Issue 144: Welcome to the Jungle

It’s done!

Three posts, and I’ve also added to the ukulele page.

My pizza is also done, so I’m logging off in order to eat it.

Poppy divider

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Issue 144: Timing/Pulse/Rhythm in Performance

I’ve been ranting for several weeks now about the difficulty of accompanying children who do not play their pieces with a good sense of pulse.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulse

In the past I have accompanied Gershwin while the clarinettist (Grade 2, was it?) played in straight crotchets throughout. I can’t remember the name of the piece, but just try singing “I got rhythm” in straight crotchets and you will get the general idea.

How about a saxophonist playing “Food, Glorious Food” in alternating 4 and 3 beat bars because she never held the long notes for the full value. Or “Du, du, liegst in mein Herzen” (grade 1 flute) in straight crotchets, while I am trying to play “oomchacha oomchacha” on the piano? Here’s Marlene Dietrich singing it if you don’t know the song.

It’s too late to do anything about the rhythm by the time they come to me to try their pieces with the accompaniment. All that happens is that the child can be completely thrown and unable to play (there have been tears) and my task as an accompanist becomes nigh on impossible.

I’m not talking about the odd small error here or there, a skipped beat in the stress of the moment of performance.

What the children certainly don’t realise is that the physical timing of sounding the note becomes as much a part of the whole process of playing as the pitch, articulation, tonguing, bowing, fingering and everything else.

When I teach, I try and get each of these elements right from the very beginning. This can mean that, to begin with, I might only teach the first couple of bars of a new piece, very slowly and carefully, getting the pupil to make sure that they play at a speed which means that everything is CORRECT.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tempo

I haven’t specified the instrument; I could be talking about piano, djembe (rhythm, bass/tone, order of the hands), recorders (fingering, tonguing, rhythm, articulation), samba, ukulele, you name it. There’s no point in learning a Wrong Thing.

There. Rant over. Until the next exam session….

Poppy divider

 

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Issue 144: BBC Ten Pieces; Mars

I’ve just finished the second of two lessons based on Gustav Holst’s “Mars” from “The Planets”. It was particularly appropriate as it was composed between 1914 and 1916, so fits in with the World war 1 topic.

2005-1103mars-full.jpg

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Atmosphere_of_Mars

If you haven’t seen the BBC Ten Pieces video, you can get hold of it on BBC iplayer at the moment; Mars is the first piece of the ten.

These were classroom-based lessons, with children being removed and returned for rehearsals for the Christmas Show, so I decided to have a pretty much free-format couple of lessons. In the first one, we watched mars (again – we had already seen it) and also a graphic score version that’s on youtube. The graphic score instruments are synthesized, so we were able to discuss the difference in tone quality amongst other things.

After watching both videos, and talking about how the music made us feel, and what we thought, and what we saw and heard, I handed out paper and pencils and set the to producing some kind of response – words, sentences, pictures, stories – I gave them free rein. It made interesting reading for me afterwards; and their usual class teacher was quite taken aback, especially by the amount of writing some “non-writers” had produced. For the second, equally disrupted lesson, I let them continue with their writing/drawing, or start again, or work in groups to turn their written work into music using a limited number of percussion instruments.

I shall do this again with another of the pieces next week (rehearsals are still in progress!)

Poppy divider

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Issue 144: Once a man fell in a well

This is one of the first songs I learned to teach when I started teaching the Wider Opportunities Programme. Many of my colleagues will now scroll straight onto the next post as they have been teaching this to a dozen classes every year for the past decade. However, here it is anyway.

Once a man fell in a well C major

 

 

(The last word is pronounced “drown-ded” which always causes complaints of “that’s not a proper word”)

Some teachers find the words too macabre; the children have never objected to date. It’s a good little song for all sorts of reasons; try singing it as a round with the parts coming in at the start of each bar. Match the pitch shapes with hand movements. Use it to teach the first five notes on your instrument (in a suitable key). How about transposing it into other keys? What about an ostinato; “In a well, in a well” sung on the G. Or “splish splash splosh” sung as crotchets (long notes) on the C. Why not as a round and with an ostinato played on a instrument?

I use it to teach the G chord, and switching between C and G, on ukuleles. Just strum the chord once, giving plenty of time to switch to the next chord. Add another G on the first beat of the last bar “He” and you’ve got a nice easy tune. (The ostinato on C won’t work brilliantly if you are doing chords, but GGG as a plucked ostinato will be fine).

Poppy divider

 

 

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Issue 143: Welcome to the Jungle

I admit it – I can only watch Dr Who with my back to the television. ESPECIALLY when there are Cybermen. Which is why this issue of The Music Jungle was being written while the rest of the family were watching the series finale. If there are more typos than usual, it is because I kept glancing round, because I sort of want to watch at the same time.

Anyway, here we are, with posts about samba, ukuleles and rehearsing with violin exam candidates.

Have a good week,

Poppy divider

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Issue 143: Ukulele – teaching the G chord

Tuesday is back-to-back ukulele day; three sessions in a row, and the day I decided to teach the year 3s how to play a new chord. I had intended to teach G7. G7 ukulele_01

It’s the obvious chord to follow F, which I had already done, and the children were pretty good at;

But somewhere along the way I got distracted and found myself teaching G by mistake. Oh dear. The problem is that fingers 1 and 2 are reversed, which is a tricksy manoeuvre for little fingers to do, and young children to get the hang of.

