Think you can’t sing? Keep at it!

Studies show that singing well is a skill that can be developed (Getty Images).
Studies show that singing well is a skill that can be developed (Getty Images).

A recent study from Northwestern University suggests that singing accurately is a skill that can be learned, and if not used, can decline over time.

The research was led by Steven M. Demorest, a professor of music education at Northwestern’s Bienen School of Music. Three age groups were studied — kindergarteners, sixth-graders, and college-aged adults — and scored based on their singing accuracy. Each participant was asked to listen to a pitch (or an interval) and then sing it back.

The study showed vast improvement in accuracy from kindergarten to later elementary school, likely due to the fact that most children are receiving regular music instruction at that age. But the adults performed at a level closer to the kindergarten group in two of three of the tasks. These findings imply that, while singing on key might be easier for some people rather than others, it’s also something that can be nurtured and developed.

“No one expects a beginner on violin to sound good right away, ” Demorest noted in a press release. “It takes practice, but everyone is supposed to be able to sing. When people are unsuccessful they take it very personally, but we think if you sing more, you’ll get better.”

The study indicates that only 34% of U.S. children choose to participate in music classes past the eighth grade. This fact, combined with evidence that many children are made to believe that they’re “tone deaf,” signifies to researchers that kids are quitting music education classes because they believe they’re no good — which is a huge part of the problem.

“It’s a skill that can be taught and developed, and much of it has to do with using the voice regularly,” Demorest explains. “Our study suggests that adults who may have performed better as children lost the ability when they stopped singing.”

On the Air This Week

Highlights from Oct. 27 to Nov. 3

Tuesday, 5 p.m. Music with Minnesotans: James Cadwell.
Wednesday, 7:15 a.m. & 5:15 p.m. New Classical Tracks with Julie Amacher.
Wednesday, 1 p.m. Performance Today: Piano Puzzler with Bruce Adolphe; Alina Ibragimova performs solo Bach sonata in Barcelona.
Wednesday, 12 midnight Radio Classics: St. Lawerence Quartet; Haydn: String Quartet No. 23 in F minor — recorded in Montreal.
Thursday, 12 noon Alison Young hosts a performance and chat with Minnesota Concert Opera soprano Andrea-Lynn Cianflone and writer/director Antonia Felix about the one-woman show La Divina, which tells the story of Maria Callas.
Thursday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.
Thursday, 3 p.m. Regional Spotlight: Kremerata Baltica; Britten: Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge.
Friday, 7:15 a.m. Moveable Feast with John Birge and Minnesota Monthly‘s Rachel Hutton.
Friday, 11 a.m. Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra Spotlight – Dvořák: Legends, Opus 59, Nos. 1, 2, 5, 6, 10 and 3.
Friday, 3 p.m. Friday Favorites with Steve Staruch.
Saturday, 9 a.m. New Classical Tracks with Julie Amacher.
Saturday, 10 a.m. Saturday Cinema.
Saturday, 5 p.m. A Prairie Home Companion: a spooky, jam-packed rebroadcast from October 2005, featuring Nickel Creek, Prudence Johnson, Ruth MacKenzie and more.
Saturday, 8 p.m. Euro Classics: Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana, Mario Brunello, cond.; Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht, op. 4 — recorded in Lugano, Switzerland.
Sunday, 6 a.m. Pipedreams: East Texas Treasures.
Sunday, noon From the Top.
Sunday, 1 p.m. SymphonyCast: Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra; Ton Koopman, conductor; Johannette Zomer, soprano; Bogna Bartsz, contralto; Jorg Durmuller, tenor; Klaus Mertins, bass; Mozart: Requiem, K626.
Monday, 7:15 a.m. Sing to Inspire with Tesfa Wondemagegnehu and Julie Amacher.
Monday, 12 noon Learning to Listen with Alison Young and Andrea Blain.
Tuesday, 5 p.m. Music with Minnesotans.

Composer Corner: Liszt

Franz Liszt
Franz Liszt (Corey Sweeter for MPR)

October’s composer of the month is Franz Liszt (frahnts list).

