Do We Sing in This Class?

Children learn about conducting from Maestra Sarah Hicks (Screengrab from YouTube)
Children learn about conducting from Maestra Sarah Hicks (Screengrab from YouTube)

A student who recently transferred into my school approached me after music class and asked, “Do we sing in this class?” She joined our school just after the winter concert. Without the pressure of an upcoming concert, I’ve been enjoying teaching lessons focused on participating in music without performing it. Actively engaging in music in ways in which the participant isn’t making sound can provide young students with alternative ways to connect with our content. And my students seem to be enjoying it, too.

Conducting

Conducting is an interactive activity that helps students explore a variety of music concepts, and it’s something that young students really enjoy. As part of their study of meter, my third through fifth grade students have all been learning to conduct at different levels of complexity. The students made a list of elements that can be shown in conducting, such as meter, tempo, dynamics, and who should and shouldn’t be playing. We practiced basic beat patterns, changing the speed, showing dynamics with gesture size, and simple cueing. Students watched the Class Notes video “What Does a Conductor Do?” (see video below), conducted recordings together, followed my conducting while playing the beat on basic classroom percussion instruments, and took turns conducting small groups of classmates.

The students took their leadership roles seriously and were impressed by their power to change the sound of others’ instruments without saying a word. Student conductors are removed from the technical challenges of producing musical sound themselves, yet they’re able to explore and affect elements of music. They can find a new perspective on music and how it works through “playing” an ensemble as a conductor.

Dancing and Movement

Dance is a natural accompaniment to many types of music, and movement can be used to help students grasp musical concepts, too. Primary students enjoy finding ways to use their bodies to demonstrate musical concepts that they hear, such as pitch, dynamics, tempo, beat, articulation, note length, etc. Movement can also be used to direct music. For example, my first graders sometimes volunteer to lead vocal warm-ups by showing high and low movements that the other students mirror with the pitch of their voices.

While it’s important for elementary students to learn the technical skills to sing and play instruments, their musical creativity should be fostered, too. For some young students, managing the technical aspects of producing musical sound can distract them from the creative aspects. Incorporating activities that allow students to express musical creativity without focusing on technique can help to make them into more thoughtful and innovative musicians once they have gained more vocal and instrumental skills.

Storytelling

So many pieces of music are composed to tell a story, and those that weren’t can still inspire listeners to imagine their own stories. My students have been learning about music in opera and ballet recently–two genres that involve collaboration between multiple art forms to tell a story. Before telling the students the stories that inspired the pieces we were learning about, I had them imagine their own stories to accompany the music. They told their stories by drawing comic strips showing emotions, actions, and characters that reflected what they heard. Visual art and creative writing aren’t dependent on time like music is, but the students created their comic strips as they listened, so their stories unfolded with the music. They participated in music as it was happening, expressing their imaginative ideas through their artwork and writing. Their stories were amazingly creative. They varied widely in some ways, but were remarkably similar in others, demonstrating how music can create a common experience among listeners or touch people very differently.

I assured the new student who asked if we sing in music class that we do. But it’s important for elementary students to experience, create, and participate in music in as many ways as possible, whether they are making the musical sounds themselves, or engaging in music in another way. General music teachers teach students with a variety of learning styles, abilities, and experiences; the more ways in which we can expose them to music, the more likely that one of those experiences will be the one that sparks a thoughtful and creative interest in music that could last a lifetime.


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.

Composer Corner: Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Corey Sweeter for MPR)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Corey Sweeter for MPR)

January’s composer of the month is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

 

Born: January 27, 1756

Died: December 5, 1791

 

Five facts:

• Mozart was baptized with the name Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart. His parents and older sister called him “Wolfie” for short.
• Wolfgang could write music before he could write words. It is believed that he composed his first pieces at age four or five.
• The composer wrote over 600 pieces over the course of his life, including symphonic and chamber works, operas, and works for choir.
• The last opera Mozart composed was The Magic Flute, which premiered in September, 1791 — three months before his death.
• Researchers have come up with around 118 hypotheses as to what caused Mozart’s death, including influenza, rheumatic fever, trichinosis, kidney failure, and mercury poisoning.

