Fixed and Movable Do

Version 2As originally conceived, solfege was a movable do system. Whatever pitch was the tonic would be assigned the syllable “do” and the other syllables, re, mi, fa, so, la, and ti followed upward by step. In today’s usage, these movable do syllables are referred to as tonal syllables. They are called tonal syllables because they identify pitches by harmonic function, not by name or location on the staff. The tonic pitch is always “do” regardless of the key, and so also with the other pitches. Another way of putting is that the function (tonic, dominant, sub dominant, etc.) is always called by the same syllable, but the pitch assigned that function and thus that syllable will change according to the key. The advantage of this system is that it trains the ear to recognize harmonic function, and recognizing harmonic function in a melody line assists in singing in tune. The disadvantages are that one must ascertain or be told what the tonic is before one can begin singing with movable do syllables, and also that accidentals are extremely challenging. To the latter point, because movable do expresses function, when the function of a note changes, the syllable must also be changed. Thus, unlike with the fixed do system, when, for example, the super tonic is flatted, the syllable must be changed from re to ra, whereas in fixed do both super tonic and flatted super tonic are called re in the key of C.

Whereas, at least conceptually, movable do is a functional system, fixed do, or so it has been claimed, is not a functional system. This is because fixed do syllables do not indicate function, but instead indicate pitch name. Fixed do syllables are equivalent to letter note names, but are easier to sing; however, I take issue with those who claim that fixed do precludes functions. People naturally perceive the tonic function in tonal music, regardless of syllables being used, or in fact even in the absence of any syllables at all. My students have no trouble locating the tonic note of a tonal melody, because it is the only pitch that satisfies their ear as a final or resting tone. That being so, it is but a small matter to affix a name to the pitch to which one has intuitively assigned a function. Once the note, let us say fa which is an F, has been established as the tonic, one can easily perceive and understand fa to be the tonic, do to be the dominant, ti to be the sub dominant, and so forth. In addition, one can also be sure of exactly what pitches are being heard, making the bridge from listening to sight reading easier. If anyone should doubt this, let him sing a major scale starting on fa, and then realize that fa already unmistakably sounds like nothing else but the tonic function. Singing a major scale beginning on other syllables will produce the same result. What is more, whether sharp or not, the note is sung with the same syllable. A major scale beginning on re would be re mi fa so la ti do re. The singer must adjust by ear the fa and do to be sharped. This in itself is a worthwhile ear training exercise, which, by the way, Dalcroze was extremely fond of, that the practitioner of movable do never encounters. To him, every key is the same. But we know this is not how the composers heard the keys, or else they would not have described some as bright, others dark or any number of other ways. Having different syllables for the different scales helps one hear each key differently, as they were meant to be heard.

Teaching functional harmony is important. The teacher using fixed do must not overlook teaching harmony because it is essential for understanding tonal music, and for singing in tune. Because the syllables in the fixed do system indicate pitch and not function, C-Major-Scale(though as we have seen function is perceived when using fixed do), the use of fixed do necessitates a separate designation for functions. Renowned teachers such as Nadia Boulanger used syllables for pitch and numbers for function.   Using numbers for function and syllables for pitch emphasizes that pitch and function are two different concepts. A single musical tone has a definite pitch, but no function. A tone can only have function when it is perceived in the context of other tones. For example, fa could be tonic in f, dominant in b-flat, or mediant in d minor. The listener simply doesn’t know until other tones have placed that fa into a harmonic context. As long as the function of the note is unknown, it cannot be sung using movable do, but it can be sung using fixed do.

Using numbers to indicate function is consistent with the practice of numbering the scale degrees, with the tonic being ^1, the dominant being ^5, and so forth. It can be seen that ^1 in the fixed do system is the equivalent to do in the moveable do system. Because the syllables in the movable do system indicate function and not pitch, the use of movable do necessitates a separate designation for pitch. The musician using movable do does not know what the pitch name is unless letter names are also taught, just as the one using fixed do does not know what the function is unless numbers are also taught. So both systems have similar omissions if only syllables are taught. For this reason, it is necessary for the teacher of fixed do to teach syllables and numbers, and the teacher of movable do to teach syllables and letter names. Movable do syllables and numbers is redundant because both indicate function, and fixed do syllables and letter names are redundant because both indicate pitch.

Largely because each pitch is consistently given the same associated label, many who use fixed do often and consistently find that it develops in them a sense of absolute pitch. I have found this to be true for myself. During the school year when I am teaching with fixed do daily, I find myself starting songs with my voice on the correct pitch after reading the notation without much thought. I also find that I am less likely to drift flat over the course of a teaching session when I am mindful of the fixed do syllables. I believe this is how fixed do helps musicians sing more in tune. When relative pitch is relied on, as it must be with movable do, one has nothing to keep the pitch from drifting. But with fixed do, when the mind has secured pitches to a syllable, it retains the intonation of the pitch. Finally, it should be noted that the two systems do not go well together. Both have their attributes, and a teacher is can easily be justified choosing either, but should under no circumstance teach both to students concurrently. The cognitive advantages of associating notes with syllables is lost when the meaning of the syllables is contradictory from one system to the other.


