Ways I have implemented this thinking into my beginning curriculum.
I’d like to share with you some of the practical things I’ve done hoping that you’ll take some ideas and make them your own.
Big Ideas of Beginning Band Curriculum
What do we want students to know and be able to do, besides reading music notation?
- Listening – How to listen, what to listen for (beyond simply hearing)
- Tonality – sound goes up and down; tonic/dominant relationship, melody, harmony, bass line
- Tonal Patterns & Rhythm Patterns (Gordon)
- Steady Pulse and Physical Movement – time moves through space
- Singing – humming, solfége syllables, letter-names
- Improvising - simple patterns within given parameters
- The Musical Alphabet – reciting it forwards/backwards, using Alphabet All Stars
- Fun – making music is inherently fun. Students are choosing to be with you instead of other electives.
Before students have Instruments
For my situation, this is the first 1-3 weeks
Relates to musical alphabet and singing solfege. Students will copy rhythms I play for them. They they have to arrange themselves in musical alphabet order. They realize that longer = lower and shorter = higher. This relates to their instruments (covering holes makes instrument longer and lower).
Kids hitting things with other things = FUN
Duple and triple patterns are recited aurally. Eventually notation is shown, and students begin recognizing visual patterns and interpreting them as what they already know because they’ve been chanting them for weeks.
Lung Capacity – Target Blowing
Practice with a cut-out paper target – hold against the wall, who can keep it against the wall the longest using just air?
The Sound of Music – DO RE MI
Most students haven’t sung before or ever said solfége syllables. A video clip of The Sound of Music is perfect for large band rehearsals without instruments.
Singing in Band Rehearsals
Frere Jaques, Row Your Boat, George of the Jungle, etc.
Students are excited by sitting in a big room with 100 others, don’t have to be quiet and listen to the teacher, it’s a little crazy but it’s fun. Sing known songs all together, then in 2 or 3 part rounds, make one section louder or softer, balance to one side of the room, etc… all teaching how to listen, balancing, and singing.
Also begin singing/teaching solfége words through Gordon’s tonal patterns.
I tell students that music-making and instruments are two different things. Music is within us, and an instrument is just a tool to help get it out. It’s just a tube with holes in it.
As the foundation for music is being learned, we do have to learn instrument techniques separately from everything else.
Always sing before playing anything.
Repeat After Me
Like a baby trying to repeat the words she hears in her environment, beginning musicians should attempt to replicate what they hear. Most rehearsals begin with a “repeat after me” time where we alternate between singing and playing simple fragments, melodies, or tonal/rhythm patterns. After awhile, I’ll ask students to be the leader and improvise something of their own…
Improvisation starts very simply by having students play rhythms on one note and having the rest of the class repeat. It is important at this stage to encourage any sound a student makes. If it’s a squeak or squawk, cool! (We’ll fix it later.) Continuously and positively encouraging anything allows students to feel free to make mistakes (important in my classroom environment), and encourages more to volunteer to try something in front of the class.
I then let them use two different pitches, then three, then four, etc. Once this starts, I’m never at a loss for volunteers. The only rule placed on them is that it needs to be short and simple enough that they could play it again exactly the same. This allows the majority of students to have success hearing and repeating the pattern. This also prevents the student from playing something long and complicated (which they will try to do).
These exercises all set the stage for improvisation, are good ear-training exercises for all students, and allow me to individually assess a student’s tone quality and understanding of what they play. Most importantly it allows students to begin declaring their new voice through the instrument.
My students learn songs by singing and playing the melody, then we make up harmonies, bass lines, and rhythmic accompaniments. With most beginning level songs, the simple harmony is “two notes up”. Hot Cross Buns example: MI-RE-DO, or E-D-C, becomes SO-FA-MI, or G-F-E. Beginning songs can also use a tonic-dominant bass line of 1-5, or DO-SO, or C-G. Ideally I want my students to be coming up with these on their own, but they have to experience it first, hear it, play it, and build the necessary readiness for audiating tonalities/harmonies. This is my simple adaptation of Gordon’s Music Learning Theory.
Band Songs (see “Documents” Page)
I pass out a packet of “Band Songs” about halfway through the year. These are simple melodies of songs that kids can’t wait to play… Happy Birthday, Spongebob Squarepants, Star Wars, etc. The notation is actually quite advanced for beginners, but we learn many of them by ear (aurally) before I pass this out. My concern is not for them to be able to read these perfectly, but to keep them invested in playing the instrument at home and having fun.
Students who are excelling will learn many of these on their own and challenge each other to play them. Some use it as a guide to figure it out aurally, others figure out how to read it. These keep those students challenged and keep all students wanting to get better. Their parents are happy to see their kids play Happy Birthday for grandma, and thus put a positive face on their child playing an instrument in school.
The student in this video learned this song on his own without my prompting
Game-Based Learning Ideas
Candy Crush, other video games. Without having to work at anything, you are rewarded and celebrated, and thus motivated to move forwards.
Alphabet All Stars (see “Documents” Page)
Begins at beginning of the year in small group lessons. Students have to demonstrate individual confidence speaking out loud, speaking basic rhythm, keeping and showing a steady beat, getting in touch with their bodies, and reciting the musical alphabet forwards and backwards.
Students LOVE stickers. They are rewarded for completing simple tasks: writing your name. This begins very easily but continuously reinforces what a steady pulse is, is preparation for scales, and is FUN. Students have “infinite” lives in this “video game” – they can redo as much as needed until they get it.
Rhythm Rockstar (see “Documents” Page)
Continuing from Alphabet All Stars, students have to demonstrate a steady pulse while chanting rhythms, then playing them on their mouthpiece or instrument. Stickers are used as rewards again.
Scale Superstars (see “Documents” Page)
Students have to speak each letter of the first five notes of a scale while fingering their instruments, then play it, again for stickers. Full disclosure: I have not used this yet.