Here are this week’s activities:
- Make a straight line with one hand and a circle with the other.
- Not easy for anyone to do, and most were not able to accomplish this. However, it allowed us to become acclimated to our temporary room which contained a large wall mirrored wall. I allowed them to look at themselves for a while, and then announced, “There actually is no mirror here,” hoping to discourage them from being distracted by it. It mostly worked!
- Association: quarter note=walk; eight notes=stop and clap
- I played very simply on a drum, and asked a student to play. This is the first time students have played for a movement exercise. I was surprised at how carefully they played and listened to each other, though it was challenging to sustain interest by the time we got to the last student. I participated with the movers.
- Same game, but I played on the piano, using the low register for the feet, and the upper register for the hands.
- I stuck to the rhythmic structure I had set up, but gradually moved it into a dissociation: the feet stepped quarter notes and the hands clapped eighth notes. Many were successful. For some this is challenging.
- Ah Poor Bird
- I transitioned into this simple but beautiful little round which some already knew. I put them into ‘nests’ and asked one to ‘fly’ into another’s nest and land right at the end of the song.
- Ice Skating
- By special request, we repeated this from last week. This time, I played for it and asked them to develop a trick or series of movements that they could demonstrate. Each took a turn. They moved with abandon!
- As they relaxed on the floor, I began to lead them in associations with 1, 3 and 5 of the scale (showing what they hear with arms, legs, fingers as they liked). I slowly introduced the Haydn to see who might recognize it. Some did. We then used tone bars to invent phrases using 1-5 of the scale. We then played and sang phrases using tone bars of 1-5 of the C major scale. Some sang with numbers, with varying degrees of accuracy. I chose not to correct, but to just let them experiment without feeling like they had to ‘get it right’. There will be plenty of time for that!
Here is our first class of the New Year:
- If I move, students are still. When I stop, students move freely.
- Simple instructions (affectionately known as ‘opposite day’), but devilishly hard to execute for this age. The urge to mirror is very strong in us. I made my phrases in tempo and predictable. Each student eventually led for a while. I hope for a variety of movements, but skipping is definitely the most popular. After a while, I added music to match the movement: single line for the soloist, and melody and harmony for the ensemble. This removes some of the difficulty of watching the soloist as they are now using musical cues, but it also begins to feel like a soloist and orchestra playing a concerto.
- Same game, piano leads.
- This returns the game to its original intention. I now encourage them to use the tempo and dynamics they heard in their own movements, which now happens in silence. This requires them to inhibit their natural impulse to move when they hear music. Inhibition is typical Dalcroze strategy.
- (seated) open hands for major, closed arms for minor.
- This quick reaction is a review, but my real purpose was to put a pattern of seven beats with a rest at end into their ears.
- Move pattern in the room, alone if minor and together if major.
- The rest on the end is quick, and requires a short stop (not easy for everybody). Interestingly they chose to move in two large groups for the minor.
- Toss a bean bag in the rest as you move.
- I added a story to this, and passed out bean bags: Fairies and elves walk in a dark forest, tossing a short light up (orange and red bean bags) into the air in the rest of the pattern. Every so often they take a bigger rest and toss the light higher. If they hear the evil giant they run to hide, but must learn to hide in their own space, away from their friends or the giant will find them. (This last part occurred quite spontaneously in an effort to get them to quickly find their own space in the room, a challenge for this age.)
- Move to Haydn’s Surprise Symphony
- The pattern came from the famous movement of this symphony. After they were familiar with it on the piano, they moved to a recording. It was fun to watch them encounter the big surprise chord!
- Play an imaginary instrument to a movement from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Watch for your turn to be the soloist.
- They were surprisingly engaged in this. I played the role of conductor. I hope to use this next week in another activity, and wanted to prime the pump.
- Make rhythm patterns with rests.
- We used 4 note cards with quarter notes on them, one turned over for the rest. I asked one student to change the cards to make a new pattern, one to play the pattern, and the class to snap or tap in the rest. Each pattern feels a little different, and they seemed to notice this.
- Improvisation: play when your partner is silent, be silent when your partner plays.
- A mirror of the first activity, this time with percussion instruments. At first I was the partner, then we branched out. We demonstrated many ways of playing: with pattern/without pattern; long phrases/short phrases; repetitive non-repetitive.
- Hey Ho: Play in the rests of the song.
- This round is becoming familiar, and many were able to use their experience in the class to accomplish this.
Quite a full class this week – see you next time!
Here’s what we did:
- All move freely; I choose one person’s movement to play after which the class guesses who I was playing.
- This was by request. I like this game because it encourages the kids to move in their own way.
- Make a shape with 3 or 4 people.
- Simple instructions, but took them a while to achieve it. They all ended up making shapes on the floor, probably because they needed to cool down after all of the moving. It is difficult even for adults to make creative decisions in groups. It seems as though kids this age find it difficult to decide and stay with something, though there is no shortage of ideas. I noticed a tendency to want to make a shape that could be named (square, circle, triangle…). Some were not satisfied until their group’s shape resembled an identifiable shape.
