Can rhythms be fast?

Version 2Tempo is a deceptively tricky musical concept. On the face of it, it seems straight forward enough. Tempo is measured as the number of beats occurring in one minute given a steady rate, and that beat can be equal to any note duration, such as eighth, quarter, half, or whole note. There are tempo markings that broadly indicate that the tempo should be lively, very fast, moderately fast, moderate, slow, or very slow. There are the more precise metronome markings that indicate a precise number of beats per minute, and the note value that will be used as the unit of measurement. All of this makes tempo uncomplicated and clear to performers, because as the musician plays or sings, they are forming rhythms over a concrete pace of pulses that coincides with the instruction in the printed score or, as in the case of dance music, of the standard convention.

Tempo for the listener is more complicated. The listener does not necessarily know what the unit of pulse is, and so must match a pulse rate with the rhythm patterns they are perceiving. So while the performer may be playing a passage of 32nd notes at a slow 8th note tempo (a common situation in classical slow concerto or sonata movements), those 32nd notes are going by rapidly for the listener, who might organize the music into beats of 16th notes, making the tempo faster than for the performer, who is measuring those same 32nd notes in slowly moving 8th notes. In this case, it would be tempting to say that the tempo (measured in 8th notes) is slow, while the rhythm (as perceived by the listener) is fast. But the difference is not between tempo and rhythm, but instead between the unit used to measure (and perceive) rhythm. The same music can be said to be fast or slow depending on what note value is being used as the unit of the pulse.

A good example of this is the opening of the 4th movement of Mozart’s Symphony no. 41 in C major (Jupiter). The tempo marking is motto allegro, and the pulse is generally around 120 beats per minute. Yet the first four measures are whole notes, and so one note progresses to the next slowly, even as one perceives the pulse to be fast, in contrast to the accompanying eighth notes, which are flying four times faster than the fast pulse, almost to fast to track. Yet if we listen to the same music and track two measures as one beat, though many notes pass by, the tempo now seems extremely slow. It is all in what is perceived as the unit of pulse.

A second factor in the perception of tempo is meter. Meter is part of the rhythmic structure of music, and influences how listeners perceive the unit of pulse. In the Mozart example just cited, the tempo is only perceived as fast if the meter is perceived as alla breve. If the meter were perceived as two or four whole notes per measure, then the tempo is perceived as Andante at most. Meter defines how the listener groups note durations into patterns that can be divided and subdivided into equal parts. There are times when musicians will use a faster, subdivided tempo to improve accuracy, while they intend the audience to perceive a slower, unsubdivided tempo. The introduction to Dvorak’s symphony no. 9 (From the New World) comes to mind. Notice how the conductor conducts eighth notes an an Allegro tempo, while the music, when listen to without following the conductor, is perceived as being Adagio, as Dvorak intended.

I began by asking the question, “can rhythms be fast?” We are now in a position to answer that question by saying no, it cannot. The reason is that tempo is a measurement of degrees of fastness measured in beats per minute, whereas rhythms are a relationship between a beat and a duration which is shorter, equal to, or longer than one beat. Rhythms as they are perceived by a listener are not individual notes, but patterns of note durations perceived as patterns by their relationship to a beat, regardless of tempo. In other words, the rhythm pattern of one quarter note, two eighth notes, two eighth notes again, and  one more quarter note will be heard as such at any tempo as long as the quarter note is used as the unit of pulse. The notes can be made faster by increasing the tempo. The first sound is equal to a beat, the next four sounds are divisions of the beat into two equal parts, and the last sound is again equal to a beat. We cannot say the rhythm is faster or slower, because the fastness or slowness is entirely dependent on the tempo, the speed of the beats, not the durations, which set the interval of time from the end of one note to the beginning of the next.

While it is true that we arrive at the next note sooner if the last note was a sixteenth note than if it were a quarter note, the reason we arrive sooner is a shorter note duration, not a faster tempo. The tempo, which is the measurement of fastness, has not increased, the durations of notes, the measure of rhythm, has decreased. There is more activity within the beat divided into four equal parts than within the beat divided into two equal parts, but that is not an indicator of faster, of tempo, but of duration, of rhythm. Fast does not exist apart from a reference to pulse. Fast is a relative concept that is not dependent on duration, but on pulse. A flourish of 32nd notes is a group of very short durations, not very fast notes. Notes are not fast or slow apart from the pulse to which they are sounded, only the pulse itself can be considered fast or slow.


Three Ingredients for Good Classroom Management

Version 2For whatever reason, I have noticed over the years that art and music teachers seem to get more than their fair share of misbehavior in their classes. I suppose the children regard these classes as a time to let down and blow off steam after sitting immobile in a classroom writing, reading and generally keeping their youthful energy in check. Still, there are ways to achieve smoothly running classes for music teachers, regardless of the ages being taught. While my classes are by now means perfectly behaved all the time, I would like to share some of the things I’ve found work well to keep kids engaged and on-task. This is the result we want; for our students to be invested in what they are doing, so their attention doesn’t turn in other directions.

There are three things I try to do every day that I have found are most important in having a well managed classroom. These are, good relationships with my students, making my expectations for them clear and stating them often, and starting with enduring understandings, not song titles, and using music that is relevant to the students to teach those enduring understandings. I will discuss each of these presently.

For years I have heard from other teachers, many of them at the time more experienced than I, that you begin strict, and don’t ever smile until December. It’s easier to let up from strictness, than to begin lenient and then become more strict. There may have been a time when this worked, but not anymore. That kind of sternness just puts kids off, leaves them with the impression that you don’t like them or that you’d prefer they were not in your class, and fuels resentment that easily turns into negative behavior. While there must always be a distinction between the student learner and the sage/experienced teacher, that distinction can easily be maintained when the teacher-student relationship is friendly and caring. Students just respond better to a teacher who has shown that he/she genuinely cares for them and is on their side. Greeting each child at the classroom door with a smile and by name will get any class off to a better start. Smiling, and noticeably showing that you are enjoying teaching them will keep things positive, fun and managed well. A principal I once worked for put it like this: you must be intellectually superior but socially equal. He did not mean a teacher should hang out with students as if he or she were a peer; he meant that the relationship between student and teacher has two dimensions–a scholarly one with which the teacher brings knowledge and experience to bear, and a social one with which the teacher demonstrates sincere commitment  and concern for each student. To demonstrate this, a music teacher might go to a basketball game in which his/her students are playing, or attend a fund raiser students are sponsoring.

