Games in General Music

Version 2My students love to play games in general music class. I’m guessing yours do to. Games are the epitome of making learning fun and motivating students to be engaged in the classroom activity. This is especially helpful at this time of year, when students (and teachers) are restless anticipating the beginning of the summer recess. But even now at this time of year, there should be a learning purpose behind the game–a learning objective that you are using the game to achieve.

For example, my 3rd grade classes love to play “Al Citron.” It is an object passing elimination game. Winning that game has become a coveted honor and prize in my class. One particular class is very difficult to manage, except when they are playing this game. Suddenly, they work together well, all sing well, and are all highly engaged. For them it is a game, and singing and passing the object on the beat, and not passing the object on the words “triqui, triqui, tron” are just rules of the game. But for me, it is an activity with which each student can demonstrate their ability to keep a steady beat, sing accurately, and anticipate a motive in order to alter movements at the proper time. Once a child is eliminated, I have them start to form an outer circle, clap the beat, still sing, and when there are enough children their, start a new game where there is no elimination. This keeps the eliminated children engaged and continuing to learn and practice skills and concepts, even when they are not competing for winning the game.

A popular game with kindergarteners is “Allee Galloo.” This is a short simple song that kindergarteners can easily sing. At that age, it’s important for them to sing echo and call and response songs to develop pitch and rhythm accuracy, but also to sing entire songs, even short ones like this, on their own. Playing a game to a simple song makes more repetitions possible, and adds the element of movement and creativity to an activity that would otherwise be just singing. As before, I can assess singing with others as the Frog In The Meadowchildren sing and play the game. I also always have the option of choosing a child to sing alone without movement to give the class a momentary change of focus. The creativity comes in having the children invent different movements to perform at the end, on “weee!” Have the children move different parts of their body at a specific beat location in a song is a Dalcroze based activity. It moves where the child experiences the beat to different parts of the body. People have different preferences as to where they most like to or are able to feel a musical beat, so creating a variety of ways to respond gives students with different preferences a chance to use their preferred motion.

My sixth graders love to play Simon (not Simon says). That’s the game where there are quadrants, each a different color. When a tone is played one of the quadrants lights up. There are four tones, one for each quadrant. Students must press the colors that light up in the order they played. Each time they get it right, the sequence gets longer. While it is possible (and usual) for students to play this game by sight, repeating the color sequence without really working on musical memory, after they have played it this way for a while, I remove the visual, and give them barred instruments with just the four tones installed. When the tones are played by the game, the students then have to play the notes they heard on the xylophone. This really gets into musical memory, not just visual memory. To add an element of creativity, a student leader improvises the tone patterns instead of having the game generate them, then the players must repeat the pattern the student improvised. In this case, the leader must remember what s/he just played so it can be played again and then added to with an additional tone. The game can also be used for decoding. Students hear the tones sequence from the game or from a barred instrument, and then must sing it back using solfege. I use the online version of Simon. My class is divided into two teams, one student at a time plays on the computer which is projected on the screen. Teammates can help, which keeps them all active and engaged.

My middle schoolers love to play musical chairs. Trouble is, I haven’t found an educational reason to play this game during class, at least not the way it is usually played. But with a few tweaks, I’ve made it into something that I can use to teach musical concepts. For example, if I’m teaching meter, I will play music on the piano. As long as the meter stays the same, the class continues to walk. As soon as the meter changes they must find a seat. The odd one out is eliminated and comes over to the piano and selects the next concept to be changed. Tempo, dynamics, articulation, timbre, mode are favorite ones to use. Every now and then I slip into traditional musical chairs and stop the music.

Good teaching always has a purpose, with objectives for students to achieve, with what children are to be able to do and know clearly stated to them to that they know why they are doing what they are doing. I want my students to be able to tell an observer who asks “what are you learning today?” “We are learning how different meters feel while playing musical chairs,” or “We are leaning to generate musical ideas and remember them so we can use them again and add on to them while we are playing ‘Simon’.” If the best my students can answer is, “we are learning to sing a song” or “we are having fun playing a game,” then I have failed in either stating my objective to the class, or in planning a class around an objective, not just an activity.

What Is Musical Dissonance?

