Dalcroze For Children · Teaching

Letter to 1st and 2nd Grade Families

note: here’s an end-of-the-year summary for the families of my 1st and 2nd grade Dalcroze classes. I refer to a list of skills and experiences. It’s a bit long for a post, but if you are intersested, I’m happy to send you a copy.

Dear 1st and 2nd grade families,

The 1st and 2nd grade Tuesday Dalcroze group came a long way this year. Dalcroze learning is based on the accumulation of musical experience. We move, sing, play games and use our imaginations for 45 (or fewer!) minutes per week. In a music conservatory like Diller Quaile, a portion of that time is spent relating their experiences to skills, knowledge and understanding they will need as they learn their instruments. However, children especially will have a hard time explaining exactly what they learned or even did. I’ve attached a long list of skills and experiences they have had this year, but even I am overwhelmed by looking at it! We did all that?! Wow. It’s important to remember that the kids may have not, say, completely mastered the concept of meter, but they can probably perform a requested action (a jump, for example) on the first beat of a measure, even when the music changes between meters. They may not be able to explain what the difference between consonance and dissonance is just yet, but they have created shapes with their bodies to express the differences, which are all too apparent to them even at this young age. It’s best to keep that in mind when looking at the list of skills and experiences that I culled from my record of lesson plans for the year. It’s just a beginning.

Demonstration classes are the most effective way to understand what goes on in a Dalcroze class, but those were difficult this year because of COVID, so here’s a description of a typical class. Hopefully that will give you a context through which to understand the larger list of skills and experiences.

I like to start my classes with a physical warm-up, and I love to do it with them. Their class is at the end of the day, and I imagine they need to be grounded in their bodies as much as I do. For each class, I choose a movement subject, a rhythm subject and a pitch subject. I don’t always get to each, but that is the goal. (To make it easier, I sometimes try to kill two birds with one stone!) In this class, from week 19, my movement subject was isolations (i.e. moving a single part of the body by itself), meter and basic vocal exploration. Here’s what we did.

I began by putting on some music by a young jazz vibraphonist I like named Joel Ross. This week there was nothing definite they were supposed to hear in the music, but I hoped it was set a tone of focused, creative curiosity. I began by slowly moving a single part of my body (maybe an arm, my shoulder, a foot), and gave them the direction, “Move a different part of your body at the same tempo.” When they got the idea, I let different students lead. After a while, I switched the directions: “Move the same part of your body at a different tempo.” I had a couple goals in mind. One was to expand their movement vocabulary. This can be accomplished by watching others, and perhaps by moving, say, an arm much more slowly than they are accustomed to. The other goal was to work with the concept of tempo.

After the movement warm-up, I usually move into the rhythm subject, which often calls for more specific kinds of movement. Today the subject was meter (regular groupings of 2, 3 or 4 beats). An important musical skill is being able to keep track of the first beat of the measure, even if the groupings change. First we sat, and we tapped the floor on count 1, and the remaining beats of the measure we clapped silently. At first I called out the number of beats, but soon I was just playing on the drum as they followed the changes. When they could do this well, I switched to the piano. After they mastered this, I asked them to step only on count 1 and clap the remaining beats. It’s challenging for this age to take a single step and hold it while doing something else. By this point in the year, though, they were getting better at these kinds of activities.

This is a very focused activity, and when I begin something like this, I know I will have to end it soon and give them something much freer. So our next movement game is what we call a “reaction” game. They were asked to move to music that suggested walking, running, skipping, lunging, etc. and at the signal (“hop”), they were to stop and clap four beats. This also gives them an experience of meter, but now I can change the tempo, the style, the dynamics, etc. to give them the experience of lots of difference kinds of music. If they are very good at this, we can alternate between stopping and clapping 4, then hopping 4, and perhaps more. This helps build their musical memories and powers of focus while still moving with joy and abandon (hopefully!).

After all this, they earned a rest. We melted down to the floor and allowed bodies to succumb fully to gravity. I typically have a moment in each class like this to allow body and mind to recuperate. At this point in a class I will often bring them up to sitting for some board work to tie in whatever experience we’ve had to notation or terminology. This time, however, because the subject was somewhat a review, I chose to move into a bit of vocal exploration. Many of the kids are a bit shy to sing. This has been an increasing trend over the past 10 years or so, and I am at a loss to explain why. To help them to loosen up their voices a bit, I pretended to shoot a basketball, and asked them to use their voices to trace the arc of the ball, gliding up and down. I then asked students to lead this as well.

We ended with an improvisation. I told them I would answer any question they asked, as long as they asked it with their singing voice. (This was a follow-up from the week before, in which I had sung them questions like, “What did you have for breakfast?” in a singing voice, and asked them to sing their answers back. I remember this having the desired effect. They forgot they were singing and got interested in things they could ask me. I moved on from this type of exploration after this class, but I now wish I had returned to it. I think it was paying off!

And that’s a class! We sometimes end with a song, but not this time. 40 minutes goes by pretty quickly! By the end of the year the class was working well as a group. They had made progress in using their bodies effectively and creatively in many musical ways and I was really enjoying their ever-emerging personalities. Never a dull moment! I wish you all a good summer and hope to be able to work with your children again. I’m happy to answer any questions you may have about our work.

take care,

Michael Joviala

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