Lesson Plan for nursery school, 16 – 26 month old, by Rania
“When in doubt,” a mentor of mine once told me, “talk about animals, sing about animals, just use animals, or food, or nature. I don’t know why but children love them!” So, here is a lesson plan that can be focused around ainmals or nature. I would suggest focusing on one of these for the age group I am recommending here. This lesson plan can easily be used for older children but of course your expectations will be a little bit different.
and on Google Docs. Also check my previous lesson plan here
Duration: approx 20 minutes
Aim of Session: Listen and move to the music, follow directions and trigger imagination Skill: observation, memory, imitation, being social, listening, gross motor skills Knowledge: Learn about the outdoors, nature, natural sounds, animals and animal sounds, observation and imitation
Description of the Session
Sing 2 songs about nature / animals
Show pictures of animals — moves and make sound inspired by the picture
With a hand drum: name animals and children move according to that. Hit the drum rhythmically, mimicking the animal’s or plant’s march, behaviour, posture etc…
Music on: Musical statues with music that is about nature or animals. Move with the children. Ask the children to represent a specific animal when they move (check tips)
Sing 2 songs
Warm down music
Resources music source (tablet, iPad), music*, books/pictures of nature and animals, drum (and a mallet)
These are 3 (+2) stories that fall in the 1st type. This series of articles focuses on music in nursery schools for ages starting from 4 to 6 months up to 40+ months. Sound stories are fascinating for any and all ages. An easy way to make them more advanced is to reform the language or use a theme that is more appealing to your students. You don’t have to sing for these stories and you can also play a recording of them if talking is considered a COVID-19 risk.
Instrumentation is open. (For nurseries) I would go for small percussive instruments. Tambourines work very well for these stories because of the variety of quality sounds that can be produced; you can tap on different areas of the drum, shake it, tap and shake, swish, use fingernails to gently scrape or fingertips. Plus, you can move around while holding it.
You can also use props for these stories, like a parachute, scarves, objects that are mentioned in the story. Just remember to keep them clean. Even better use objects you can find in the room you are in and minimise transfering germs to different nursery rooms. All children can hold instruments if it’s appropriate for the day’s lesson. Babies can also hold little maracas, egg maracas, bells or other shakers to copy you, the music practitioner.
Showing pictures is lovely for babies and toddlers. For the older ones, the language you use should be sufficient for them to create the images in their head. I think that is very useful as it feeds their imagination. With babies you can discuss what is happening in the picture and then carry on with the story.
Once the children are familiar with a story and around the age of 2,5 to 3 (depending on the children), try saying it with as few words as possible and let the children take the lead in creating the sounds (might get noisy, but it will also get better in time).
You don’t have to narrate the whole story at once. You can build up to it gradually. There is no right or wrong way to add sounds. Use your voice as an additional instrument, and gestures and face expressions for impact. I will try to guide you with some questions but if you have a better idea go for it!
For me, the sounds don’t have to be literal, we are looking for the feeling and give a general idea of what is happening in the story through sound, more like sound effects. Also, don’t feel that every word has to have a sound, or a different sound. Simple and cute. A bit of a surreal and fantasy situation. These stories are made up. You can use these ones, make up your own, add your own embellishments.
The Water Cycle
There was a Little Wave skipping across the surface of the sparkling river (what would that sound like?). The Little wave sailed happily. Suddenly the water stream was a bit too strong for Little Wave to handle (what changes in the waves movement? You can show that with sound). The current was getting stronger and stronger. The Little Wave was rapidly jumping over stones and swishing through rocks. Until… she slid down the biggest waterfall (maybe you hit and shake the tambourine to resemble a splashing sound?) And splashed into the dazzling quiet lake. Little Wave relaxed on the crystal-like surface of the lake. It relaxed for so long under the hot sun that it slowly started transforming into tiny, tiny droplets of gas and evaporated into the sky. (perhaps tapping gently the tambourine while lifting it higher?) Other waves started doing the same, evaporating into the sky. And it all formed a big cloud. A strong wind started blowing and took the wave above the ocean. (simile) There was a stroke of lightning, then a very loud thunder! And rain started falling from the clouds. Heavy rain. Eventually the raindrops were falling slower, and slower on the sea surface. Our little Wave was again part of the water. It was on the sea water. The little Wave loved sailing across the sea. It felt the wind blowing behind it and it would rise up, scout the horizon and dive back in the sea, carrying on her journey as a wave in the sea.