Version 2When I was a high school student, I was sure I knew what dissonance in music was. If it sounded wrong, it was dissonant, and if it sounded right, it was consonant. An interval of a 2nd, or a try tone, or a seventh was dissonant, and all the others were consonant. Then in college, I learned that a perfect 4th is dissonant, though it still sounded fine to me. But that was the first hint that something was amiss with my definition. If an interval that sounded right to me was dissonant, then I needed a new understanding of the concept. In my discussion of expectations (see “Is All Music Intended to Be Expressive?”), I mentioned Meyer’s thoughts on continuance and repose. Music that demands continuance, or “leaves us hanging” creates tension, whereas music that comes to rest harmonically, as at a full cadence, expresses repose or relaxation.

Once of the expectations Western listeners have is that tension will resolve into relaxation. We are accustomed to patterns of tension and relaxation in our music. This is the basis for traditional voice leading and harmonic progressions. Ornaments such as suspensions, appagiaturas, trills, and so forth create tension because they sound incomplete, as one who stops in the middle of a sentence. We know from our experience with grammar that there has to be more to that sentence, and we know from our experience with music that there has to be more to that musical phrase, more music that will bring us to that cadence, that musical punctuation of a comma, semi-colon, or period. It is that expectation, even necessity of the music continuing on to a more suitable pausing or stopping place that makes the present moment sound dissonant.

In framing dissonance in this way, I am essentially equating dissonance with continuance. The unresolved suspension is not dissonant because it sounds “wrong,” it sounds dissonant because it leaves us demanding more. Dissonance is unfulfilled expectation. It is a form of anxiety similar to what we experience when we worriedly await the outcome of some life event. That anxious, stressed feeling is akin to how our body reacts to dissonance in music.

Zatorre and Blood (1999) at McGill University created original melodies containing dissonant and consonant patterns of notes, and played them for ten volunteers who were  scanned at the same time. Rejecting the null hypothesis, dissonance made areas of the limbic system linked to unpleasant emotions light up in the PET scans, whereas the consonant melodies stimulated limbic structures associated with pleasure. In other words, music elicits the same emotional response in the human brain as non-musical events with the same emotional makeup. So our experience of dissonance is larger than a response limited to musical stimuli. Our perception of musical dissonance is a parallel response to other life experiences.

In The Harvard Dictionary of Music we find that dissonance represents the “element of disturbance and tension.” While tension can, as we have seen, be framed within unsatisfied or delayed expectations, disturbance is a dangerously subjective idea. Listeners are disturbed by different sounds to different degrees. We must also consider that what was once considered dissonant to musicians and audiences alike are now accepted as less so or even consonant now. There is a phrase in Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast in which the choir sings the text “drank from the sacred vessels.” “Drank from the” is set to a minor 2nd, “sacred ves-” to a major 2nd, and “-sels” to a minor third. Though the 2nds are by some definitions dissonance, they are to my ear delectable and beautiful in the sense that the imminent resolution is so quickly realized and from the extreme “disturbance” of the minor 2nd. In this, we might consider that dissonance may be determined in part by its duration prior to its resolution. The longer the disturbance remains, the more likely it is to be perceived as dissonance. Dissononances that occupy short time spans may be less apt to be perceived as dissonant because they are more closely associated or attached to their resolutions. This is why a suspension can seem more consonant than an escape tone, wherein the resolution by skip obscures the tranquility of the resolution.

Some have attempted to define dissonance as any interval not included in the prevailing diatonic scale.  As long as diatonicism is the standard for measuring consonance or dissonance, this definition is at least serviceable. But it is rendered inappropriate for atonal works. Hindemith (1900) breached this issue by putting forth a ranking of melodic intervals from most consonant to most dissonant. This ranking was P5, P4, M6, M3, m3, m6, M2, m7, m2, M7, TT. Hindemith believed that consonance and dissonance could be perceived as a kind of floating standard, constantly defined by the current interval regardless of overall tonal center or lack there of. Still, there are vestiges of traditional harmony in his ranking, because the first 4 intervals are all diatonic and all part of the tonic, dominant, or subdominant chords. Hindemith believed that we shifted our perception of tonal center according to intervallic relationships when interval roots were non-diatonic.