- Move away from your shape, at the signal come back.
- No music accompanied at first. The signal was a single triangle chime. Soon I added music and encouraged them to express tempo and dynamics (many do this naturally). Then I made the signal the final 2 bars of Deck the Halls, the goal being to make it back to their shape by the last note. At first I had to keep the tempo slow and give verbal cues, but after a while they were able to anticipate.
- Plastique: make a circus ‘trick’ with a group of 3 or 4.
- Playing with the elephant story from last week. I allowed them to use a ball. One group created a 3 part piece that included different levels and tempo changes. It was very symmetrical.
- Minor=move alone; major=find partner.
- We stepped patterns with quarters, eighths and half notes. As longer durations are always more challenging to move, I encouraged them to stretch their ‘trunks’ on the half notes.
- Boom Da Li Da
- I used this as a quick movement transition before a rest. Fun song in 3 that has a 3x’s as fast section.
- Anacrusic Scale
- While they were resting on the floor, I played a growing scale (Do, Do Re, Do Re Mi, etc.) They sang back call and response style.
- Modes exploration: At the xylophone, choose a starting note to call ‘home’. Play anything you like, visiting home when you want the melody to rest.
- As they played I accompanied them at the piano to give them a flavor of each of the modes that they chose. This was meant as an introduction to these rich sound-worlds.
That was their last class (with me) before break. Happy New Year to all!
7-9 Year-old Dalcroze; 11/22/16
- Make a shape with curves. Make a shape with straight lines.
- This seemingly simple direction was first intended to be a physical warm-up. As I watched their choices, I began to play accompanying chords: towards dissonance for the curvy, and towards consonant for the straight-line shapes. After a time, I stopped calling, and let the music speak to them. I experimented with harmonic progressions that moved from tension to release, and many responded well to this. It was interesting to see their interpretations even though there is a good deal of subjectivity when it comes to consonance and dissonance.
- Toss the scarf on the long note.
- I played three patterns in 2/4 time, using all the different possible combinations of a quarter and two eighth-notes. I encourage musically a big release on the long note. When we were finished, we looked at how these rhythms are be notated. I choose not to emphasize this too much, as there is so much about experiencing those rhythms that cannot be conveyed by their symbolic representation.
- Step the beat, clap the rhythm.
- We returned to this basic Dalcroze exercise known as a dissociation. It stretches their coordination abilities, and allows them to experience the same rhythms in a new way. We’ll keep coming back to these kinds of exercises each week, but without spending too much time as they can be exhausting.
- When the melody goes up, walk forward; when the melody goes down, move backwards.
- Another association. They followed the piano for a while, and they I began to sing “If You Dance,” from last week. I let them discover the shape of the melody as we sang and enjoyed moving it with them.
- Choose a percussion instrument and play a pattern. Another will play with you, improvising freely.
- Some young players seem naturally inclined to invent and repeat patterns, some seem more interested in generating and exploring new material. The children listened well to each other. Second players were most likely to add something repetitive to another player’s pattern, which of course is a perfectly valid musical behavior (we call that a ‘groove’). If two players locked into a groove, I picked up an instrument and freely played over it.
- Group improvisation: all play together quietly enough so that you can hear the softest player.
This simple direction is meant to encourage closer listening, which can be challenging for any age when playing in a large group. I was curious to see whether they would fall into a recognizable beat and meter. They almost did. I am perfectly happy if they don’t for right now, just as long as they are really listening to each other as they play. We ended with a group sing and play-a-long of Bim Bom.
Here’s what we did this week…
- Move to the music; when the music stops, stop and clap 4 times.
- I had to tweak the directions to this until the music felt right to me. In the past, I have made it work with a signal (usually a high accented note from the piano). It ended up being a study in cadence and call and response. We tried it in a variety of tempos, but the most successful was with a lively skipping rhythm. We had to practice changing from feet to hands (this requires the ability to stop the momentum of the body). The students can really only do this successfully when they begin to anticipate when the stops are going to come, in this case at the cadence points.
- 2, 3 and 4 time
- Quick Reaction, with me calling ‘2’ for grouping of two beats (e.g. 2/4 time), “3” for three time, etc. We reviewed this first sitting in a circle, with patterns of clapping, patching and snapping. After they got good at switching without much effort, I started singing “Bim Bom,” from last week. I asked them which meter felt like it fit the best. They came to 2 time pretty quickly.
- Step/Clap, Quick Reaction. Same game with movement. At first I called out the number. Later, they were able to Follow (another common Dalcroze game) the changes in the music without me calling out. I embedded this activity in a story (since they crave stories each week) involving three kinds of clocks: a Tick Tock Clock, a Tick Tock Tock Clock, and a Tick Tock Tock Tock Clock. I improvised this story, but enjoyed telling it – it may be a keeper!