The Water Cycle | Baby version
There was a little wave sailing in the river. And suddenly it started moving faster and faster, smashing on rocks until it fell down the waterfall and splashed in the little calm pool. The sun was hot and it pulled the little wave up in the sky towards it. One quiet night in the forest it started to rain. At first the raindrops were very very light, but gradually there were more and rain got heavier and heavier. Until finally the little wave was back in her river sailing away…
Sun and Moon
It’s morning. And the sun comes out to warm the earth. The first sun beam falls on a green leaf. And the second one on a slug. The third sun beam falls onto the branch of a tree and the fourth one on a ladybug. The ladybug’s wings spread and she flies to the waterlilies taking the sun with her to shine on the river. The sun rays are gently reflected to all of the forest’s plants. Along wakes up a frog. And with his loud ‘ribit’ he wakes up all the animals. The sun was happy. It was a marvelous energetic morning. The sun gradually started setting behind the mountains. It is a quiet night. Most animals in the forest have gone to bed, there goes the swan, the goldfish, the bear, the squirrel. The stars are twinkling in the dark sky while the moonlight skips over the river reflecting its glow across the forest. Some animals are still awake. You might hear the owl, the aye-aye, the tarsier, the koala.
Cherry Tree from Stone to Tree
A Magpie was sitting on a cherry tree eating its cherries for tea. She gathered a few more to take to her friends sitting over on another tree. They all had a lovely party celebrating spring while eating cherries and throwing the stones on the ground. In the morning there was a pile of stones piled up next to the tree they had their party. The wind started blowing and scattered the cherry stones all around the valley. Then it blew a bit more, and a bit harder and caused the dirt from the ground to cover up all the stones. Now it was time for the squiggly worms to get to work and start fertilising the soil around the cherry stones. They munched leaves, and grass and turned the soil upside down, created little pathways for water and air to come through too. This carried on all summer. In autumn heavy rain began to fall in the valley, pouring rain all over the plants and soil and even the little cherry stones that were well tucked under the ground. After a long, long time passed a worm saw little roots coming out of the cherry seeds. Then a stem stretched out to reach above the ground to present the first little leaf of the next cherry tree.
This is a fantastic story for all sorts of things. From a sound and music point of view is amazing as well. As always don’t be shy from adapting it to suit each group of babies, toddlers and preschoolers you’re working with. There is no right or wrong way to represent the sound of the Sun or the Wind. Whatever feels right for you. If I use only my tambourine again, I would use steady beats for the sun and for the wind swishes on the head of the tambourine. And a little shake when the traveller takes off the cloak.
All children are different; so will your lesson plans
Every child is different. As human beings, they have the same basic needs.
In our Music-in-Nursery-schools terms we will exclude the important and vital basic needs such as food and sleep, and look into developmental needs. Children will want to make relationships, develop their self-confidence and self-awareness, managing feelings and behaviour, moving and handling, health and self-care, listening and attention, speaking, understanding, reading, writing, number, space and shapes, understanding the world, technology, exploring and using media and materials, being imaginative* (EYFS).
You will notice how differently 2 children under 24 months develop. Not only do babies and children learn at different speeds but their attention span differs as well. So by this, it is natural that your plannings for each group of children will be different. Here’s an example of why this may happen. Group 1: 8 babies (6 – 13 months) 6 are mobile and 2 can sit unsupported Group 2: 8 babies (6 – 13 months) 2 are mobile and 6 can sit unsupported
Your expectations and activities won’t be the same. I mean… They can be the same exactly, but then you might not be challenging all babies to the level they can handle a musical challenge. There is nothing wrong in doing so. It’s a possibility for you to consider and what your music teaching / music enlightenment philosophy is.
My million pound advice is to incorporate movement as much as possible in as many activities as possible when with children and babies. They don’t get bored but also, they are mantally active in the learning process, they are engaging with the learning.
