Pearl, Pearl, Pearl… (new activity)

Inspired by the Punch Brothers concert I went to last night, I decided to look through some Earl Scruggs classics for tomorrow’s (quick) teaching example.  I’m planning a 7-minute activity on his (and Lester Flatt’s) song, Pearl, Pearl, Pearl, which makes me smile.

Goal #1: process by ear the basic tonic traid leaps and motion from ^4 to ^2.
Goal #2: internalize the changes from I to V back to I.

We will contour the melody while listening to the tune in order to help us memorize and start processing the melody’s scale degrees.  I will have them job down contour lines and/or scale degrees and test them out in small groups.  Then we’ll sing it together.  I will point out there are two harmonies, and we’ll sing the bas notes associated with those harmonies.  We will sing along with the recording and contour our bass notes, paying particular attention to the sense of being at “home” and being away from “home” (tonic vs. dominant).  I will then provide them a notated version of the song.

Starting with this post, I’ll be doing my evaluation of the activity as an update to the pre-class description of it.

Post-class evaluation:

This example was a good one for the first day of feeling harmonic change.  It’s clear, short, and has plenty of details that could be paid attention to.  The simplicity of the melody make it appropriate for a fast music-by-ear in-class activity.  A particular strength was the prominence of V7.  With more time, I would like to discuss some interesting phrase rhythm aspects and the harmonizing vocal line.  Here is the order of events from my third class (there was some evolution of the activity over the three classes, but not much):

  • Earlier in class, we had discussed I and V7, played the chords on the keyboard, sang bass lines in time with melodies that had been prepared for class, and introduced terminology (tonic and dominant).
  • We listened with focus on memorizing the melody.  We employed strategies we collected at the beginning of class for a different assignment (contouring, humming along, air playing, diagramming).
  • I gave them time to write down the scale degrees and compare.
  • We sang through it, correcting what was wrong on the papers.
  • We listened again, and I asked them to add to their notation a D where the harmony switched to dominant and a T where the harmony returned to tonic.
  • After three iterations (there are 7 or 8 on the track), I asked them to snap when the harmony changed.
  • After everyone was snapping in the same place, they turned the paper over for the fully notated version (melody + harmonic function + bass notes that correspond to harmonic function).
  • If time, we sang a few verses (I provided the lyrics).
  • Here’s the handout.

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