Back in the swing

Time for an update on our Archway music classes!

After our winter concerts, students were glad to explore some areas of music study. Kindergarten and first grade students did some great listening in class and some daily work in the music theory workbooks. These workbooks are kept at school, and we work on them from time to time. You may ask for your first-grade students to bring home the book to review the material as often as you wish; just make sure the book is returned to school the next day. Kindergarten books may be sent home on written request; again, please make sure the book is returned the next day.

We do not assign music theory homework on a regular basis. Students have the opportunity to complete all of our music theory work in class. If they do not finish the work, it is sent home as homework. In addition to checks in class, I check all the music theory workbooks at least once a quarter to review each student’s progress. At this stage, kindergarten students are learning to identify the different note values (quarter, half, whole, and dotted half). First graders should already know the note value and rest value names, and they are practicing writing these different kinds of notes correctly and neatly. Both grades are working on identifying pitches on the five-line staff.

Our spring concert is coming up on March 25, so we are working hard on our lovely concert pieces. Classes have already memorized two (in some cases three!) works; each grade will present a total of four works. Kindergarten is preparing several animal songs that I’m sure you will enjoy, including one that links with their Spanish class, thanks to the help of Señora DeCossio. Though we all enjoyed hearing the first grade sing in three different languages in December, all of their songs this quarter will be in English. They have really stepped up to the mark for new music challenges with two-part harmonies.

Be on the lookout for next week’s post with links to our concert repertoire!

Time Signatures: 4/4

In first grade, we have begun to study time signatures. Time signatures are an important step in understanding rhythm. Simply put, a time signature divides a steady beat into groups, usually groups of two, three, or four, but occasionally it divides into other groupings. Each of these groupings is called a measure or bar, and each measure is set off by vertical lines called measure lines or bar lines.

The time signature appears as two numbers stacked on top of each other at the beginning of a piece of music. In first grade, we do not concern ourselves with the bottom number (That theoretical complication is still several grades away!). We are only concerned with the top number. The top number tells us how many beats are in each measure.

The most commonly used time signature is 4/4, which divides the steady beat into groups of four beats each.

Time-Signatures-4-4-Colored-1

When we count the steady beat in 4/4 time, we count in groups of four. Each measure can have four quarter notes in it. After every four beats, we mark each measure with a vertical line like this one:   |

4:4 steady beat Examples mtc 101.jpg

Thank goodness, not all pieces of music are straight quarter notes. That would be pretty boring. Of course, mixing up other rhythms in 4/4 time does complicate matters.

The time signature tells us that each measure contains the equivalent of four quarter notes. That does not mean that you can only have quarter notes in the measures of 4/4 time. It means that every measure adds up to the same thing as four quarter notes. For instance, we could have measures of half notes, as in the example below.

half note counting.jpg

We can also mix various notes to produce different rhythms, but the number of quarter-note beats in each measure is always the same (no matter what the tempo, or speed).

4:4 mixed basic rhythms .jpg

In our music worksheets, students “box up” each note along with its counts, to show that they understand the concept of measure grouping. For instance, in the first measure of the selection above, the first half note would be in a box with counts 1 and 2. The quarter notes would each get their own box with their individual count numbers, and the whole note would share a box with counts 1, 2, 3 and 4.

4:4 rhythms with boxes

Students should also be able to take a rhythm and divide it into groups of four beats using bar lines. These skills: recognition of patterns, higher-level use of proportions, and addition skills are a few of the many ways music aids students in math, enabling to intuit other abstract concepts, given the framework they have already experienced in music.

Once students grasp this concept, they complete worksheets on time signatures fairly quickly. Some students, however, are still struggling to remember note values. If your student is still struggling with note values, please take some time to create flashcards and review quarter, half, dotted half, and whole notes.

Heroic music for heroic kids: Hansel and Gretel, the opera

Over the past couple of weeks, our first graders have been exploring the great work Hansel and Gretel, an opera based on the fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm. This beautiful work is part of our Core Knowledge curriculum, and our students have greatly enjoyed watching a slightly abridged “claymation” version of the opera, made in 1954.

