More on pitch contours

Further to the post below about my work with pitch with Middle Primary students at the Language School, I had a very pleasing experience with the class last week. When we came to the point in the lesson where we were preparing to play our melody on the glockenspiels, the students (who were all sitting on the floor) spontaneously broke into singing through the melody, patting the assigned parts of the body as they went. This was the group that I felt the whole exercise hadn’t worked for at all, and here they were, performing it with confidence and accuracy and strong recall.

We got the glockenspiels out quickly and tried it out on the instruments. I also played a few games with them, where I would touch one part of my body (eg. the top of my head) and they would play the corresponding note that we had assigned to it (eg. high E). I did this quite a few times with high and low E, to try and establish the octave, and the difference in the sounds. We worked in small groups, and those who weren’t playing copied my gestures and said the appropriate letter name, while their classmates played the appropriate notes. Then we swapped over, so that everyone had a turn.

However, this doesn’t mean that the concept of pitch is now understood by the class. (Jackie Wiggins gives some compelling and thoughtful argument to what it means to have established true musical understanding in her book Teaching for Musical Understanding). But hopefully they now feel a little more confident with the task, and with this confidence will come the mental space for new concepts to take hold.

What this experience demonstrates too, is that some things just take more time that you anticipate. Or, alternatively, that if the energy in the room isn’t right on the day, some tasks just won’t take root. And that, even when it seems like nothing is really working, nothing is going in or making sense, it probably is!


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