Humming is music to many

10th April 2009 at 01:00

The advice given in last week's TES Magazine about the pupil unaware that she is humming in class failed to ask some crucial questions. Is she humming a specific tune or merely producing a droning sound? If a tune, is it always the same? If it's lots of different tunes, has she shown any evidence of musical talent? These questions are important because there is a fundamental difference between humming as distraction and humming as musical function.

I am a lifelong hummer. What I hum is whatever music I hear running through my head, which could be anything from a pop song to an entire symphony. As a child this ability to "hear" music did not seem odd to me. However, I did realise over time that it is not normal for other people unless they, like me, are musicians.

Children who hum in class need to learn, as I did, to suppress their humming when it's not appropriate, but action should be taken carefully. If they are gifted musicians, it would be insensitive simply to tell them never to hum.

Humming is not necessarily evidence of inattention, merely a case of listening to music while working - something many people do very productively. Some need to use an external sound source - a radio, for example - while musicians carry tunes in their heads. Accusing a musical child of being inattentive because they were humming would be most unfair.

Dr J A Harvey, Education consultant, Worcester.

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