 

Three important works:

• Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major (1786)
• Don Giovanni (1787)
• Symphony No. 41 in C major (“Jupiter”) (1788)

 

Audio Backpack playlist: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

On The Air This Week

Highlights from Jan. 26 to Feb. 2

Tuesday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.
Wednesday, 7:15 a.m. & 5:15 p.m. New Classical Tracks with Julie Amacher.
Wednesday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.
Wednesday, 12 midnight Euro Classics: Mariinsky Theatre Symphony Orchestra with conductor Valery Gergiev; Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto in D, Op. 35 — recorded at the Baltic Sea Festival, Berwaldhallen Concert Hall, Stockholm, Sweden.
Thursday 1 p.m. Performance Today.
Thursday, 3 p.m. Regional Spotlight: Members of Accordo perform the Beethoven String Trio Op 9 No. 1.
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, Jonathan Biss, director and piano; Beethoven: Concerto No. 2 in B-flat for Piano and Orchestra, Opus 19.
Friday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.
Friday, 3 p.m. Friday Favorites with Steve Staruch.
Friday, 8 p.m. Minnesota Orchestra: Future Classics: Emerging Composers Spotlight; Minnesota Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä, conductor; live from Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis.
Saturday, 9 a.m. New Classical Tracks with Julie Amacher.
Saturday, 10 a.m. Saturday Cinema.
Saturday, 12 noon Met Opera: Turandot.
Saturday, 5 p.m. A Prairie Home Companion: hosted by Chris Thile with special guests Ben Folds, Brandi Carlile, Ed Helms, Punch Brothers and Sarah Jarosz; live from the Fitzgerald Theater.
Saturday, 8 p.m. Euro Classics: Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra with conductor Vahan Mardirossian; Scriabin: Prometheus, Op. 60 — recorded at Smetana Hall, Municipal House, Prague.
Sunday, 6 a.m. Pipedreams: The Glories of Great Britain.
Sunday, 12 noon From the Top: cellist Matt Haimovitz, guest; recorded at the San Francisco Conservatory.
Sunday, 1 p.m. SymphonyCast: Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra; Yefim Bronfman, piano.
Monday, 7:15 a.m. Sing to Inspire with Tesfa Wondemagegnehu and Julie Amacher.
Monday, 12 noon Learning to Listen with Andrea Blain and Alison Young.
Monday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.
Tuesday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.

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Repetition in music, and why we love it

It's difficult to hear "mahna mahna" without answering "doot doooo do do do." (YouTube Screengrab)
It’s difficult to hear “mahna mahna” without answering “doot doooo do do do.” (YouTube Screengrab)

Think about your favorite song. How many times do you hear the chorus repeat? What is it about repetition in music that seems to hook us?

Basically, it boils down to the fact that we like what we’ve been exposed to before — a phenomenon that psychologists refer to as “The Mere Exposure Effect.”

In this TedEd video lesson, teacher Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis outlines some of the basic concepts and ideas behind this effect, and why we seem to love repetition in music.

Watch the video on “Music and Repetition” below and see the entire lesson on TedEd’s website.

Classical Music Mashup Quiz

Classical Music Mashup (YouTube Screengrab)

It’s not often that you hear the word ‘mashup’ associated with classical music. But in a recent YouTube video, composer and ‘one-man production team’ Grant Woolard has done just that.

In the video, Woolard has cleverly woven together 57 famous tunes of classical music by 33 different composers. You can follow the different melodies on an animated staff, with tiny composer images in place of note heads to indicate who wrote the melody.

How many can you identify without looking at the score?

Strategies to help children develop self-control

A second grade writing class (Flickr Creative Commons)
A second grade writing class (Flickr Creative Commons)

In a recent article, KQED/MindShift staff writer Katrina Schwartz investigates self-control strategies in children, with a focus on the research of psychology professor Walter Mischel. When Mischel was a professor at Stanford University in the late 60s/early 70s, he led a team or researchers who who studied delayed gratification in what became known as “The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment.”

In the study, a child was offered a marshmallow (or sometimes a cookie or pretzel) and presented with a choice. He or she could 1) enjoy the marshmallow immediately, or 2) withhold from eating the marshmallow for a certain amount of time, and be rewarded with an additional marshmallow. The video below shows a recent version of the marshmallow experiment:

In research that followed the original testing, children who were able to hold out for the better reward tended to have better ability to deal with stress, higher SAT scores, and other positive traits.

In the article, Schwartz points out that many of the tactics the children use in the test — such as self-distraction, self-distancing, and identifying one’s ‘hot’ and ‘cool’ systems — are strategies the could be transferred to the classroom. She notes, “if educators can find productive ways to use his research in classrooms, they will also improve student motivation, which can’t be detached from the idea of student efficacy in meeting goals.”

Read Schwartz’s entire feature on KQED’s website.