What Are Music Teachers Really Trying To Accomplish?

Ask a Language Arts teacher what they are trying to achieve with their students, and that teacher will probably mention growth in literacy. He or she wants students to read and write effectively, with understanding and comprehension. Students are likely being asked questions like, “what is the author trying to say?” “How does the author feel about this topic, and what evidence do you find to support your answer?” These are good questions. Students who can answer them are bound to be engaged in critical thinking, and are likely to be showing growth very soon.

The Core Arts Standards were written with this kind of instruction in mind. They use the same approach to education and the same language as the original common core standards for language arts and for math. Because of this, it is good to understand how music students are, or ought to be, answering the same questions, and how music teachers ought to be after the same kinds of growth in literacy, only with music, not language. What does the language arts teacher accept as evidence of literacy? What does a child need to be able to do to demonstrate literacy? He or she needs to be able to look at words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, sections and entire essays or other works, and to not only recognize strings of letters as words, and strings of words as phrases, and strings of phrases as sentences, not only be able to speak with correct pronunciation all of those, but also to understand the meaning of each as it is revealed by context–the relationships between words, phrases and sentences that create meaning that is absent in the individual words and phrases out of context. Just begin able to read aloud or spell words does not indicate literacy. There must be understanding and comprehension.

Yet when it comes to music, music teachers all too often accept much less as literacy. A child who can look at a note on a musical staff and respond by pressing the correct key on a piano or other instrument is given credit for being able to read music. But that not on a staff is more than just a keystroke, and even when the note has been sounded, it by itself has no meaning, any more than a single letter has meaning apart from the word of which it is a part. When a child sees a word, if they can read, they associate the word with a person, action, object or concept. That is what a literate person does. When a child sees a musical note, if they can read, they associate the note with a sound that has a definite pitch and a definite duration. A sequence of several of these notes, that is to say several of these defined sounds, forms a musical idea. Musical ideas are combined into themes, and themes are combined into theme groups, sections, movements, and entire works. A musically literate person not only can audiate or know through inner hearing the individual pitches from notation, but also can understand how those notes are arranged into groups, and metrical patterns, perceiving them as the ideas, phrases, themes and so on that they are, with all of the relationships between notes that make them so. This goes far beyond matching a note with an instrument key.

How does this literacy come about? One thing that is for certain is that it does not come about through rote learning alone. Rote learning is an important first step, but when musical training does not go beyond rote learning, the associations between what is heard and what is seen in notation is never made, precluding development of true musical literacy. Perhaps the clearest explanation of how musical literacy is developed are the steps Feierabend gives in his Conversational Solfege. Essentially, these steps consist of rote learning songs with the voice on neutral syllables, then these same songs with tonal and rhythm syllables, “decoding” songs by hearing them sung by the teacher on neutral syllables and then repeating them with tonal or rhythm syllables, and then being able to do the same thing with unfamiliar songs. The final step is to create original musical ideas (composing and improvising) using labels (syllables).  The same procedure is used for reading and writing. Notice the transition from songs learned from rote, then applying labels to the notes of those songs so that the sounds are associated with the labels (syllables), and then using the labels (syllables) to assimilate new learning.

When notes are associated with instrument keys instead of syllables, the child has no way of knowing what the music sounds like apart from the instrument. A child in this situation cannot compose or improvise in a creative sense, because they have no materials to work with. To compensate for this, teachers who have failed to teach literacy often rely on music theory to teach improvisation. They will tell the students how to improvise over chord changes, and the student will “improvise” by playing from one chord tone to the next while counting beats or measures in order to know when to transition to the next chord. This is a highly unmusical way to create music, if indeed it is creating at all. Although a child trained in this manner can play on an instrument, the activity has avoided literacy training, and often built a dependence on the teacher to fill in the gaps in the child’s training. This in turn leads to the disturbing discovery that the child cannot play much of anything when the teacher is no longer there, resulting in a large attrition rate for school musicians after graduating.