The second item is stating my expectations clearly and often. Both are necessary. I used to state expectations at the beginning of each class, and then set about teaching and putting students to work. What I found was my expectations stated up front did not carry all students through to the end. For students who finished their work but with difficulty, I had given them no expectation of what to do next. For the student art-of-teachingwho had finished their work and excelled, I had given them no next step. For the student who had worked but not finished their work, I had given them no intermediate point from which they could resume next time. My expectations were simply that everyone would follow directions, and stay on-task working on their project, or practicing their vocal or instrumental part. At the end of class, when I drew closure, it was stated in terms of a completed class, regardless of where each child was when it was time to stop. “Today we learned…”

But now, my closure drawing is different. “For those of you that learned an entire instrumental part today, well done. Next time, combine with someone else who has finished a different part from you, and combine with them to start practicing in an ensemble. To those of you who started getting a part, but can’t play the whole thing yet, continue to work on it. We can simplify the part if you need to, and I will work with you next time. There were also a few of you who didn’t make an effort to accomplish much of anything. You need to get going. Not making a good effort is not acceptable. You chose the song you are working on, you need to prepare it for presentation.” Do you see the difference? There isn’t much wiggle room anymore. All are accounted for, and new expectations are set even before they leave for their next class.

The other day, I had a sixth grade class state one thing they were going to try to do well during music class that day. It was very insightful for me, because some students stated tangible things, like listen better, sing better, or sing more in tune, while other students said very general things, like get a better grade or do better. I told them that while there is nothing wrong with wanting to get a better grade, in order to succeed at that, they must know what they are going to do that is going to result in getting a better grade. This was the moment of truth for me. If they couldn’t tell me what would get them a good grade in my class, then the blame would be on me for not making expectations clear. I was relieved to hear them say, when pressed, that they were going to focus on the speaker, and sing more (focus on the speaker is something I stress; whether it is I or a student who is asking or answering a question, one person speaks at a time and all eyes and ears go to that person. The bottom line here is, when kids have something specific to accomplish they are much more engaged than when the expectation is not well understood.

The third item is starting with enduring understandings, not songs. What I mean by this is that music class can easily just be singing songs. While singing songs is fun, and many a fine concert can and has been prepared just by singing or playing repertoire in rehearsals, students also need to be engaged in learning activities that require them to use critical thinking skills, create musical works and interpret their own works and those of others, learn about music and how all the musical elements are used by creators to convey an expressive intent, and how music relates and connects to the other arts, the other disciplines, the student’s culture and his/her personal life. These are articulated in enduring understandings, not in the repertoire. The repertoire is used as material with which the student works in the process of acquiring deep understandings of music and the arts and of becoming musically and artistically literate. This kind of deep learning is the only kind that will produce students who are equipped to fully enjoy and benefit from music and the arts for their lifetime, regardless of the profession they work in. Students sense the shallowness of just singing or playing songs, and will often not continue musical study if that is all they have received in music classes. On the other hand, they are drawn in to deeper learning as they realize the many dimensions of thinking and doing that are utilized when enduring understandings are pursued.

Giving priority and attention to these three items, good relationships with students, making  expectations  clear and stating them often, and starting with enduring understandings, not song titles, will improve the classroom management of any music teacher. Attending to these things won’t solve all your problems, but it will certainly solve many of them.

Learning Objectives and Essential Questions

Version 2If you are a pubic school music educator, then you are accustomed to writing and posting instructional objectives for your students. In my district, student learning objectives must be posted on the front board at all times so that anyone observing the class can easily see what you are expecting the students to know and be able to do, and so that the students always have their objective right in front of them. This is good policy. It helps students understand what is expected of them, what they are trying to accomplish, and what knowledge, skill, and understandings they will have attained upon completion of the lesson. That said, learning objectives can easily be of limited value if the students have difficulty connecting what they are doing with achieving the objective. Objectives don’t necessarily state how to get from where the student is to where they want to end up; objectives only state what the finished product will look like.

At times, I have tried to handle this shortcoming by writing several smaller objectives, with each objective moving the student closer to the final objective. While this helped, I found that it also locked students into one way of learning–my way–and that it left little opportunity to students to direct their own learning in ways that were most relevant and most helpful to them. Students who learned in a way that was reflected in my objectives did well, while those that needed to learn differently struggled. Now I firmly believe that students can learn pretty much anything if given good instruction and enough opportunity to practice. The importance of practice in learning is well documented in research. But my instructional with my students is limited, and teaching them how to learn my way isn’t a good use of that time. Teaching them to go with their strengths as they work toward a common objective is more efficient, and leaves the students more motivated both by the added choices inherent in such an approach, and by the more frequent occurrences of success that result.

So what is the approach that avoids the vagueness of one objective and the restrictiveness of many objectives? State your objective as an essential question. Find a question that, in the process of being answered, will direct students through learning activity from which they can learn what you want them to know and do what you want them to know. For example, suppose you want your students to interpret a musical work they have selected to prepare for presentation to an audience. A reasonable learning objective might be, “students will be able to prepare, support and demonstrate an appropriate interpretation.” Before students can begin to build an interpretation, they must know where to start, and how to go about interpreting. A better place to begin than this objective might be to ask a question such as, “how do musicians interpret musical works?”

As a professional musician, you are in a great position to share how you interpret music you perform. Many things are considered. You might listen to recordings of great musicians performing the work, or you might remember studying the work with a teacher. You certainly would include using the expressive markings you find in the printed score, and clarifying those markings with knowledge about the composer, the historical period in which it was composed, and perhaps the purpose for which the music was composed. I find it fun to interpret music that has been interpreted in a variety of ways previously. Lorin Maazel always seemed to find an inner part to bring out that others had left buried. The range of tempi and resulting articulations for the first movement of Beethoven’s fifth symphony provide audiences with very different experiences, and the variances in tempo and style conductors choose for the March movement in Holst’s First Suite for Military Band in Eb is at times entertaining in itself. On what basis do great conductors arrive at such different interpretations? How do you, as a conductor or soloist decide on such issues? The process of forming anart-of-teaching interpretation is one of discerning the composer’s intent, deciding on our own intent in terms of what we want to bring to our audience, and melding the two into one coherent presentation. Students must learn how to guide themselves through this process, which is one of reflection and discovery, before they can begin making “supportable” interpretive decisions. The expressive markings are, while helpful, only a start.

