So, one of my goals is to include non-Western musics in every Aural Skills 1 class I teach this semester. By non-Western, I mean not-Classical-music in the generally accepted use of the term Classical within my communities (more on words later). I originally imagined using music that I know relatively well because it was going to be easier on my time than finding brand new musics. I figured this goal would be time consuming, but relatively easy because of my success in the “dare game” that evolved last year. [essentially students evolved a game in which they dared me to find something aural skills 2 worthy in a song they brought a few minutes before class.] But, then I had a long productive conversation with a colleague that made me realize what a balancing act this would be. Thank goodness for awesome colleagues.
Here is the issue:Aural Skills 1 is the first class of a four-semester sequence. It is foundational. Most students come in with a darn good foundation gained from hours in the practice room, access to extra classes, and/or teachers who included some ear training in their private lesson program. But a significant, albeit small, segment of students really do start from ground zero. Common problems include difficulties in matching pitch, hearing contour, finding the beat, discerning rhythm, and remembering short subphrases (about 5-7 pitches that makes sense as a melody fragment). These students must make significant improvements over this first semester.
So, the first kind of non-Western music I was thinking of using was gamelan—I have experience, love, and passion in this area. But the beat is hard to find if you’re new to the music, the pitch system is “in the cracks” between the keys of a Western piano, the scales have distances between pitches that would be considered out of tune for Western musicians, and the melodies probably won’t make sense to a newbie. Eek. Using this music very well might set back the very students who need this class the most. On the other hand, it might be a good challenge for the large number of students that will be bored and not growing very quickly.
As much as I don’t want to sacrifice the needs of many for the needs of the few, the foundational nature of this class makes it clear to me that I cannot mess with my least-prepared students.
I still plan on pursuing my goal. It might be that we can listen for a sense of tonic/home in gamelan music. If we don’t sing/internalize/own the pitch material, will it still mess with my students’ abilities to sing in tune, Western music style? And there are plenty of non-Western musics that use the Western pitch system. But, they all seem like cop outs from my point of view: “folk” musics, pop musics, etc.
So, note to self: Non-Western (a.k.a. Classical) musics span a wide range of styles. I don’t have to go to the other side of the world to accomplish my goal. But I want to…
Suggestions of other musics that fit the bill are most welcome!