About a month ago, I tried an experiment. I let students form their own small groups and asked them to describe (without score) as much as they could on an excerpt from the opening of Beethoven’s violin concerto. At that point, we had worked on the major mode, step-wise motions, I and V, and identifying meter. As I walked around the room, I heard a lot of peer teaching going on. I liked the format of the exercise, although I felt they needed a few broad questions to help them direct their listening (help them connect back to what the class is doing now). So, I’m going to try this again tomorrow with a beautiful Enka song: Ringo Oiwake (“Apple Blossoms”) sung by the famous Misora Hibari. I’ll be using the track off of disc three of Soundscapes (2nd edition), but here is a YouTube track that’s pretty close to my track. Here’s what I plan:
First, I want to make them a worksheet, rather than having them use a scrap piece of paper the way I did for the Beethoven experiment. I’ll state the objective of the assignment (apply what they’ve learned so far to a piece of music in order to describe it as fully and precisely as possible) and list the tools that we have developed so far in the first 8 weeks of the course.
Then, I want to sleep on the idea of having them form some groups according to self-evaluated strengths in transcription/hearing. If I write a pretty simple rubrics for rating themselves a “1” “2” or “3”, I think we can form groups where one person doesn’t take over in a way that leaves everyone else behind. I also think that if I get all the self-identified stronger students in the same group (or groups), they will get much more out of this exercise and thus I find a way to challenge them.
Finally, I want to give my students a nice chunk of time to work and create a decent product to turn in or share. (25-30 minutes) Knowing that they will have to turn in or share their work will help them stay on task during class.
as a totally transparent aside: part of the thinking for this assignment comes from not having the energy to prepare a highly structured and fast paced class, much less teach it three times in a row starting at 9 a.m. I just came home from my professional conference, as always, completely exhausted. I think a change of pace for the students is good for them [and me!] and taking the time to structure it well will help keep the potential for learning in tomorrow’s class high.
I like this exercise but still think it needs more tweaking. Here is the worksheet I used. I had to work on compressing the first half of the class down to 25 minutes (my 9am class only had 20 minutes to work on this, and that extra 5 minutes would have made a big difference). I continued to hear a lot of good peer teaching: “Just leave out the noodly things,” “No, it’s the other ^7, listen [student demonstrates]” “How do you notate that rhythm?” “Was that really a III chord? Have we studied that?” (yes and no).
I did have students self-evaluate their “processing quickness.” Fast people moved to the window side, Slower people the hallway side, and Medium people to the back. I think formed groups with people near each other. I had to move a few people to the fast group who were underestimating their abilities. This worked pretty well, although in the future I should be sure to intervene in the slower group early in the activity.
On flipping through their work, I can see the following:
- They all got the right version of ^7
- They all notated contour and meter in some way.
- Most (to my surprise) wrestled with harmony
- Some described texture and timbre
- Many wrestled with rhythm, but few did so successfully.
- Many gave me a contour squiggle for the melisma on eeeeee.
I think that the bang-for-the-buck was mediocre. The excerpt might have been too hard for some groups, who looked a little paralyzed by trying to write anything down. But, I really like this activity–my class tends to be a bit high octane and this really helps break up the pace a bit. Plus, it’s the kind of listening we want students to be able to do (I won’t always be there to hold their hand!)
Some things I can do to make it better:
- Space out the text so that they can write the scale degrees under the text.
- Give them blanks to fill in for probable meter, mode, distinctive pitches, and other musical aspect that their ear is drawn to.
I think if I invest in this activity 3 or 4 times a semester, then students will likely take these skills with them when they leave the class.