Traditional music teaching methods developed by Orff, Kodaly and Dalcroze highly value true music literacy, and have been proven to be effective in developing musical literacy. Orff and Dalcroze also give priority to exploration and improvisation with movement and instrumental music. The use of barred instruments in particular is a well known aspect of Orff’s approach. The playing of those instruments is tied to movement and rhythmic activity on body percussion, and with improvisation over ostinati. Other methods that make use of technology as a means to quickly get students playing an instrument, especially a keyboard, can leave the child underprepared in these important aspects of a comprehensive music education.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Orff Schulwerk

2011 Symposium2

Today I will discuss the advantage and disadvantages of the Orff Schulwerk Approach to music education. At the outset, I should mention that no single method of teaching music is sufficient for meeting the needs of all children, or for teaching all aspects of music. Each method bring valuable perspectives into the music classroom, and the wise music educator utilizes the best of each in an eclectic approach. That said, let us take a look at the Orff Schulwerk method.

The Orff method is fundamentally a blending of music, speech and dance. Because rhythm is common to all three, it tends to be more prominently featured throughout the approach. The earliest teaching is done through speech, and movement. For example, a kindergarten class might learn the concept of high and low  using speech and movement. The teacher might play in the high and low registers of the piano and have the children change their body level to show which register they are hearing, high or low. For speech, the children might recite a story with a high voiced character, perhaps a boy or girl, and a low voiced character, perhaps a giant or a talking pig. Beat is taught with movement to the pulse of music played on the piano or from a recording. Locomotor (such a walking) and non-locomotor (such as conducting) movements are used. Through these kinds of activities, children build proficiency at recognizing and performing basic musical concepts from a reference point of familiar things they already do–speaking and moving–which are then applicable to singing and playing musical instruments. This progression, from familiar to new is a strength of the Orff approach.  From the speaking voice, children are introduced to other kinds of voices, including a singing voice, whispering voice, and calling voice. When children learn the difference between a singing voice and the others, they are able to focus their singing activities on basic good singing.

The combining of rhythm, beat and movement is not unique to the Orff approach. Laban and Dalcroze are well known for their use of movement to teach rhythm and beat. Orff’s substantial investment in movement make it a good choice for teaching students to rely on their bodies to understand enjoy rhythm and beat in music. Movement is also Orff Quoteimportant to playing instruments in the Orff approach. The method famously includes using barred instruments to play ostinato, harmony, and melodic parts. Because barred instruments are played with mallets on an instrument on which the notes are laid out horizontally, both vertical and horizontal movement is required to play. When the entire arm is used for striking the instrument, the body naturally counter balances itself with each stroke, thus infusing each note played with a physical experience of the rhythm being played. For this reason, it is important that students not be allowed to play from the wrists, but to engage the entire arm while playing barred instruments.

Further uses of movement can be added to the playing of these instruments. For example, if a child has a rest as part of the rhythm pattern in the ostinato, the mallets can be struck together on the rest, or they can be moved silently but rhythmically in the air to give motion to the rest. With slower rhythms, gestures reflecting articulation and resembling conducting motions can be made between notes. For example, if the song being accompanied is legato, then the children can move their hands with fluid, smooth motions from the wrist. All of this engages the body in music making and interpreting beyond what singing only can accomplish.

One aspect of the Orff approach that is frequently overlooked in music education in general is improvisation. Perhaps it is because most music teachers are trained using the Western art music model of studying an instrument or voice with classical music, and receiving nearly all musical training through notated music traditions that many music teachers without experience with jazz or other traditions that feature improvisation, are uncomfortable improvising or teaching improvising to others. This is troubling, because improvisation, to my way of thinking, is essential to developing music literacy and fluency. Improvisation is the musical equivalent to conversation. Imagine how dreadful our communication would be if we could only talk to each other from what we read. On their website, the New England Orff Chapter offers that “improvisation permeates all aspects of Schulwerk activity. Children who regularly improvise and create their own dances and musical settings are uniquely prepared to solve problems in many other contexts.” Notice that even here, improvisation includes not only music, but dance as well. This focus on improvisation is another strength of the Orff approach.

Whereas the use of movement in teaching rhythm is a strength of  the  Orff method, the method of teaching rhythm for singing and chanting is problematic. Orff believed that speech was a natural way of teaching musical rhythm. He used the rhythm of words and Orffthen transferred those word-rhythms to drums in order to teach rhythms. Chanting words, phrases and nursery rhymes is a common practice among teachers using the Orff approach. While using words to learn rhythms is indeed natural to the child, the words chanted cannot easily be generalized to notated rhythms like rhythm syllables can. Also , because words have their own meaning apart from their rhythm, they are difficult to dedicate to a particular rhythm in memory. In other words, “du de du” means nothing apart from two eighth notes and a quarter note, whereas “lumber jack” means both a person who cuts down trees for a living and two eighth notes and a quarter note. But it only means the latter when associated with music. Also, “lumber jack” tells the student nothing of the function of any of the notes. Where as “du” is always a macro beat, “lum” could be a macro beat or an anacrusis. Also, “lum” and “jack” are both on macro beats, but are given entirely different labels. Because of this, the way in which rhythm literacy is taught in the Orff approach is a weakness of the method. It is greatly strengthened by abandoning the speech-to-rhythm aspect, and replacing it with rhythm syllables that make functions clear and consistent.