The German composer Engelbert Humperdinck was famous for his operas for children, and Hansel and Gretel is the most famous and popular of all his works. It has all the hallmarks that make up a great opera from the Romantic era: a compelling and exciting story, certain elements of national folksong, and distinctive melodies that appear for certain characters or moods. Our students are quickly learning to recognize music that belongs to the children’s games, music that belongs to Hansel and Gretel’s prayers, and the different musical ideas that belong to the father, mother, and wicked witch. They understand that the music is a powerful tool for expressing emotions like fear, sadness, and joy.

Watching the opera after reading the fairy tale serves two purposes. First, students are already familiar with the story; they can anticipate the drama without fear of the unknown, and they can concentrate on how the music enhances what they already know about the story. We do acknowledge and discuss the slight differences in the original fairy tale and the opera libretto, or script, but children are surprisingly quick to find that these variations do not affect the essential elements of the story: Children are lost in the forest. They encounter an evil witch, but they use courage and ingenuity to triumph over evil. In the process, they save themselves and others.

Second, watching the opera helps them to recognize that a story read in literature can also be experienced through musical, dramatic, and visual elements. Each experience of the story unveils a layer of deeper meaning. Learning to find truth and deepen understanding in and through art is a vital component of every child’s education.

Now that first graders have some basic rhythms under their belt, we have also begun studies of time signatures. This is a difficult task for first graders, and you may occasionally see work coming home for them to finish. Homework always has an example that we have worked together in class that you can follow. Please make sure this work, whether in the workbook or on a worksheet, comes back so I can check it. My next post will include a summary of time signatures. If you have any questions, you can feel free to email me at cpage at archwaychandler dot org.

Lesson Plans: K-1 Music 9-9-2013K-1 Music 9-16-2013

America the Beautiful

At Archway, we believe it is important that students develop a sense of citizenship in all their endeavors, and that a sense of patriotism accompanies learning about truth, justice, and the right exercise of the extraordinary freedoms we enjoy and defend in our country. In music, we sing about these ideals in a patriotic song each month. This September, we begin studying “America the Beautiful.” This song was a top choice for our national anthem, second only to “The Star-Spangled Banner” which we studied in August. Unlike our national anthem, which uses music written by an Englishman, “America the Beautiful” is entirely American in origin, with lyrics and music both written by American citizens.

Katherine Lee Bates

Katherine Lee Bates

The lyricist, Katherine Lee Bates, was the daughter of a clergyman. She was born in Massachussetts in 1859 and attended Wellesley College and Oxford University, eventually becoming a full professor of English literature at Wellesley. During the summer of 1893, she taught at Colorado College. She kept a diary of her journeys, and from her notes we can surmise that one of the “alabaster cities” was probably Chicago, on the journey west. The “purple mountain majesties” were certainly the Rocky Mountains. The climax of her trip was seeing Pikes Peak.

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Pikes Peak

The poetry she wrote in response to the beauty she saw all around her was like a prayer for her country. The poem was published in The Congregationalist in 1895, as part of a Fourth of July commemoration. In its original form, it praised the natural beauty and high ideals of the United States; at the same time, it acknowledged that our country had imperfect people who need encouragement to live up to those high ideals.

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Samuel A. Ward

Originally, the poem appeared on its own. In 1910, it appeared with a hymn tune, “Materna,” originally written by organist Samuel Ward in 1882 to set the poem, “O Mother Dear, Jerusalem.” You can view the original hymn at the Library of Congress website.

Materna hymn

“Materna,” as it appeared when first published in 1892

The song became an instant success. It has appeared in hundreds of thousands of public events; it has been arranged, rearranged, excerpted, and lost none of its popularity as an unofficial musical symbol of our nation.

The poet Bates died in 1929, having achieved success as an academic, author, and poet. Sadly, Ward died in 1903; he never met Bates and never lived to see the great success of this particular piece of music. There is a poetic lesson in that fact: a commitment to goodness and beauty will create works that last far beyond our ken.

Listen to “America the Beautiful”

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Lesson Plan:  K-1 Music 9-3-2013