Life caught up with me in April, so this is the first update for class activities in over a month. Here is a brief list of some of the things we have explored and games we have played over the past several weeks:
- Toss the bean bag on the high note.
- Kids hear melodic patterns in 4/4 time. Each pattern consists of quarter notes with a high note falling on beat 1, 2, 3 or 4. They walk and toss on the high note. Challenging for most. We spent some time in the beginning exploring things to do with a bean bag that can match specific tempo and dynamics requirements.
- Lead your partner through touch.
- Partners work to develop a set of signals to guide their partner around the room. Signals can include direction, starting/stopping, tempo, etc. I encouraged them to talk as little as possible. Pairs demonstrated for the group. The group attempted to discern and describe the signals they saw.
- Movement Concertos
- The student with a bean bag moves as she likes, the piano follows her with a single voice. When the piano plays with many voices, the entire class joins in the same movement. The children are encouraged to use a wide variety of tempo and dynamics as I attempt to mimic concerto form and style in my improvisation.
- Improvisation with rhythm cards.
- Partners sit across from each other. A holds up rhythm card, B plays rhythm following whenever A changes. All partners perform simultaneously.
- variation: One student conducts for dynamics.
- Metrical scarf toss
- Quick reaction: step the beat and toss the scarf on the 2nd beat of a 4/4 measure if I call “2”, etc. (Students are hearing dotted quarters on their toss as I play.)
- Dotted Quarter Quick reaction
- Walk with a partner linking arms. When you hear a dotted quarter + eighth, change directions with your partner.
- Walk alone. At “hop”, take one step backwards. (“hop” coincides with a dotted quarter + eighth.)
- Pattern + soloist, improvisation
- Group plays a pattern, one soloist is free to play as she likes. (All have percussion instruments.) We experimented with the form of this one, and really practiced listening for dynamics and responsiveness to the soloist.
Those are a few of our greatest hits. I’ll give you one more update at the end of the year, which is coming up fast. Happy Memorial Day! Always interested in your thoughts and comments.
This week’s activities:
We first reviewed the notation and language for some basic rhythms for compound (ternary) meter: dotted quarters, 3 eighth notes, quarter-eighth. I put the symbols on the board, and asked one student to stand in front of the one he/she wanted to hear and see moved. After this quick reaction game, I gestured a pattern. In our rhythm language, it was, “Running and skip and beat beat.” I asked them to speak it in as many different ways as they could (using the same words). It took some time but we eventually got a variety of dynamics and tempos. I then asked them to move freely to the music, but stop and show the pattern if as soon as they heard it. After this, we practiced simply moving the pattern. The starts with three running steps, which lead to a single skip, followed by two slow steps. It was challenging for them to get off the ground and immediately stop. There were varying degrees of success, but as a group we managed to get a gestalt of the pattern.
They wanted to be seen moving it one at a time, so I asked them to design the space. They lined up and each moved the rhythm twice across the diagonal of the room. I decided to spend some time making what we call a ‘plastique’ out of the rhythm. In this case, this means that we choreograph how to move, who is moving when, the shape and organization of movement in the room. I did a fair amount of prompting by giving them a series of choices (e.g. “Should we move it twice or once? “Should partners move at the same time, or one after the other?”). In this way I helped them to make the many small decisions necessary to create organized movement. We tried it several times and I accompanied them on the piano.
We ended with a quick experience/game with three rubber spots, which I placed on the ground and associated 1, 3 and 5 of the major scale with. First I moved and sang myself. Then I moved and asked them to sing. Finally, I sang while they moved. We improvised short phrases for a while, and then said goodbye. I will return to this game in the future.
What can you do with 4 spots?
The question is quite open, but the kids took it in the spirit intended (uses were restricted to ways to arrange and move through them). Here are some of the ways they discovered, and questions they explored:
- arrange in square, step only on the spots
- what’s the difference between a square and a diamond in this case? (answer was inconclusive, but seemed to have to do with visual perspective)
- take one step in between each spot
- place them far a part
- place them close together
I played a pattern (quarter quarter half) and asked them to arrange the spots any way they liked, and to move through them to show this pattern.
There were two solutions. In one the kids stopped on the spot for the long note, in the other they kept moving, arriving at the spot during the second beat of the longest note. The spot represented a rest in one version, and the end of the pattern in the other. Both true, and highlighting different perspectives. I accompanied both versions, and one student felt certain that I was changing the way I played on the second version. I wasn’t, but her feeling changed by changing her movement. A very Dalcrozian experience!
Chalk Talk Exploration
They asked to draw on the chalk board. Ok: one student drew, and I followed their movement on the piano. After everybody had a turn, we switched: I played and they drew to match. This was an introduction to a dictation technique that we will return to later.
Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong: St Louis Blues
We ended by listening for the call and response of trumpet and voice in a classic recording of the blues we have been playing and singing for the past few weeks. Here’s the link if you’d like to hear it.
