A primary focus areas in the beginning of the year is the subject of meter. Meter can be defined as the grouping of beats into 2’s, 3’s and 4’s. Usually the first beat of the group is felt as a stressed or accented beat, and in the Dalcroze work we also recognize and explores the qualities of the other beats in the pattern.
I first look for ways to give the children an experience of accent: squirrels jump from branch to branch, subway cars have bounce, and jack-in-the-boxes spring. These experiences lead to activities involving recurring patterns of accent. The 4-5 year-olds mostly work with groupings of two beats. A story of giant building a house gives them an opportunity to chop down trees, saw wood, and hammer nails, all with a two beat accompaniment. Ball passing games in which they raise the ball high before passing to their neighbor gives them an experience of not only feeling the accented beat, but also the building energy that leads to the accent (called the anacrusis). After these experiences, the children are given a chance to invent their own patterns with two, three and four parts on percussion instruments.
In addition to these activities, the 5-6 year-olds can also explore groupings of three and four beats. In one game they are asked to move alone if they hear no metrical pattern, move with a partner if the music is in two, and come together as a group if the music was is in three or four. This is a challenging listening and cognition task, but with a little coaching, most groups are able to accomplish this!
In addition to the songs we sing, I regularly slip music from the classical literature into the classes whenever possible. After the movement stories, we usually have a cool-down rest period, and if they are relaxed enough (i.e. if I have worn them out!), they are often more than willing to simply lie on the floor and listen. I have not given the names of the pieces I play yet, but they might recognize them if they heard them on a recording.
Here are some of the pieces I use regularly:
1. Far Away Places, #1 from Kinderszenen (Childhood Scenes) by Robert Schumann
2. Entreating Child, #4 also from Kinderszenen
3. Sleeping Beauty’s Pavanne, from the Mother Goose Suite by Maurice Ravel
4. Royal March from Carnival of the Animals, by Saint Seans
I have been using this last selection in a ball passing game that emphasizes the strong ‘two-ness’ of this piece, along with the exciting chromatic swirls that occur in the middle section. This has been a new invention this year! For extra practice, put on almost any kind of music (jazz, classical, pop – most kinds of music use meter), and try to find first that recurring cycle of beats with your child.
Let me know how it goes!
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