We started studying the foundations of rock and roll by looking at the blues. Students listened to and sung a 12-bar-blues song and learned about famous blues musicians. We then transitioned into early rock music from the 1950s. The students listened to different songs and pieces and practiced analyzing them using the different aspects of listening such as timbre, orchestration, and tempo. The students were then guided on the process of creating a tune using current pop songs as an example. After analyzing several examples, the students were separated into groups and allowed time to work on creating a melody with lyrics. Each group was given a graphic organizer to help them create their compositions as they worked in their groups. The students presented their final compositions at the Middle School Assembly in the spring of 2013.
In the spring in their social studies class, students were exploring various revolutions and times of great change around the world from the 1700s to the present day. We used the idea of revolution as our “mini” big idea to compliment voice.
Student #1How are revolution and voice similar or different? How do you think music could play a part in a revolution? Is that related to voice? t
Student #2After listening to ways music was used as part of protest, students had to create chants protesting one of three situations (that ultimately resulted in revolutions): the American colonists being taxed without representation, the French peasants having no say in their government, or the Haitian slaves rising up against their oppressors.
Student #3Finally, students explored the industrial revolution, learned about its effects on the music world (it was responsible for the piano and other classical music advances), and debated whether revolution is positive or negative. Students also discussed whether capitalism is good or bad for music, and whether that was a positive or negative revolution.
Students really responded well to two things: being able to give input into their learning objectives, and being able to have control over at least some aspects of the execution of those objectives. When we listened to what the students wanted to do and tried to incorporate their wants, they were more engaged. Students also responded well when they could talk about the music they were hearing, instead of just listening to it. They were also really engaged when we used current pop music to help teach the compositional process. FInally, students were very engaged when it was their turn to critique, either themselves, each other, or the teaching artist.
The students seemed unaware of the compositional choices that they could have made regarding tempo, timbre, rhythm, etc. This might have been because they did not have enough experiences working with the individual elements of music (melody, texture, timbre, rhythm, form, expression and tempo) before composing and they had no previous experience in putting them together to create a piece. When students had too much freedom and too open-ended a project, they tended to waste time and not get their work done. Breaking the project into smaller, more manageable chunks, and having each part due at the end of every class (with a non-negotiable due date!) would have helped. Also, having a better mix of individual and group assignments would have helped those students who don't work well in groups, or those students who are at an accelerated level but were held back by other group members.
How can we get students to compose more? How can we get students to take over the inquiry process more and ask more questions? How can we use student interest to engage them more in the curriculum and help them learn what they are required to learn (by school objectives and state standards)? How can we fit assessment more efficiently into the teaching period? What are some ways to quickly give students feedback in order to improve their awareness of the composition process?
We want to shift the focus to more composition-based activities, but make each activity small and focused, so students aren't overwhelmed by starting the process. We want to use different mediums to compose (keyboards, percussion instruments, voice, and body, as well as non-traditional instruments) and different ways to record the composition (notation, graphic score, pictures). We also want to do more activities based on improvisation, and make a distinction between improvisation and composition. We hope that getting students to compose will help them gain ownership over the music. Before beginning the final composition project, we would begin by spending at least half of the quarter discussing the elements of music and doing mini-compositions based on each element. A through understanding of harmony is essential for successful improvisation. We would do more exercises incorporating harmonic progression identification and construction in order for the students to have a more successful experience with improvisation.