Overall, the Orff approach t music education has much to offer music educators and students. It’s emphasis on improvisation and extensive use of movement are strengths, while the less extensive use of singing (compared to Kodaly method and Music Learning Theory, and the approach to rhythm literacy are weaknesses. When the strengths of the Orff method are combined with the strengths of other approaches, the result is a solid, well founded, and comprehensive music education.

How We Describe and Write About Music We Hear+

2011Symposium_1_2Asking students to describe music you play for them has several benefits. Most obviously, descriptions tell us what the student though about and experienced from listening. We may learn how the music affected his or her emotions, what musical elements were noticed, or what and when certain musical events occurred. For the most part, when we give students a response to music writing assignment, we are trying to ascertain what they are hearing and understanding in the music to which they are listening.

In the course of writing about music, students have the opportunity to use music vocabulary. The way in which this vocabulary is used tells us a great deal about the understanding students have of the words themselves. It is not uncommon for students to misuse musical terms, or to fail to recognize cultural differences in the meaning of certain words. For example, when my students are talking about the beat, they often mean the rhythm. While the two words mean very different things in Western art music culture, in contemporary popular music, especially hip-hop culture, “beats” are the rhythmic patterns to which the rapper performs. Sequencing software allows the user to choose “beats” by dragging them into the compositions and looping them any number of time. We can no longer simply correct students when they use “beats” in this way, we must acknowledge that this is now a legitimate use and meaning of the word. There is nothing wrong with students understanding both meanings of “beat,” and also with teachers including both meanings in their instruction. It is a term that must be defined, if not implicitly in context, then explicitly, to avoid confusion.

Today, second grade students I taught were asked to write down musical elements that they heard change while listening to Beethoven’s “Fur Elise.” Three of the children wrote down “up and down.” I asked them what went up and down, and one said that the rhythm went up and down. I said I didn’t think rhythm could go up down, but that pitch and dynamics could. I asked if they meant either of those, and she replied no. Eventually we determined that she meant tempo, which in fact had slowed at places and sped up in places. Tempo and dynamics go up and down in the way numbers increase and decrease. They don’t go up and down in space the way pitch does. This shows that even the words “up” and “down” can mean very different things depending on which musical element we are describing.

In the same second grade class, I began by showing the children the ways a conductor indicates changes in dynamics, boy singingtempo, meter, and articulation, and then I mentioned that a conductor cannot change pitch or rhythm–those are written by the composer. After each child conducted the class singing “Skip to My Lou” while changing one or more of the musical elements of their choice, I then had the class move to the music while I played variations on “Skip to My Lou” on the piano. After each variation, I asked them to identify which element I had changed. There were some good teaching moments in this, as when they began to move faster when I played louder but at the same tempo. We talked about the difference between loud and fast, and how movements can get bigger without getting faster. Putting that into motions in addition to words is a good way to gain understanding. Then I went from major to minor. They identified the element I had changed as pitch. I then said, should your movements change if I change pitch? They thought about their conducting and then decided no, it shouldn’t change. Conductors don’t change what they’re doing when the pitch changes. But then I said that movement could change if the change in pitch caused them to notice different feelings being expressed in the music. Did the change in pitch change the mood or emotions of the music, I asked. Yes, it did. They said minor made it sound scarey. So although they wouldn’t change their movement because the pitch changed, they would change their movement because of what was being expressed changing. This changes the conversation from one of musical elements, to one of interpretation. When students move to music in this way, they are interpreting the music, and how we interpret the music, whether as performer or listener, leads how we describe the music we are performing or hearing. When we pay close attention to how our students describe music, we can learn a great deal more about music and our relationship to it.

What Are Different Kinds of Movement Used in Music Classes?

2011Symposium_1_2Regardless of which methods you use to teach music, movement figures into it, though perhaps in varying degree. Laban and Jaques-Dalcroze in particular have influenced the use of movement as an indispensable component of educating children musically. Though one could go into great detail about the various kinds of movement, four general types of movement are useful for music educators. These are, moving to the beat, moving for expression, moving to form, and moving to events. Each of these types of movements helps children understand, experience, and express the many facets of music.

Moving to the beat is perhaps the most frequently done movement. It is an integral part of Kodaly, Orff, Dalcroze and Gordon philosophies for music education. Early formal music training always includes moving to a beat, often using patsch, clap, walk and snap as primary movements. Of these, walking is particularly helpful because it includes a shift of weight with each step, and is a silent motion, so the beat is felt but not heard except in the music itself. Walking also leaves the hands and arms free to do rhythms or subdivisions of the beat. Earliest attempts involve the student performing a beat and then the teacher performing music to the child’s beat. This shows the child the relationship between beat and music, but does not require the child to determine the beat from music she is hearing, which is a more difficult skill. Later, the child learns to do this as well.

