“Sakura”: Introducing the minor mode

We are now returning from Fall break, and we are ready to start tackling the minor mode. This simple tune is easy to teach by ear and nicely emphasizes the minor mode’s characteristics: ^3 and ^6.  I also have a personal connection to it, as it seems to be the one Japanese tune that my parents taught me as a kid (and that gets taught in elementary schools). Here is my plan:

(1) teach the music by ear
(2) have students contour the line, tilting their hand in the direction that the tone “wants” to move (^6 in the minor mode tends toward ^5 and ^3 in this song tends towards ^2).
(3) articulate that this is in the minor mode and the the whole- and half-step structure is different (and how it is different).
(4) figure out the scale degrees together.
(5) notate the song with a key signature.  In other words, I do not want them lowering ^3 and ^6 with an accidental.

I had a hard time finding an ideal recording.  I chose this one because it had the most hits, and I enjoyed the koto ensemble.  Weaknesses for this recording include unusual register shifts and the stream of comments (which my students won’t be seeing during class).

 Post-Class update

This was a great tune for feeling/exploring the minor mode through its half steps (2-3 and 5-6). I tweaked my original plans as follows:

(1) first, formally introduce the minor mode through careful contouring of scales and work with a handout I liked.
(2) the first iteration of the song moves at a slow enough pace to attempt real-time dictation of the scale degrees.
(3) I stopped after difficult leaps (usually to 6, 4, and 2) to give students time to sing and process the leap.
(4) I reminded them why this tune was appropriate and we sang along on scale degrees with the recording for the second two iterations.
(5) I did not have them notate this in our traditional notation because no accidentals are required, which would be the main point of notating it.

Some closing points I left them with:

This tune does not use ^7, which is one trick that our Classical music composers sometime use to evoke Asia (f.k.a. the Orient or the Far East).

This tune also heavily emphasizes the minor-mode tritone of 2-6.

Some ideas for next time:

If I really just want to use this tune to feel/explore the minor mode half steps, then I should provide them with the scale degrees instead of having them figure it out.

experiments, opinions, and dialogues... join in the fun!