Issue 121: Exploring Timbre – conducting game

We had been doing a listening quiz from the AC Black “Music Express Elements 7+”, where the children listened to groups of four instruments played one after another, and then identified which of the four was omitted on a second playing.

We went through two groups of instruments, and I judged that their ears were now quite “tired” and it would be better to save the next sets of instruments for another day.

Besides, I wanted to develop their ability to describe the sounds of the instruments beyond using words like “loud, soft, smooth”. We spent some time comparing the sounds of the tulip block, recorder, violin, castanets,and other instruments that they had heard. Differentiating between the harpsichord and the lute proved the most challenging – the harpsichord, we decided, was “twangy”, and the lute “more like a guitar”.

Anyway, to get back to the conducting game; we tried imitating the sounds of some of the instruments, especially the hollow clapping of the tulip block, rattling fingernails on the floor for castanets, humming, making “chachacha” sounds or “breathy” sounds. The children were sitting in a circle; I split them into groups and allocated the sounds, and stood in the middle with my arms out straight. It the children were within the spread of my arms they were to make their sound, if not, they should stop. Then by altering the angle of my arms, and rotating in the centre of the circle, I could change the sound that the class made.

Once I had demonstrated how it worked, different children had a go at being conductors. I halved some of the groups, so we had “humming” in two separate places, so there could be more combinations of sounds.

Between conductors, we talked about the effect of their way of conducting, and incorporated different ideas. I’ve done this before with instruments, but it was remarkably effective and subtle with just vocal and body percussion sounds. Plus, it needed no resources at all.

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