Archive for the ‘musical alphabet’ Tag

Composing with the musical alphabet (again)

For the first four weeks of term I took on some extra classes at MELS (the Language School), teaching three of the secondary classes. With one, I decided to revisit a project I have done before, where the students and I brainstorm all the words we can spell with the letters A to G (the white notes of the musical alphabet – see here for a comprehensive list of possible words). I then asked them to string two or three of the words together to make a melodic phrase. This is an interesting task for English Language Learners, as they get to transfer their emerging written-language knowledge into the music classroom.

I then helped them arrange these different melodic phrases into a structure, worked out some suitable accompanying chords on the guitar, their class teacher wrote some (nonsensical, but fun) lyrics, and we had a song!

Here is some of our brainstorming:



Music and literacy

I thought I’d write about one of the newest students in the Lower Primary class at Language School. His name is Marko (a pseudonym). He’s from Eastern Europe. He is bright, funny, and has an impish mischievousness about him in music class. He is also  notably articulate, which is an unusual thing to say about a new student.  But Marko’s oral language is highly developed. He has already spent some time in a mainstream school before coming to Language School.

Today the Lower Primary students worked on glockenspiels. They invented little four-beat melodies choosing from three different pitches. They worked all together, playing through these tunes slowly. I noticed Marko seemed to be struggling, which surprised me, because he has been so very bright in all the classes. I went to help him. I pointed to the letter names written on the board, and said them out loud for him. I noticed that he needed to look at the board before playing the next letter. Look up, look down, locate, play. Look up, look down, locate, play. That was fine – most of the students start like this, but then they begin to process the pattern, they memorise it, and can play more fluently. Marko didn’t seem to be sure about which letter was which without comparing it to the letter-shapes on the board.

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Teaching the Alphabet Dance

Today I spent the morning with a team of teaching artists for The Song Room. The Song Room will soon be publishing the resource I wrote for them last year on my Alphabet Dance project idea (which I also described in detail on this blog here, here and here, if you want to check it out) and today’s workshop was to introduce the project to the Teaching Artists, who work in schools across Victoria. The idea is that they will introduce it to the teachers in their schools, and we hope that its broad appeal will mean we start to see little waves of alphabet dances fanning out across the state.

You couldn’t ask for a better bunch of workshop participants! This group took the idea of the Alphabet Dance and made it their own. Basically, the idea is to assign a movement to each letter of the alphabet, then use these to spell words and create dances. I had  a feeling the Teaching Artists would come up with something truly original, and they didn’t disappoint.

They chose to create dances on a theme of Astronomy. We developed a chorus:

The stars [clap] and planets [clap]

Yeah, they’re really cool [clap]!

All claps on off-beats. We naturally fell into a side-step move while doing this, and a lot of vocal additions and embellishments (Ah yeah!… That’s right!… ah-huh, ah-huh…. Because the-… etc).

Then they created dances using the alphabet on the words Flash Gordon, Ziggy Stardust, and Battleship FTL-Drive. Huge commitment to every gesture. A drummer accompanying us, giving it even more momentum. It definitely showed the potential of the project idea. Thanks all, that was a great high-energy workshop!

The Alphabet Dance gets kids spelling out loud, and offers new motivations for thinking about how different words are spelt. I have found that children who are struggling with literacy get a lot of confidence and enjoyment with the Alphabet Dance – they are highly motivated to learn the different moves, and the order of the letters. There are lots of follow-on activities you can do once you have built an alphabet of moves – consider putting together flicker books that spell out words using photos of the different dance moves, for example. Of creating large-scale wall friezes of all of the ‘letters’, drawn or photographed, or sketched as stick figures (for those like me who are challenged in the visual art department).

Members of the Song Room (schools participating, or previously participating in Song Room programs who have signed up for membership) will be able to download the resource from The Song Room website when it is launched later this month.

Musical Alphabets – words to play

I have blogged in the past on some of my projects that focus on Musical Alphabets. I cover quite a range of different approaches under the idea of ‘alphabets’, but one of the things I like to do with ESL students is ask them to list all the words they can think of that can be spelt with the letters A-G (the musical alphabet as it appears on our classroom percussion instruments) and to try playing the words.

Here is our list of words:

Age, aged, ace, aced

Bag, bad, bee, bead, beef, beg, bed, beaded, begged

Cabbage, cafe, cage, cad, cab, caged

Dag, dead, dab, dabbed, dad, deaf

Egg, egged

Fade, faded, fee, fed, feed, face, faced

Gee, gaff, gag, gagged, gab,

We have made some beautiful musical pieces in the past where each person plays their chosen word, and we try out different words in different combinations. Students might also write a melody by stringing a number of words together.

In a class of 15 students, we listened to each of the students’ word choices, tried out pairs and trios together, looking for pleasing combinations, then decided on an order of words for our class composition. We had a ‘chorus’ that everyone played that we returned to several times, giving our composition a Rondo form.

Musical Alphabets – latest developments

We had an excellent day of music lessons on Friday. The Musical Alphabets project is coming to fruition, and the performance piece is looking and sounding very strong indeed.

Here is how we are working with it:

We have a Chorus, which is first chanted, then ‘spelt’ using the dance moves (BANANAS! BANANAS! I LIKE BANANAS!) and we have four groups, each with a different fruit (chosen by the students) to spell. (PEAR, ORANGE, APPLES, WATERMELON). We practised the Chorus all together, and arranged ourselves into rows. They then worked in the small groups to practise spelling their fruit word while the three adults (class teacher, Melanie the Melbourne Uni intern, and me) moved from group to group, offering encouragement and assistance, and keeping them focused on the task.

We experimented with a couple of structural ideas. I liked the idea of layering the different fruit words together, so that two might be performed at the same time. However, the students found this confusing; they felt much less confident about performing their own word if others were performing a different word at the same time, in the next row.

So we tried a different arrangement, where each word was spelt four times in a row, one by one. While the groups waited their turn they remained in formation and waited in ‘T’ position (crouching down on the ground, in our alphabet).

The final structure is in ternary form:

A: CHORUS (chanted 2x, then danced)

B: SMALL GROUPS (one by one, pre-planned order)

A: CHORUS (chanted 2x, then danced)

In an earlier post I was questioning how much of this task the students understood.

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