This theory allowed for writing in the 12-tone style without abandoning tonality. Tones that are lowest, highest, and longest are given greatest importance in a melodic progression. These tones then are constructed to form step-wise motion, no matter their separation from one another by intervening tones. The interval of the fifth, being the most consonant, is also the strongest harmonically. It’s occurrence over changing roots can thus alter the perceived tonal center, whereas intervals gradually loose their ability to establish tonal centers according to their increased property of dissonance. To state it in terms of our overall discussion, the perfect 5th has the least power of continuance and the highest degree of repose, and so functions as a tonic in traditional harmony. As intervals become more dissonant, they gain greater power of continuance and lessening degrees of repose, and so add tension as well as distance from a perceived tonal center. Listen to this example from Hindemith, and see how much of our discussion you can take away.

 

Blood, A. J., Zatorre, R. J., Bermudez, P., & Evans, A. C. (January 01, 1999). Emotional responses to pleasant and unpleasant music correlate with activity in paralimbic brain regions. Nature Neuroscience, 2, 4, 382-7.

Hindemith, P. (1900). The craft of musical composition. Mainz: Schott.

Games in the Elementary Music Classroom

Version 2My students love to play games. No matter what else I may have for them to do on a given day, as soon as I mention that we will be playing a game that day, they all smile and get excited. Music games are fun, yes, but there is also a learning goal to be met that must not be overlooked amid all the fun, or left not communicated to the students.  For example, in Pre-kindergarten or kindergarten, you might use the song “Charlie Over the Ocean.” The song is an echo song, and the game is played as a version of duck, duck, goose. One child walks around the outside of the circle while the song is sung, then taps the nearest child in the circle at the end of the song. The child who tapped chases the child who was tapped. If tagged, the he becomes the new chaser, if not, the chaser must chase again. With all the running and chasing, it is easy to let that excitement become the focus of the game. But there are opportunities for more learning.

Because the song is an echo song, the chaser is a solo singer as he or she walks around the circle. It is important for children to sing alone, not always in a group, to develop independent audiation and singing skills. This can also be an excellent opportunity for the teacher to assess singing while the children are at the same time doing something they enjoy and that doesn’t “feel” like an assessment. Thirdly, the chaser should also be walking around the circle to the beat of the song he or she is singing, so the child is performing a beat motion. Fourthly, traveling around the circle when being chased and returning to the same location in the circle requires that the student move his or her body in space to a determined location. This is a variety of movement exploration, training students to understand and interpret music through movement of the body. Feierabend has presented many similar activities that teach children to explore space with their bodies. If one wanted to calm the game down, it could be played so that the child tapped needed to reach a location in the circle in a given number of steps. If more or fewer steps were taken, the child would be “caught.” If the exact number of steps were taken to reach the destination, the child avoided being “caught.”

When the class is about to play a game such as “Charlie Over The Ocean,” the teacher who states upfront that the goals to be achieved while playing is accurate solo singing, exploring movement, and accurate keeping of the beat by walking, is focusing students on desired learning, even as they are having fun playing a game. Students are also more likely to manage their behavior and successfully learn concepts when they are goal directed. Students should know what they are learning at all times during a classroom activity.

“Charlie Over The Ocean” is a kind of game that doesn’t have winners and losers. Other games do. In these situations, the learning objective must be kept in mind, more so than winning the game. A good example of this is Feierabend’s “forbidden rhythm.” This game is very useful for teaching music literacy, both at the aural and reading stages. I use three different rhythms. The three rhythm patterns have been taught so that they are familiar to the children. The game is played as a variation of a familiar activity, that of echoing rhythm patterns. I chant a rhythm, and the class chants it back to me. The twist is one of the three rhythms is “forbidden.” If I chant the forbidden rhythm, the class must remain silent. If the class stays silent, they get a point. If anyone chants the rhythm out loud, I get a point, so the two teams are the class and me. The first team to get 3 points wins. In order to avoid one student being blamed for awarding me a point, I give the class the point if only one student chants the forbidden rhythm, but if two or more chant it, I get the point.

This can be done orally, or the rhythms can be written on the board, and the students play the game by reading the rhythms I’m chanting, avoiding the one that is marked “forbidden.” The students are focused on winning, but in order to do so they must remain proficient at audiating rhythm patterns and deciding which ones to chant out loud and which ones to just audiate but not chant. They also must practice reading music if the patterns have been written on the board. That is the learning objective they are working on while they are having fun trying to win the game. The game can also be played by having a student lead, chanting the rhythm patterns for the class to echo or keep silent on. In that case, the student leading becomes one team, and the class is still the other. This arrangement gives students a chance to practice leadership skills and solo chanting, furthering the learning possibilities from playing the game.

