Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Musical Alphabet Work

Yesterday the boys did some little activities I invented to help them understand the cyclical nature of the musical alphabet.  They are very nearly ready to begin pitch notation on the green staff boards.  However, they first need to be able to consistently successfully label the bells with their pitch name discs and they were still having a little trouble.

On the violin they regularly play their A major scale and have memorized the names of the pitches in that scale by ear.  There are several notes in the C major scale they simply haven't memorized yet (C, G, and F) so they are not ready to label the scale by playing the pitches, recognizing the note's name, and labeling with the disc.  Many kids will never be able to label the bells that way. They will instead learn to label the bells "theoretically"...knowing that the bells scale begins and ends on C and filling in the notes inbetween.

In our case the boys' spotty perfect pitch combined with their knowledge of the A major scale is getting in the way.  The boys easily recognize a C# when they hear it but not C, so they are immediately mystified when they start trying to label the bells.  They look at the discs in front of them and think immediately "well, I know it's not a C..." (when it is) and start grasping for any other disc to begin with.  They know it's a scale so they want to start labeling with "A" every time.  The fact that the primary scale that they know begins on the same letter as the regular alphabet that every child knows so well is inadvertently reinforcing the idea that they should always begin with "A."  But then, they play the bell and announce "Mom!  The bell at the beginning of my A major scale is making the wrong noise!"  Then, I reexplain that it's not the A major scale, but the C major scale and everything is fine...until tomorrow when they make the same mistake again.

To overcome this small difficulty I wrote each letter of the music alphabet on an piece of paper an laminated them so they could withstand repeated use.    I didn't worry about sharps or flats.  I just wrote the plain letter name.  Then, I placed them on the floor in scale order, in a circle, with the letters spaced about one child-sized step apart.

The boys took turns.  I asked Kal-El to begin by finding the card for "A" and stand on it.  I brought out our small xylophone to use as a pitch pipe and we sang the ascending scale while he stepped from note to note (for this exercise we didn't sing the word "sharp" or "flat" just the plain letter name). It was really neat to discover that we ended on the same card on which we began.  Then we sang the descending scale while he walked around the circle in the other direction.  Next, Me Too did the same exercise.

The next step was to have Kal-El start on the letter "C" as do the bells.  Then we sang the ascending and descending C major scale while he stepped around the circle.  After Me Too took a turn I let them choose the starting point.  They took turns walking different scales until we had started in every position.  We even did some positions multiple times.  Kal-El's favorite scale on my flute is Gb so he asked to sing the Gb scale which we did starting on the card for the letter G.

It was really clear by the end that they better understand the cyclical nature of the musical alphabet. They understand that a scale can begin on any letter, that you end in the same place you began, and that you walk in different directions for ascending and descending.  Again, we were focusing on the cyclical nature of the musical alphabet.  We were not focusing on the idea of ascending and descending.  They've already learned that from playing up and down the bells dozens of times.  I also own a staircase like this one that we will use later with the tone bars (resonator bells).

While the activity was set up, I took advantage of the opportunity to practice steps, skips, and repeats.  I asked them to each stand on a note on opposite sides of the circle.  The activity that followed was a little like Bingo or Twister.  I called out "step", "skip", or "repeat" and their job was to move that far away from the note they were standing on. For repeats they hopped on the note they were already standing on.

For an extension activity I let them, one at a time, move from note to note by step, skip, or repeat and I played whatever note they wound up standing upon on the xylophone.  In this way they were able to "compose their own songs."  Their developmental differences were evident here as Kal-El took great joy in writing all kinds of different "tunes" and loved to torment me with rapid repeats.  Me Too "composed" three different ascending scales...he just kept walking in a circle.

You can find more posts in my series on Montessori Music here or through the "Montessori Music" tab at the top of my blog under the header.

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  1. This was, as always, a fascinating tale. I always get just a little bit excited when Reader tells me that you have a new post. Thanks for letting us join you in the school room!

  2. This looks like so much fun!

    Once the music album is posted, I would LOVE your feedback on the content from a homeschool-mom-musically-trained-mom perspective.