Barbara Allen (Joan Baez): Hearing and articulating differences

As we near the end of the semester and a written exam, I always find myself focusing harder on error detection. Error detection is a hugely practical skill for musicians. Working on it and testing it in the classroom presents all sorts of opportunities for dialogue and written work. What it boils down to, though, is being able to hear and articulate differences between what you think is supposed to happen and what is actually happening. Those skills are transferable to many settings, draw on vocabulary essential for a musician, and build on the course’s work on rhythm, pitch, meter, details and nuance. Today’s work on error detection concludes with something that has no mistakes but plenty of differences: Joan Baez’s rendition of Barbara Allen. Continue reading

Barbara Allen: Harmonic function dictation

This 15-20 minute activity will set the stage for more nuanced harmonic analysis that includes predominants. We will use the King’s Noyse recording of the English ballad “Barbara Allen” (here’s the handout). The class goal is to work with vi, IV6 and IV. This handout is a middle step towards that end.   Continue reading

Edelweiss: feeling the Cadential six-four

This 3-5 minute activity is the final one in a class whose subtext was “feeling the cadential six-four.” It also had a really nice connection with my students’ prepared singing (Purcell, “Dido’s Lament”). I didn’t get this post written before class, so here’s an overview of how it went and aspects I could tweak for next time. Continue reading

Keeping it fresh: four weeks to go

I’m exhausted.  We’re at that point in the semester where it seems like it will never end.  And, owing to a quirk of the solar calendar, there are THREE weeks of teaching after Thanksgiving instead of the traditional two.  I find myself worried about keeping an appropriate level of energy and excitement in my classes.

One of the weirdest things about earning tenure is that, suddenly, your teaching isn’t critically observed any more. It’s been three years since someone has visited my classroom with the intent to help me evaluate my own teaching (I have had many guests there to observe my so-called “good” teaching, but–for obvious reasons to do with experience and power structures–they rarely offer feedback on what they saw). I invited my long-time mentor and friend to come in last week to give me his outsider’s perspective on two things: (1) how high or low I am setting the bar in my class, and (2) strategies for raising it. Here’s what he thought and what we talked about over lunch after class. Continue reading

“Samoan Moon”: Harmonic dictation in real time

Recently, I have been setting students up to harmonize melodies with simple I, IV, and V harmonies. I usually have them sing the tune a few times to get a sense of how quickly the harmonies change, and then to make best guesses on the harmony that fits.  They try out their guess (the famous guess-and-test method from junior high math!), and revise if necessary. It’s my hope that the emphasis on “feel,” will benefit their real-time harmonic dictation.

The goal of this 10-15 minute activity is for students to write down the harmonic functions they hear in real time, which requires them to react to how things feel.  We will use “Samoan Moon” performed by the Tao Moe family (pictured) I have asked them to write T for tonic, P for predominant, and D for dominant on a blank score sheet that I will hand out. I really feel this should be a quick 5-10 minute activity, but know that every time I do something like this, it takes longer than I expect.  Here’s how I think I’ll do it:

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Open-ended aural analysis: Ringo Oiwake “Apple Blossoms” (Enka Song)

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: Continue reading

“Soon or Never,” Punch Brothers: small dictation for exam practice

So, we have one more class before their first high-stakes listening ==> processing ==> writing exam. I wanted a very short excerpt to include on Monday’s class (intended to specifically prepare them for a written exam). I’m obsessed with The Punch Brothers’ newest album, Who’s Feeling Young Now? and had no problems finding a good example (55 seconds into the track).  I like this example because the basic melody is … basic, yet has one challenging moment (a leap down to ^6) that makes it non-trivial.  It also has harmony above the tune that some students can focus on figuring out. So, there’s ways to keep the quicker students challenged. Continue reading

Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” (leaps in I and V)

Tomorrow’s activity will work with Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” a tune I love because of the meter switches, timbres, and the way he makes fire and higher rhyme.

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Bagpipes, Leaps in V (new activity)

Goal: Process and transcribe leaps within the dominant triad.
Smaller goal: Some students are bored; the content is too easy for the skills they already have. This music has lots of extra nuance that they can work towards processing, but I have to set it up in such a way that students with weaker skills don’t try to do too much. The set-up I do will end up introducing the idea of skeletal melody (one with no embellishments).

Musical example: Queen of the Rushes (Irish jig, played on the uilleann pipes by Máire Ní Ghráda) Continue reading

Everything I needed to know I learned in …

…my daughter’s kindergarten class.  Well, not really.  But, I did learn a lot from volunteering a few hours a week last year.  Most of it is not applicable in this post, but here is one strategy that my daughter’s kindergarten teacher used that I admired and will be trying out tomorrow: personalized goals. Continue reading