I have used the example of interpreting to show the rich learning possibilities of using an essential question as the starting point. Certainly this is not limited to interpretation. The advantages and benefits of starting with an essential question are present for any learning objective. Rather than stating “students will be able to rehearse their parts for “March” from First Suite in Eb for Military Band, start with the essential question, “how do musicians prepare a performance for presentation?” or “When is a performance judged ready to present?” You are asking these questions with your objective in mind, but you want your students to work through the answering of these questions in order to “be able.” “When is a performance judged ready to present?” is a great question, because it requires that students determine what the elements of their performance are, and how they will know when each of those elements is performance ready. Right notes must be played, right rhythms must be played, notes must be in tune with others, must be together rhythmically with other, expressive changes must be done together so that, for example, one instrument does not protrude beyond others during the coarse of a crescendo, ornaments and articulations must be stylistically correctly and so forth. You and your students might compile a different list of elements, but the learning takes place not in being given the list but in creating the list. There is great value in every student musician asking, “what are all the things I am trying to do, to put together, so that this music is performed well?”

Essential questions direct the learner beyond expedient answers and polished playbacks of things learned by rote. They make the student’s thinking, reasoning, inquiring, and concluding the center of learning activity so that when the objective is ultimately met, it has deep understanding and relevance behind it. Whether the student is creating, performing, responding or connecting, essential questions transport music learning to the realm of high level thinking just as surely as honors or A.P. courses. In fact, for this very reason, using essential questions to drive music instruction allows music classes, including ensembles, to qualify as honors and to carry with it the higher weighting so important to high achieving students who covet high class rank in American high schools. Everyone benefits from using essential questions in music education.

What Are Ways Students Can Respond to Music?

Version 2With the National Core Arts Standards now in their third year, music educators have grown accustomed to thinking of music education in terms of four artistic processes: creating, performing, responding, and connecting. One could argue that responding and connecting are present in creating and performing, so that responding permeates everything a person does with music. Responding is also the process students who do not participate in performing ensembles are frequently guided to in classes known variously as music appreciation, general music, or music history. Because responding to music includes virtually every student in any given school, it is imperative that music educators understand this artistic process, and what students are or should be asked to do in a music class when they are responding to music.

There are four primary tasks a student can perform when responding to music. These are selecting, analyzing, interpreting, and evaluating. The first of these, selecting, is critically important, though it is often overlooked. Students should be given as much latitude as possible in selecting music to which they will respond. When teachers determine to present students with a list from which to choose, the selections should include a spectrum of cultures, traditions, historical contexts, and genres. If there are Asian students in the class and only music from Western cultures are included, then those students are being culturally disadvantaged in that class. Restrictions that include time limits or language that violates school policy may be necessary and are acceptable, though I will have more to say on the language issue at a later time. It is in the selection task that students should be given the opportunity to explore, enjoy and expand their experiences of music of their own culture and from their personal experiences of music.

The next three tasks, analyzing, interpreting, and evaluating, really need to be preceded by another–that of observing. Asking a student to analyze something they have not observed renders the analysis meaningless to the student because they do not really know what they are analyzing; they cannot relate their analysis, no matter how well done, to anything they experienced in the music. So once a musical work is selected for responding, students must just listen and make observations of what they hear. What culture is this music from? How do we know? What does the music cause us to want to do or cause us to feel? What effect does the music have on our bodies or emotions? What sudden changes or contrasts did we notice? What musical elements were used to create those contrasts? To cause us to want to move or dance, or to speed up or heart rate, or to relax us? Have we heard this music before? If so, where have we heard it? To what form does the music conform? What timbres do we hear, and what are the instruments or combinations of instruments that created those timbres? These are just some of the things our students can observe. All are potential objects of analysis.

Once the students have made observations, they are at least somewhat familiar with

Emotions Formula

Events + Thoughts = Feelings

the musical work, and are aware of what is going on in the music. For analysis to begin, students or the teacher select something from the students’ observations and make it the object of analysis. While observation answers the question “what do I hear?” analysis answers the question “how does it work?” or “how did the composer do that?” If students observed that the music sounded like it was from a particular culture or country, then have them analyze what in the music made it sound that way. It could have been the scale that was used, an instrument that was used, or even a text that was sung in a particular language. Students can find all instances of things in the music that indicate the culture or country of origin. Or perhaps the music was written for a particular purpose, and that purpose is suggested in what was observed. John Adams’ On The Transmigration of Souls was written to remember those who died in the 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. It begins with the sounds of emergency vehicles and then proceeds into a solemn reading of names or the declaration of “unknown” for each victim. That the music was composed for the purpose of honoring a group of people who died is easily recognizable, but the use of musical elements is why it sounds as it does, and is a good basis for analysis. Though most of us did harmonic analysis in our undergraduate music education programs, I do not recommend having students do harmonic analysis unless they specifically observed chord progressions, or made observations of chords.

This brings us to interpretation. Here, we want the students to find meaning in the music they have heard. Some of that meaning will have been discovered during analysis if students have analyzed what in the music caused them to feel a particular emotion. Interpretation answers the question “what does it mean?” What was the composer or songwriter trying to express in the music? If the students have found through analysis that the music is largely soft, slow, legato, and composed for gentle sounding instruments like perhaps flute, guitar and harpsichord, then it may be the composer wanted to express tranquility, peacefulness, or resignation. We might ask, “how did the composer bring out the qualities of tranquility and peacefulness in his use of musical elements?” We might also ask, “How did the performers’ decisions on how soft and how slow to play the music help create peaceful, tranquil music?” “What did you hear in the performance that indicated to you that the performers were trying to make the music as peaceful and tranquil as possible?” We can also ask students to perform phrases from the music to demonstrate how they would make the music sound peaceful and tranquil.

Lastly, we come to evaluation. Evaluation answers the question “how well did the composer, songwriter and/or performer do in creating or presenting a musical work with clearly conveyed intent? The evaluation can be based on what was learned from analysis, did it work well, from interpretation, did it effectively convey intent or meaning, and from other established criterion. This other criterion could be based on how well the creator adhered to cultural norms, how effectively orchestration was used to create interest, clarity, and variety, or how one musical work compares to another. The objective is for students to objectively apply an established criteria, and not so much what that criteria is. The only caution is to not use criteria that privilege one type of music or one culture over another.

Responding to music is a rich and fruitful artistic process. It has the potential to engage students in learning and lead them into high level thinking and scholarship. It should not be viewed as a task given to those who are not in an ensemble, for to regard it this way is to overlook the deep musical understanding that awaits all students who engage in responding to music as it has been discussed here.


