Friday, 27 February 2015

Do You Hear What I Hear? Teaching Music by Ear and Finding Student Strengths

Students in Grade 7 and 8 can choose to take music as a major focus, which runs throughout the year as a band program, or as a minor focus, which runs for half the year as a ukulele program. This approach, as well as the program within the major and minor music courses, allow students to personalize their music experience.

Music as a Major

The music major program involves students from varying backgrounds in music - from those who have taken instrumental or vocal lessons for years outside of school, to those who have never read or performed music before.

Many of the beginner musicians are scared away by the idea of reading music. There is a common misconception that being a musician requires the ability to read those black dots on a page; however, there are many famous musicians today and throughout history, particularly in genres such as jazz, who could not read music at all. In an effort to personalize learning and to draw attention to different types of music, the Grade 7 and 8 program includes a variety of experiences, including reading music and learning by ear. This allows students who are already experienced at reading music to expand their learning to aural retention, and vice versa. It also enables those who are new to music to find their strengths.

Earlier this month, students participated in the Ontario Band Association Festival, a formal competition where they performed notated band repertoire and received feedback from professional adjudicators. In a more recent undertaking, the Grade 7 and 8 band students have begun learning the skill of "getting off the page" by aurally learning a new piece of music.

To ensure the authenticity and engagement of the students' learning experience, the band voted on popular music to play. The students listened to popular songs by artists such as Taylor Swift and Bruno Mars, then broke down the music into chunks and experimented on their instruments to emulate the notes being played. This type of learning is engaging for all students because it challenges students at their individual level of achievement:
  • Beginner students focus on finding the melody or chorus.
  • More experienced students attempt to create more advanced parts such as harmony and counter-melodies.
As each student finds his or her own way to contribute to the ensemble at an appropriate level of difficulty, the end result is a satisfying experience for both performer and audience.

Music as Minor

Students in the music minor program are also learning the skill of aurally learning music.
  • Grade 8 students are currently studying the blues and experimenting with non-rehearsed techniques.
  • Grade 7 students are learning traditional folk songs using imitation and repeat-after-me techniques.
All classes look forward to performing these pop pieces in the school community at upcoming events and assemblies.

Becky Stewart
Teacher, Music and French

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