Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Rhythmic Notation

Welcome back to Montessori Music Week here at What DID We Do All Day? !  There is a lot more to report than I thought.  I think that next week will be Montessori Music Week here as well.  I still want to tell you more about the album I'm using (it's great, but has limitations), show you our music shelves, talk about the pitch notation materials I made, talk about instrument choices for the music shelves, and much more. Today I'm going to talk a little bit about our rhythmic notation materials.

The Nienhuis notation materials are primarily intended to be used with several different types of staff boards for pitch notation.  Oddly, there are a few beams included as well as both open and closed noteheads.   This led me to believe that we would be able to use this material to notate rhythms.  When it arrived, I was surprised to see how few beams were included (2) and that there were no flags or rests.  I asked about this on Playschool6 and received a few responses.  The consensus was that the child learns to notate pitch before rhythm in the Montessori environment;  that by the time the child would begin to notate rhythm they would be at the point where they would find this material cumbersome.  This is analogous to the way that the child finds the golden beads cumbersome once they are ready for abstraction and we free them from the limitations of the beads with the presentation of the stamp game.

Me Too using the notation materials to invent his own rhythms.

The bridge from the Montessori bells to pitch notation is a very natural and logical one.  If the Montessori bells are the child's only or primary hands-on musical experience at this age they will, of course, eventually want to name those pitches and to see how the pitches look on paper.  This is much like the progression from sound games to sandpaper letters.  However, pitch and rhythm are two very different but equally important and equally interesting elements of music.  A child that is learning to play an instrument during their primary or early elementary years will have exposure to both.  In that case, it is only natural that they will be interested in rhythm as well. In fact, my experiences with many young children and music have shown me that some children will find themselves particularly drawn to rhythm and others drawn to pitch.   Because rhythm and pitch notation can be taught exclusively from one another and either one can provide scaffolding for the other in future lessons I see no reason not to follow the child here.

Kal-El seems to find pitch obvious and somewhat uninteresting.  He is (as you could see in yesterday's post) very fascinated with rhythms.  He chants rhythms throughout his day in all kinds of unlikely situations.  He won't just "rosin his bow";  he has to do it to a "rhythm."  When he uses his nail brush in the bathtub he chooses a rhythm to chant and follow with the nail brush.

My album does not include presentations for this.  I have seen the table of contents from the Elizabeth Papandrea elementary albums and rhythmic notation appears to be covered. I recently was fortunate enough to win half-off of the Keys of the Universe elementary course/albums.  I haven't seen the table of contents from that music album so I don't know what is covered there. I'll let you know when I begin that process in February.  Please feel free to leave information in the comments if you know if presentations for this type of thing are contained in any other albums.  Despite this,  I don't feel like I need a manual to do this.  If you know your subject manner, have studied Montessori theory/philosophy, and have taken a child through a number of presentations, you should be able to write your own presentation for anything the child wants to learn.  This process in music is so analogous to the process of language acquisition and learning to read that it is pretty obvious what should happen here.   If it turns out that the elementary albums do not have presentations for this, I promise I will write mine out and offer them here at a future time.  How I am doing this may differ from other sources because I am technically doing this "out of order."

There are several learning steps that take place before the child would reach the point where they can create their own rhythms on paper.  Just as we play sound games with the child to introduce them to all the key sounds of their native language, we should play sound games with the child to make them aware of the basic rhythms in music.  Just as best practice suggests that we don't tell the child the "name" of the letter sound at that stage, we don't tell the child the name of the rhythms at that stage either.  

Once the child is familiar with, and can reproduce, many rhythms with their bodies or with an instrument they will be ready to put a name to the rhythms that they already know.  (By "name of the rhythm" I specifically mean how the rhythm is counted. More on that later.)  This is a little different than with language, where we don't tell the child the name of the letter until after they have learned both the sound and the symbol.  This is because the sound and the letter name are not the same and thinking of the letter name when you look at the symbol interferes with the reading process in which you need the sound and not the name.  In music, the counting of the rhythm can sound just like the rhythm itself.  In this case, teaching the counting words for a particular rhythmic symbol does not hinder the reading process because they are the same.  Here is a rhythm that Kal-El built yesterday:

There are many systems of "counting words" for rhythms.  Decide what you are going to use and come up with the words accordingly.  A lot of people like Kodaly counting words for young children because you can teach rhythm separate from meter for a while.  The words my boys use for the rhythm above would be "ti-ti ta ti-ti."  (As an adult I count this "1& 2 3&".) The counting words are different than the "names" of the rhythms.  The names would be "eighth note, eighth note, quarter note, eighth note, eighth note."  Much like the letter names in early reading, this information is not particularly useful. I've chosen not to tell the boys the proper names of the rhythmic units for now.  

