Repeat, Vary, and Extend: Three Skills for Creating Artistic Work, Part 2

Note: This post is a continuation of another post from October 19, 2015.

2011 Symposium2

In part 1, I laid out a lesson for teaching students to extend rhythmic ideas, starting with language and then translating the sentence examples to rhythms. If you missed that post, you can click on the link above and get caught up. Once students understand how to retain part of an idea, and replace or add on to the other part of the musical idea, then the next step is to apply this knowledge and skill to analysis and creating. Just as we did before, we once again begin with examples from language. In fact, I returned to Malachi and his bike. I wrote these sentences on the board:

Malachi rode his bike.

Malachi rode his skateboard.

Most often, Malachi rode his bicycle.

Each student had a piece of blank composition paper and a pencil. They copied down the three sentences and then were told to put a bracket above the phrase that occurs in all three sentences. They placed a bracket over the phrase “Malachi rode on his.” Then they were told to put a circle around the word immediately following their bracketed phrase. For this, they circled the words “bike,” “skateboard,” and “bicycle.” Finally, they were told to put a rectangle around the phrase that was only found in one sentence. At this point, the only text left is “most often,” and the students enclosed that phrase.

With this completed, I then asked them, “f each word were to be changed into a musical note, how would we write our music using our brackets, circles and rectangle to guide us?” I asked for someone to give me four letters that are names of notes, because the phrase “Malachi rode on his bike” has four words. A student volunteered “d, f, e, b” and I wrote those notes as note heads only on my white board lined with musical staves. Then I asked what should go next. The students realized that the next notes were under a bracket, so the first three notes needed to be repeated. I continued the melody in this way, so that we now had “d, f, e, b, d, f, e.” The next word was “skateboard” so  we needed a new note because “skateboard” was a new word. A student gave us “a” which I added as the next note. The next phrase, “most often” had a rectangle around it, so we needed two new notes. A student chose “b” and “c” which were added as the next two notes. “Malachi rode his” is next, so the notes d, f, and e followed, and the last word, “bicycle” is new, so a new note, g, was added as the last note. We now had a note head-only melody of d (low), f, e, b, d, f, e, a, b, c, d (high) d (low) f, e, g.

With this composition completed, students now had learned how to do an analysis using the brackets, rectangles and circles, and had written a short melody (or pitch sequence) based on their analysis. The final leg in this lesson was to have them analyze a portion of a song as they had analyzed the sentences; with brackets, circles and rectangles. For this, I distributed sheet music for the song “I Really Like You” by Carly Rae Jepsen. I suggest you pull up the sheet music here to refer to for the next part of this post. Students looked for where the first few notes were repeated. That marked the beginning of the second bracket, and the first bracket could be begun at the beginning of the song. They then compared the notes of the melody from the beginning note for note and rhythm for rhythm with the melody form the beginning of the second bracket. Where the notes stopped being identical, the students drew the end of the brackets. The music that came between the brackets was circled because they were not the same. The last measure before the forward repeat sign is unique, and so was enclosed in a rectangle.

Once the students had completed this analysis, I played the song for them, and had them listen for the repeated and changed musical idea as they had marked them in their music. Now the students were able to hear the musical ideas and the extensions of them as they listened to a song that was already familiar to them, but about which they now had new knowledge.

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