Movement to the beat when done in the arms leaves the feet free to move to the 101rhythm. Students can “walk the music” while keeping the beat with their arms. A more advanced version of this is to walk forwards for ascending pitches and backwards for descending pitches. Students can also do a predetermined motion whenever a specified event is heard, such as an accent, syncopation, or motive. For example, they might jump whenever they hear a staccato event in an otherwise staccato melody, or squat down whenever they hear a descending motif they had learned before. None of these movements make any sound, so listening to the music is unimpeded. This is important, because these movement activities are as much about listening (hearing ascending or descending contour, for example) as they are about keeping a steady beat. Movements that make sound, such as claps or snaps, add to the music, and should be used in situations where the sounds made are helpful to the students in achieving the instructional goal of the activity.

Movement for expression is very different. With this kind of movement, motions synchronized to the beat are avoided. Instead, students move to what they think or feel from the music. They might make smooth motions with the arms for legato, or jumpy motions for staccato. They might flick the wrists for an intervallic leap, or slouch forward for a dark or somber chord. As they do these motions, they bring out feelings of joy, or sadness, or agitation, or relaxation. The motions help the students discover how they feel when they hear the music, because the motions express those same feelings. Students can learn things about the music from their bodies by moving for expression. Having them move this way and then describe how they felt when they moved is a great way to start a discussion of what they already know about the music, before teaching them anything about it directly.

Movement for form requires students to listen for things that are repeated and listen to things that are new. It is a type of same-different learning. Students repeat a movement for things that are repeated, and create a new movement for things that are new. By tracing the pattern of same and different movements, students can learn the form of the music through their actions. As with stepping the music, where, as one of my students put it, they “become the notes,” when moving to form, the students become the form. Moving this way in a class also enables students to see the form as they watch other students make same or different patterns of movement. The specific movements can be pre-arranged for each theme or section, or they can be personal to each student. As long as each child is accurately showing same and different, they can use their creativity to use whatever movements they can imagine and do. Movement is important to understanding and experiencing music, and should be used often in our music classes.


When Students Exactly Learn What We Did Not Intend To Teach

2011Symposium_1_2Teaching may not always be an exact science, but often what children learn is more exact than what we have taught. Let me explain. Suppose I want to teach children about legato using movement. Legato is a term used in both music and dance, so it is especially fitting that I use both to teach the concept. I begin by having my student imitate my motions, as I move smoothly and continuously. Most of us will naturally move slowly as we do this to bring out the smoothness and connectedness of our movements. There is the first pitfall. Legato is not a word that refers to tempo, but to articulation. It is important that we change the tempo of our motions so that the children do not learn that legato means slow. It means connected and smooth at any tempo. So I have them imitate fast legato, slow legato, and medium legato. I might say, “all of my motions do not have the same tempo, but all are called legato. What makes them legato? The smoothness and connectedness makes them legato. I can do legato fast, or I can do legato slow, or I can do legato in between. It’s all legato just the same.

Another example is found in a method for teaching whole notes. Having children toss balloons or scarfs into the air and then catching them after four beats is how these are sometimes taught. This method provides a clear visual representation of sustained movement over four beats, and is readily transferable to sustaining sound as movement through singing or the playing of a musical instrument. A child can see the object floating in the air for a time-span of four beats, and then land in her hand to complete the note. The pitfall is that because the object is doing all the work between the release (attack) and release (capture), the child does not experience the effort needed to sustain a musical pitch, and may erroneously learn that sustaining whole notes is effortless. Instead of tossing the balloon, a child can blow it into the air, and continue to blow on it for four beats. When they stop blowing on it, the balloon comes down into their hand, ready to be made air bound again at the next exertion of blowing. They can even blow on their own hand as they raise and keep it above them for four beats, and then stop blowing as they lower their hand. This retains the floating of an object (balloon or hand) for four beats, but also adds the act of breathing that is essential to sustaining a musical tone.

scarf toss

Parents and their children toss colorful scarves into the air at one of Charity Kahn’s dance and music classes.

The observant reader has also noticed the potentially confusing contradiction in terms. The start of a note is referred to as an attack, but the start of the balloon whole note can be initiated by a motion of releasing it, the term in music used for ending, not initiating a note. The teacher must be specific about he motion used to make the balloon air born, making the motion one that exerts a force on the object, setting it in motion. It is this setting in motion by pushing or “attacking” the balloon that must be the focus, and not the letting go of the balloon as it begins its flight.

