What Does A Classroom Where Everyone is Teaching and Learning Look Like? (Creating Music, Part 1)

2011Symposium_1_2Today, using the American National Core Arts Standards for music, I will begin to develop how to design learning environments that allow for bi-directional flow of ideas and knowledge between students, and between students and teacher. I will use the artistic process of creating, and the grade levels of 3-5 in American public schools. The creating process is divided into four components: Imagining musical ideas, planning and making a musical work from imagined musical ideas, evaluating and refining the made musical work, and presenting the made musical work. There are opportunities for students and teachers to exchange ideas and knowledge at each of these stages in the process of creating musical works.

Imagining musical ideas for third graders is done through improvising rhythmic and melodic ideas, and describing the connection of those ideas to a specific purpose and context. The purpose and context may be personal such as to write a song to sing to Mom on Mother’s Day, or social, such as to write a song to be sung with friends for recreation. The improvised ideas will reflect students’ musical experience and personal feelings. Rhythmic ideas will also be within a given meter, and melodic ideas will be within a given meter and tonality. This requires that students have plenty of experience hearing and performing rhythmic and tonal patterns in a variety of meters and tonalities, respectively, so that they have a vocabulary of possibilities to draw on when they imagine and improvise.

For fourth grade students, harmonic ideas are added, and the explained connection now also includes cultural context. Harmonic ideas include Music-Feelings-300x197accompaniment patterns within the meter and tonality of a given song that is to be accompanied. These patterns can be melodic ostinatos, counter melodies, or bass lines. For fifth grade students, the explained connection now also includes historical context, and musical ideas can now include simple chord changes, which the students were prepared for by generating bass lines in fourth grade. For all of these idea types—tonality, meter, and chord changes—it is important to remember that hearing and audiating always must precede creating original ideas. Students will need to have heard, audiated, and performed many chord changes (and bass lines) before they can begin generating chord changes on their own.

Once students have generated musical ideas, they can select and develop some of those ideas into musical works with a defined purpose and context. This will involve students demonstrating the selected musical ideas and their potential for development through further improvisation, and then recording the selected ideas using standard music notation, iconic notation, and/or recording technology. My preference for training students up in the use of traditional music notation has been expressed elsewhere. This training, in my opinion, should precede use of recording technology. Iconic notation is appropriate as an intermediary method of preserving ideas until facility with traditional music notation is acquired, or when the musical ideas cannot be adequately represented with traditional music notation. Fourth and fifth grade students add arranging to improvisation and notation.

Next time, I will complete this post on designing a bi-directional classroom environment for creating music. I will look at the remaining two stages, which are evaluating and refining, and presenting/performing. Throughout all of these stages, look for opportunities for students to interact with each other and their teacher as they improvise, demonstrate, select, record, evaluate, refine, and present their ideas and works. Ideas to this point are only constrained by musical structures of meter, tonality, personal experience, social effectiveness, and historical context.

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