This was another very unusual class. The story from the previous week was very strong in their minds, and they desperately wanted to continue it. That kind of intense student engagement is very hard for me to resist, so I relented, not having the least idea about where it would turn out. To further complicate matters, one student who was absent last week was present this week, so he had to be brought up to speed. Instead of my usual list of activities, here is a straight narrative of the day:
We began with a quick reaction game: if you hear music, move with the feet; no music move with the hands. I long even phrases at first (8 beats of music, 8 beats of silence) and gradually worked it down to shorter patterns. My goal was to introduce some basic rhythm patterns in 4 that contain 1 beat rest. They were moderately successful at this, so I went to the board and notated them to see if they could distinguish between them. They are not quite ready for this, but they can reproduce them if I point in time to the rhythms.
They suffered through all of this rather pedestrian teaching so they could get to what they really wanted to do: continue the story. We ended up spending most of our time trying to remember everything: which rhythms went with which characters; what the rhythms were, who was playing what.
Each group was supposed to play as the others moved, and here I probably pushed a little too hard to get them to act like a sensitive orchestra. Give anybody an instrument and the first thing they want to do is explore it: make sound, see what it does, try this, try that… The last thing a kid wants to do is hold it silently and wait for something to start. I can get kids there, but I need to allow them time to discover first, and I did do that.
All in all, our creative rhythms did not fall into place this time. But artistic creation is certainly like that. If nothing else they got to experience that knowing that we could try again another day.
This was an unusual class in many ways. The girls’ love for dramatic story telling prompted almost an entire class devoted to the development, rehearsal and enactment of one story. The class loosely followed some goals I had already set up, which was to work with 3 different rhythm patterns that are found in the slow movement of Mahler’s 1st Symphony. This movement is a basically a minor reworking of the tune Frere Jacques. But here is roughly the sequence of events:
- I asked the girls to create characters for each of the 3 rhythm patterns I had written on the board, and which I played on the drum. They came up with a king, a queen and a kangaroo.
- I let them choose whichever character they wanted to be. There were many kangaroos, a few queens and no kings – so I took on that role.
- We explored how each group would move according to their specific rhythm pattern.
- By asking them a series of questions, they created the following scenario: there is a king who likes turning people into statues, and one day he froze the entire kingdom. When the queen saw this she tried to save the statues, but was unsuccessful. A bunch of kangaroos came along and worked their magic spells to release the people. The queen was delighted.
- Each group had percussion instruments. The kangaroos were to play for each other, and all played for me. We practiced this.
- We enacted the story, attempting to talk as little as possible. This was easier the second time.
- I told them that after the statues were released, the king was sorry he had done that. The entire kingdom came together and moved each other’s rhythms in different patterns. At this point I played the Mahler and asked them to listen for each rhythm and move freely however they liked. Some chose to move as a character, others choose to pretend to play instruments. After one time through, we talked about what they heard. We played it one more time, and pointed out the various rhythms we heard as it went along.
By this point, the time was almost up. We gathered for a quick round or two of the St. Louis Blues, and had to say goodbye. This was a class I might be able to repeat with a different group, but only one as imaginative and interested in story as this one.
Back to my own observations… enjoy!
- Statue tag
- All students make a statue. One moves as long as she likes. When she stops, she makes the shape of one of the statues. That statue is free to move.
- This game is more fun when whoever is making someone else’s shape does not make their shape directly in front of the other person. This forces both the mover to be very clear, and the entire to class to watch the mover. Improvised music follows the mover.
- Move to the music; when you hear one measure of eighth notes, stop for one measure.
- This is a quick reaction calling for an inhibition. It’s challenging because the listener has to pay attention to the melody while moving (always a challenge for this age), and rest for exactly 4 beats. Most everyone needed verbal cues and pretty clear signals from the piano to achieve this. We will continue to work to strengthen the internal rhythmic feeling necessary to do this well.
- What can you do with one stick and a special friend (who also has one stick).
- A chance to exercise the imagination and work with a partner. Many creative responses.
- Partner A holds out stick for 8 beats; B plays 8 beats on A’s stick. A moves stick each phrase. Switch.
- After accompanying them on piano for a while, I began to play “Ah, Poor Bird” from last week. As they recognized it they began to tap it.
- Spin off
- The partners move to the music separately. When they hear the first 4 bars of the song, they must find their partner in time to tap the last 4 bars.
- As the game went along I disguised the music more and more, challenging them to listen closely for the quarter-quarter-half rhythm of the opening. Some were successful, others needed some verbal cues.
- Explore notation of song.
- Now that they were thoroughly familiar with the rhythm of the song, it was time to see it translated into notation. As they stretched out on the floor, I asked them to show quarter notes in their legs, half notes in their arms (in retrospect I wish I would have switched these two) and eighth notes in the air with arms. I played through the various durations for a while, and then slipped into the song one last time. Some were able to translate it into their body, but that was hard for others. I sat them up and we put the notation on the board for all to see.
- We ended by playing call and response phrases (with percussion) over the blues. I used St Louis Blues, a song I hope to come back to over the next few weeks.
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!