Games are a useful tool in teaching music (and other disciplines). They are motivating and provide a context that make learning meaningful.” Games help engage students in activities that have an educational purpose and which in another presentational mode would be less interesting and engaging. Games, because they are played by all students at once, also encourage socialization and teach the community aspects of music making. Whether students are moving in a circle, clapping, passing an object to the beat, or singing or chanting patterns, they are doing those things as a community and for a purpose beyond a teacher’s expectation. Every action that produces musical sound is done for, perhaps among other reasons, the purpose of making music. Combining music making with the fun of playing the game is developing enjoyment of music itself.

 

 

 

Responding To Music: Subjective or Objective?

Version 2The National Core Arts Standards include three anchor standards for responding that lay out the ways a person can respond to music. When our students respond to music in our classrooms or on their own in other settings, they are probably doing so in one of the ways described in these anchor standards. They are probably perceiving and analyzing, interpreting intent and meaning, and/or evaluating the music to which they are listening. Analyzing and evaluating are the more objective ways of responding. Analysis can be done for specific elements. These can include phrase structure, use of a given musical element, harmony, melodic motifs, and so forth. Evaluating a musical work involves using an established set of criteria. While evaluation is often at least partially subjective, holding to the criteria keeps the subjectivity to a minimum and makes the task largely objective. But what about interpreting a musical work? That sounds like a largely subjective thing. Can’t music mean different things to different people? How can we know for sure what a composer’s expressive intent was? Aren’t we just guessing based on clues left by his or her use of musical elements?

It is worth noting that the anchor standard includes two things that interpretation is to reveal: intent and meaning. While the two are related, they must not be the same or they wouldn’t both be included in the standard. What is intent and what is meaning of a musical work. First, music itself has no intrinsic intent or meaning, because it has no intelligence of its own. Music is an created thing. The creator has intent and attempts to communicate meaning, so it is the intent  of the creator of the musical work, and the meaning he or she has placed in the musical work that we are trying to learn from interpreting.

Regarding meaning, we must be careful to ask the right question. Many writers have researched musical meaning by asking people, “what does music mean to you?” The problem with that question is that it invites subjective answers, and typically elicits a gamut of answers that are often vague, philosophical, or deeply personal. While it is valuable for individual to hold philosophical and personal views on the meaning of music in their lives, we are looking for something more universal. If music has any meaning at all, it must be the same across individuals of a given culture at least, if not across multi cultures, in the same way that a red octagon means stop to a motorist, no matter in what language the word “stop” is written within it. The meaning of musicMIOSM will follow philosophical and personal meanings, but it will generalize them into something we can all agree on, something we can teach to our students and that they will be able to apply to their own music experiences. The meaning of musical works will interact with any personal philosophies and views a person may have, and never fail to bring an experience of music to an understanding of that music to which they are listening. Such a meaning of music will be objective, and at the same time modifiable by personal philosophies and views.

So then, what does music mean? What shall we teach our students regarding the communicative powers of musical works? Let me start with a statement from songwriter Sarah McLachlan. She wrote that music is “a universal emotional language that allows us to feel. It brings us closer to ourselves and others in that it creates an avenue for empathy and understanding. It can often communicate something that cannot be put into words, a resonance of the spirit and a recognition that another feels what you feel and understands.” There is a problem right away in that she starts with “music is” rather than “music means,” but I shall work around that, for there is much of value in what she has to say here. First, music communicates what we as humans feel, and it communicates it in a universal way. The universality is sometimes limited by cultural context. Rhythm tends to be more universal in this respect than melody. Rhythm activates our body movements, and the part of our brain that governs motor activity. Things like fast movement, increased heart rate, even sweaty palms are all stimulated by rhythmic structures that are likely universal. Melodies, with the variety of scales, intervals, and even instrument timbres is less universal. The feelings that a melody will stimulate will vary from none to extreme depending on the musical experience and culture of the listener.