Luckily, it doesn’t mean that you have to create 2 entirely different lesson plans. It would be exhausting and confusing for you to do that.
What worked for me and I know will work for almost anyone, is to have a sort of template lesson plan. I actually ended up using a template lesson plan between most age groups, across all 6 nurseries I was working in.
Groups (working in pair, as a whole group, with assistance from adults)
Following the leader – listen and response
You think about another aspect you can progress on and how it will change
For instance: Itsy-bitsy-Spider (a basic expectancy plan) So if you are singing the itsy-bitsy-spider you would roughly expect Stage 1: some babies will not be using their hands at all and (at the best of times) listen intensely, giggle, and look at their primary carer with wide eyes. Stage 2: trying but not quite nailing the whole sequence. Moving their fingers at the very start of the song, repeating one gesture until it comes up in the song, clapping at the end of the song… Stage 3: singing a word or a phrase here and there while trying to coordinate their fingers as well. Stage 4: singing more words and phrases, more confident with their gestures and know exactly when to change for the next phrase Stage 5: Enact the whole song with their body and fingers and sing it Stage 6 (advanced pre-schoolers or older): The whole lesson plan can be around the spider song and there are other activities involved which isolate properties of music like rhythm, melody, the theme, add dynamics, play it on a xylophone, change the gestures, change lyrics, words, the sky’s the limit!
Don’t forget that children’s and babies’ attention span is quite small and it varies from child to child and from day to day for each child. This may sound confusing if you’ve never ever worked with 0 – 60 month olds but with experience you learn to recognise small mannerisms that indicate “now I’m fed up with this thing, let’s do something else”. Sometimes you may think that if they try it one more time they will master the skill but sadly their agenda is different and I think at these stages it is important to respect that and not push them for “one last time” unless you are beyond sure they can handle it. I would suggest to keep all activities under 2 minutes, between 30 seconds to 2 minutes and build up resistance and stamina gradually.
Indeed, children’s attention spans are low. Depending on the age and how they are feeling that day, it might be between 30 seconds to 2 minutes before they get bored and want a new activity. They may start wondering off. That Is NoRMaL! But please, Don’t ignore the signs. If you have done the best you could then it’s just on the day. Remember, concentration can be trained. It may take a bit of time.
This is from personal experience, talking with colleagues and reading some scientific articles over the years. All are suggestions and it is what works for you as a music practitioner for the early years.
A rough guide for first-time music practitioners / entertainers on what babies (18 months and under) can do physically and some tips and suggestions to making your session plans.
A useful guide to read is the EYFS, Early Years Foundation Stage which lists what a child can do in every stage of their early life, and how an adult can help them to move on safely to the next developmental stage.In the book it states “Children develop at their own rates, and in their own ways”. It lists the prime and specific Areas of Learning and Development such as making relations and building self confidence and self awareness to listening and attention to speaking, moving…etc. It would be good if you look through the book. It’s useful to focus every lesson plan around one developmental area and sub-area.
Use this as a rough guide and if you are not sure, ask and use your judgment. At about:
4 – 6 months they will be making sounds
5 months start crawling – some children may skip crawling completely.
7 months start standing by holding on to things
12 months start walking on their own – and for some it may take longer
9 months clapping and gradually they perfect this. Although don’t expect that they can clap the beat to an entire song until much later
24 months (two years) to walk and clap at the same time
18 months will be saying some words
18 months will be very mobile, move around independently and through a ball (or let it fall from their hands)
20 months putting words together. Don’t expect them to sing you the whole song but they can shout out a word every now and then and may carry a tune
24 months their attention span is short so activities should be around 2 minutes long and gradually as they get older make them longer
After two years of age expect children to be able to do controlled and simultaneous actions with all limbs, to cross their hands and place them on their thighs, or place one hand on their tummy and one hand on their heads.
Babies won’t be sharing until well after 30 months old (2,5 y.o.) but will know that some things belong to them and some to others from about 18 months. At this stage it is easier if they share a toy with their practitioners rather than with other children.
Play hiding games, show pictures, pretend vocabulary (let’s pretend we are frogs), use animals and make funny noises – These are always a hit!
If you are in doubt about what children can do, ask the nursery practitioner of the group you need clarification on.