Musical Literacy and Inclusion

Version 2On September 15-16, 2017 I attended “Tanglewood Conversation” at Boston University. It was a meeting of music educators from within the Boston University music education community to discuss issues of importance to music education in 2017 and to mark the 50th anniversary of the original Tanglewood Symposium held in 1967. What follows are a few of my take aways from the sessions I attended. 

Though by now many or perhaps most arts educators are familiar with and are using the National Core Arts Standards, the conceptual foundations upon which they were written are perhaps less well known. This foundation is essential to understanding not only the intent of the standards, but indeed to clarifying or even formulating a philosophy of music education that represents the needs and contexts of all students, regardless of race, socioeconomic standing, or cultural background. Though much scholarly work has been done to advocate for promoting social justice, and ending the systematic privileging of one culture over another, these worthy goals have been and continue to be frequently unmet in the everyday common practices of arts educators.

The authors of the National Core Arts Standards made what I consider to be strides in the right direction by managing to come up with an explanation of literacy in the arts that is not dependent on any particular tradition or culture nor on reading and writing or even the existence of a system for writing and reading music. While some of this is due to the generality necessary for statements to apply to all of the fine and performing arts, the result can be construed as a basis for planning and teaching the arts in a way that does not exclude any racial or cultural constituency. Because this blog is devoted to music education, I shall limit myself to addressing this issue as it pertains to music, but educators in visual art, theater, and dance may also find application in what I have to say.

The overriding goal of the National Core Arts Standards is to make a path toward developing artistic literacy. Any type of literacy demands that at least two things be present: a text with which a person interacts, and the ability of that person to exercise certain cognitive and creative actions either in response to or creation or recreation of the text. With this focus on artistic literacy, we begin to see that music education must include the developing  through teaching and learning in the music classroom musically literate students. As we shall soon see, evidence of musical literacy is not and cannot be limited to ensemble rehearsals and performances, because both limit the musical cultures represented, and typically includes at most only a third of most school’s populations. To suggest that only students who can play a band or orchestral instrument or sing in a choir are musically literate is to deny the existence of excellent musicians around the world who have neither bands, orchestras or choirs to sing in but who never the less are masters of their art. On the contrary, we must view the entire population of our schools as being capable of and entitled to becoming musically literate. Music teachers at all levels must be the musical leaders of their entire school communities.

In presenting artistic literacy, the writers of the standards stated that, “artistic literacy requires that [students] engage in artistic creation processes directly through the use of appropriate materials (such as charcoal or paint or clay, musical instruments and scores, digital and mechanical apparatuses, light boards, and the actual human body) and in appropriate spaces (concert halls, stages, dance rehearsal spaces, arts studios and computer labs). For authentic practice to occur in arts classrooms, teachers and students must participate fully and jointly in activities where they can exercise the creative practices of imagine, investigate, construct, and reflect as unique beings committed to giving meaning to their experiences.”

Notice that the first quality of an artistically literate person is that they are capable of 3042301creating artistic works, and that the actions of imagining, investigating, constructing and reflecting in a highly personal and personalized way are involved in the act of creating. The writers went on to write that “throughout history the arts have provided essential means for individuals and communities to generate experiences, construct knowledge, and express their ideas, feelings, and beliefs.” This suggests that community and relationships between people who make up those communities are built and held together in part by experiences with the arts, knowledge shared through the arts, and ideas, feelings and beliefs that both give birth to artistic works and the ways in which people interact with those works once they have been created.

The authors go on to say that, “in addition to–indeed, as a result of–students’ creating and performing, careful study of their own and others’ art involves them in exploring and making sense of the broad human condition across time and cultures.” In other words, as people exercise their artistic literacy by engaging in creative activities to make and interact with artistic works, they are connecting with each other at a deep, somewhat spiritual level, as their creative work gives voice and life to aspects of our humanness not otherwise expressible or knowable.

We can begin to see that the expansive capacity and reach of the arts, when allowed to include all traditions and cultures represented in a given student population, puts all of these traditions and cultures on an equal standing. Music cannot build connections between people of diverse backgrounds if, for example, a musical genre students prefer is only used as a gateway to teach another musical genre the teacher prefers. This long-standing practice is privileging one musical culture (the teacher’s) over another (the student’s). Objectively examining, investigating, imagining, and constructing both musical cultures equally promotes replacing cultural animosity and obstructions with cultural understandings and relationships. The standards authors addressed this by writing, “The arts provide means for individuals to collaborate and connect with others in an inclusive environment as they create, prepare, and share artwork that bring communities together.”

Every type of music was and is created by a specific person or persons who are (is) a byproduct of a heritage which influenced the creator to create, express, share, and communicate a cultural truth and experience. To privilege one musical culture over another is to privilege the people of that culture over the people of another. To do so would be contrary to creating an “inclusive environment” and bringing “communities together.”

It should be apparent by now that when developing musical literacy is the goal of music education, there is no need to separate students into “performer” and “non-performer” categories. This binary construction is absent from much of the world’s music making environments. While some present at a place where music is being sung or played on instruments may be the focus of attention by others present, those others, as David Elliott argued in Music Matters, are also engaged in music making as they move, clap, sing, audiate, reflect on, and/or emotionally experience, to name but a few possibilities, the music they are hearing. All of these actions that those often described as non-performing listeners are doing are in fact creative actions that are evidence of musical literacy at work. The more we can blur or even eliminate the distinctions between performer and listeners or audience, the more we will acknowledge the importance of what the latter group is doing, and the more we will understand the need to direct instruction toward those activities as well as those of presenting in the traditional sense. There is much more to say on this subject, and I am sure I will return to it in the coming months.

Toccata Blocks: A Tool To Help Teach Rhythm

Version 2No matter what method you use to teach music, be it Kodaly, Orff, or any other, when it comes to music reading there are certain aspects of our music notational system that are counter-intuitive and confusing to students who are just beginning. One of those difficulties is often the irrelevance of how the notes are spaced on the page. Students naturally assume that notes that are closer together go faster, and notes that are spaced further apart go slower. They will even carry this into the same note value. For example, they will think that quarter notes spaced closely together go faster than quarter notes spaced further apart. The concept of how the note head, stem, and/or beam are drawn can become overlooked, leading the student to make frequent rhythmic errors.

