For preparing performing on the YMCA’s Healthy Kids’ Day, Jacquie and decided to teach the kids playing the “Ode to Joy” on the xylophone last Saturday. We introduced who is Beethoven and how this song sounds like. I showed the pictures of Beethoven to the kids and also a amazing video of a representation of “Ode to Joy”. This video was created by The Muppets. What breaker performs in the video really attracted the kids, and after watching that video, they were interested in learning this song. I was inspired by their passion at that moment. The learning process went pretty good after they watched that video. Especially, one of the students whose name is Belina learned so fast that I was totally surprised. At the beginning, I taught them how to read the matrix of the first, second sections of ” Ode to Joy” since they haven’t learned how to read the music on the staff. I only showed Belina once how to play what she read from the matrix on the xylophone, and she tried to play it, not taking too much time, she got it and played it fluently which totally surprised me since she is usually a little bit shy in the class, but what she did that day was unexpected.
The experience of teaching on that day tells me that teaching young kids in a passionate way and make them interested in what they are learning will make things different and always believe that every student has potential. The teacher should cultivate them carefully and patiently with love and passion.
Here is the Muppet presents the ” Ode to Joy ” on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VnT7pT6zCcA
Lately, I have been feeling that my contributions to MusicLaunch are successful. In the efforts of trying to make MusicLaunch more accessible and interesting to Nathalie (a 5 year old girl who is apathetic about many things,) I have been trying to direct the purpose and energy of MusicLaunch to be more centred around having fun and being comfortable within the environment. In order to fully understand and attempt to alter her negative disposition, I thought it best to properly establish an environment that is safe, fun, and nurturing. I had tried to establish such an environment from the on-set, but I realize now that this was very challenging to do last semester. In the fall, I was so preoccupied with trying to explain what I wanted to teach and to be able to keep up with the most advanced students, that it was uncomfortably easy for me to simply not have time to give Nathalie the needed individual attention.
Now, with the separation of the different age groups, it is much easier to focus on the individual students and to promote the much needed individual attention. One day, for example, I spent the entire class with two students. We drew animals, learned how to spell them, and counted how many beats each animal had in them (ie. peng-uin has 2 beats.) The kids love this! We have also been playing lots of hide-and-go-seek and colouring. Over the past few weeks, Nathalie has begun replacing some of her anxiety and discomfort with laughter and willingness to play with the other children. This feels like a giant success! In addition to Natalie’s increased interaction with the other children, she has also demonstrated a greater interest in music and performing! At sharing time this past week, Natalie was the first to volunteer performing “Ode to Joy” to the rest of the class, something she has never done before. She played beautifully and correctly!
Now, I am wondering how to best balance learning and having fun when working with kids. These past few weeks have shown me that learning occurs more naturally and easily when we are happy. However, learning will not unfortunately be something that is fun. It is to our advantage to learn how to focus and apply ourselves to material that doesn’t initially excite us.
Solfege-scalar and intervallic practice
For the first half of class I wrote out a C major scale on a white board with solfege syllables underneath. All of them had been exposed to some amount of solfege and at least knew the syllables but I thought if we could really get locked in on the pitches it could help them hear intonation on their instruments more readily, a challenge that can be more difficult for some instruments than others. I first asked them all to sing a C without having heard it yet. As I suspected they all locked in on a pitch that was at least in unison, but not quite a C, though only a few semi-tones off. I played a C on a piano app on my phone and had each of them match pitch with the piano app which took a few seconds to lock in. I then started pointing to notes on the whiteboard to have them sing based on having just heard middle C. I started just by doing a scale up and asked them what their pitch tendency was (like anyone at the end of the scale they were a little flat). After explaining the natural tendency to finish a scale lower in pitch than when started, they were a lot more attuned to that tendency for the rest of the lesson. What I did not account for is the importance of basic music theory required for solfege. I realized they were having trouble singing from an E to an F because I suspect they didn’t completely understand the concept of a whole and half step, whereas they could more easily sing from C-D-E but then would have trouble finding an F. I tried asking them for a song that might begin like that (going from C to F) which I told them I use ‘Hear Comes the Bride’ has a way of hearing that interval. I used the Star Wars theme song for a P5 which they could hear easily and the NBC jingle for a sixth (which only Mingsley knew of). I tried saying for a M3 to think of a major chord but they didn’t know what a major chord is so maybe before we try solfege next week I will try to teach basic chords and scales to them. I started pointing to random notes on the white board and having them both sing and play some of the notes on their instruments and started to literally see them hear their own intonation better than they had before. By the end of class I was very happy with the results that they could find a C if I just asked them to sing ‘Do.’ In sharing time when I asked them to sing ‘Do’ they didn’t just pick a random note to sing, it was actually a C. I finished up by asking them why I had them do this exercise which Carissa was able to answer right away with (what I wanted to hear) so we can hear these notes before we play them on our instruments.