After the child is familiar with and can reproduce many rhythms and has learned the counting words for those rhythms the can be give three-period lessons on the "parts of" a written note.  Many similar materials produce the notes all as one piece (note head, stem, and flags or beams all attached).It is wonderful how the Nienhuis material allows the child to build the rhythms himself by providing the parts rather than the whole.  We used the material to learn the following parts:  notehead, open notehead, closed notehead, stem, beam, flag, "ta" rest, "ti" rest.  

The material does NOT include flags at all and nearly no beams.  If you want to use the material in this way you will have to make your own.  In the "popsicle stick" section of the craft store they have all kinds of sizes of wooden sticks and things sold by the bags.  I used Woodsies by Loew-Cornell, item number 1021175, "skinny craft sticks."

They were perfectly in scale with the Nienhuis material.  I used a clippers to cut them to a few useful lengths and then hit them with my can of black enamel spray paint.  Now that they are finished, they look as if they came with the material in the first place.

You will also want some rests and barlines.  I printed a variety of rests out on my computer, cut them out, and laminated them.  You could probably also do this on a Cricut .  Then, laminate them.  You have to make some leger lines in this manner for the pitch notation presentations anyways.   I also made a non-pitched clef but haven't introduced it yet.

I used a few 11X17 pieces of green construction paper and a permanent black marker to make a few staff boards featuring a one-lined rhythm staff.

The flags are not as professional-looking as the beams.  Again, it might be nice to do these on a Cricut with chipboard and then spray paint.  I wanted them right away so I made them out of extra-thick craft foam.  I drew a shape I liked by hand, traced it onto the foam a few times, and cut them out by hand.

Here is a rhythm that is very familiar to Kal-El that shows one of my homemade beams, eighth rests, and flags.

After the child knows the names of the parts of the notes, you can show them the notation for the units of the rhythms they know.  I started, for example, by showing Kal-El what a pair of "ti-ri's" (16th notes) and a pair of "ti-ti's" (eight notes) looked like by building them with  closed noteheads, stems, and beams.  In a subsequent lesson I showed him that these notes look different in pairs or groups than they do alone.  I introduced the "flag."  As always, the three-period lesson is your friend.  After receiving three-period lessons on enough rhythmic units the child is able to use this material just like they use the movable alphabet, but to write rhythms instead of words.

Here are a few rhythms Kal-El has built with his music "movable alphabet" this week.  He likes to point to the notes as he counts them out when he is finished.  The boys will often pull an instrument off the shelves and play them as well. 

"ti-ti ta, ti-ti ta"

"ti-ri-ti-ri ti-ti"

I hope this gives  you an idea of what I bought, what I made, and how we are using it.  If I were writing proper presentations I would have to give a lot more detail, define terms,  and skip fewer steps.

If you are looking for the rest of my series on Montessori Music, there is a tab at the top of my blog under the header, or they can be found here!   

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  1. Excellent. I love it!
    Do you intend to extend the kodaly to the non-fixed doh system? Maybe that is for another post!

  2. Annicles,

    Yes, the boys have already learned solfege with a movable do. I don't consider that a Kodaly thing though...I'll credit that one to Guido :) They have learned the body scale which I'll assume is Kodaly, I haven't decided if we'll do hand signs later or not. I find them useful when teaching a group but haven't thought much yet about whether they would be necessary with only two kids in my "class."

  3. I am interested to finally see what the Montessori music materials are like. I have read a lot about Montessori and my daughter is in her first year of Mont. school. I am also a Suzuki piano teacher and my daughter has been taking lessons since she turned three. I use "Music Mind Games" to teach music theory. Have you heard of it? I especially like the way that rhythm is taught using "Blue Jello" cards. Students learn advanced rhythms really quickly.

    I'd love to know if you think this is compatible with Montessori at all!

  4. I spoke with KidAdvance yesterday and am trying to convince them to sell a version of the music notations. I'm not familiar with the curriculum though. Are these just used on the green boards? Nienhuis also sells white boards and I'm not sure of the difference. Also, don't you think it'll work better if these are magnetic? Or is it that these would be used with bells and therefore doesn't need to stand up?