It is always good pedagogy to start from where students are and work from there to where you want them to arrive. Rather than dismiss using spacial perception as wrong, why not take advantage of children’s intuitive ability to perceive spacing in teaching them to read note durations accurately? Catherine Schane-Lydon has invented Toccata Blocks that do just that.

toccata blocks

The basic set includes blocks with time signatures and notes on blocks that fit onto a provided easel. The easel is exactly the width of the blocks for a time signature and the correct number of beats of notes. A whole note block is the width of four quarter note blocks or four paired eighth note blocks. Single eighth note blocks are half the width of quarter note blocks and so forth. There are easels for simple and compound time signatures. Once an easel and time signature are chosen, the child builds a measure of rhythm by placing blocks on the easel. If the easel is less than filled, the child knows more notes are needed. If the easel is over filled, with a block hanging over the end, the child knows there are too many beats. This design makes building rhythms self-correcting because the child knows when he or she has done it right because the blocks will exactly fit across the easel.

I gave a set to students in middle school, and students in 2nd grade. An 8th grader said, “it [toccata blocks] helped me learn how the notes go together.” A 2nd grader remarked, “making rhythms is fun with these blocks. I got it wrong at first, but now it fits.”

I also used my set of Toccata Blocks to do a full class demonstration. I began a rhythm and then called on student to finish the measure. After each addition of a block, I asked the class if the measure was finished. “Do the blocks fit perfectly?” The children would look and respond, then give me suggestions on what block I should put in next. If the next block hung over the end, they were quick to reject that choice and make another of a shorter note duration. Almost every student I gave these blocks to to use immediately understood how they worked, and were able to correctly create a measure of rhythms.

Of course, I want students to write rhythms on conventional music paper, so it was important for me to make sure they took note of what notes they were using, and didn’t just fill up the easel randomly. So I had them tell me with each block they added how many beats that block added, how many beats they had, and how many more they needed. It was helpful to them to learn the note durations, and it delighted our school math coach!

Once they wrote original rhythms on paper, they could go back to the Toccata Blocks to check their work. They would exactly place what they had written on the easel, and see if it properly filled the easel or not. If not, they could not make corrections with the Toccata Blocks, they had to make corrections on their paper, and then return to the Toccata Blocks to again check their work.

With the length of the blocks proportional to the duration of the note, it is also possible to use the blocks as prompts for creative movement. The whole note block is long, and so a long, extended movement is called for. The quarter note blocks are short, so they call for smaller movements. Turning this into a movement game, children draw blocks like playing cards, then begin walking around the room. If a whole note is drawn, one giant step that takes four beats is taken. If a quarter note is drawn, then four smaller steps that traverse the same distance as the child who took the giant step is taken. Using them in this way helps students deepen their understanding of why the blocks are different lengths, and how the various note durations relate to each other.

Students worked well in small groups finding blocks to add to a group composed rhythm. I have learning centers set up in my classroom, and the Toccata Blocks make a good basis for such a center. With my older students, students who have composed a rhythm on the Toccata Blocks can then take it to students working on the keyboard to add pitches to the rhythm, making a short, one-measure melody. This rhythm then can become the basis for extending a melody.

The blocks are made of durable hard plastic. I anticipate that they will stand up well to classroom use. There is also a CD included with rhythms for students to build with the Toccata Blocks, taking dictation from the CD. The basic set includes quarter and eighth note durations in simple and compound time signatures. Supplemental sets add sixteenth notes to the basic set. Each block has a note on one side and the equivalent rest on the reverse side, so students can learn both notes and rests together. Toccata blocks are suitable for students in second grade and older, though one must be aware that many of the blocks could be a choking hazard for children prone to put such things in their mouth. I have had encouraging success with Toccata Blocks. They are certainly worth looking into. For more information, go to


Keys to Successful Practice

Version 2In another post, I discussed why many students don’t like to practice. There is an irony at work. A player who is struggling needs to practice more than one who is flourishing, yet it is the one who is struggling who is likely to hate practicing and resist practicing because it is unpleasant to play a musical instrument and realize that you sound bad. If that is the whole of a student’s situation, he or she most certainly will not want to practice. But sounding bad is only half the reason. They won’t practice because they sound bad and they don’t know what to do about it. They have a desire or a goal to sound better, but they cannot realize that desire so they give up. Why do students find themselves in this position? Why are there so many students sitting at home who would practice if only they knew how to make themselves better by practicing?

Practice makes perfect is a fallacy. There is no reason to expect that repeating the same mistakes or deficient habits will result in something better. In fact, mere repetition of errors only makes continuance of those errors a certainty. Beyond this fact, correcting wrong notes is doubtless the easiest task among all those that fall under practice. It is much more difficult to correct faulty tone, embouchure, tongue position and movement for wind instruments, and the like. These are more difficult to correct because they are not simply a matter of one dimension being right or wrong, as a pitch is right or wrong. No, correcting a faulty articulation involves a complex blend of muscle uses, and requires a highly developed sense of aural awareness just to perceive when it is done correctly and when not. What is the difference in sound between a correctly tongued note on the clarinet and an incorrectly tongued note? Is the tonguing unsuccessful because the tongue is out of position, moving incorrectly, or because breath management is insufficient to support a proper articulation? When students are trying to master multidimensional skills such as articulating notes, merely sending them home with a staccato exercise and telling them to practice is insufficient. The student must be given a sequence of attainable, understandable goals on which they are capable of self-assessing.

When Kalmen Opperman taught me how to articulate properly, he did so with a series of exercises that began with something I could do on the train silently to myself, continued with a staccato warm-up, and then carried over to practicing sixteenth note passages with a variety of articulations. He used articulation not only to teach me articulation, but also to play sixteenth notes evenly. Eventually, the goal was even playing, but the means was to use varying articulations, which had the added effect of improving my articulation. So much was accomplished with these strictly drawn out instructions on what and how to practice, that I was easily motivated by the obvious relationship between doing what I was given to do, and the improvement that resulted. Most students will practice if two factors are in place. First, there is a goal that the student, for whatever reason, wants to achieve. Second, the student has a firm understanding of how to go about working toward this goal, and perceives growth toward the goal as he or she does so.

For many students, the goal is that of the teacher. This works if the student is generally practicemotivated and trusts the teacher to know what is needed, and what needs to be done to bring about desired results. In the case of a teacher who does not have a reputation that precedes him or her, or of the teacher who is beginning with a new student so that no such trust has been built up, the goal, if the student is going to be motivated to practice, must be set by the student, and the teacher must be the one who works out how the student-generated goal will be obtained. This arrangement will result in a student motivated to practice, and in the student increasingly trusting the teacher to know what is needed, as the teacher’s instruction and advice results in the student-generated goal being accomplished.

