Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Music Teachers and Boy Scout Badges

Sometimes as a music teacher, I am called upon to do the most interesting things.  I was recently approached by one of my students who is working on a Boy Scout Badge.  He asked if I would be able to help him choose five tasks from a list of options so he could complete the requirements for a music badge.  After looking over the list, he decided to handle three of the five on his own but he needed my assistance with two of them.

Our first project was to build a home-made musical instrument.  He decided on a rainstick.  I provided all of the materials and he did the work.  He said it was "really cool" and that it came out "really good."  The second project was a bit more difficult and required some instructional time in the music room.  Flashback to "Conducting 101."

This young man is highly motivated and has an eagerness to learn, so I asked him if he wanted to conduct in 2/4, 3/4 or 4/4.  His response was 3/4 time.  We tried a Strauss waltz, but it was too lengthy and the conductor had invoked so much "rubato" in the recording that the beat was somewhat obscured.  This was not a good choice for my budding maestro.  In a flash of brilliance, I thought about "America" or "My Country 'tis of  Thee," as it is sometimes called.  I had recently completed a patriotic unit in first grade and the materials were easily accessible.

I explained what a 3-pattern should look like, I modeled a 3-pattern for him and then I placed a baton in his hand and he mirrored my conducting pattern for the duration of the song.  We worked on our entrances and exits, holding the final note and cutting off at the appropriate time.  (It's much harder than you think!!)

Mini lesson - Conducting a 3-pattern

Cue Words - "down, out, up"

The Cut-Off

I sent Maestro Chase home with a rehearsal packet and cannot wait for him to return with his music badge.

Until next time...

**Epilogue - Very Cool!!**
Success!! (December, 2012)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Ear Plugs

I live in a world of "surround sound."  For six hours a day, five days a week, I am surrounded by little people immersed in a world of sound.  Sometimes it's the sound of singing.  Sometimes it's the sound of musical instruments.  Sometimes it's the sound of voices conversing LOUDLY in the dining room.  I have had colleagues tell me that they would leave school everyday with a migraine if they had to do my job on a daily basis.

To be honest, I don't usually get migraines, but my sense of hearing is definitely a curse.  I tell my students that my ears are extremely sensitive; that I have "musician's ears."  I cannot work with ambient noise; I must have complete silence.  (I've been up since 4:00 a.m. because it's quiet and I can think better at that time of the day, although the dryer is driving me nuts!).  When people sing or play out of tune, it causes me physical pain.  When I allow my recorder students to "blow the bejabbers out of that thing" on Day One, I plug my ears.  I spend two hours every Wednesday doing dining room duty with ear plugs inserted in my ears.  People laugh at me.  I don't care.  I need my ears to do my job.

Currently in my classroom, my ears are being subjected to 5th graders composing on barred instruments, 4th grade recorder students learning to manipulate their mouths, air flow and fingers to produce a pleasing sound on their instruments, 3rd grade enhancing a folk song with Sound Shape drums and Boomwhackers, 2nd grade attempting to sing in 2-part harmony (a very painful experience), 1st grade learning to match pitch with their voices and finally, Kindergarten singing in a foreign tongue as they learn their songs for Pow Wow.  My ears are over-stimulated all day long, along with my brain.  (Did you know that you hear with your brain and not your ears? That's a post for another day.)

I keep a bag of ear plugs in my purse and in my desk at school.  Yesterday, they came in very handy.  I have a recorder student whose hearing must be more acute than mine.  He cannot tolerate any sound produced on that instrument without being brought to tears.  At our last class meeting, I moved him to the back row, thinking that would make a difference.  He cried through the entire class.  He came to class yesterday and I placed him on the back row again, however this time, I gave him a set of handy-dandy ear plugs to use.  He had never seen ear plugs, much less used them.  After a mini-lesson on the the art of using ear plugs, he now has his own personal set in a sandwich bag labeled with his name on it.  The bag will remain in my classroom until the end of the school year and I may have to make him a t-shirt that says, "I Survived 4th Grade Recorder Class with Mrs. Tamburrino."

Ear plugs.  A necessary ingredient in my "Recipe for Success" this year.  The absolute worst thing that could ever happen to a musician is for him to lose his sense of hearing.  It happened to Beethoven and I can't allow it to happen to me.

Until next time...

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

"Soft Drink Tune"

When asked to brainstorm various names of soft drinks, most kids can come up with 3-4 of their favorites very quickly.  This is how we began our lesson entitled "Soft Drink Tune."  I needed five specific names of soda - Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, Mountain Dew, Seven Up and Dr. Pepper - to teach the poem.  If they didn't come up with all five, I added them in to complete the task. It was also necessary to use the full name of Coke, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper so that eighth notes could be used in addition to quarter notes that were used for Mountain Dew.

Coca-Cola,       Pepsi-Cola,       Mountain Dew                        
So-So-So-So     So-Mi-Re-Do     Mi-Re-Do

Coca-Cola,      Pepsi-Cola,        Mountain Dew                            
So-So-So-So    So-Mi-Re-Do      Mi-Re-Do

Seven-Up,       Doctor Pepper too                                          
La-La-So;       La-La-La-La-So

Coca-Cola,      Pepsi-Cola,       Mountain Dew                           
So-So-So-So    So-Mi-Re-Do     Mi-Re-Do 

I can't take credit for all of this creativity.  I borrowed this lesson from Jay Broeker who presented it at a North Florida Orff workshop several years ago.  The tune is also borrowed from Gunild Keetman's "Erstes Spiel am Xylophone," Page 9, Number 12.  

The lesson objectives include rhythmic reading (ti-ti, tah and quarter rests), ear-training (I ask them to explore the pitches on the xylophone in C-pentatonic.  They must figure out the pitches used in the melody), ensemble playing (once they've figured out the melody, they must all play it together), music vocabulary (main idea, contrasting idea, cadence) and finally, composition (they must write a poem using their favorite soft drinks, create a melody using the pitches C, D, E, G, A and choose rhythmic patterns that align with their text using eighth notes, quarter notes and quarter rests.)

Exploring the possibilities

Student Worksheet - parameters for the assignment;
Sample of original poem and rhythm provided

Form of composition

Building their composition

Student Work - Sample 1

Student Work - Sample 2

The lesson is highly complex and will require several class meetings to finish, but your students will be building musicianship and developing critical thinking skills throughout the process.

Until next time...