On The Air This Week

Highlights from Jan. 19 to 26

Tuesday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.
Wednesday, 7:15 a.m. & 5:15 p.m. New Classical Tracks with Julie Amacher.
Wednesday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.
Wednesday, 8 p..m. Minnesota Opera: Hansel and Gretel.
Wednesday, 12 midnight North America Classics: St. Lawrence Quartet; Adams: String Quartet No. 2 — recorded at Maison Symphonique, Montreal.
Thursday 1 p.m. Performance Today.
Thursday, 3 p.m. Regional Spotlight: Pianist Lise de la Salle performs Bach-Busoni Chaconne at her Frederic Chopin Society recital.
Thursday, 3:45 p.m. Tesfa Wondemagegnehu joins Steve Staruch to talk about The Radio Choir from American Public Media’s upcoming debut.
Thursday, 6 p.m. Steve Staruch interviews the Horszowski Trio.
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: Symphony No. 29 in A, K. 201.
Friday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.
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, 12 noon Met Opera: Tannhäuser.
Saturday, 5 p.m. A Prairie Home Companion: Live from the San Diego Civic Theatre.
Saturday, 8 p.m. Minnesota Opera: Dvořák’s Rusalka, featuring Kelly Kaduce.
Sunday, 6 a.m. Pipedreams: The Miller’s Tale.
Sunday, 12 noon From the Top: Where Are They Now?
Sunday, 1 p.m. SymphonyCast: Houston Symphony; Andrßs Orozco-Estrada, conductor; Simone Porter, violin.
Monday, 7:15 a.m. Sing to Inspire with Tesfa Wondemagegnehu and Julie Amacher.
Monday, 12 noon Learning to Listen with Andrea Blain and Alison Young.
Monday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.
Tuesday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.

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Music Student for a Day

A teacher can learn a lot from being a music student for a day (Derek Montgomery | MPR)
A teacher can learn a lot from being a music student for a day (Derek Montgomery | MPR)

I recently had the opportunity to be a student in my own classroom. A small group of fourth graders had earned a reward of their choice and they decided that they wanted to be teachers for the day. I may have had a moment of panic at the thought of nine-year-olds running my classroom, but my only requirement was that the reward be music-related. A deal is a deal. As it turned out, it was an enlightening, empowering, and delightful experience for my students and for me.

On the day of the lesson, the teachers lined up in front of the class to introduce their lesson while I settled into a chair in the middle of the room. Although I considered engaging in all of my favorite disruptive student behaviors, I fought the temptation. Seeing this role reversal was strange enough for the kids.

The teachers were surprisingly well-prepared with a group composition competition activity. They assigned us to groups of three or four and sent us off to come up with “a rhythm or a song” using any of the classroom instruments. After some work time, we would be called together to hear performances. In each of several rounds, the teachers would judge which groups’ compositions would go on to the next round and which would be eliminated. The final round’s winner would be determined by a class vote. I had been expecting it to be a barely educational day, but this was actually a creative, musical, and standards-based activity!

My group decided to use the xylophone for our piece. I let my two teammates make the creative decisions in our composition, and they came up with a short melodic pattern. We each took a different octave and played the pattern one after another, from low to high. We also tried improvising our own short melodies following the same low to high format. As we advanced in the competition, we changed our piece for each performance.

The choice of activity was fantastic, but the class period was not without problems. I don’t know of any teachers, no matter how experienced they are, who don’t occasionally (or frequently) struggle with classroom management issues. Nine-year-old teachers are no different. Once they set us free to work on our pieces, the sound of nearly thirty students playing classroom percussion instruments became overwhelmingly noisy. When the teachers needed to get the class’s attention, they realized that they didn’t have the tools to do so. One student shouted to the students that when they heard him bang a cymbal, that meant that they should be quiet. Of course, nobody could hear that cymbal over the cacophony. The teachers became increasingly frustrated with us, as evidenced by the one who walked by me exclaiming, “Ugh, when’s my coffee break?!” I tried to let the teachers deal with managing the class themselves, but stepped in once or twice to help them get the students’ attention.

As we progressed through rounds, more and more students were left without anything to do while groups who remained in the competition practiced for their next performance. The teachers realized that students were not going to sit quietly and wait, so they came up with a quieter activity to keep those who weren’t performing entertained. Although Simon Says may not have anything to do with music, it fulfilled its purpose. I was impressed by how quickly the teachers identified a classroom management problem and came up with a solution. And I was reminded of how fun playing Simon Says can be!

As a participant-observer in this student-led class, I learned more than I expected about my students, about myself, and about how I can be a more effective teacher for my students.

• I can trust my students with big responsibilities. They used their freedom and power during that class period to take control of their own education, not to waste it.

• Classroom management really is tough! It’s easy for me to feel like I am failing when I have troubles managing a class. Shouldn’t I have this down after several years of experience in the classroom? Seeing this group of fourth graders struggling to manage their class of peers reminded me that I take for granted all of the strategies I’ve developed over the years that actually do work well. No system is perfect, but we should all give ourselves credit for techniques we use that do work.