It should by now be evident that, contrary to what is frequently believed, a students successful practice depends as much or perhaps even more on the teacher than on the student. It takes a great deal of wisdom and planning on the teacher’s part to convey to the student a desired, attainable goal, an instructional sequence for the student to follow, and directions on how to use the instructional sequence that the student can follow independently when the teacher is not there to assist. When the teacher has provided all of this, then the student is equipped to practice, and can be held responsible for carrying out the planned course for practicing the teacher has laid out. The student’s responsibility is to execute the plan, the teacher’s responsibility is to develop the plan, the instructional sequence, and the directions to be followed.

Students who have not received this kind of thorough training before will immediately be highly motivated when they realize the rapid and marked improvement that is sure to follow. Those who have had this kind of training will rightly expect such growth to continue, and will expect to see, as I did, an obvious relationship between faithful execution of the plan, and self-motivating success. Rare is the student, even at the professional level, who can simply be given a stack of music, told to go home and practice, and figure it all out on his or her own. If you are a performer who practices, or a teacher of performers, you might consider organizing lessons,  and assignments around a lesson plan that includes warm-up, articulation, etude, orchestral repertoire, and solo literature. When a student is not performing much, emphasis is on the first three. When a student is performing frequently, emphasis is on the literature being performed, while attention to etudes, and articulation studies is maintained if reduced. For each segment of the lesson plan, a clear purpose should be made clear. What exactly is to be accomplished by using this warm-up, this articulation study, and this etude? Students must be absolutely clear on what they are to do, and what it should sound like when they have completed the assignment and are ready for their next lesson.

Working from an Objective to a Lesson Plan

Version 2Let’s say you want your children to pass an object in time to the beat around a circle while chanting a rhyme to that beat with the correct rhythms. There are several competencies enfolded into that one objective. You want your children to be able to pass an object around a circle, you want them to pass on a beat and receive on a beat, you want them to chant rhythms accurately, and you want them to keep a steady beat with their chanting, and you want them to keep a steady beat with their movements. The fact is, playing a “simple” object passing game is not so simple after all. Let’s break this activity down into a sequence of learning activities that will prepare those children to succeed at playing the game.

First, we need a rhyme.

round and round

Just a side note for this is that when I play games that exclude a player, I always give them something to do once they are tagged “out.” For this game, I would have them leave the circle and take up a rhythm instrument to play either the beat or the rhythm while the circle continued to chant and play the game. Now back to our lesson plan.

There are two rhythm patterns in this chant; three quarter notes followed by a quarter rest, and four quarter notes. The first thing to do is to get all the children keeping a steady beat. I don’t want them making sounds at this point, because I want them to be able to focus on hearing me chant to them and hearing themselves chant back to me. So I will have them do a silent time keeping movement. Tapping the back of their left hand with the fingertips of their right hand works well. With the children doing this beat in this way, I will have them listen to me chant one of the patterns on a neutral syllable, and then have them repeat back to me what they just heard me do. Bum, bum, bum, — . They repeat, bum, bum, bum — . I would do this pattern at least twice, with everyone chanting together. Then I would do the other pattern. Bum, bum, bum, bum. They repeat, bum, bum, bum, bum. Again I would do this at least twice with everyone chanting together, then doing sometimes one pattern, other times the other pattern. Finally, for this step, I would have individual children chant one or the other pattern, still repeating it after me. Remember, all the time, the children are tapping the back of their left hand with the fingertips of their right hand.

By using a neutral syllable, I have helped the children focus on the rhythm without beingSelf-Image distracted by the words. Now that they have learned the rhythm, I would now replace the neutral syllables with the words of the chant. I am not using rhythm syllables here because I don’t want the children to associate the rhythms with both syllables and lyrics in a new song all at once. Today, I need them to play the game with the words. Another time, I will introduce the rhythm syllables to replace the neutral syllables, and then go back to the words, which by then will be familiar, to play the game again.

So now the children are chanting the rhyme and tapping the beat. The next thing we need them to do is to pass an object on the beat; that is, to pass an object at the same time they are presently tapping. This can be a challenge, especially for PK and K students, so some readiness may be necessary. They already have their left hands held out in front of them for tapping with their right fingertips. Now they are going to right tap the left hand of the child to their right on one beat, and return their right hand to tap their own left hand on the next beat. I call this passing a beat. To practice this, the children temporarily leave off chanting the rhyme and instead chant “pass, own.” “Pass” refers to their neighbor’s hand, while “own” refers to their own left hand. This is the motion they will use to pass the object. When they can do “pass-own” well, have them start passing an actual object. They will continue to do “pass-own” throughout, but when the object comes to them, they will using the “pass-own” motion to actually pass the object.

Finally, have them continue to do the “pass-own” motion and to pass the object when it comes to them, but now they will chant the words of the rhyme instead of saying “pass-own.” Another teacher has had success assigning each student a number. The children count out loud from one through whatever number is assigned to the last child. The children are to pass the object to the friend whose number is being chanted when it is chanted. If this method is used, then the children only count on the “pass” motion and never on the “own” motion.

With younger children, you will need to repeat the readiness activity described above, though more briefly than at first, before playing the game outright. Eventually, the class will be able to sit in a circle and play the game straight away. At that point, it probably becomes a favorite activity, and so is best placed at the beginning or the end of the lesson. Because it was brand new in our hypothetical lesson, I would have placed it in the middle of the lesson, making it the most “meaty” segment of the class. Once the song is familiar, and the children can sing it without assistance, and play the game with no review, then it can be used outside the game for the literacy segment of the lesson plan, which is what I referred to as “meaty” above, the middle segment.

This middle segment is where I would start to use the rhythm syllables instead of neutral syllables. I would follow Feierabend’s Conversational Solfege procedure. The first step, teach by rote with a neutral syllable, as was done above. Next, teach the same material by rote with rhythm syllables. This might be during the same class, but often will be at a subsequent meeting. After that, have students decode; you sing the rhythm patterns in neutral syllables, and they sing the same patterns back to you in rhythm syllables. Again, decoding would not be done the same day they learn the syllables for the first time. I always wait until they have gained proficiency at one step before moving on to the next with a particular song or chant.

