Archive for the ‘melody’ Tag

More thoughts on teaching the ‘pitch’ concept

I find that for many of my students, pitch is the most intangible, hard-to-grasp concept of all the musical elements. I’ve experimented a lot with different ways to help children make sense of it and to get greater satisfaction from working with pitched instruments. Rhythmically the students are usually very strong, but I think that multiple pitches (indeed, multiple sounds) are often very chaotic for them.

Last week, leading workshops for the City Beats program, I worked with students from four different schools. I found it interesting that students from 3 of the 4 schools used the words ‘high’ and ‘low’ to talk about the difference between different string instruments (eg. violin is smaller than double bass and therefore makes a higher sound). The much more culturally-diverse group of the 4th school were more hesitant and unsure about the language to describe those same differences, instead using ‘loud’ or ‘big’ and ‘soft’ or ‘small’. Work I’ve done previously with musical contour has not transferred across to understanding how to find the higher and lower notes on tuned percussion. It’s as if the concept of ‘high’ and ‘low’ don’t translate into musical concepts in some cultures and languages. That’s my suspicion; it is based on my own observations. Continue reading


Making sense of tonality

This term at the Language School I am revisiting a project idea that I developed in my first year at this school (about five years ago now). It is a way that I try to create understanding among the students about tonal relationships between notes, and give them information that will help them compose melodies that have a sense of shape and tonal balance to them.

Here is the basic tonality premise that I wanted to give them: A key signature or tonality brings with it a strength or sense of ‘home-ness’ to particular notes. The tonic has a strength that makes it good finishing point, for example. The notes of the triad have a similar sense of groundedness to them. Other notes of the scale, if played at the end of a phrase, will sound less complete. But melodies sound interesting if they include a mixture of triad notes and other notes.

In a class of new arrivals, who are only just beginning to learn English, I don’t want to get into these explanations. Too many words! Too much new language will bog us down, and slow the task down – and I find that ESL/new arrival children need to have glimmers of success appear early on in new tasks, to give them confidence and a sense that they are on the right track. Therefore I decided to explain the concepts using language they already know. Continue reading