind individuals’ nervous systems to facilitate collective accomplishment. I find this to be fascinating in light of the way God instructed the Israelites to move together around Jericho as the trumpets played continually for seven days. What unity they must have felt after so many days marching in unison.
In his book Musicophilia, neurologist Oliver Sacks writes: “In all societies, a primary function of music is collective and communal, to bring and bind people together. People sing together and dance together in every culture, and one can imagine them having done so around the first fires, a hundred thousand years ago.” Sacks adds, “In such a situation, there seems to be an actual binding of nervous systems accomplished by rhythm.” These thoughts lead to the question: Is there any underlying and quantifiable structure to the subjective experience of “musical binding”? Here, we examine the statistical nature of musical binding (also referred to as musical coupling) when two humans play rhythms in synchrony. (Hennig, H., 2014)
Lastly, here is an example of how moving to rhythm can help with expression through language acquisition and reading ability.
In the Journal of Neuroscience, the authors argue that rhythm is an integral part of language.
“We know that moving to a steady beat is a fundamental skill not only for music performance but one that has been linked to language skills,” said Nina Kraus, of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University in Illinois.
More than 100 teenagers were asked to tap their fingers along to a beat. Their accuracy was measured by how closely their responses matched the timing of a metronome.
Next, in order to understand the biological basis of rhythmic ability, the team also measured the brainwaves of their participants with electrodes, a technique called electroencephalography. This was to observe the electrical activity in the brain in response to sound.
Using this biological approach, the researchers found that those who had better musical training also had enhanced neural responses to speech sounds. In poorer readers this response was diminished.
“It turns out that kids who are poor readers have a lot of difficulty doing this motor task and following the beat. In both speech and music, rhythm provides a temporal map with signposts to the most likely locations of meaningful input,” Prof Kraus told BBC News. (Hogenboom, M., 2013)
Science reveals both in Mason’s day and in ours that musical movement has powerful effects on our bodies. It is an inborn trait in infants that helps them develop mentally, socially, and verbally. Mind and body are strengthened in a unified way because the mind and body function rhythmically. Moving in unison with our fellowman strengthens community and allows us to accomplish things together. The rhythm of song and movement help establish good mental patterns that set up a pathway of success for good communication, language development, and reading ability.
What Principles are revealed by the Holy Spirit through observing children?
Let’s consider now, as Mason did, some ways in which educational principles are revealed to us through observing children. How do children themselves teach us a living approach to our subject? When we watch children carefully we can learn a lot about why rhythmic movement and music are so valuable for them. Below are portions of a lecture given to the Leeds Branch of the PNEU by a musician named D. L. Walker. These excerpts show us that this PNEU lecturer carefully observed children to help develop her principles on teaching music and movement:
…my plea for more definite training of the rhythmic sense is based chiefly upon my own observation of the results of the present system of musical training upon the average school girl. (Walker, 1914, p. 868, emphasis added)
It has been my experience for some years past, and a source of continuous perplexity to me, to find that, out of a large number of girls who have gone through the usual musical training, scarcely one here and there could play a Morris dance tune in such a way that anyone could dance to it, or who could accompany a school song in such a way that a class could sing it with any spirit, while if one happens to be a violinist and is dependent on others to produce a piano part, there are many to be found who can read and play correctly and in time, but comparatively few who can grasp the symmetry, balance and swing of a piece in such a way as to make it a living thing. (Walker, 1914, p. 870, emphasis added)
Experience has shown me that the training of these two agents cannot be carried on simultaneously. (Dalcroze, J., as cited in Walker, 1914, p. 873, emphasis added)
This next excerpt from her article reveals to us the principle of teaching children in a developmentally appropriate way. She shares how a child’s physical and rhythmic body is able to express emotion before his or her verbal development has progressed to the point of expressing emotion, and therefore it should be trained first.
As the growth of a child is in some respects parallel to the growth of a nation, so I believe that the earliest form of musical sense in the average child is the rhythm-sense, and that it should therefore be the first to be trained. I think this partly because self-expression in this form is possible so much earlier, and if the children’s music is to be to them a living means of expression, it must, to some extent at least, have found a response within them sufficient to make them capable of using it to express something of their own. Surely, the instinct which makes the baby love to beat a tattoo with his spoon upon his plate is the same as that which in our riper years makes us tap our umbrellas to the strains of a barrel-organ. Even in Plato’s time, nurses lulled babies to sleep not by silence but by singing, not by holding them quiet but by rocking them in their arms, and though I know that the modern scientifically-trained nurse decrees that baby shall neither be rocked nor sung to, for the sake of his morals, yet, I am old-fashioned enough—and ignorant enough—to believe that there was some grain of truth in the instinct of our grandmothers. (Walker, 1914, p. 874)
Through observing children we also learn very easily that music makes for more delightful work. Here are a few thoughts regarding children’s needs from the Syllabus of Physical Exercises book that Mason used for Forms 1-4.
Music should, therefore, be used in Infant classes [ages 7 and under], where it is especially important to avoid fatigue and to make the lessons bright and cheerful; it may also be used to accompany marching or dancing steps, when teaching the older classes, either if the children are tired, or in order to avoid monotony and render the lesson more recreative.
In these Infant classes music should be used as far as possible; the exercises are more easily performed to a definite rhythm, the fatigue is consequently diminished and the enjoyment greatly increased. (Board of Education, 1909, pp. 19-20)
For Forms 2-4 Mason also used the book Ball Games and Breathing Exercises. Here is an excerpt from the preface to that book, which helps us again see how even older children benefit from rhythmic movement accompanied by music to lighten the work and make the exercises more enjoyable. Also we see that this type of orderly drill and training can be used for symmetry and to help develop the child’s will and mind.
