May 1, 2015: Music

Who Has Seen the Wind?

What does a sound look like?

Students attempt to visualize the same abstract sound.

Central Idea:  People use gestures and symbols to communicate a musical idea.

You may have heard about the day we used a ball in class to conduct sound.  Third graders described the movement of the ball to suggest a certain matching sound.

Tone - high or low?
Sustain - long or short?
Timbre - smooth or rough sound?
Dynamic - loud or quiet?

A toss, they said, has a high tone, smooth timbre, and a long sustain.  "Finger cymbals!"
A catch has a very short sustain, and a mid-range tone.  "Woodblock?"
A bounce on the floor - really low tone.  "Kick drum."
A roll across the floor created little bounces in the ball's movement - long sustain & rough timbre.  "Guiro!"

All together, as two players took turns passing the ball to each other, all the musicians around them matched each gesture with perfectly timed sound.  Guess what?  It works without a ball too!  If you pretend, the musical idea gets communicated to the orchestra using pure gestures.

Imagine trying to being the first person to try to write down a melody.  Would other people be able to understand how to play your song?  

We looked at a listening map for "Daybreak Vision," a composition by R. Carlos Nakai, a Native flute player.  Before we listened to the piece, students worked together to create a legend for the map.  They predicted what each mark (dots, thin lines, thick lines, slopes) would sound like.

After listening to it, we found out who predicted correctly, and who had other interesting ideas for what the music could have sounded like.

Making the invisible visible.  
"Who has seen the wind?"  - We are using this Christina Rossetti poem to practice reading and writing melodies using similar simple symbols.  We learned a melody with only 4 pitches by singing and playing recorder.  Here's a class recording of this melody

For the second verse, students are working in groups to compose their own melody.

Here's a great example so far: one that is easy to read, shows pitch and duration. 

The next step will be to give their new composition to another group to try to decipher.  If this unit is successful, by the end of it, I'll ask students which system is easier to read: these invented systems, or traditional notation.  "We prefer staff notation!"  .. is the goal, anyway.

Peter Musselman
Music Specialist, Grades 2-5