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?