 

Born: October 22, 1811

Died: July 31, 1886

 

Five facts:

• Liszt’s piano works are regarded by many as some of the most difficult and virtuosic music ever written.
• After moving to Paris with his parents at age 12, Liszt developed a friendship with Frédéric Chopin (though they later became rivals). Liszt was also friends with composer Hector Berlioz, and he attended the Paris premiere of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique.
• Liszt invented the concept of the ‘piano recital’. At a time when composers generally played only their own works, Liszt frequently programmed the music of other composers in his concerts.
• Because of Liszt’s unworldly virtuosity and undeniable stage charisma, there were rumors that he must have made a deal with the Devil. “Lisztomania” was a term — coined by Heinrich Heine — that referred to the intense hysteria demonstrated by the pianist’s fans during his performances.
• Liszt’s daughter, Cosima, went on to become the second wife of Richard Wagner in 1870.

 

Three important works:

• Piano Sonata in B minor (1853)
• Les Préludes (1854)
• Totentatz (1862)

 

Audio Backpack playlist: Franz Liszt

Meaningful and Musical Assessments

Plickers
“Plickers” is a simple tool for effective assessments (Maia Hamann).

As the end of the quarter looms near, I’m checking my grade book to make sure that I’m ready to enter report card grades. Have I completed all of the assessments that I need this term? Do those assessments really show what my students have learned? Music teachers and ensemble directors are great at seamless formative assessments. We listen to our students perform, instantly identify spots that need work, and immediately work to fix those problem areas. Scored assessments, on the other hand, can be more difficult in a music classroom. With limited time, large class sizes, and subject matter that is complex and often without a right or wrong answer, how can we translate the learning that we see into meaningful grades?

Aligned Assessments

The first step is to determine what you will assess. For assessment scores to truly reflect the learning that has been taking place in the music classroom, they should align with the learning goals in daily lesson plans. The state and national standards are great guides and a good starting point when determining what your learning goals will be. However, it’s important to assess what the students have actually been learning; if some standards haven’t been taught in a grading period, there’s no reason to assess students on those standards until they have been covered.

Integrated Assessments

The more seamlessly that assessments can be integrated into normal routine, the better. If music class is typically fast-paced and full of music making and activities, expecting students to sit quietly and do a written test might not go over well. An assessment should never kill students’ enthusiasm for music. My way of coping with this is to do regular, short assessments. Over time, I can collect a variety of information, I can also see student progress, and students don’t panic about assessments because they’re used to them.

Musical Assessments

Performance assessments and non-performance assessments can both be effective measures of student learning in a music class. Students can demonstrate their grasp of skills through authentic music-making in a performance assessment. Non-performance assessments can show how well students are able to articulate their understanding of concepts.

Performance Assessments

  • Solo Time: I’ll have each of my students perform a very short melody or rhythm as a solo. Usually, I’ll do this in a call-and-response format, alternating between me and individual students, to keep the momentum going. This works for assessing singing or playing ability as well as improvisation skills.
  • Today’s Instrumentalists: In my younger grades, I choose a handful of students each day to perform a specified accompaniment (e.g. steady beat, ostinato, etc.) with a piece that they all know well. When only a few students are playing instruments, I’m able to hear them well enough to assess their playing while the rest of the class is also participating. And the students are always excited to find out who will get to play each day!
  • Self-Assessment: Knowing how to self-assess is an essential skill for any musician. Teaching students assessment criteria and how to identify levels of mastery can focus their learning and teach an important musicianship skill while also helping the grading process.
  • Peer Assessment: Peer assessment has the benefits of self-assessment along with the added perks of helping students to become more comfortable performing for each other, providing opportunities to give and apply constructive criticism, and providing a system of checks and balances. I like to use peer assessments during my recorder units, in which students work independently at their own pace. I have students do short performance assessments with three of their peers, and I do occasional check-in assessments with the students. When students have a clear understanding of the expectations of the assessment, they are able to give accurate and reliable scores and feedback.

Non-Performance Assessments

  • Written Assessments: Although most students groan at the mention of written assignments, with a little creativity, they can be made interesting, full of variety, and even fun. However, because students tend to have negative associations with this type of assessment, use them with purpose. There are a variety of more engaging ways ask students multiple choice questions, but writing on a worksheet might be the only way to see how students can write notes on a staff, draw musical symbols, or compose.
  • Assessment Technology: There’s an ever-growing variety of education technology that can be used for effective and engaging assessments. Figure out what you have access to, and what you have time to use. Even if your school has a classroom set of iPads, it might not be worth the time that would be needed to pass them out, walk students through the steps of operating an app, and collecting them again. I recently started using Plickers — a simple tool that requires only one iPad and a class set of scannable cards. It’s been working well and students are always interested in anything involving technology.