Music brings us closer to ourselves in that it pulls up emotions that might otherwise remain hidden to our awareness, or repressed by choice. I have many times experienced a surge of emotion, sometimes to the brink of tears, from a musical phrase that gushes beauty and emotion. Such emotional moments may remind me of other, non-musical experiences about which I felt similarly, and the music might even be fused to such an experience, adding emotional strength to both the music and the memory. If the composer has written music to express how he or she is feeling, and then we are talking about intent, then by listening to that music I may be able to feel what the composer is feeling, and empathize with his or her emotional condition. Music certainly can be this “avenue for empathy and understanding,” but it cannot be reliably so because no listener can be sure that what feelings are elicited in the music are in fact what the composer was feeling at the time he or she wrote that musical work. It is well known that Beethoven wrote his cheerful sixth and seventh symphony while in the midst of deep depression and sadness over his deafness and overall quality of life. So to think we are empathizing with Beethoven as we listen to this cheerful music is just not so. We need to know, through a composer’s writings perhaps, that he or she was feeling the way the music cam out in order to know that the music is indeed that “avenue or empathy and understanding.”

That music can communicate things that can not easily be put into words, or that cannot be put into words at all, should be beyond dispute. Music certainly rises even above the expressive potential of poetry, which in turn rises above the potential of prose, for being a vehicle for this kind of expression. Whereas prose resonates with our intellect, music, as McLachlan points out, resonates with the spirit. Music brings to the surface a deep experience that can share with our consciousness the navigating of our innermost selves through realities we cannot otherwise approach. It is like the “aw” factor we seem to universally experience when we see a newborn infant. Even just a photograph of the newborn child melts the sternest of hearts like water, and this feeling is quite out of our control. Music is like that.

When we search for what a musical work means, we must first look inward, to discover what of our inner being it has touched, moved, and communicated with. Then, we need to be aware of what others have found similarly looking inward responding to the same musical work. This is where the community of students in a music class is so valuable. To create a climate where students first become practiced at being aware of what the music has communicated to them, and then being willing to share that experience with others. In so doing, students can find a sort of classroom universality whereby they discover not just a personal meaning, but a common, shared meaning that comes close to or hits the mark of what the music truly means. This shared meaning, by virtue of the data extending beyond individuals and through a community of learners (listeners), takes on a good measure of objectivity. The more agreement there is, the more objective that meaning becomes.

Artistic Choices

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How do musicians make artistic choices? This is an essential question that should be at the center of our music lessons. Too often, the answer to this question is a secret kept by music teachers from their students. The music director makes all the choices, and then instructs the students to play or sing this way or that way. The result is a performance that the students had little opportunity to make their own. In truth, students should be making creative choices. and in so doing making a musical performance personal and personally expressive.

I was reminded of this a few days ago while teaching a seventh grade general music class. The students were given a score to “Hapuna Matata” from The Lion King. They were asked to describe what was happening in the story of the show when the song is sung, what the mood of the song is, who the characters are that sing it, and what the characters should sound like while they’re singing it. These instructions can be summarized with four terms: context, expressive intent, and voice. They were further to shape their performances of the song by making decisions on tempo, dynamics, and articulation, and were given word banks under each element category. If the music happy? If so, what tempo would make the music sound happiest? What dynamics? What articulation? They were to try out different ideas–different ways of singing the song, varying the dynamics, articulation and tempo, until they found the happiest possible way of singing the song. Then, they tried different vocal timbres, and similarly explored the possibilities. At first, there wasn’t much variety in what they were doing. Most of the students knew the song form the movie, and had this idea that it had to go just that way. I had to persuade a few students that they could, in fact change the tempo from what it was in the movie, if they thought it would better expressPicture1 the mood they found in the song. When they students realized that they had this freedom, they instantly became more motivated and excited about the project. The idea that they could make the performance their own, putting their own personal touch on the music, was a revelation to them, and an exciting one.

