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Christa McCartney 

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What Music IS


Music in it's simplest terms is simply measuring time and distance. We measure and record time horizontally and sound (the distance between vibrations per second) vertically.

To do this we obviously need measuring tools.

We start with TIME our horizontal measuring

PULSE


This is the musical term for our  time 'ruler'. Just like centimeters are marked off in regular sections pulse beats are our regular dividers of musical time. At the start of a piece of music you will see a mark that tells you how fast to measure ....here you can see that we have 60 pulse beats in 1 minute i.e 1 pulse per second.

Although eventually everyone has to measure pulse internally, to begin with it is very useful to have pictures to show where each pulse beat is. I almost always use hearts (after all it is called a pulse).

Most childrens' music uses 4 pulse beats for each line of poetry

Rhythm

That's it!!


Rhythm is just the name we use to express musical syllables. Starting with the words of well known songs at first. Later the rhythm can be heard in the music itself without the words to help.

You can see there are 2 syllables in the first 3 pulse beats and 1 syllable in the 4th. If we were to clap the syllables and then try to copy the sounds of our claps, we would make percussive sounds that are a bit like 'tuh'. 7 identical 'tuh's' wouldn't help us measure. So a very clever mathematician and musician called 

Pierre Galin added vowels to help us. We add an extra short vowel 'ee' when there are 2 syllables and a long 'ah' when there is only 1 syllable. 

When we write the rhythms as you can see they are measured horizontally, the more pulse beats the longer the line, until we add a tune we don't need note heads to show us how high up or down to sing. We just need sticks - it's called 'stick notation' and it looks like this...

Notice we've joined the TiTi's at the top - any musical readers will be able to recognize these as eighth notes or quavers. 

Children can easily learn both terms, the rhythm names and the technical names. Just say " 'quavers' are (and clap as you say it) 'Ti Ti's". That way the spoken names and the written names are learned together and the measuring of time is internalized too.

There are rhythm names for all the common ways a pulse beat can be divided. Rests are taught by substituting a sssh sound or (which I prefer as it is silent) blowing softly out. The idea is ... no 'tuh' no sound. 

A dotted note adds an mmmm sound sota mm ti is crotchet + dot + quaver.

4 notes to one pulse (semiquavers) just adds a second sound inbetween the Ti's likeTi-ri Ti-ri or Ti-ka Ti-ka

From these beginnings we build up a comprehensive rhythmic understanding, always refering back to pulse, speech and movement. This leads to truly a internalised feel for written rhythms.

Melody and Harmony

SCALES AND TUNES

OUR TOOLS:

Measuring how high and low a sound is needs a different sort of measuring tool.

Pythagoras (another famous mathematician) was the first to record the division of music into the notes that we use today. Pythagorus noted how fast each note vibrated, when the vibration doubled (on the eighth note) he started again e.g the note A=55 vibrations per second but also 110, 220, 440, 880 etc, each time getting higher and higher. A=110 is a bass note, A=220 is a tenor/contralto note A=440 is what children sing, the A above middle C and A=880 is a high soprano note. These are called octaves as it is on the 8th note that we begin again. If we can work our way measuring just one of these octaves then we can do all the others too.

We need our ears to measure, a lot of practice and as much help as we can get.



Many educators use NUMBERS, a system fist suggested by Jean Jacques Rousseau (Dissertation sur la musique moderne, 1736) and in countries where 'do re mi' is fixed at CDE (called fixed 'do' China, France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Romania, Russia, South America etc) this is a sensible measuring option - but it does have memory and aesthetic drawbacks.

The Kodály way fixes 'do' not to a particular note but to the number 1 e.g



Major Scale

 Do
 Re
 Mi
 Fa
 Sol
 La
 Ti
 D0
1
 2
 3
 4
 5
 6
 7
 8

1 (do) could be A, B, C, D, E, F or G, a sharp or a flat; it doesn't matter where we start, the system is the same.

Minor scale

La
Ti
Do
 Re
 Mi
 Fa
 Sol
 La
 6
 7
 1
 2
 3
 4
 5
 6
6 (la) could be A, B, C, D, E, F or G, a sharp or a flat ; it doesn't matter where we start, the system is the same.

Trying to sing on numbers is difficult, do-re-mi etc uses beautiful vowels and creates a much better sound and clearer memory recall - as the Kodály way is based on singing we use 'do re mi' as our measuring tool whenever we can. Both systems however are very similar and either is preferable to learning to read without hearing the sound first.

We also use our hands as measuring tools lifting them high or low and making shapes for each note. With very young children just lifting and lowering the hands is fine but as we discriminate between more and more pitches  we begin to show a seperate shape for each note of the scale.

Measuring the distance between sounds by ear

The first 'do' is shown low and each note following is slightly higher. The top 'do' should be shown at head height.

It is a long process to learn to measure sound accurately and it is important to be slow and patient. Starting young and identifying two notes then three always building on what is already well known makes it painless and fun. Two notes can be s-m or s-d you can play games with top 'do' and bottom 'do'. Three notes can be or s-l-m or m-r-d, ( only please don't do both in one session!) There are many ways to play games with simple songs, make sure they are just sung for fun before you use them for teaching and again afterwards to relax with.

If you are unsure what order to teach the notes the simple rules are:

1. s-m (we can all sing this!)

2. either s-l-m or m-r-d

3. either s-l-m or m-r-d (which ever you didn't do first)

4. s-m-d

Now you have what is called a major pentatonic (5 notes) scale. There are many many songs that use this scale in every country and many classical composers (Ravel, Debussy, Chopin's black key etude etc) use it too. Once you can hear, manipulate and then read/write these notes you will have a much wider choice of music and will be able to sing and maybe even play (the black piano notes or chime bars) some well known songs. 

You will find a list of well known English pentatonic songs here:- 

http://www.tarleton.edu/Faculty/boucher/Song%20List.htm

Moving Forward to Primary

From now on we are working in different scales and with extra notes, things move very quickly now because the foundations are secure..  

5. l,-d-r-m (introducing minor pentatonic) - just one extra note but a whole new world

6. s,-l,-d-r-m-s (another pentatonic this time stating on a low 'so')

7. s-f-m-r-d

8. m-r-d-t,-l,

9. d-r-m-f-s-l-t-d'

10. l,-t,-d-r-m-f-s-l

11.s,-l,-t,-d-r-m-f-s

This is all that we need to do until the age of 11 simply adding melodic layers, different clefs, instruments, basic harmony and history. After that, in secondary education, we can add more unusual scales, atonality, more complex harmony and more complex rhythms. There is plenty you can do with the foundational skills on this page, and in the classroom you can already try sight singing in parts, simple dictation and composition, choir, and building up memory through dictation games and dance.

Learning to measure time lengthways and sound by height is a thorough way of studying music and linking the two together is what creates the special neural pathways that scientists have found to exist in musical children and adults, it also explains why there is a benefit across other subjects.

This surely is reason enough to cultivate our children musically but there are many other benefits too it is very social, is physically demanding and needs good posture, it encompasses different cultures and languages, requires attention and focus, brings responsibility, confidence and most importantly gives access to the language of the soul. Music moves people, the more you understand it's language the greater your response to it. 

With thorough music tuition from an early age you can't help but develop both your body and your soul, isn't that one of the most important gifts you can give to a child?