- La Cloche
- I had planned to returned to this song about chimes, but one of the students remembered it and requested it after the story because it seemed to fit the theme so well. We spent the rest of the tine learning the words (I also gratefully received some help on my French pronunciation), exploring the melodic contour with gesture and on the xylophone. We tried to sing it as a round, but they are not quite ready for that. I am sure we will get there eventually with this very sharp and musical bunch.
We had a long break (4 weeks) after only a few classes. It was as if we had just seen each other last week, though. Here’s what we did:
- Warm-up: A group of children stand throughout the room. They cannot move unless they have the magic ball. The ball only retains its power if it keeps moving and, like any gift, is given away.
- We start with one ball. The children each get to see different ways of moving, and eagerly await their turn. I soon add more balls. Some find it difficult to stand still when there is lots of activity around them. They must practice inhibiting their natural impulse. This game seemed to be a hit.
- Meter (groupings of 2, 3 and 4 beats)
- Students seated. Practice hearing and responding (patch and clap) to different meters played on the drum. First I call the changes (this is called a Quick Reaction game), next I just play and they show me what they year.
- The students demonstrated mastery pretty quickly.
- Students move in the room. Association game: If you hear music with no meter, move alone; music in 2 means move with a partner in space; music in 3 means move with a partner in place; music in 4 means move all together.
- There were a lot of directions to this game. Some were able to discern the various meters (I was at the piano); some were able to remember the directions; and some were able to do both. I would reduce the number of responses next time.
- Hearing 4 sixteenth notes
- To the above game, I added a start/stop game, which I framed as a story (some were requesting a story): A magic fairy flies through the town waving her magic wand whenever she feels like. She has no idea of the effect, though. Everytime she waves it, the entire city freezes. When she waves it again, everyone is again able to move. The sound of her wand is 4 sixteenth notes.
- I was able to make fairly sophisticated melodies, and, over time, did not have to emphasize the 4 sixteenth notes as much. The story puts many of them directly into the work.
- Bim Bom
- I introduced this song, which is in 2 and features 4 sixteenth notes frequently. I’ll return to it next week. We sat in a group and they wiggled their fingers whenever they heard the 16th note rhythm.
- Review of beat, division and multiple in binary meters (this simply means quarter, eighth and half note)
- I modeled each rhythm, and handed out percussion instruments, asking each student to keep the rhythm going. I brought out note cards with the notation symbol on it. As we layered up the sounds, it began to remind me of a clock, so I began to sing a French round called La Cloche (a round which I discovered I did not know as well as I had hoped – I have to practice it for next time!).
- All of the students seem well able to maintain a steady rhythm, but find it hard to synchronize with the group. This is natural, and something I will work to address in future classes. We traded instruments and tried to build up the ensemble a second time. Eventually, I just encouraged everyone to play freely. It seemed to me most were listening to the other instruments as they played. I like to work with ensembles of different instruments (as opposed to all playing sticks, for example) to encourage this kind of listening while improvising.
- The Human Scale
- The students remembered this game from a month ago, and requested to play it. Our time was almost up, but we got into formation (there are 8 students – perfect!). The range was a little high (I’ll fix that for next time), but I am surprised that many can hear and reproduce their note (especially hard in some positions). I dictated the round to them with numbers, but we did not have enough time to really execute this well. As they left, I reminded them of the other round we did the previous class (over a month ago) “If You Dance.” Many seemed to remember it.
The 4:45 group (7-9 year-olds) had their best session yet. Here’s what we did:
- Explore ways to walk (heels, toes, sideways, large steps, small steps, through molasses, without picking up your feet, etc.)
- Sometimes at this age, creativity can take a back seat for a while as skill mastery moves to the fore. In this case though, the students were quite actively exploring from many different angles. Music accompanied each soloist’s walk, as did, eventually, the entire group.
- Quick Reaction: Students walk; at the command ‘hop’, execute one skip.
- The music for the skip is a dotted eighth and sixteenth. The quick reaction exercise requires close listening to perform well. The changes in the music hopefully are a good balance of expectation and surprise.
- Register follow: if you hear high notes, move your hands; low notes move your feet.
- I played quarters, eighths and half notes. The students became pretty adept at switching in unexpected places. We began to combine two different rhythms in feet and hands, known as a ‘dissociation’.
- Song: If You Dance
- This is a round which we will return to. It contains quarters, eighths and half notes. We practiced stepping the rhythm of the song. By the end of the practice, the class was able to sing the round (without me ever explicitly teaching the song).
- Human Scale
- Students are arranged in a row, and assigned a particular note of the scale (1-8). Conductor (me or a student) points to a student, and he or she sings their note. The kids got pretty good at this. They were able to sing up and down with their individual notes, and could match pitch with the piano if the conductor called for larger leaps. Towards the end of the exercise, the conductors became smarter about their melody making, facilitating greater accuracy in their human ‘instrument’.
Because of the way the Jewish Holidays fall in the month of October, there are no classes now until November. Enjoy the month!