Because the body is involved in producing musical sound, non-musical movement that we use to teach musical concepts must be carefully connected to the musical behavior for which we intend to prepare students. For this reason, it is sometimes useful to work in both directions. Beginning with the music and then moving to it causes students to interpret the music with movement. Beginning with the movement and then singing or playing a musical instrument to it causes students to interpret the movement with music. By doing it both ways, a clearer connection is made between music and movement. This clarity then helps gives movement a musical context, and music a movement context. Students will sometimes prefer or be better at one direction than the other. By including both, they are able to practice their strength and strengthen their weakness.

Because of how holding and playing instruments naturally restricts movement and access to space to move in, instrumental directors may want to practice movement and music without instruments as a warm-up activity, having students sing their instrument parts while moving to them. It is eye-opening to see the different parts, melody, harmony, and counterpoint, moving each according to its function in the music. Marching bands can, of course, do interpretive movement as they play, in addition to (if they are different) their assigned steps. Choirs have an easier time moving about a room while singing, and should take full advantage of this frequently in rehearsals. Interpretive movement can also develop into performance-worthy choreography that helps communicate the singers’ interpretation to an audience, and adds visual interest and variety to concerts. In short, there is everything to be gained, and little if anything to be forfeited by incorporating movement into all varieties of music making.

How To Use The Core Arts Standards To Teach Students to Interpret, Evaluate, and Rehearse

2011Symposium_1_2Over the last two days, we have looked at teaching students to select and analyze musical works they intend to perform. Through selecting, students learn about the music and reflect on their own interests and skills. Through analyzing, students learn how the music is put together; how it works. With this information in hand, the student must then determine what the composer or songwriter’s expressive intent was. Some of the information needed to do this was gathered during the analysis stage. Emotional and otherwise expressive moments and effects would have been noticed and accounted for, and the sum of those moments and effects is a helpful indicator of the composer’s intent. An overly dark sounding, somber work was probably meant to express lamentation or unhappiness, and the means by which the composer accomplished making the music sound dark and somber would have been revealed in the analysis. Further reflecting on the message of the lyrics if there are any, and the perceived emotional meaning will make the expressive intent more conclusive. Sometimes, the context can also be helpful. For example, if the music was written for a scene in a film, the story and action at that point will shed considerable light on the meaning the music was meant to have.

Notice the last phrase; meaning the music was meant to have. It is important to that students not be allowed to subjectively say what they think the music means to them, for that is not the point. The objective is to determine what the music means to the composer so that the students can give an interpretation of the work that expresses the composer or songwriter’s intent. There may and should be some further room for personal expression in the performance, but always with the composer’s intentions in clearly in mind.

By this point in the process, with the knowledge that selecting, analyzing and interpreting has brought, the student hasSummer Sun Music a clearly delineated framework on which to build rehearsals, refinements, and evaluations. The student now knows what he or she is trying to accomplish, what the music is about, how it is put together, what challenges can be expected in learning it, and what the final performance should express. The student then begins rehearsing. The structure (analysis) can be heard through the phrases, rhythm, pitch relations, articulations, and dynamics. Of those, some will need adjusting in order to clarify the structure, or produce an interpretation closer to what is being attempted. Remembering some of the rules from yesterday, returns to the original melody are led into with rallentandos, and phrases are nuanced according to pitch direction. If there are lyrics, the meaning of them is expressed more fully with musical devices until the words exceed the bounds of poetry to express. Pitches are practiced to gain accuracy and good singing or instrumental voicing and tone. Most if not all of the musical vocabulary the students have learned ought to be brought to life in full application during the rehearsal.

When the student thinks they have progressed beyond where they started, a trial performance should be given and recorded. Once this is done, the student then evaluates his or her own performance from the recording, taking notes while listening. These notes and reflections are then put to immediate application as the rehearsal resumes, and the student puts into practice what was learned from evaluating their recording. This continues through many cycles, until at last a trial performance is given and recorded that clearly articulates the structure and form, faithfully expresses the composer’s intent and secondarily reflects the performers intent, and in which the rhythms and pitches are accurately rendered. At that point, it is appropriate to regard the performance as being ready to be given publicly.

The logistics of recording trial performances can be as simple as students recording themselves on their smart phones, or approaching recording stations set up in practice rooms. Alternatively, and perhaps more desirable, is for students to perform their trials in front of the class, which quietly listens to each trial performer in turn. For the final performance, the room must be quiet, and the recording must be made under the best of conditions, so that it can be valid for assessment.

Using Core Arts Standards To Teach Students How To Analyze Repertoire

2011Symposium_1_2Once a musical work has been selected (see my post for yesterday on selecting repertoire) the next step in the process of preparing it for performance is to analyze. The focus of the analysis should be constrained to what will be useful to the student, and to what interests the student in the work. Students should be aware of all the musical qualities the composer used, that they can be properly interpreted and performed. Included should be use of dynamics, tempo, articulation, phrasing, rhythm, and melodic contour.