I don’t think students are often given enough time to explore, and enough freedom to really make creative choices. There is always a measure of choice in making a crescendo or playing something forte or staccato in as much as the student must decide how loud or how detached the notes will be played. But as musicians who have been taught by master teachers in music conservatories, we teachers tend to “guide” or students to making their choices our choices until the music sounds the way we want it to. While I believe there is a place for this kind of steering as a student learns how to make music expressive, there must come a time when a student has the freedom to interpret a musical work differently than we would if we were performing it. There is plenty of a music teacher’s influence that naturally rubs off on a student. Musicians can often be identified as students of so and so because of their sound or by the nature of their interpretation. But the best performances always come form the soul, not the brain, and the only way that can be realized is by having the freedom to explore and settle on a way of performing the piece that results in the music “speaking” exactly what the performer has to say.

The trouble with exploring is that it is expensive; it costs a lot in time, and many of us often feel as though we don’t have the time to let students grow in musicianship this way. We make ourselves slaves to performance deadlines, and then justify our expedient ways by claiming they are the only way our ensembles can be ready in time. I am a great supporter of frequent performances; I think performing often keeps students motivated and keeps them practicing and working hard. But I am also mindful that when I am working at my day job, and that is as a public school music teacher, I am not conducting a professional orchestra, band, or choir. I am teaching kids music, and that is a vastly different thing. The whole pace of teaching music must be slower than of preparing an already highly trained ensemble for a concert.

On the other hand, letting students develop properly as musicians doesn’t take as much longer as we may think. Consider how many times you have to have your ensembles play or sing a piece before they have all the notes, all the dynamics, all the transitions, all the tempo changes, all the articulations “performance ready.” Do you know why all of that takes so long? If you, the conductor, made all of those artistic choices, there’s an excellent chance that many of them seem unnatural and uncomfortable to at least some of the ensemble. There is instability in those rehearsals because your choices are very different from what their choices would be if they had the chance to make them. Part of that is because they are less experienced, and perhaps your choices are more “musical” than theirs. They should consider your choices because of this. But part of that is because they are making music from a kid’s perspective, surrounded by their artistic culture and sensibilities, which are more than likely different from yours, and driving you and your students to arrive at different artistic choices.

Often, unless the director is a percussionist, he or she tends to prepare a performance from  the melody and bass, and treats other parts as background. This segregates rhythmic inner parts from soprano and bass voices. But kids are used to starting with all of the rhythm section, and working to the melody from there. They respond first to the rhythm section, the “beat.”  This is a different way of experiencing music than the way many directors experience it, because we tend to favor classical and jazz in our persnal musical experiences. If we directors listened to as much rap, rock, pop and gospel as our students, wouldn’t we bring a different approach to musical interpretation, similar to theirs? What would happen if a band director started with just the bass,  percussion and harmony rhythm parts, and then told those on melody to play their parts any way they wanted. They have to play the pitches and rhythms that are in their music, but beside that, they can do whatever they want with it; have them play the melody over the rhythm that has developed. This is “jamming” outside the context of a jazz or rock band, but well within the context of how kids approach music. The interpretation that eventually develops will probably knock your socks off, and really get the kids excited about playing that overture, which otherwise might have been a more ho-hum affair. If kids are going to really learn develop musicianship, they must be given the freedom to make artistic choices.

 

It’s Music Festival Season–Which One Should You Choose?

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If you’re a director of a school music ensemble, then you are now heading into festival and contest season. There are plenty of music festivals vying for your business. Most are good to excellent and offer something valuable (besides a ribbon or trophy) for you and your students to take home with you. With all of your options, how do you pick the one that is best for your group?

If you’ve found a festival you like, it’s a good idea to stick with that one. The destination can change from year to year to provide variety for returning students, and you can have confidence that all of the festival arrangements will be handled to your satisfaction. Sometimes, though, there is a reason to try a different festival. Perhaps the destination to which you want to travel is not offered by the festival operator you’ve used before, perhaps this is your first year going to a festival, or perhaps you simply were not satisfied with the operator you used last season. If you’re looking for a different music festival experience, here are some things to look for.

First, find out what your colleagues say about the various music festivals. We music teachers are a great networking resource for each other, and we’re more than happy to share good travel and music festival experiences with fellow music teachers. Finding two or three directors who have all had good experiences with a particular tour almost guarantees you will have a good experience with them too.