• Setting up routines in advance is much more effective than adding routines as you go. I could see how difficult it was for the teachers to try to implement routines, like using the cymbal to indicate that everyone should be quiet, after the activity had begun. Whether teaching for one class period or for a whole school year, it’s worth investing the time at the beginning to set up routines.

• Trying to get attention using sound doesn’t work well in a classroom full of sounds. Setting up attention-getting cues that are nonverbal or that use very specific sounds can be more effective in a music classroom.

• Doing small group work encourages lots of learning and creativity, but it’s very challenging to manage. How can groups figure out how to make music together when the room is full of the noise of other groups doing the same? How can a teacher work with one group and expect the rest of the group to remain engaged in some quieter educational activity when there isn’t enough time to pass out materials like worksheets and pencils? I was a little disappointed that the fourth grader teachers didn’t come up with a magic solution to this problem for me.

• It’s not my classroom, it’s my students’ classroom. Being a part of this reward day has motivated me to continue to find opportunities for my students to take ownership of their own education, no matter who is leading the class.

Giving my students freedom and responsibility showed me what they’re capable of and what they want from music class. Being a student for a day has made me a better teacher.


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.

Music and robots in northern Minnesota

A trumpet-playing robot (Stefano Gargano | Flickr)
A trumpet-playing robot (Stefano Gargano | Flickr)

This week at the Lyric Center for the Arts in Virginia, Minn., area students in grades 7-12 can participate in workshops where they’ll learn about robots, music, and how those two things can work together.

The students will even have an opportunity to “create a new robotic percussion ensemble,” which will perform in a special presentation (along with a guest artist) at the end of the three-day workshop.

The sessions will be led by Troy Rogers — an Iron Range native who writes music, teaches, and creates musical robots.

In a recent interview with author/radio producer Aaron Brown, Rogers explained the workshop:

“Over the course of several days, students who may have never touched a soldering iron, built anything with electronics, or written a single note of music work collaboratively to make robotic instruments and write new music. In the process, technical and aesthetic concepts that may be boring or difficult in other contexts are rendered both comprehensible and fun.”

There will be workshop sessions on Jan. 14, 15, and 16, with a final public performance happening Saturday, Jan. 16, at 7 p.m. The performance features Jillian Rae — a multi-talented violinist, vocalist, and songwriter who, like Troy, grew up in the Iron Range.

For more information, visit the event page of Rogers’ web site.

On The Air This Week

Highlights from Jan. 12 to 19

Tuesday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.
Wednesday, 7:15 a.m. & 5:15 p.m. New Classical Tracks with Julie Amacher.
Wednesday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.
Wednesday, 12 midnight Euro Classics: Danish National Symphony Orchestra with conductor Rafael Payare; Dvořák: Symphony No. 8 in G, Op. 88 — recorded at the Concert Hall, Danish Radio Concert House, Copenhagen.
Thursday 1 p.m. Performance Today.
Thursday, 3 p.m. Regional Spotlight: Music for Clarinet and String Quartet by Minnesota composer Randy Bauer.
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, Jaime Martín, conductor; Ives: Symphony No. 3, The Camp Meeting.
Friday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.
Friday, 3 p.m. Friday Favorites with Bill Moreolock (in for Steve Staruch).
Friday, 8 p.m. Minnesota Orchestra: Beethoven Marathon (Symphony Nos. 4 and 6; piano concerto No. 4); Minnesota Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä, conductor; Yevgeny Sudbin, piano; live from Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis.
Saturday, 9 a.m. New Classical Tracks with Julie Amacher.
Saturday, 10 a.m. Saturday Cinema.
Saturday, 12 noon Met Opera: Les Pêcheurs De Perles.
Saturday, 5 p.m. A Prairie Home Companion: Live from the War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco.
Saturday, 8 p.m. Euro Classics: Trio Wanderer; Schubert: Piano Trio No. 2 in Eb — recorded at Mozart Hall in Schwetzingen, Germany.
Sunday, 6 a.m. Pipedreams: In Concert.
Sunday, 12 noon From the Top: recorded at the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Boston.
Sunday, 1 p.m. SymphonyCast: Orpheus Chamber Orchestra; Alisa Weilerstein, cello.
Monday, 7:15 a.m. Sing to Inspire with Tesfa Wondemagegnehu and Julie Amacher.
Monday, 12 noon Learning to Listen with Andrea Blain and Alison Young.
Monday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.
Tuesday, 1 p.m. Performance Today.

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Get these weekly programming highlights delivered straight to your inbox every Wednesday. Visit this page to subscribe.