A Closer Look At The Four Artistic Processes: Creating

2011Symposium_1_2The National Core Arts Standards are written around four artistic processes. For music, these processes are creating, performing, responding, and connecting. How do these four artistic processes translate into what music teachers and students are to do in a classroom? I will take each process and, using the framework (see my post from July 8) unpack each one. In this post, I will begin with creating.

Creating is “conceiving and developing new artistic ideas and work.” In order to do this, students “generate and conceptualize, organize and develop, and refine and complete artistic work. These three pairs of actions form a work flow for creating artistic work. The first pair, generate and conceptualize, is the beginning of the creating process. To generate is to bring about a result from applying certain rules and procedures. A generated artistic idea does not come into existence from nothing, but is the result of actions taken with entities that already existed. This can be seen in linguistic where a sentence or phrase is brought about by applying universal rules of grammar to lexical input. Lerdahl and Jackendoff demonstrated that a corresponding situation exists in music whereby an experienced listener intuitively applies universal rules of musical grammar to generate structure in music to which he or she listens. Generating musical ideas, then, involves using what has been learned through experience with music and bringing different ideas to light with the same structures as the music with which the music creator is experienced. This is why a person who has heard Western art music for years, but never heard Gamelan, will generate musical ideas that are structured as and sound Western not Indonesian. From this, we can see that students who are immersed in several musical cultures will be capable of generating a wider variety of musical ideas than students who are immersed in primarily one or two genres.

To conceptualize is to envision, imagine; to form an image in one’s mind. When an idea is conceptualized, it is held in the Expectationsbrain in a form which can be remembered, altered, examined, and played with. A conceptualized idea is one that has according to Gordon been audited, and according to psychology on of which a person has made a mental image. A conceptualized idea is one that can be found to be similar or related or parallel to another, making the composing and recognition of variations and developments possible, as well as making it possible for one musical work to remind a listener of another, or to enable a listener to categorize a musical work according to composer, historical period, or genre. Conceptualization requires not only listening experience, but knowledge about music, especially styles, genres, composers, and historical periods and cultures. This kind of knowledge equips learners to go beyond generating an idea and to do something with the idea.

In order to create, students also “organize and develop artistic ideas and work.” Organizing artistic ideas follows generating and conceptualizing. Once ideas have been generated and conceptualized, they can be organized into sequences of ideas and developed so that those sequences flow and have breadth to bring enjoyment and expression to the listener. This too requires experienced and knowledgeable listeners. Through their experience with and knowledge of musical genres, students have a basis on which to organize their ideas in a way that makes sense according to musical grammar and well formalness, and according to a plan for the musical work they have made. Students’ intuition about music that sounds “right” can be seen by playing two half phrases from two different musical works that clearly don’t fit together, and observing students’ reaction. They are likely to either cringe or laugh at the music, because it will either sound awful or funny due to the incongruity of the two half phrases. Music has to have a sense of rightness, and that comes from grammatically well formed organization, which is learned through listening experience. Developing music is a product of the same experience. There is always a predictability and balance to well-conceived music. Skilled composers find just the right balance between fulfilling and delaying listeners’ expectations, in order to create stress and release in a satisfying, exciting, and expressive musical work.

Finally, in order to create, students refine and complete their artistic work. As a result of experience listening to music, students acquire a sense of what outstanding, good, fair, mediocre and bad music is. Based on this experience, gained through another artistic process, responding, students are able to evaluate musical works, including their own, and conceptualize improvements. Through a cycle of evaluating, reflecting, and revising, students improve the quality of their artistic work until they have realized their intent, and have a musical work ready for presentation to an audience.

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.

How Do Language and Music Mix in the Music Classroom?

2011Symposium_1_2As we saw yesterday with rhythm, language and music are closely related so that training in one strengthens proficiency in the other. Although language and music differ in form, purpose, and use, both are highly syntax-dependent. Neither music nor language makes sense if the sounds heard cannot be cognitively organized, and if meaning cannot be found in the structured arrangement of sounds. . Researchers have found that some of the syntactic processing involved in listening and responding to both music and language is done in the same area of the brain. For both, Broca’s area is involved in the processing. While the differences in linguistic and musical syntax require separate cognitive processes, the integration of stimuli into comprehensible structures relies on the same neural resources. This immediately suggests that music or language activity mutually strengthens the neural connections used for the other.

Part of the syntactic processing mentioned above is handling expectation and connecting one event to another. Through proper use of grammar and syntax, language communicates a subject, verb and object, described by Patel as “who-did-what-to-whom.” Music, through syntax but not grammar, communicates patterns of tension and relaxation. These musical events succeed through a composer’s manipulation of expectations, making it possible for the listener to predict what will happen and when it will happen. When expectations are not met, tension results, and when expectation is met, relaxation occurs. This is an important aspect of the temporal nature of music.

Language is also presented to the auditory system temporally. Because of this, the human brain must process rapid successions of stimuli, and quickly find whisper_musicmeaning in sequences of sounds. Tallal explained that, “Children with language learning problems (or weak language development) can’t sequence two simple tones that differ in frequency when they are presented rapidly in succession. They do absolutely fine when you present two tones separated further apart in time. So the actual precision of timing in the auditory system determines what words we actually hear.” Researchers have found that musicians find it easier than non-musicians to detect small differences in word syllables. Musical experience improves the way human brains process rapid changes in sounds used in speech, and may help in acquiring the skills needed for learning language and reading.

Another benefit of musical training to language development has to do with understanding language through noise. Strait and Kraus found that musicians were better at understanding speech in noisy environments than non-musicians. Music listening depends on an auditory process called streaming, wherein certain sequences of sounds are grouped together and segregated out from other concurrent sounds. It is the facility that allows us to have a conversation in a room where others can be heard having other conversations. In music, listeners follow a melody line, and keep it separate from harmony or contrapuntal parts heard at the same time.

Just as the mathematical aspects of music are organic to music study and do not require separate instruction, so too with the linguistic aspects of music. All of the benefits to language development through music study are realized during the course of normal music instruction. Just by listening to and performing music, the requisite brain activity will benefit language development. To help this along, ask students to predict what they think will happen next in a piece of music. Ask them what they can do in a performance to build the listener’s expectation of what is about to happen. Ask them to memorize short, quick phrases of music. Make the music slow enough so that it is accessible, but fast enough so that they cannot memorize individual notes. This will cause their brains to remember the music as a group of notes instead of a sequence remembered individual notes, and in the process improve their ability to capture meaning from rapid successions of data. Much of our syntactic knowledge of music is acquired naturally and so does not need to be entirely learned in class. Most students can find the tonic in a tonal song by the time they are in kindergarten. We should draw on this intuitive knowledge with activities that give students practice at understanding and even conversing in music.