No child can develop properly unless the muscular system be adequately exercised, and I know no exercises so well calculated to secure normal development as these devised by Miss James. Each exercise is designed for some special purpose, and their general effect is not only to produce agility, suppleness, and grace, but to promote a normal functioning of the organism. Their health value is therefore considerable.
Many of the methods of physical culture tend to produce a course development and ungainliness in movement. They are, moreover, so deadly uninteresting, and often so fatiguing, that they depress rather than exhilarate. It is obvious to anyone who has witnessed Miss James exercises that the pupils enjoy them. The appropriate musical accompaniment doubtless helps to this end, but altogether apart from this, the exercises are interesting and enjoyable in themselves. Far from fatiguing, they have a stimulating effect, so that at the end of the lesson the children are often less tired than at the beginning.
Miss James also realizes what many teachers forget—that muscular exercises may be of considerable educational value. The muscles are controlled by the will and by means of her exercises, especially the more delicate ones, increased control of the will is gained. This makes for the development of the will generally, and has considerable disciplinary influence. (James, 1908, pp. 9-10)
This book encourages that all the exercises be done with musical accompaniment. In addition to allowing the child early expression, delight in music, and development of the will, the activities of musical drill, dancing, and musical games help develop the child’s musicality.
In Form 1 (Grades 1-3) one of the books used for drill was Rhythmic Games and Dances. The introduction mentions the great music educator Émile Jaques-Dalcroze, who created the Dalcroze Eurhythmics approach to experiencing and learning music through movement. Dalcroze Eurhythmics played a role in Carl Orff’s pedagogy, which is used in the United States even today. In the introduction to the book we see that children develop musically, both in body and mind, from rhythmic movement:
Rhythm is a fundamental principle of life, and childhood is the time when the physical nature is most sensitive to rhythmical movement. When this movement is accompanied by music, the latter should be appropriate and distinctive, for music and rhythm are organically related.
M. Jacques-Dalcroze, whose system of Eurhythmics is attracting so much attention in the educational and musical world, maintains that movement, being instinctive in man, the study of music should begin by careful and experimental teaching of movement. He says: “This is based in earliest childhood on the automatic exercise of marching, for marching is the natural model of time measure. By means of various accentuations with the foot I teach the different time measures. Pauses (of varying lengths) in the marching teach the children to distinguish durations of sound; movements to tune with the arms and the head preserve order in the succession of the time measures, and analyse the bars and pauses.”
The beneficial effect of rhythmical movement in the case of mentally deficient children is already recognised, and it is claimed that in the case of normal children the effect of its more elaborate use will be greater, and that among other things, neurasthenic tendencies may be removed.
The importance of marching for young children cannot be too strongly emphasized. That it supplies a real need of children’s growing vitality is shown by their delight in following one another round the room, keeping time to the music, clapping, waving arms, hopping, skipping, running, &c., as the rhythm and tunes suggest. (Kirk, 1914, p. vii-viii)
I agree wholeheartedly with these authors, from throughout the ages, that music and rhythmic movement accomplish all of these things. After observing children over the past 15 years as a mother and music teacher, I have learned that music, marching to music, and dancing is delightful for children. They develop a healthy body and mind. Movement to music, especially in the early years, is developmentally appropriate and natural. It helps them to express their emotions and internalize musical rhythms which helps them in years to come with better musicianship. If you consider modern day aerobics classes you can also see how the recreative aspects of including music allow you to exercise far more easily and for a longer amount of time.
I find it truly amazing that this one gift from God—moving to music and rhythm—is so full of goodness. It kind of amazed me how much research I could find that supported all that Mason was doing in her programmes! Now that we have seen how special and general revelation reveal to us principles of rhythmic movement, we are ready to look more closely at Mason’s practices. I look forward to sharing with you in my next post about what Mason was doing 100 years ago and to consider with you what we might do today to implement this lovely subject into our school days.
Association for Psychological Science. 2009. Marching to the beat of the same drummer improves teamwork. ScienceDaily.
Board of Education. 1909. The syllabus of physical exercises. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode.
ESV. (2016). The Holy Bible: English standard version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
Hennig, H. (2014). Synchronization in human musical rhythms and mutually interacting complex systems. In Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, volume 111.
Hogenboom, M. (2013). Moving to the rhythm ‘can help language skills’. BBC News.
James, A. (1908). Ball games and breathing exercises. London: Longmans, Green and Co.
Kirk, F. (1914). Rhythmic games and dances. London: Longmans, Green and Co.
KJ2000. (2011). King James 2000.
Provasi, J., Anderson, D., & Barbu-Roth, M. (2014). Rhythm perception, production, and synchronization during the perinatal period. In Frontiers in Psychology, volume 5.
Trotter, Y. (1913). Rhythm in music and the rhythmic instinct. In The Parents’ Review, volume 24 (pp. 271-282). London: Parents’ National Educational Union.
Walker, D. (1914). Rhythm in music. In The Parents’ Review, volume 25 (pp. 868-875). London: Parents’ National Educational Union.
Heidi Buschbach, mother of 4, has been studying Charlotte Mason’s philosophy for the past 9 years as she strives to put living principles into practice in her home school room. Heidi leads a local fine arts and nature study CM community in the Twin Cities area. She has a particular interest in researching how Charlotte Mason implemented music education. Heidi looks forward to sharing her discoveries with the Charlotte Mason community on her new music education website entitled Miss Mason’s Music.
©2017 Heidi Buschbach