Introduction into Practice Techniques
I then wanted to go over how they practice their instruments because for the final project it looks like we are going to perform something like ‘ode to joy’ with everyone in the program and I want them to be able to play parts confidently on their instruments. This didn’t open up discussion quite as much as I was hoping for. I asked them a lot of questions about how they practice to try to gauge what their goals are while practicing and what steps they do to accomplish these goals. I asked them to take out a piece of music they were working on and Mingsley took out a piece of music that was of a good difficulty level (hard enough that it was not sight readable for their levels but easy enough that it wouldn’t be discouraging). I explained how I would maybe play the piece of music that Mingsley took out at half tempo (it was marked at quarter=120 so I said maybe start at 60) and that I might play just the first few measures 3 times accurately then inch up the tempo to 63 and continue. I also told them another way of keeping the metronome at 120 and have that be the eighth note which didn’t mess them up too much when I had them play with an eighth note pulse. This half of class went by pretty slowly compared with the first half, possibly because instead of having them do things consistently I was having them answer questions about how to practice that they might have been uncomfortable answering. It also may have been the change in the classroom environment and change in the overall pacing of class that could have caught them off guard.
We quickly finished up with some off beat exercises with a metronome where I had two of them clap with the metronome and one on the off beat and it seemed like they each had an easier time clapping the off beat. We also did 3 rounds of the cosmic whole note, each time got slightly better.
While I believe the musicianship building exercises we do as a class (conducting, solfege, eurhythmics) puts everyone on a similar playing field (one 11 year old and two 14 year olds) there are at times varying degrees of motivation and I worry that some class exercises might be thought of as too easy to really to give their full attention towards for some students while other students feel appropriately challenged and engaged. This could also be a testament to the fact that some students will enjoy doing different activities more than others – while some may prefer the kinesthetic challenge of conducting or performing the cosmic whole note, others may find physically playing or solfege a more worthwhile endeavor. Maybe it is worth asking the class what activities they enjoy and prefer the most?
Today I wanted to teach some basic conducting skills with Mingsley, Alicia, and Carissa. We had an extra student in class today from the recorder class. They all play in a band or orchestra so I assumed they were at least familiar with what a conductor does but I wanted to have them experience conducting by having them actually conduct in front of people and have their classmates do what they conducted. While maybe a little boring for those playing and not conducting, I hoped it would at least be productive in practicing note articulation and placement. We quickly went over basic conducting beat patterns in 4, 3, and 2 which I described as down, in, out, up for conducting in 4 and then I had each of them stand up and try to conduct everyone else play quarter notes or hold and cut off a whole note. I had them each just conduct downbeats after I realized they didn’t have the coordination built up quite yet to do an even 4 pattern, though we were eventually able to get to perform real beat patterns. I told each one to try conducting 4 beats loud then 4 beats softly (or something similar without letting every one else know exactly what would happen) to see if they could communicate what they were supposed to achieve. We also did a little bit of cueing in and cutting off with their instruments as you would in a chamber ensemble. I was very insistent throughout the day on breathing when conducting a prep beat to help with leading in and also for cueing each other with their instruments.
For next time I want to try continue doing formal beat patterns and see if they can find a way to communicate staccato vs. legato note lengths. I will also try to find a way to speak to the musicians (without the student conductor hearing) and say ‘don’t do this unless the conductor does this’ which might include not coming in unless the conductor breaths with them. To help with finding a real beat pattern Randy suggested to consider shapes (squares and triangles) to make more sense out of beating in 3 or 4 and to also conduct on a table for a better placement of a beat and the ictus.
I brought in a bunch of plastic straws with the top of each one cut into a triangle shape which essentially makes a double reed instrument. We did experiments with my class and the guitar class to see how to make the pitch go higher and lower. Overall this was at least fun for the students who learned how to make a new instrument with a straw and scissors. I think they at least understood that less straw would make a higher sound and more would make a lower sound and hopefully this general knowledge helps the wind players understand their fingering charts on their own instruments and help the guitar students have a more intuitive sense of pitch on their own instruments. I tried asking them hypothetical questions such as what if the straw was wider? to see if they really understood the concepts. We cut holes into the straws to make them more like a recorder so they could play different pitches. I tried (with relatively little success because the straws don’t always respond immediately) to have each of them improvise with their new instruments for a few beats. Devin was also able to help them try to describe what each of their individual instruments sounded like, one was more like an elephant, his own was more far eastern sounding in addition to having more follow up questions such as how the straw recorder compares to their own instrument.
One of the challenges at MusicLaunch that I have become more sensitive to this semester, is working with a 5 year old girl who is often un-enthusiatic. She seems uninterested in music, what I am trying to teach, and with things in general that most 5 year olds are usually interested in. She seems to have difficulty forming friendships with the other students, does not like to present things she has done to others, and exhibits feelings of embarrassment and frustration when she does not understand something right away. Part of the challenge in knowing how help this student, lies within my own inability to properly understand and asses the situation. As was discussed in one of our last MusicLaunch meetings, it is difficult to know where the boundaries lie when trying to decipher the root of an issue. As a music teacher who only gets to spend a little over an hour with her every Saturday, it is perhaps none of my business to inquire deeply into her personal life and that of her family’s. However, as the wonderful Liz Tobias mentioned, not understanding the true cause of a problematic attitude makes the job of teaching that much more difficult. It would be more beneficial to treat the cause and not the symptoms.