I have been writing lately about the methods of Jaques-Dalcroze, and so I shall draw upon his writings again here. Jaques-Dalcroze wrote thirteen rules of nuance and phrasing. In as much as we are considering dynamics, tempo, articulation, phrasing, rhythm, pitch and melodic contour, they will serve our purpose well here, and provide a clear framework for students to follow for their analyses. The students should look for the condition described in each rule, and then apply the method of nuance or phrasing prescribed.

  1. All ascending melodies (with exceptions) must be sung with a crescendo and all descending melodies (with exceptions) must be sung with a diminuendo.
  2. Not all melodies are nuanced with the same intensity. When a passage contains very accented rhythms, the nuances of crescendo and decrescendo should be weaker than if the rhythm were less accented.
  3. If a note in an ascending line is prolonged, it should be part of the overall crescendo.
  4. When a note is repeated several times in a row, it must be accompanied by a crescendo.
  5. When a note is repeated several times in a row, preceding the original melody, the crescendo should be accompanied by a rallentando.
  6. Whenever a rhythmic and melodic group is repeated two times in a row, you must breathe between the two and perform the repetition with a different nuance than the first was performed.
  7. Any melodic reprise which is prepared must be accompanied by a rallentatndo.
  8. When a melody ends by a series of stepwise notes of the same duration, thse last notes should be slightly staccato. If these preceded the return of the melody, they should be accompanied by a rallentando.
  9. Whenever a link (“a link is a series of notes of the same duration”) leads to the reprise of a melody, where the first notes are twice as long, the rallentando of the last notes of the link must be large enough that these notes become twice their original length. Whenever a theme is reprised by a link made up of shorter notes than the theme itself, do not breathe until after the first or second notes of the theme.
  10. Whenever a ascending series of equal-duration notes is encountered amid notes of unequal values, these ascending notes must be strongly accented. Whenever a link leads to the reprise of a powerful theme, sing the link with a crescendo, even if the link is descending! (Exception to first rule of nuance.)
  11. Whenever a link leads to the reprise of a gentle theme, sing the link with a descrescendo, even if the link is ascending! (Exception to first rule of nuance.)
  12. Any series of notes isolated in measures containing silences that end a piece must be interpreted with a rallentando of the silences.
  13. When two notes of the same duration but different scale degrees are tied together, the notes are always performed STRONG-weak, even if the second note falls on a strong (or stronger) beat than the first. (This rule derives from the second rule of phrasing: that the last note of a phrase should be performed more softly.) When the second note falls on a stronger beat (a), it should be performed more softly. When the second note falls on a weaker beat (b), the first note should instead be performed louder with a natural relaxation into the second note.


Jaques-Dalcroze (1906). Les Gammes et Les Tonalites, Le Phrase et Les Nuances, volume 1, translated by Gregory Ristow.



Jaques-Dalcroze and Rhythm Training

2011Symposium_1_2Yesterday, I discussed solfege exercises developed by Emile Jaques-Dalcroze. Today I will examine some of his rhythm exercises. Like contemporary scholars, Jaques-Dalcroze found that rhythm and pitch are more easily taught separately than integrated together. Jaques-Dalcroze also believed that because movement, through which rhythm is expressed, is natural to humans, whereas pitch is not, it is best to begin with rhythm. The essence of Jaques-Dalcroze’s method for teaching rhythm is to gain control over the body through practice and conditioning so that it is able to work with the mind in interpreting and expressing music as movement. He wanted each student to become aware of every part of his/her body, and be able to use the full spectrum of movement to interpret music. The use of individual muscle groups would become automatic, and students would develop attention, consciousness and will power so that all exertion could be used for the “freest possible play to subconscious expression,” and to train the student to “see clearly in himself what he really is, and obtain from his powers all the advantage possible.”  Jaques-Dalcroze wanted to train students to be able to “put the completely developed faculties of the individual at the service of art and to give the latter the most subtle and complete interpreters—the human body.” This enables the student to realize a “wholly instinctive transformation of sound movements into bodily movements.”

In practice, the rhythmic portion of the method involves showing time, including tempo and beat, with arm movements, and note durations with feet and other body-part movements. For beat and tempo, the students march, accenting steps where needed, and contracting the arm muscles on metrically strong beats. As students become more advanced, they are able to suddenly stop, discontinue accenting with one or both arms or with one or both feet, substitute an arm movement for a foot movement, insert an extra accent either with the arm or foot, or do other similar things the teacher might direct.