Second, talk to the person running the festival. Have him come out to your school and talk to you in person about his or her festival. While you’re talking, ask about the philosophy of the festival. Is it highly competitive, or more focused on providing feedback and encouraging low competition experiences. Ask about who the judges are. Find out how long they’ve been adjudicating, and how long they have worked for that particular music Picture1festival. You should also ask if they are current or former music educators themselves. There’s a big difference between how a former music educator and a first chair symphony player approaches adjudication and kids. The last thing you want is for your students to be playing for an adjudicator who doesn’t understand the difference between professionals auditioning for a symphony chair, and students looking for a positive and musical learning experience (and who can’t wait to get to the amusement park).

You also want to know ahead of time where your ensemble will be performing for the adjudicators. If you are going to an amusement park after your adjudication, how far away is the park from the performance venue? Will there be a satisfactory warm-up room or area, how long will you have to warm-up? Once you are on stage, will you only be adjudicated, or will the adjudicator also give a clinic to your students while you are still on stage? The facilities at which you will be playing are important because they affect so many aspects of your experience. A facility that is too small can create a logjam of ensembles waiting on busses to enter the venue because there aren’t enough warm-up areas to handle the number of groups performing. The people “on the ground” at the venue also influence how smoothly things run. An efficient operation will get groups on and off the stage on time, and efficiently move people from warm-up area to stage, and off again in a timely and organized manner. I ran an adjudication for several years, and was gratified by directors who returned because they knew I would get them in and out on time. Talk to other directors about how smoothly this part of the festival was handled.

It is also good to know how the awards ceremony is handled. This is where the philosophy of the festival will be most apparent. The festival for which I ran the adjudication site had their awards assembly at the amusement park toward the end of the day. Awards were given out to top scoring ensembles in different size categories, so smaller schools did not have to compete against large ones. There were also awards given for soloists and Ensembleaccompanists, and, perhaps best of all, there was an award for “esprit de corps.” This was given to the school that handled itself with the most class, showed a high level of cooperation within the ensemble and with others. It was given separately from any performance award, and was saved for last giving high profile infant of all the ensembles.

If you are attending a festival as part of an overnight trip and are visiting tourist attractions, then this adds another dimension to your search for the best festival. With this kind of trip, you also want to find out about their bus service, if provided, and about their tour escorts. I was pleased with one company we used who met our chartered coach at a prearranged location, directed the driver to the drop off place, and then staid with us for our entire stay, directing us to restaurants, performance venues, and attractions. The arrangements I made were flexible according to what I wanted to do with my students while I was there, and everything was arranged just as I asked when we arrived. Some festival operators will do more or less than this. The important thing is to ask questions before you depart from home, and know exactly what will be done for you, and what, if any, additional arrangements you will have to make on your own.

If you can find one, choosing a music festival that will host some sort of culminating party for your students the evening before your departure is a big plus. This is a big deal for the kids. They look forward to getting dressed up for each other and having a good time together. Often this event is a dinner and dance, with a d.j. provided by the festival operator as part of your package. I remember one year, we were all at a MLB baseball game, and when the game went into extra innings, the kids started stressing out over being late for the party and not having time to get cleaned up and dressed up. A well-done end of trip party is really important.

As one last bit of advice, I would add this. I took the time I told parents we would return to school very seriously. I always made sure I departed on time, held to a strict schedule as far as dinner stops were concerned, so that our bus would pull into the school on-time, or very near to it. In fact, because I knew something would surely delay us somewhere along the way, I told the parents we’d arrive 45 minutes later than I planned. Over many years of doing overnight trips, only once was I more than 30 minutes off. Parents appreciated that, and I was proud of being known for keeping my word on this. For those of you going on trips and to music festivals, have a great time, and a great musical experience. Your students will remember those trips for the rest of their lives.

Working Aurally With Key Signatures

2011 Symposium2

In my post, Do You Really Know What A Key Signature Is? I made the point that we must not overlook the importance of audiation and teaching keyalities and tonalities aurally before teaching written key signatures. I mentioned singing and playing scales and arpeggios by ear in different keyalities and tonalities. Today, I would like to hone in on how to develop advanced audiation skills in this area.

