Pitch, implicit learning, and innate understanding

I had another ‘moment’ in my exploration of teaching pitch concepts today. (I’ve been posting on this topic, see below). Today at Pelican Primary School I introduced the Slit Drum to the prep class.

I invited one of the children to come to the front to play. She wasn’t sure what to do, so I suggested she hit each of the ‘tongues’ of wood, one by one, and see if they sound the same or different.

“Hit this long one, and then this short one,” I suggested, pointing to the tongues I meant. So she did that, and one of the boys in the class called out happily, “I can hear that it is short-long-short-long!” And as she continued to play, he sang along with her – “short-long-short-long” – and some others in the class did the same.

It was a happy moment for me. I have been puzzling over ways to build students’ understanding about the concept of pitch, highs and lows. I try to find ways, in the musical environment I create in the lesson, for these concepts to be available to those children who are ready to connect them to their own innate understanding about how music works. Young Will, calling out his observation to me, was doing exactly that. After the puzzles of the recent weeks it was satisfying to be reminded that some children are ready to work with these concepts, and will make the necessary initial links in their own time, if I provide the right environment. I think of this as providing strong environmental scaffolds.


3 comments so far

  1. MinusTheLinus on


    I am a music education student in the US, and have encountered this same problem in my internship. We give young students music literacy tests, including a portion of pitch identification (I play a pitch on a bellset, sing it, and they sing it back). I ran into trouble when I realized they were trying to sing as low as me, and none of the pitches sounded correct! My falsetto is terrible, but once I tried using it they caught on. I wonder at what age they will be able to “translate” between octaves…

    • musicwork on

      Yes, that’s a good point. I have an alto voice, and when teaching a new song I make sure to pitch it in their range, not mine. But this means that I often warn the students that my voice might make the song I am trying to teach them sound higher (and more uncomfortable) than it actually is! (I give them the warning because I am trying to circumvent a reaction that says, “it’s too high! We have to sound like opera singers!” and other such initial reactions). A nice response I got one time, was when, after teaching a new song, one boy put up his hand, and said quite matter-of-factly, “I think you have a nice voice.” I guess he heard some of my own reservations in my tone, and wanted to reassure me.

      Good work with the falsetto! I assume you’re a male teacher….

      • MinusTheLinus on

        Yes, sorry I didn’t specify; I also have a bass voice (though I am primarily and instrumentalist). I had tested almost a dozen 8 and 9-year-olds (2nd-3rd grade) individually before I realized what was happening, and why they couldn’t sing the correct pitches. If I had left out my own voice and relied on the bells, I wonder if it would be more difficult. Also, lately I’ve been teaching 4th grade, and they don’t seem to have this problem as a full classroom. Hmm.

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