However, over the course of three back-to-back ukulele lessons I refined my method of teaching the chord, and it worked!  I started from the C chord, and showed how each finger changes position;

C chord ukulele_01Making Ukulele G chord_01G chord ukulele_01

I called “finger 1″ the “Very Naughty Finger”, because it had moved across 2 strings, and then along one place, “finger 2″ the “Very Good Finger” because it just stayed still, and “finger 3″ the “slightly naughty finger” because it only moved over to the next string.

As the children were sitting in rows for the lesson, I used the three children at one end of the back row to demonstrate, moving the child at the end two rows forward and then across, congratulating the second child for standing still, and then moving the third child forward one row. This caused a certain amount of chaos among the children sitting nearby, but I could see light bulbs coming on – the children were reaching for the ukuleles to start moving “naughty fingers” into position before I had finished restoring order to the back rows.

When I came to teach ukuleles again on Thursday, I had my methodology sorted, and the children were well on the way to getting a decent G chord in place.

I’ve set my sights on teaching them all to play “Jingle Bells” in time for Christmas…

Poppy divider

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Issue 143: Grandma, Grandma – a complete samba lesson

The toughest class I teach at the moment is the very last one on a Friday afternoon.

It doesn’t really matter which class, age group, instrument – I’m beginning to think that the problem lies in the words “Friday Afternoon”. The children have had a whole week of learning, and by the time Friday comes they are more than ready for the weekend.

It used to be year 3 beginner recorders; three sessions back-to-back. Now it is year 6 samba, three sessions back-to-back. I plan the lesson with about 4 elements, and reckon to deliver all four to the first class, three to the second, and a couple to the third.

This week I did much better than usual, all thanks to Grandma.

Here’s the rap (traditional)

Grandma, Grandma, sick in bed, 
called for the doctor and the doctor said
Grandma, Grandma, you ain’t sick,
All you need is a walking stick!
 
Hands up, shaky shaky shaky shakety shake,
Hands down, shaky shaky shaky shakety shake,
Hands up, shaky shaky shaky shakety shake,
Hands down, shaky shaky shaky shakety shake,
To the front, to the back, to the s-s-side
To the front, to the back, to the s-s-side
 
She didn’t go to college,
She didn’t go to school,
I bet you five dollars
she can wriggle more than you.
 
Hands up etc
 

I taught the rap, and the class thoroughly approved of it – it has a lively sound and a good beat. You can do actions – make up your own, or get the children to suggest them.

Then, it became a samba. Surdos took the first line, tamborims the second, ganzas the third, agogo the fourth. “Hands up” was played by surdo each time, “shaky shaky” etc was ganza. The first “To the front” etc was tamborim, the second “To the front” etc was agogo. In verse two, the lines went round the groups as before, but watch out – they are much shorter.

The children clearly thought it would be a doddle, but it is actually quite trappy. Then you move everyone round to a new group. Heheheh. And, as they are sharing instruments one between two, you get them to swap with their partner after each line. Heheheheheh. Well, I didn’t get this far with the third class, but the first two classes certainly had a serious mental work out in my lesson.

Poppy divider

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Issue 143: More on that violin rehearsal

 

Last week I wrote about rehearsing a with violin exam candidate, and looking for the “meaning” of the piece (a Bach Adagio).

Well, funnily enough, a few days later I found myself going through the same piece of music with another candidate. He was also struggling to find any kind of understanding of the music. Now, he happens to be studying maths, and physics and all sorts of mathematical kinds of subjects, so I approached the problem differently. “Suppose it is a complex and beautiful mathematical proof, or maybe something to do with physics, which you can just about understand if you follow it very carefully – maybe something like this…”

An identity is a statement resembling an equation which is true for all possible values of the variable(s) it contains. Many identities are known, especially in trigonometry. Probably the best known example is: \sin^2(\theta)+\cos^2(\theta)=1,, which is true for all values of θ.

In the process of solving an equation, it is often useful to combine it with an identity to produce an equation which is more easily soluble. For example, to solve the equation:

3\sin(\theta) \cos(\theta)= 1, where θ is known to be between zero and 45 degrees,

use the identity: \sin(2 \theta)=2\sin(\theta) \cos(\theta), so the above equation becomes:

\frac{3}{2}\sin(2 \theta) = 1

Whence:

\theta = \frac{1}{2} \arcsin\left(\frac{2}{3}\right) \approx 20.9^\circ.
I’ve just copied and pasted that lot from with Wikipedia page on equations. I’m not pretending that I actually understand what it says (although, as I did Maths with Music as my degree, there was a time when I might have known what it meant!)
He thought about it, and then we played the piece again. I’m not sure what was going on in his head, but the music was now expressive, flowing, had a sense of journey and destination.
I’ve done the same kind of thing with a Baroque allegro – Vivaldi, maybe. For one student, we talked about a surprise opportunity to go to Paris for fashion week, with all the catwalk shows, and staying in a top class hotel. For another student, playing the same piece, we discussed a culture trip to Venice, visiting churches, museums, art galleries and so on. It’s just a case of knowing what will inspire, connect, enthuse each student.
Poppy divider 
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