One approach is to present a student with a phrase, and have him or her play that phrase in many or all keyalities. For example, you might give your student the first four notes of the last movement of Mozart’s “Jupiter” symphony, do, re, fa, mi, and have him or her first sing, and then play it in all keyalities. The student would play c, d, f, e, and then d, e, g, f-sharp, and then e, f-sharp, a, g-sharp, and so forth. For singing, I recommend using fixed do solfege. Only by using fixed do will the student truly audiate in different keyalities. With moveable do, each keyality is a repetition of another only at a different pitch. With fixed do, the student must consciously adjust notes a semi-tone with sharps or flats, and isn’t that the point of teaching key signatures? The student would eventually play this four-note motif with all key signatures. This approach is effective for teaching all keyalities, but only  includes one tonality; each time the student is playing in major.

It is also necessary for students to learn to sing, audiate, and play in all tonalities. To do this effectively, we would need material that includes more than four pitches. We could use “Ah vous dirai-je, Maman,” or what many of us know as “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Begin by having the student sing, again using fixed do solfege. Let us say we are using the song in C major. The student would sing do, do, sol, sol, la, la, sol, fa, fa, mi, mi, re, re, do. That much is sufficient. Now have the student sing the same tune, but in dorian. This time, the student will sing do, do, sol, sol, la, la, sol, fa, fa, b mi, b mi, re, re, do.  Next,C-Major-Scale  the student sings it in minor. do, do, sol, sol, b la, b la, sol, fa, fa, b mi, b mi, re, re, do. After that, the student sings in Lydian. do, do, sol, sol, la, la, sol, # fa, # fa, mi, mi, re, re, do. Finally, the student sings in Phrygian. do, do, sol, sol, b la, b la, sol, fa, fa, b mi, b mi,   b re, b re, do. I like to have students sing in all the tonalities first, then go back, if he or she is an instrumentalist, and play them in all the tonalities. Having the student sing them all first focuses on the differences between the tonalities by keeping the performance method, singing, constant. Alternating singing with playing tends to obscure the changes being made from one tonality to the other.

Remember, all of this is being done by ear–there is no notation involved. At this stage we are training the ear, not the eyes. Because of this, it is also important that the student not only be performing in a variety of keyalities and tonalities, but also listening to songs in a variety of keyalities and tonalities. The teacher should perform songs in Dorian, minor, Lydian, and Phrygian often so that the students becomes accustomed to hearing and audiating those tonalities as a listener, so that when he or she sings or plays, the tonality is already familiar. Scarborough Fair, Eleanor Rigby, and Drunken Sailor are good examples of songs in Dorian. Music that uses the Phyrigian mode include Liszt ‘s Hungarian Rhapsody No.2, Rimsky Korsakov’s Scheherazade, and Vaughan William’s Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis. Music that employs the Lydian mode includes Chopin’s Mazurka No. 15. and the third movement of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 15 in A minor. Tunes that employ the mixolydian mode include The Beatles’ ‘Norwegian Wood’, the theme to the TV series of Star Trek and Debussy’s The Sunken Cathedral. Not all melodies will include all of the notes needed to establish a tonality, so choose one that is well fitted for the mode you are teaching.

Dalcroze ScalesAnother excellent method of developing the ear is to have the student sing and then play intervals in all keys. Again, start with singing using fixed do solfege. For this example, I will arbitrarily start with diatonic fourths C major, but it doesn’t matter which key you start with. Do, fa, re, sol, mi, la, fa, ti, sol, do. Then go on to D major. I do not use the chromatic alterations to the syllables, but make the adjustment in pitch when I sing, so, for example fa is sung for both f and f-sharp. The student sings re, sol, mi, la, fa, ti, sol, do, la, re. Remember, fa and do are sharped notes now. Proceed to E major. Mi, la, fa, ti, sol, do, la, re, ti, mi, and fa, do, sol, and re are sharped. If you have been doing these intervals while reading, you have experienced what a mental exercise this is, forcing you to adjust to the changing key signatures. The connection to a musical instrument comes as the student is able to think the syllables and pitches while playing. To help this connection, it can be helpful for the teacher to sing the intervals with the solfege while the student plays, then gradually reduce the number of notes sung for the student until he or she is left entirely on his or her own.

The time taken for this kind of training is well worth it. Though it may seem like these kinds of activities will be too time consuming to accommodate instruction on repertoire in the same lesson, you will see relatively quickly that training a student in audiation enables him or her to learn everything much more quickly, because they are able to know with more precision what they are trying to sing or play, and are able to produce the right notes much more fluently. They become, as it were, fluent “speakers” of music.