I feel a bit of a moral dilemma when considering this issue. I very much wish to respect the privacy of my students, especially perhaps with a child. They are unaware when boundaries are being crossed when adults are asking them questions. However, this is perhaps an adult’s responsibility? Perhaps as someone who would like to help this little girl, it my duty to ask difficult questions? With more older children, teenagers, and adults, I don’t really seeing knowing whether one is stepping over boundaries or not is an issue. More mature individuals are able to assess situations for themselves and can choose whether or not they feel comfortable answering potentially invasive questions and choosing to let someone into their personal world.
I am inclined to think that my moral judgement will be my best judgement in these instances. Each situation will be unique and should be approached with caution, patience, and a great deal of observations. However, I welcome any feedback from anyone who has any advice to give!
Today I had three students in class today, Mingsley a flute player and Alicia and Carissa who are sisters that play trombone and clarinet. I was pleasantly surprised that it seems like all three students read music fluently enough and that Carissa even knows clarinet transposition so when I ask everyone to play a Bb she knows to play a C on her instrument.
While we were waiting for the sisters to come to class, I asked Mingsley to pull out a piece of music he had been working on which happened to be an arrangement of Romanza by Beethoven that I was unfamiliar with. I had him just play the first 8 measures at first. He seems to know enough notes and fingerings on his instrument but had a difficult time with breath control (an instrument that is out of adjustment might also lead to some problems with this). High notes were not reliable and he was taking breathes after almost every note and breaking up slurs. We worked on just 2 measure parts of phrases at a time so we could work on his breath control from a phrasing point of view-we tried making a spoken sentence out of the words which helps to understand which notes get more stress and that breathing between every spoken word would sound unnatural.
After Alicia and Carissa came we worked on some breathing exercises. They all remembered doing the exercise where they blow on a piece of paper against the wall. I briefly explained diaphragm breathing to try to get them to increase the air speed so they could make the piece of paper hold longer. I tried to have them do it on their instruments which gave some initial positive results of cleaner tone, articulation, and pitch stability but I think they still need to practice it more to develop more consistency and endurance.
We tried playing a Bb together in unison for intonation reasons and then moved on to playing Bb-C-D then D-C-Bb and finally Bb-C-D-C-Bb. We worked on note attacks and then on cutoffs (so notes don’t fall flat at the end) and I used a visual image for cutting off notes that I heard once of imagining the sound of the instrument traveling all the way to the back corner of the room. I was glad that the analogy seemed to help because technically I’m not sure how to perform that on their instruments. We first tried playing the Bb-C-D-C-Bb figure slowly then I had them speed up to playing it in eighth notes to improve speed processing skills of playing their instruments. We also worked on landing on notes together in tune. At first I had them play together two at a time to work on intonation in different groups of two, then everyone together, but I eventually resorted to using a tuner to check to make sure the intonation was within the ballpark, but I mostly saw that none of them used a tuner or metronome in their own practicing so really I just wanted to introduce the idea of using a tuner. I had them adjust to the tuner and tried to continually ask what they did to change the pitch which should develop their ears to know how to listen for intonation in a large ensemble (all of them play an instrument in an orchestra or wind ensemble).
Last thing we did was the cosmic whole note where my metronome clicked every 10 seconds-they listen to 4 and then try to clap the next 4. I had them try this 3 times, once at a comfortable walking pace, once walking really slow and once jogging in place. We only had time to quickly go over this, but Alicia and Carissa (to my surprise) both said walking slower was easier to do this exercise while Mingsley said the jogging was easier.
Over the past few days, I have been reflecting upon what I have learned as an intern at MusicLaunch. I have acquired some new teaching tools, developed a degree of confidence as the teacher, and most importantly I have acquired a better understanding of what there is to learn about teaching. One example of which is the many different possible ways of describing and explaining musical concepts to kids.
I began the internship in September with minimal teaching experience. I knew that I had to learn how to teach but I was not sure what “learning to teach” actually meant. I did not yet know who I was as a teacher and I am very grateful to my colleagues and students MusicLaunch to have helped me in my efforts to uncover this. For example, I have discovered that my usage of language is an area in which I need to improve upon. I have been influenced by the language used by Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. When addressing his two children, he spoke as if they were adults and did not adjust his language. I remember thinking that this was beautiful and was the way to properly address children in order to respect them and encourage them to increase their vocabulary. However, I have come to realize that this philosophy does not work with five and six year olds when teaching musical concepts. When trying to explain metric subdivision for example, I used big words like “division” and expected them to semantically understand that musical time can be broken down into smaller components. Upon realizing that my message of how to subdivide a big beat into two smaller beats was not getting across, I simply asked them to say “monkey” and “taki” within a given pulse. This, of course, worked as they were able to easily accomplish this. Now, I am trying to learn how help to bridge the gap between a child’s capacity to perform and their understanding of what is being done. This comprehension will come with practice, a child’s age, and the ability for me to communicate ideas effectively. It has been suggested that I pay closer attention to how children communicate and explain concepts to each other in order to learn how to make myself more understood. I think this is a great idea and look forward to learning language from my students!