Choosing how to assess student learning and how to translate that information into a grade is a complex decision. How formative and summative assessments are used, whether using technology or not, and whether assessing all of the standards each grading period or focusing only on a few is a choice that each teacher makes to best suit their individual situations. Any assessment that provides meaningful information about student learning to you, your students, and students’ parents, while allowing students to continue engaging in music uninterrupted in your classroom is a good assessment.


Maia Hamann currently teaches music at Holdingford Elementary, grades K-5. You can read all of her blog posts here. View our entire portfolio of educational resources on our Music for Learning page.

On the Air This Week

Highlights from Oct. 20 to 27

Tuesday, 5 p.m. Music with Minnesotans: Eric Pratt.
Wednesday, 7:15 a.m. & 5:15 p.m. New Classical Tracks with Julie Amacher.
Wednesday, 1 p.m. Performance Today: Piano Puzzler with Bruce Adolphe.
Wednesday, 12 midnight Euro Classics: Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Pawel Przytocki, cond.; Leonora Armellini, piano; Franciszek Lessel: Piano Concerto in C, Op. 14 — recorded in Warsaw.
Thursday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.
Thursday, 3 p.m. Regional Spotlight: flutist Wilbert Hazelzet and harpsichordist Jacque Ogg, Bach Flute Sonata in B minor.
Friday, 7:15 a.m. Moveable Feast with John Birge and Minnesota Monthly‘s Rachel Hutton.
Friday, 11 a.m. Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra Spotlight – Mozart Serenade No. 10 in B-flat Major for Winds, K. 361.
Friday, 3 p.m. Friday Favorites with Steve Staruch.
Friday, 4:30 p.m. Steve Staruch interviews Mississippi Valley Orchestra’s Henry Charles Smith.
Friday, 8 p.m. Minnesota Orchestra: Strauss’s Don Juan: Minnesota Orchestra/Juraj Valčuha, conductor; Jennifer Koh, violin; live from Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis.
Saturday, 9 a.m. New Classical Tracks with Julie Amacher.
Saturday, 10 a.m. Saturday Cinema.
Saturday, 5 p.m. A Prairie Home Companion: live broadcast from Anoka High School in Anoka, Minn., the Halloween Capital of the World and Garrison Keillor’s hometown.
Saturday, 8 p.m. Euro Classics: Doric Quartet, Respighi: Quartetto dorico, Op. 144 — recorded in Madrid.
Sunday, 6 a.m. Pipedreams: Quotes from Raven.
Sunday, noon From the Top.
Sunday, 1 p.m. SymphonyCast: NDR Radio Philharmonic Orchestra; Andrew Manze, conductor; Patricia Kopatchinskaja, violin: Duda, Tchaikovsky, Hollinger, Berlioz.
Monday, 7:15 a.m. Sing to Inspire with Tesfa Wondemagegnehu and Julie Amacher.
Monday, 12 noon Learning to Listen with Alison Young and Andrea Blain.
Tuesday, 5 p.m. Music with Minnesotans.

Enjoying classical music on the go

The day was sunny and warm and music flowed from every venue in St Paul’s Lowertown. I had the privilege of hosting a number of St. Paul Classical Music Crawl tours this past Saturday, Oct. 10.

What a great group of people and what a great collection of musicians. We heard a string quartet from the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (at Union Depot), the excellent singers from Glorious Revolution Baroque (at the Baroque Room), student music from the Chamber Music Society of Minnesota School (at Black Dog Café), and members of the Minnesota Opera (at Nautilus Music Theater) all in the course of two hours.

In the photos below (taken in the various venues our tour group visited), we’re all smiles because the day was just that good!

