One of the most important aspects of the Dalcroze work is the training and development of attention. There are many different forms of attention: focused, sustained, selective, divided, alternating have been identified by motor learning researchers. Like many other motor activities, music utilizes all of them, and in the Dalcroze class we attempt to foster the development of all forms of attention.
When we think of attention and music, we are likely to think of the kind of focused and sustained attention necessary to perform a complex piece of music. But there are other kinds of attentional demands for musicians as well. This week I have been enjoying an activity with the children that demands the kind of attention that might be beneficial if one were reading music in an ensemble. Studies show that experts in a motor activity are better able than novices to selectively attend to incoming stimuli. This can certainly be true in musical endeavors when sight reading, for example, or perhaps when executing a group tempo change while playing in a string quartet.
This week, I am experimenting with a ball rolling activity with the children, using the famous 2nd movement of Haydn’s surprise symphony with this game. I roll a ball to a student, and simply ask that she roll it back to me. My movements are timed with the phrases, and I attempt to match the way I roll it with the character of the phrase happening at the moment. Many of the students naturally pick up on this, and do the same to the best of their ability. The piece has many changes of dynamics, textures and numbers of instruments playing. To draw their attention to this fact, I introduce a second ball into the group when the dynamics increase, and when there are many things happening in the piece, a third ball. When the music is moving quickly with many voices (contrapuntally active, in tech-speak), the balls are rolling fast and furious, usually to the great hilarity of the children. The kids must be ready for a ball at any time, as I tend not have a pattern, though I do try to make my intentions clear. This is the improvisatory element of the game.
In any case, their selective focus is hopefully being strengthened while they are being introduced to a great piece of music. If you’d like to put it on at home, it is the second movement of Haydn’s Symphony No. 94 in G major. You could, of course, try this game with any music that has lots of changes of character.
Experiment and let us know what music you have enjoyed!