5th graders sounding a gong for lyrics with "negative" connotations
One of the ideas we attempted to explore with the fifth graders was tone as communicated by instrumental color. We had them decide whether the lyrics of the 4th graders’ song were, line by line, positive or negative. Then the class voted on which instruments might best communicate those connotations. We then gave each table a box of instruments and had them play their “happy” or “sad” instrument as they had decided the lyrics indicated. We hoped to turn these ideas into simple themes for the students to write out in order to complement Art’s work on notation. The students were not as comfortable with this free-form creativity as I thought they would be. Some of them were not sure “what to play” when it was their turn. . .I thought they would go to town making sounds if given an instrument! Not so much in this class. . .the melody writing exercise was a great success, however! A lesson in structured creativity for me. . .more structure sometimes equals more creativity. The students seem to need clear and concrete parameters, at first. Notating portions of the “matter rap” I had written for the fourth graders was also a challenge they enjoyed. Our autistic guests in this class loved playing along on percussion instruments.
Special needs children joining us in our music-making
This student explained which lyrics had what emotional connotations, and why.
First we discussed as a class the words the 4th graders had written for their charity song.
Guitar was “positive”. Viola was, too. Castanets were negative, as were other percussive instruments.
Art notating students' melodic choices
To come up with a melody for the 4th graders’ lyrics, we asked kids to give us numbers from 1-8. They were given the choice of high or low 8 (the octave) and also sometimes asked if they would like a high or low 6/7. We were attempting to make the connection for the students between academic/abstract musical notation (C goes here on the treble clef staff) and the aural sounds associated with the scale degrees (1 is this sound. 2 is higher. 8 is highest). We also wanted the kids to realize that the numbers they chose equaled notes of the scale. As we went along, the kids did realize that and start calling out pitches rather than numbers. I took dictation from them, then played their choices back while singing the words and asked if they liked their melodies, or not. If they didn’t, they had to explain why and suggest an alternative note or octave. They seemed fascinated by the results of their choices, liked being able to choose, and participated at a close to 100% rate. At one point, they chose, by accident, a tritone for the word “worry”. This is a strange interval and sounds uncomfortable or foreboding to the average listener. I started telling them the history of the tritone, and why it was very appropriate to the word “worry”; medieval musicologists called it the “devil’s interval” for instance. . .the kids were fascinated! One student reminded me that we needed to rap some of the song. The kids were very good singers from the get-go, matching pitch and learning their song very quickly once we had completed it and began practicing it.
The fifth graders suggested that, for the words “Miserable, mad. Terrible, sad,” a mini-round with staggered entrances be used to create an echo effect. THEY suggested this!
Faith shares her thoughts regarding the process