“Since the beginning of time, children have not liked to study. They would much rather play, and if you have their interests at heart, you will let them learn while they play; they will find that what they have mastered is child’s play.”
Carl Orff (1895 – 1982)
Music is an inherent element of our humanity, a fundamental part of our nature. Children dance and sing and experiment with sound before they speak clearly or walk on steady feet. When they begin Kindergarten, they deepen their awareness of both their own musicality and that of their peers, and they discover the excitement of making music in a community. Over the next few years, students continue to learn in an active way, exploring the musical elements of beat, rhythm, melody, harmony, form and timbre through speech, song, movement and instruments.
The first step is to explore and play, experiencing a concept in many different contexts and modes. Only then is this familiar idea labeled with its musical name. After defining the term, students try it out in their own compositions and improvisations, deepening their understanding of this new idea.
As we work through this process together, students are empowered to take risks and explore new ideas. They build meaningful connections with their peers, and learn to negotiate and work as a team. More importantly, however, each student deepens their own understanding of what they think is beautiful, or interesting, or funny, and feel the pride and satisfaction of being a musician.
Kindergarten students began the month of April with the old nursery rhyme, Hickory Dickory Dock, using both our singing and speaking voices, as well as instruments and creative movement to tell the story of a mouse’s journey to the top of a grandfather clock. Through this rich retelling, students developed a deeper understanding of the text by choosing percussion instruments to represent each phrase, which they played to practice the pre-rhythmic skill of “playing the way the words sound” (syllabification). We then jumped to a more modern mode with the jazzy piece, Ten Little Monkeys Pretty and Neat, in which students explored the concept of ensemble (playing as a team) and keeping a steady beat.
Grade One students spent some time with Joe, an old race horse who trots around proudly displaying his championship medal. While working through this project, small groups trotted between several “corals” in which they took turns accompanying the class song on the xylophone with a steady beat, showing the melodic contour of the melody, and clapping the rhythm of lyrics. Students also learned a new rhythm, the “rest” (a silent beat), and began incorporating this note into their rhythmic compositions. It has been exciting to watch students discover the power of silence and begin to use it more and more deliberately in their own compositions.
Grade Two students have continued to compose and perform their own melodic and rhythmic phrases, deepening their understanding of their most recent notes “do” (a low melodic pitch) and “too” (a rhythmic note that sustains through two beats). But we’ve also spent time heading Off to the Zoo. Students have already learned to perform music in two teams, listening to ensure they are the same as others playing their own part and listening to ensure that the two different parts fit together like puzzle pieces. But in this latest project, each student is challenged to perform two different parts at the same time, playing a xylophone accompaniment while singing the song!
Throughout April, Grade Three students have been developing their skills on the djembe, a large drum originating from the jungles of West African nations. This special instrument needs special care to sing it’s best, opening its “mouth” by tilting it slightly away from our body and bouncing our hands to allow the “head” to vibrate. After learning several rhythmic patterns, we celebrated our skills by retelling the story Jungle Drums, in which a small warthog tries to wish his troubles away with magical drums, unwittingly causing chaos in the animal community.