You are building intention. They will not sing with you loud and clear or clap every time when the song says so but it shouldn’t stop you from working on this verbal and action vocabulary. There is no set date to start developing individuality and self awareness. Babies learn very fast so be patient, they are processing.
The ratio of adults per babies in nurseries in the UK is 1 nursery practitioner for 3 babies – you should not be in the count. As they get older the ration changes.
Most nurseries will group the children according to their age (months) into different rooms. When a baby turns above a specific month and / or their physical, social and mental development exceeds expectations, then they move on to the “bigger” room. The room with older children. You may not be informed in advance. You will have to adjust your session plan to who you have there and accommodate to the majorities’ needs.
It’s useful to prepare a progression of your activities and how to break it down to something simpler. This way you can easily adjust according to who you have on the day.
This is only a rough guide.You may know children that started walking at 10,5 months and others were still wobbly at 16 months, or could do simultaneous actions with both limbs earlier. Ask and be alert for changes sooner than expected.
Even if children can’t physically do something, they can’t do it YET. That means that you can build onto that skill. You can still ask the 20 month olds to put one hand on their tummy and one on their head. You will show them how to do it and move on to another activity, or break that activity down and allow each child to interpret it as they want. Be considerate. Don’t push them to do something they can’t do yet but guide them, show them and encourage them to do it when they are ready. Babies give feedback instantly, so if they feel frustrated about something you will know. Calmly congratulate them for what they have achieved and move on to something else that is more familiar.
During this designated music time with babies, you are building intention, perception, anticipation and expectations, feel safety and confidence in their abilities to carry on with their development. All this through music and sound exploration. So you are also offering an experience, the world through the auditory sense. All these qualities are invisible for a while but are there and are being cultivated through systematic and careful preparation.
I’d love to know your thoughts and how it goes for you!
Name of activity Our lovely body Age 0 – 12 months
Duration: 20 minutes
Aim of Activity: Learn the parts of our body and make sounds like clapping, and tapping Skill: Social skills: waiting for our turn, cooperate with our friends, listen and respond Knowledge: learn our body and what we can do with it, learn the song Germ, Germ go away, practice standing and rolling a ball
Link to curriculum (EYFS) “ Concentrates intently on an object or activity of own choosing for short periods”( EYFS, Development Matters, Communication and Language: Listening and attention, 8-20)
Link to overarching learning objective (EYFS) “Begins to move to music, listen to or join in rhymes or songs”( EYFS, Development Matters, Expressive arts and design: Exploring and using media and materials, 8-20 )
1. Warm up
2. Sing 2-3 songs
3. Sound story: About a Germ that came to the nursery and climbs on the babies’ bodies. Use something like scarves for props and sing the song Germ, Germ go away
4. Listen to music and keep the rhythm Music suggestion: Mozart Rondo Alla Turca you can listen to here
5. Table drum. Use rolling toys like balls and cars on the table. Music suggestion: Dani Howard Argentum you can listen to here
6. Sing two songs
7. Warm down (1 minute) Listen to relaxing music, dim the lights Music suggestion: George Karpasitis Lullaby available here
8. Say goodbye to everyone
Resources Music source (iPad, tablet), table, rolling toys, small balls, scarves
Download detailed lesson plan here. It includes what to expect from the children to do, what to ask the practitioners to do, as well as some song suggestions.
The Nursery made it clear to me from the beginning that they didn’t want a musicentertainer (the word they used). The entertainer was defined as the person that gathers the children – and the nursery practitioners – around sings songs for 20 minutes and has a party-like feel. This is the very simplified definition of an Early Years Music Entertainer, but nonetheless, this is what I was told. They wanted their music practitioner to interact and involve the children in the process of music making through games and activities.
My intentions as well!
This post is my personal experience. It may inspire you.
Back to our story…
I had to do something to keep the children engaged for longer periods. Some nursery practitioners were deliberately setting bad this just enforces that I had to change something in my approach. My manager came up with the ‘persona’ idea, not a clown, but a…a… caricature. I needed a hook like a magic music bag or a sparkling singing teddy, to keep the babies and children involved in the activities. She showed me a few videos on YouTube for inspiration, and pictures of their previous guy for the job, who was called something like “Sparks” and had a “magic box” with instruments, his guitar, and sang songs to the children. He had the “Magic” concept.
