Every semester, I talk in class about how young children learn best what something is when it’s right next to what it’s not — which is why we play with contrasts and opposites so much in music class (high/low, fast/slow, soft/loud, short/long, little/big). I’ve recently learned a ‘highfalutin’ word for these pairings: “Abstract Binary Oppositions.” Wow, that’s quite a mouthful.
The Imaginative Education Resource Group defines Abstract Binary Oppositions as: “…the most basic and powerful tools we have for organizing and categorizing knowledge. It is as though we first have to divide things into opposites in order to get an initial grasp on them…” and then we can begin to fill in the space in between the extreme, to give shape to our understanding of what we are experiencing.
So, when we run fast around the room for one verse of “Jumpin’ Josie” and then move v-e-r-y slowly for the next verse, we are giving our children access to the powerful learning tool of opposites — experiencing the extremes that help their brains set up the grand concept of music speed (or tempo). And then some day, they’ll be able to give shape to that space in between super-fast and super-slow (or super-loud and super-soft, or super-high and super-low), and the music they make will be soul-stirringly breathtaking.
All that from just a little opposite play? No wonder it has such a highfalutin name.