When the children can decode, it demonstrates that they have succeeded in associating the sounds of chanted rhythms with the names of each sound within the rhythms. Once they have decoded, then they can read what they have decoded. You chant, then they chant, while you point to the notated rhythms on the board. Now they are associating the melded sounds/names with the visual notation. After that, the students will be able to read the rhythms with rhythm syllables off the board without you having to chant it to them first. Do this with familiar songs and chants first, then with unfamiliar songs and chants to see if they can generalize what they have learned to new material. This is all done in the middle segment of your lesson plan, though not all in the same lesson.

The final third of the lesson returns to something lighter and something the children enjoy doing. I like to do my response to listening here. I use music they enjoy, and give them specific things to listen for and respond to. For example, I might ask them to tell me how the composer used timbre to create the image of water fountains (Respighi’s Fountains of Rome) or how what effect was created by changes in dynamics in Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro. Or, I might play two popular songs, and ask them to name one thing in each that interested them and give one reason why. Or, I might play something twice, once to gather ideas and the second to create movement for expression, or for form. So the overall form of my lesson are hands-on music-making, music literacy, responding/connecting.

More On Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy

Version 2In order to work effectively with Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy, we must understand two dimensions of learning: cognitive process, and knowledge. Cognitive process describes what thought task a learner is performing on a given text or focus. These include, in order of complexity from simple to complex,  remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. Of these, understanding is the most broad and most easily misused.

Understanding answers the question, “what does it mean?” It can involve interpreting, explaining, predicting, or comparing. Understanding is essentially knowing what an author, composer, songwriter, or visual artist intended to convey through their work, and being sufficiently familiar with a creator’s genre to predict what might come next in a musical or literary work, or what a visual artist’s next work might look like based on trends and characteristics found in recent works. Students also demonstrate understanding through comparing when they select a work they prefer from two or more, and then are able to explain why they prefer that one work over the others. Understanding is essentially thinking about artistic work, and making connections with other idioms, cultures, and other artistic works. As such, understanding is an intellectual endeavor.

Applying puts what has been learned through intellectual exercise to practical use. If through interpreting a musical work a student has learned how a composer typically uses specific musical elements and to what expressive purpose, than the student can use that knowledge in using those musical elements in the same way when preparing a performance of that or another of the same composer’s work, or in determining the expressive intent of the same composer in another, perhaps unfamiliar work. Another example might be if, at the remembering level, a student has learned the definitions of several musical terms, that knowledge can be applied when those words are knowledgeably used in the course of writing about a composer’s musical work to which the student has just listened, or which the student is preparing for a performance. It is at the applying level that authentic assessments are found. These are assessment that require students to be evaluated on doing something that musicians actually do in the “real world,” rather than something that only students are asked to do and then do not do once they become working musicians or practicing amateur musicians.

These first three, remembering, understanding, and applying, make a convenient and for many teachers a comfortable learning sequence. Breaking out of these three domains anticipatecan be challenging for teachers and students alike, but it is at the next three domains that the most rigorous instruction and learning take place. Analyzing answers the question “how does it work?”  Many people go through life enjoying music, able to understand what they are hearing, and apply what they know to everything from singing “Happy Birthday” to their children, to reflecting with a friend or spouse on a concert they both just attended together. But to get to the “next level,” a person unpacks the sequences of musical events they heard and looks into learning “how did he do that?” We might learn that we became suddenly tense and uneasy because the chords started on a progression that brought them further and further away from the tonic, or because the pedal tone became more and more dissonant over the chords above. Whereas through remembering, students might identify what a composer did, (he used a crescendo), through analysis, students can explain how a composer used a crescendo, or for what purpose.

Evaluating is more complex. Evaluation is assigning worth or value to an artistic work, or to a performance of an artistic work. To do so requires that the student first have some criteria for judging the quality of artistic work that can be used objectively on any artistic work at least within a given genre if not universally. In other words, the student must be able to know concretely what bad art looks or sounds like, and what good art looks and sounds like, and then must be able to identify what in the artist’s execution of the elements of his or her art was done well and what was done poorly. Often, the most difficult part of evaluating is agreeing on what criteria are to be used.

Many music teachers I talk to are surprised to find creating at the highest, most complex location on the taxonomy. It is also the most advanced step in Feierabend’s twelve step learning sequence for Conversational Solfege. The original Bloom’s taxonomy had synthesis at this location. Creating requires one to pull together everything one knows and can do, and pour it into something new and original. A person simply cannot create an artistic work if they cannot understand, apply what is understood, and evaluate artistic works of others. Students need to acquire command of the elements of their art, of how artists used them to convey an expressive intent, and what particular uses of them create the very best result. Lacking this foundation, students will not have the materials they need to work with, nor will they know what to do with them, or even if they have succeeded once they have, in some way, perhaps randomly, put them together to form a work which lacks expression or quality.

Even an improvisor must have experiences with hearing, generating, selecting, and sequencing sounds and combinations of sounds before he or she can successfully improvise a melody that makes rhythmic and tonal sense. Improvising a melody on an Off instrument with all but the pentatonic scale tones removed is not an act of creating, because no understanding, applying, analyzing or evaluating is needed. The child merely needs to remember to strike any tone bar to a pulse and rhythm pattern. They may be improvising the rhythm, as if they were playing a drum, but they are not improvising a melody, though one incidentally results from their remembering domain activity.

These 6 cognitive tasks, remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating, are performed on knowledge. This knowledge also has domains. There are four domains of knowledge: factual, conceptual, procedural, and metacognitive. Factual knowledge matches up nicely with remembering, conceptual and procedural knowledge goes well with understanding and applying, and metacognitive knowledge is useful with analyzing and evaluating, because understanding how one things, how one’s cognitive process is used helps a student select and use an analytical or evaluative strategy. It should not be surprising that higher level knowledge requires higher level thinking. If we want our students to engage in the higher domains of the cognitive taxonomy, then we can help them by giving them knowledge to work with that demands higher level thinking. For example, when assigning students to analyze a musical work, first have them plan out how they will go about doing their analysis. This requires them to have or develop criteria for determining when to use appropriate procedures. Of course, this also requires that you have taught them appropriate procedures from which they are now qualified to choose the best ones for the task at hand. Then, once they have determined what procedures they will use, they must apply that procedural knowledge, along with perhaps factual and conceptual knowledge,  to actually completing the assignment. Because this is a taxonomy of knowledge domains, students must be proficient with the lower levels of knowledge before being asked to work with a higher level of knowledge. For example, if students are struggling with  conceptual knowledge, teach at that level to raise their proficiency before asking them to use procedural knowledge.