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On the Air This Week

Highlights from Oct. 13 to 20

Tuesday, 5 p.m. Music with Minnesotans: Emilie Robinson.
Tuesday, 9 p.m. National Chopin Piano Competition: Mazurkas, selections; Eric Zuber.
Wednesday, 7:15 a.m. & 5:15 p.m. New Classical Tracks with Julie Amacher.
Wednesday, 11 a.m. National Chopin Piano Competition: Variations on “La ci darem la mano”; George Li.
Wednesday, 1 p.m. Performance Today: Highlights from the American Chopin Foundation’s National Chopin piano competition.
Wednesday, 12 midnight Asia Classics: Great Mountains Music Festival Artists — recorded in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Wednesday, 9 p.m. National Chopin Piano Competition: Mazurkas: selections; George Li.
Thursday, 11 a.m. National Chopin Piano Competition: Barcarolle; Rachel Kudo.
Thursday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.
Thursday, 3 p.m. Regional Spotlight: Vox Nova; Rachmaninoff Vespers.
Thursday, 9 p.m. National Chopin Piano Competition: Piano Sonata No. 3; Rachel Kudo.
Friday, 7:15 a.m. Moveable Feast with John Birge and Minnesota Monthly‘s Rachel Hutton.
Friday, 11 a.m. National Chopin Piano Competition: Mazurkas: selections; Eric Lu.
Friday, 11:30 a.m. Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra Spotlight – Fauré: Suite from Masquese et bergamasques, Opus 112.
Friday, 3 p.m. Friday Favorites with Steve Staruch.
Friday, 8 p.m. Minnesota Orchestra: Guarantors’ Week: Skrowaczewski And Ross; live from Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis.
Saturday, 9 a.m. New Classical Tracks with Julie Amacher.
Saturday, 10 a.m. Saturday Cinema.
Saturday, 8 p.m. Euro Classics: Veronique Gens, soprano; Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Ravel: Sheherazade — recorded in Copenhagen.
Sunday, 6 a.m. Pipedreams: Town Hall Treasures.
Sunday, noon From the Top.
Sunday, 1 p.m. SymphonyCast: Vienna Philharmonic/Franz Welser-Most, conductor: Nielsen, Sibelius, Chabrier.
Monday, 7:15 a.m. Sing to Inspire with Tesfa Wondemagegnehu and Julie Amacher.
Monday, 12 noon Learning to Listen with Alison Young and Andrea Blain.
Tuesday, 5 p.m. Music with Minnesotans.

Beethoven’s Disco Hit

Nearly 40 years ago, many people in discotheques were discovering, celebrating — and yes, getting their groove on — to the music of Beethoven.

On Oct. 9, 1976, Walter Murphy and the Big Apple Band went to No. 1 on the U.S. singles chart with “A Fifth Of Beethoven.” The music is a disco rendition of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, Op. 67, First Movement.

Here’s a performance of the track from the 1970s music TV show, The Midnight Special:

Managing Behavior with Composer Houses

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Flags of the Composer Houses (clockwise from upper left): Frederic Chopin, Hildegard von Bingen, Gioacchino Rossini, Igor Stravinsky (photo by Maia Hamann)

There is much to consider when deciding on a behavior management system. Developmental psychology, behaviorism, the personalities of your students, and your own personality and teaching style can all influence what will be effective in your classroom. Due to the limited and/or infrequent time specialist teachers have with students, creating a clear, consistent, and engaging system is essential.

Reinforcement: What kind of reinforcement or reward system will you use? We would all love for students to be intrinsically motivated to stay on task, but that might not be possible in every situation, especially initially. If you choose an extrinsic reward system, will you reward students individually or as a group? Will rewards be given immediately, or will students be working toward a longer-term goal? Will the rewards be something tangible (e.g. toys, pencils, etc.), something experiential (e.g. playing music games, being allowed to sit by a friend, etc.), or something more abstract?

Timing: It’s important to determine when student behaviors will be assessed. It’s easy to notice behaviors when they’re negative. It’s also easy to notice when a student who is typically off-task is finally on-task. If you choose a positive reinforcement system, note the positive behaviors of all students, including the ones who are always on-task.

Competition: When choosing whether or not to use friendly competition as a part of your system, you must consider the level of social development of students, and their personalities. For some students, competition can be a great motivator, but not for all. Although higher-level music participation often involves competition between individuals, at the elementary level, I use only group competition, if I use competition at all. Working in groups is more developmentally appropriate for younger children, and teaches skills that are important for ensemble musicians, such as cooperation and collaboration.

Engagement: Keeping students engaged in whatever behavior management system you use is important. If they aren’t interested, they won’t take it seriously, and the risk of negative behaviors will increase. Will you keep students engaged with immediate rewards or consequences? Or will you choose a framework that is especially intriguing or relevant to students?

Learning: Implementing your behavior management plan can take time away from teaching curriculum, especially at the start. To make the most of all of your time with students, find ways to insert music content into your system.

Composer Houses

This year, I am using a system that we call “Composer Houses.” Students were “sorted” into four Harry Potter-style houses named after important composers by drawing a card from a sorting drum. Fourth and fifth graders are sorted individually into houses, so each house is represented within each class. Younger grades are sorted by class. The houses collect points and work toward a group reward. I use this system across all of my grade levels, but use it differently with different grades, depending on their level of development.