For rhythms, individual movements are learned for specific durations, and then are sequenced into a series that 101together form a rhythm. The movements are first practiced alone, and then in groups. Students later learn to decode a rhythm the teacher plays on the piano or a drum into movements, or a rhythm they see another student do. The learning sequence is the same as that recommended by Gordon and Feierabend for aural learning, but with the student audiating physical movement from sound. Eventually, the student learns to arrest movement abruptly or slowly, to move alternately forwards or backwards, to move suddenly on cue, to lie down or stand up to precise time, and all with a minimum of muscular effort and all with continuous feeling for each time-unit of music. The student also learns to silently count time in accordance with movements he is making, resulting in a stronger feeling for the movement.

Students learn to divide the beat into various subdivisions. The teacher calls out a number, and the students divide the beat into that number of subdivisions by taking that many steps to each beat, while moving to the beat with the arms. Independence between arms and feet is further developed until the student can move to counterpoint by moving the arms to each note of the melody while taking a step to each note of the counterpoint. This is possible from a solid grasp of beat and rhythm understood as movement, and performed with the body in motion. Expressive gestures are added to indicate dynamics. Apart from rhythm and beat training, there are times when the formal movements for expressing rhythm are abandoned, and free movement is used to show what is being expressed in the music and/or the musical form. Students may practice making movements to sounds the teacher provides, or may reverse the process and practice making sounds to movements the teacher makes. Jaques-Dalcroze was adamant that all of this training must take place before a child is given formal instruction on an instrument, such as piano. Without eurhythmic training, playing will be an intellectual exercise, and the student will be unable of playing expressively because the whole body will not be involved in presenting the music. For more information on this subject, please refer to The Eurhythmics of Jaques-Dalcroze.

Can Tone and Chord Functions Be Taught With Fixed Do?

2011Symposium_1_2When it comes to choosing a system of syllables to sing for teaching ear training and sight singing, there seems to be a consensus that moveable do, sometimes called functional solfege, is needed for teaching chord and tone functions. To be sure, moving do to wherever the tonic is does help a singer remember where the tonic and other functions are. With practice, students can sing the tonic on do from any pitch at any point in a melody, and the function of chordal patterns can easily be identified by the combinations of moveable do syllables present; for example, any combination of do, mi, and so is a tonic patterns, and any combination of ti, re, fa, and/or so is a dominant pattern. The advantages of moveable do are in force as long as the work begin done is aural; but as soon as music reading is introduced, those advantages all but disappear and are replaced with illogic and difficulty.

Trying to learn to read music with moveable do is confusing, because pitches in identical places on the staff can be known by any one of seven names, twelve if chromatic syllables are used. While the advantages of avoiding this kind of situation are valued for rhythm syllables, they seem to be ignored for tonal syllables. Gordon opposes the Kodaly rhythm syllables, because macro beats are sometimes called ta, sometimes ti, and sometimes ter, yet he does not see a problem with having, for example, a C being sometimes called Do, sometimes Mi, sometimes So, and so forth. This difficulty, like the one with rhythm syllables, is avoidable.

Emile Jaques-Dalcroze was a professor of solfege and harmony at the Geneva Conservatory. Today, he is known for his method of teaching music known as eurhythmics, but solfege training using fixed do was an equally important part of his pedagogy. What interests us about his approach is that he used fixed do solfege to teach pitch and chord functions, something that many today don’t realize is even possible.

Dalcroze began with teaching students to hear the difference between a whole step and a half step. He believed that “every good musical method must be based on the “hearing” of sounds as much as on their performance.” From recognizing whole steps and half steps, he then went on to studying his unique form of scales. All scales were sung in fixed do solfege, from do to do (c to c). By adding the needed sharps or flats, Dalcroze would teach his students all of the scales, but always starting on do, singing up to the next do, and then finishing on the tonic. For example, a B-flat scale would be C, D, E-flat, F, G, A, B-flat, C, B-flat. The student would learn what scale was being sung by the placement of whole steps and half steps, and by audiating the tonic. The beginning note would have different functions, depending on the scale. In the case of the B-flat scale, the beginning tone is the supertonic, and the first half step comes after the second tone. If A-flat and D-flat were added, the beginning tone would be the mediant, and the first half step would come after the first tone. To help the student contextualize the tones in the major tonality, the teacher harmonizes the scale on the piano as the students sing until such assistance is no longer needed and the students can audiate the harmonization on their own. Using the piano to teach the harmonization also avoids students from audiating, for example, the B-flat scale as Aeolian. Only major scales are used at first. Once these are securely learned, it is a small matter to audiate the tonic of minor scales in a similar way.

You may wish to try this method out for yourself. Here are the scales written out. Remember to use fixed do for each scale. It is no longer common practice to use chromatic syllables, so us the same syllable for natural, flat or sharp on each pitch class.

Dalcroze Scales

From Exercices Pratiques d’Intonation by Emile Jaques-Dalcroze, 1894