Saturday, May 16, 2009

The power of music and language

As I mentioned in a previous post last week, I've really not gotten a whole lot out of music listening as far as language acquisition goes. For the most part, a great deal of the music I listen to places most emphasis on instruments rather than lyrics, with vocals often playing the role of an additional instrument in the mix, so it's just not something I pay much attention to. I can listen to a song dozens upon dozens of times without so much as picking up one word, even in English. There are, of course, many exceptions.

Lately, however, I've been doing a bit of experimenting. I've taken my favorite Boris album, Heavy Rocks - a fuzzed out, overdriven, high energy stoner rock masterpiece and one of the band's more lyrical works - and have made a conscious effort to pay close attention to the vocals, going so far as transcribing (and translating, when possible) a few songs by ear.
The result has been interesting, to say the least. First, and not surprisingly, I've managed to unearth new life in an album I've listened to probably a hundred times by now. I discovered that not only do their lyrics add a heck of a lot to their music, but they're quite badass to boot - take part of the chorus from the song 殺す for example:
俺の全てを殺す 入り込む邪悪イメージ 俺は全てを殺す 放射する「有」のイメージ
How I've missed out on such badassery all this time is beyond me.
Second, and also not very surprising, perhaps thanks to the repetition of having to rewind and listen to specific parts numerous times before I'm able to transcribe them accurately, my listening comprehension for these songs has shot up tremendously, and many of the new words I've come across are sticking quite nicely. As I listen more after having learned all this new vocabulary, it only becomes further cemented in my head.

This experience has opened my eyes a bit more toward music as a tool for language acquisition. As my listening comprehension in general improves (it's admittedly quite poor currently), I seem to get more out of listening to music in Japanese.
I also have to consider the more obvious educational aspects of music as a learning tool - who, among us native English-language speakers, isn't familiar with the ABC Song? I'll unashamedly admit that I still bust that sucker out on occasion to verify that S, indeed, comes before T. It's perhaps the most basic example of how music can aid in the learning process and burrow itself into our long term memory for years and years - so it's certainly no stretch to conclude that the same principles can be applied to music and general language learning.

From The NY Times comes this fascinating article on memory, the following paragraph being most relevant to the topic of music and language:
A simple melody with a simple rhythm and repetition can be a tremendous mnemonic device. “It would be a virtually impossible task for young children to memorize a sequence of 26 separate letters if you just gave it to them as a string of information,” Dr. Thaut said. But when the alphabet is set to the tune of the ABC song with its four melodic phrases, preschoolers can learn it with ease.
Testament to both the power of music and mnemonics, I'd say. Let's just hope that I can replace "simply melody with a simple rhythm" with "shredding guitars, polyrhythms and guttural Cookie Monster vocals" and I'll be good to go!

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