Reinforcement: I have chosen a group point system in my classroom. Students earn points for on-task behavior. The points go into a group total, and the students are working toward a group, experiential reward, which the students will choose. I use my system in this way because music is usually a group endeavor in which every person’s behavior affects the entire ensemble, and making music is experiential, rather than tangible. For most grades, the reward will be a day on which students can choose a fun music activity (e.g. games, dance party, watching music videos, etc.).

Timing: I currently use an app on my tablet to randomly select a number of students throughout each class period. If the chosen student is showing positive behavior, he/she earns a point for his/her house. If not, no point is awarded. Points are never taken away for negative behavior.

Competition: This year, I decided to add a competitive element to my behavior management system. The house with the most points at the end of each quarter earns a reward that will be determined by the winners in each class, and the classroom will be decorated with the winning house’s flag. Because upper elementary students tend to be more motivated by and have the social skills to handle competition, my fourth and fifth graders are sorted individually into houses, creating friendly competition within classes. Second and third graders work together as classes, with the understanding that they are competing together against classes and older students in different houses. My youngest students are rewarded when a class earns a specified number of points, removing the competitive element.

Engagement: I chose a system that engages students by connecting to something they are familiar with outside of school (Harry Potter movies), and connecting them to each other. Not only are the students working with others in their classes, but the membership of each house spans most of the grade levels. Students are always curious to know which older and younger students are in their houses.

Learning: I use our behavior management system to teach about rhythm, composers, genres, and eras. Our point system uses a variety of rhythm demominations, with a quarter note being worth one point. Each time a student earns a point, he/she places a quarter note card in a pocket chart on the classroom bulletin board. Older students are encouraged to “clean up” their houses’ pockets by exchanging shorter notes for a longer note. Students are highly motivated to learn to identify notes when their houses’ points depend on it! Each week, we focus on the composer whose namesake house earned the most points the week before. I play music (from an Audio Backpack playlist) by that composer when students enter the room, and we usually begin class with a few quick facts about the composer, the genre, or the era of the music. Students especially enjoy learning about “their” composer. This year, I chose Hildegard von Bingen, Rossini, Chopin, and Stravinsky as our house composeres to give a broad overview of different types and eras of western classical music. I might choose different genres, a more specific era, or composers from different parts of the world in future years.

There are as many behavior management systems as there are teachers. Finding one that supports your own teaching style and that suits your students can make a huge difference in how much you content you teach and how much you and your students enjoy the school year.


Maia Hamann currently teaches music at Holdingford Elementary, grades K-5. You can read all of her blog posts here. View our entire portfolio of educational resources on our Music for Learning page.

On the Air This Week

Highlights from Oct. 6 to 13

Tuesday, 5 p.m. Music with Minnesotans: Taylor Passofaro.
Wednesday, 7:15 a.m. & 5:15 p.m. New Classical Tracks with Julie Amacher.
Wednesday, 1 p.m. Performance Today: Meet PT Young Artist in Residence, violinist Simone Porter. Plus, we’ll celebrate Yo-Yo Ma’s 60th birthday.
Wednesday, 12 midnight Euro Classic: RTVE Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Poulenc: Stabat Mater — recorded in Madrid.
Thursday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.
Thursday, 3 p.m. Regional Spotlight: Minnesota Sinfonia; Rossini, ‘La Cenerentola’ (Cinderella).
Friday, 7:15 a.m. Moveable Feast with John Birge and Minnesota Monthly‘s Rachel Hutton.
Friday, 11 a.m. Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra Spotlight – Fauré: Suite from Masquese et bergamasques, Opus 112.
Friday, 3 p.m. Friday Favorites with Steve Staruch.
Saturday, 9 a.m. New Classical Tracks with Julie Amacher.
Saturday, 10 a.m. Saturday Cinema.
Saturday, 8 p.m. Euro Classics: Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana, Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30 — recorded in Lugano, Switzerland.
Sunday, 6 a.m. Pipedreams: From the Canadian International Organ Competition.
Sunday, noon From the Top.
Sunday, 1 p.m. SymphonyCast: LA Philharmonic: Korngold, Mahler, Debussy.
Monday, 7:15 a.m. Sing to Inspire with Tesfa Wondemagegnehu and Julie Amacher.
Monday, 12 noon Learning to Listen with Alison Young and Andrea Blain.
Tuesday, 5 p.m. Music with Minnesotans.