Effective use of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy is an effective way to control the level of challenge and rigor teachers present to their students. The taxonomy should not be seen as a description of learning styles, because one cannot say that, for example, one student is very analytic and so should always be given analysis tasks. No, that student will fare no better on analysis if remembering and/or understanding is deficient. Whereas some students will struggle to reach the most complex domain, none can afford to skip a domain to get to a higher one.

Demystifying Pre-assessment

Version 2Pre-assessment can be a confusing, even upsetting thing for teachers and students. Most of the confusion and upsetting arises from a sense of unfairness; how can students be tested on something we know they don’t know? When approached in this manner, pre-assessment stirs up anxiety for teachers and students alike. Considering this, the first step to succeeding with pre-assessment is to understand what it is and what it is not.

To begin, pre-assessment results are never graded. It is critical that students understand that you are giving them the pre-assessment to find out what they know and what they don’t know about a particular topic or unit of study. The results will have no bearing on their grades, and there will be no penalty for failing the pre-assessment. Now if we just left it at that, we risk leaving the impression that the pre-assessment isn’t really all that important, and causing students not to take it seriously or even try to do well. To avoid this, it is also critical to tell them that how they do on the pre-assessment will determine what and how you teach them going forward. If they do poorly on the pre-assessment, I will be convinced that I must teach the topic thoroughly. If they did poorly because they simply didn’t take it seriously, they will be quite bored by the unnecessary instruction they will be receiving until the next assessment. Classes will be the most enjoyable and interesting if I collect accurate information on where they are with the topic, so my instruction can be appropriate to their learning needs.

Then next thing to consider about pre-assessments, is that we should not try to make these assessments “user friendly” to avoid creating test anxiety. The explanation I just discussed should alleviate most if not all test anxiety. If we populate our pre-assessment with items that we think the students already know in order to comfort students, then we are ensuring that the results will be skewed and of limited value. We will either conclude that students are more proficient than they really are, and so plan instruction that is too advanced, or, if we interpret their success on easy questions too broadly, we will be prone to avoid teaching things that they need as foundations or review in order to succeed later in the unit. For both of these reasons, the pre-assessment must be the same as the post-assessment. The whole idea is to compare how students do on two takings of the same test; one given before instruction, one given after. That is how we can determine if our instruction has been effective. If the results on both takings is statistically the same, then our instruction has not improved their proficiency; they know no more than before we taught them. If, on the other hand, they score statistically higher after instruction, then we know that they have increased their proficiency as a result of our instruction, which is what we are after. If the pre-assessment is different from the post-assessment, we have no way of knowing if the difference is due to instruction or the difference in the test. That is why the pre-assessment and post-assessment must be the same test.

Pre-assessments are also a great tool for setting student learning objectives (SLO). Not every student will turn in identical results on the pre-assessment. Items answered correctly or incorrectly will vary from student to student, as will overall scores. Each individual pre-assessment will identify in items answered incorrectly areas in which that student needs further instruction, and in items answered correctly areas in which the teacher-and-student4student is ready to move on, take on at a higher level of challenge, or mentor other students who still need more instruction. Then, when the teacher is stating how student growth will be measured, one approach can be to state it in terms of a percentage of post-assessment items that will be answered correctly that were answered incorrectly on the pre-assessment. Here again, the difficulty of assessment items is important to get right. If the pre-assessment is too easy, students will scores will be high before they have received any instruction, and the possibility of showing growth on the post-assessment will be small. Similarly, if the pre-assessment is too difficult, and instruction cannot overcome the difficulty, students will score poorly on both assessments, and again growth will be minimal. The pre-assessment/post-assessment must reflect on the one hand the expectation of rigorous instruction and on the other hand realistic learning objectives that will guide and motivate students to learn without discouraging them with excessive challenge or boring them with insufficient challenge.

At this point, many will want to see an example of a pre-assessment. Let us assume that we want to assess 5th grade students on sight singing. We have taught these students since they were in kindergarten, so we have previous assessments and experience to give us an idea of their proficiency that will enable us to create an appropriate assessment. The students have sung with fixed do solfege and Gordon rhythm syllables, and have read medium easy songs using both. With these students in mind, an assessment might have these items. First, students are presented with several pitches on a standard musical staff. Students are asked to write the correct fixed do solfege syllable under each note, and then to sing one of the items using fixed do solfege. The teacher selects which item each student sings, and the same item is never given to two consecutive students so that echoing cannot occur. The same sequence is then repeated with rhythms. Students are presented with several rhythms on a standard musical staff. They are asked to write the correct Gordon rhythm syllable under each note, and then to sing one of the items using Gordon rhythm syllables. The teacher selects which item each student sings, and the same item is never given to two consecutive students so that echoing cannot occur. Third, students are presented with four short melodies, perhaps four measures each. These melodies contain only the pitches and rhythms that were included in the previous items. The teacher selects one of the melodies for each student to sing, and the same melody is never sung by two consecutive students. The teacher scores on a rubric each student performance and each student written response. The completed rubric is attached to each student’s paper, and all scores are recorded on a spreadsheet.

Once such an assessment is given, instruction proceeds according to the results. Students may need more instruction on rhythm, pitch, or in combining the two in a melody. Instruction proceeds with the same rhythms and pitches used in the assessment. This is not to say that only sight singing is taught in music class, but that what is taught in music class will include sight singing material that uses the same rhythms and pitches. After an appropriate interval of time, the teacher gives the same assessment again, and then again enters the results on the spreadsheet that was started after the pre-assessment. Subsequent results from other administrations of the assessment are also entered on the spreadsheet. Other pre-assessments/post-assessments can and should also be given on other topics that are covered in music class, including performing on instruments, performing with voice, responses to listening including reflections, analyses and evaluations, and improvising/composing. In each case, the student is asked to do what they will be asked to do after instruction before that instruction is given, and then given the same assessment following the instruction.

Some of these assessment will be shorter and/or more informal, because we cannot give comprehensive assessments on everything we do for lack of time. Informal assessments can be as simple as having each student sing one tonal pattern from notation or after you have sung it and marking down a number representing the accuracy that one pattern was sung. Other assessments will appear more like routine classwork, such as filling out a listening guide while listening to a musical work, or filling out an evaluation scale on a popular song. The important thing is that students have the opportunity to perform the same task repeatedly over time so that results can be compared and evidence of growth can be seen and documented.