Archive for the ‘Gotye’ Tag

Update on pitch work

Back at Pelican Primary School for Term 2, and the year 4/5 class are continuing to develop their arrangement of Gotye’s Somebody I used to know. This first week back, we revised what they remembered of the opening melody, and started to develop an accompaniment figure.

There were a couple of interesting developments this week. One occurred when we were revising the melody. We did this as a group, away from instruments, with me at the whiteboard asking questions like, “What note does the melody start on? What note is next – does it go up or down in pitch?”

Whenever the group hesitated or seemed unsure, we sang the melody together. We used the words from Baa Baa Black Sheep:

Baa baa black sheep, have you any wool?

Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full.

Baa baa black sheep, have you any wool?

Yes sir, I’ve got some. [Gliss!] (We invented this last line to match the fourth phrase of the introductory melody)

I stopped the singing on the word/syllable immediately before the pitch we were trying to identify. There was an exciting moment when I realised they were all hearing the missing note in their heads and starting to visualise or ‘map’ its direction. It was suggested in the way a large number of them all called out the right answer at the same time, after a moment of silence that was as long as the missing note would have been. I was so thrilled by this development!

For the accompaniment, I’ve created a marimba line:

D – AD – C – G (ta ti-ti ta ta)

I decided to teach it using the body-pitching approach I’ve used in the body. I taught it to the group, rather than asking them to figure a version out for themselves. They sang the note-names while patting each body part in turn:

D (knees – left hand) G (head – right hand) D (knees – left hand) C (floor – left hand) G (shoulders – right hand)

I knew that the challenge on the marimbas would be to go from the note D to C with the left hand – I anticipated that they would instinctively continue a left-right-left-right mallet pattern and would thus struggle to find the C. Therefore, I told them to use their left hands to touch D and C, and the right hand for A and G, and got them to practise this in a focused way on their bodies.

We practised the gestures together as a group. Then I set up the xylophones and marimbas and a small number of students got try out the accompaniment pattern.

This time around though, I added an explicit instruction:

“Your aim now is to transfer the information about notes and hands, up and down, from your bodies to the instruments. Keep the same hand pattern, and same pattern of up-and-down gestures, as you have on your bodies.”

I think this proved to be a helpful step. In any case, with this kind of group task, we only need one person to figure it out – they can then model it for the others, they will learn by watching, the watching will also help create a visual memory for them, and hopefully the body-contour work will help create a physical memory. We’ll see!

This class is such an interesting group. They always come in scowling, sneering, and with a lot of bravado towards me, my co-teachers, and especially towards each other. But they do take their learning quite seriously. Enough of them are motivated to create something of a critical mass, so we make progress, most weeks. My plan is for this Gotye piece to be ready to perform in 3 lessons time.

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Playing by ear

Each term I devise a different collaborative music project for each class at Pelican Primary School, which we develop over a series of weeks. The grade 4/5 class has been working on the song Somebody I used to know by Gotye (a Melbourne artist, they were excited to learn). The song starts with a xylophone melody that follows the contour of Baa Baa Black Sheep and the class were familiar with the song when I first played it to them.

This project of learning to play the Gotye melody has developed into an exploration of pitch, and specifically, using an understanding of pitch to learn to play familiar melodies by ear. My ideas of how best to facilitate this developed over the term – we were working things out together.

Week 1

Initially, after getting the students to listen to the melodic introduction to the song and mark the contour in the air with their hands, I gave each child a tuned percussion instrument (xylophones and glockenspiels), and told them the first two notes of the melody. I asked them to see if they could work out any of the other pitches. We played the song’s introduction over and over and they tried to play along. This was much too difficult for them and many of them got frustrated and disheartened. I realised that they didn’t know how to approach the task, so did a rethink.

Week 2

I introduced the idea of pitches or notes being the different letters on the instrument and we established that these can go up (higher, to the shorter bars) and down (lower, to the longer bars). I taught them about pitches “moving by step” (moving to the next adjacent note rather than to a note further away), and  that we weren’t going to be thinking about them “by skipping” (as they call it) at this stage. Again, everyone had an instrument, and I asked them to locate D. I played a short phrase, always starting on D, and only moving by step (up or down one step). They listened carefully, and we played a series of phrases (unrelated to the Gotye song) in call-and-response – me by myself, and all of them playing it back to me.

The group was highly engaged during this activity. They understood it, and were challenged by it, but it was achievable for most. Two or three didn’t seem to be responding so positively, and appeared to be hitting any notes randomly (albeit in rhythm with the phrase they were to copy) and laughing across to each other. I asked them to repeat my phrase one by one. Immediately they were more engaged, and repeated the pitches and rhythm accurately. I think they found the task frustrating because they couldn’t hear their own efforts when playing at the same time as everyone else. I find that this cohort (who I’ve written about many times in this blog), generally has a low tolerance of situations where they can’t get immediate feedback (which in music is the opportunity to clearly hear their own instrument in the mix) in music class. This creates disillusionment and frustration, they stop trying, and start distracting others. They wouldn’t be able to develop the skills if they were feeling annoyed by the task (or be able to develop the confidence to approach it) so I tackled this issue of being able to hear oneself the following week.

Week 3

We started a musical version of Chinese Whispers. I set up a line of 8 instruments. Player 1 invented a short phrase, starting on D and only moving by step between D, C and B. Players 2-8 had to try and play it back, taking it in turns so that they were all playing alone. Each child got at least one turn on an instrument. While they weren’t playing they were sitting as audience, listening and (hopefully) mentally figuring out the pitches for themselves.

Everyone – those who were sitting at an instrument and those who were in the audience – could hear when an echoing phrase was different to the original, or the same. A lot of excellent self-correcting started to happen.

Week 4

We discussed phrases in music. I explained that the phrase end was where there was a natural pause in the music – maybe not a long one, but a point where the musical line came to some kind of rest. We sang through Dynamite as an example (a favourite song of the class), and they raised their hands every time we came to the end of a phrase. Everyone did this with confidence. “You see?” I said, “You already know this about music. All I’m doing is putting a name to something that you already know and understand.”

Next, I gave out a chart of the Gotye introduction, written only in rhythmic notation. Each of the four phrases was colour-coded – red for phrase 1 and 3 (because these phrases are exactly the same rhythmically and in pitch), black for phrase 2 and blue for phrase 4. (Colour-coded information is a very helpful visual cue for a lot of my students, it helps them orient themselves around new information and not feel overwhelmed by unfamiliar symbols).

For this session, I asked them to focus only on phrases 2 and 4. Phrase 1, I explained, would be tackled later. Phrases 2 and 4 are slower (crotchets rather than quavers) and move only by step.

There was quite a buzz in the air in this class. The preliminary work we’d done on pitches moving by step had given the students tools for tackling the Phrase 2 & 4 challenge, and most of the class was able to play along with the recording by the end of the lesson. Some were already starting to figure out how to play phrase 1 – something that had been frustratingly difficult in the first week.

Next steps…

We will finish figuring out the notes for Phrase 1, and write the pitch names (according to what they have figured out) under the rhythmic notation on the chart. After that, we’ll creating a class arrangement, adding a bass line and other accompanying riffs, and create a drum/untuned percussion accompaniment by ear. I’m hoping they will be able to perform the piece for a school assembly in the next few weeks.