The guys on Youtube, were holding their guitar, singing very loudly, and the children with their parents were sitting around this main singer. This is the “Entertainer” style they explicitly told me to avoid at the beginning. The parents were singing while holding their children to not move around much. The Singer used props and instruments as you would expect.
I was shown these videos to see how devoted the children were in the sessions of the Entertainer Music Man. The comparison was clumsy to say the least. The videos would start with all the children around and finish with just their parents sitting there. The children wondered off and didn’t come back. As these sessions were parents with their babies, so each baby had an adult for themselves, instead of my setting that was 3 babies to 1 adult. Also, they were men (sarcastic comment: 95% of the nursery practitioners were women so I wouldn’t be appealing enough as a guy would be!!!), singing loudly, with a guitar (and as we will see later, the guitar was a no go) and had minimum interaction with everyone. Again, a NO-GO.
Essentially, the nursery staff wanted a Guy to have party time with the adults.
Looking past the clumsiness in the way they chose to inspire me into elevating my sessions, here is what I took out of our conversation and I think these are good tips for anyone to consider especially for introverts /and with low self-esteem like I was:
Children love a good story. Anything to lure them into a fantasy world for just 20 minutes is brilliant! Possible ways to achieve this is by creating a mystery: the “magic bag with instruments”.
To sing a bit louder and with more confidence. The children mimic behaviours so to see and hear someone speaking with confidence (sensibly loudly) will reflect on their way of singing and later on general speaking and behaving.
Carry on with the 6 children that are participating instead of trying hard to get the 2 wanderers to rejoin the session is an advice to keep. Those 2 children will come back eventually. Confidence is key.
The nursery had a very solid child-led philosophy (I believe in this as well) so these are the topics that according to the videos, I should avoid:
Singing a lot louder that the children
Not engaging with the children at all
A guitar or ukulele might be nice to have but as it was an extremely risk averse Nursery, a string might snap and injure a child or baby. So having them regularly was a big NO.
Giving a singing performance for every session
Not to keep the children in one position for the whole session but rather encourage them to move around purposefully.
I believe it took a lot of clarity in the moment to identify what exactly I needed to improve in my delivery style so I don’t become a marionette that obeys other people’s visions without checking my values and abilities. It is good to test your limits and come out of your comfort zones but if you don’t feel comfortable with it, the chances are it will not be a success….
Being an Early Years Music practitioner or Early Years music Entertainer are two different styles of music enlightening, music delivery. Both styles are great for the children. The learning objectives may overlap, there are differences in the delivery style. There is a possibility to have traits of both approaches while leaning clearly towards one. That is what worked best for me even though it wasn’t very easy to learn how to do.
Music Entertainer I think of it as the Entertainer is the singer or actor on stage inviting the children in their storytelling or singing. In a nursery setting, as the in residence musician, it is more likely that you will be the singer that creates vibrant concerts. You will have a list of 10-15 nursery songs to sing with the children. You may be holding an instrument like a guitar or a ukulele but check before with the nursery school’s policy and risk chart.
Music Practitioner The Music Practitioner is an explorer of sounds and plans child-led activities where investigation and experimentation are essential parts. Each song has a developmental purpose for being there and it might be repeated a few times with variations. This is my definition and how it was explained to me. I’d love to hear yours.
Perhaps one of the best learnings a child can get through music time with an Entertainer that creates concerts is social etiquette (apart from songs and copying skills, and motor skills, talking, etc…). The course of the session is designed so that children wait for their turn and listen to instructions.
And one of the best learnings from an Music Practitioner that created space through sound activities would be accepting and adapting to alternatives (apart from creativity, social skills, copying, motor skills, talking, and of course music properties).
In both styles the children will develop
learn about numbers and animals
develop their motor skills
social skills, sing songs
create bonds with their practitioners and so on…
And both the practitioner and entertainer will still be
creating positive environments
support individuality and so on…
You can see as well, that it is the style of delivery that is at question here. And the style of delivery is what most clients are after. Whether you want to sing 10 songs in each session and have a party or want a child driven session, or something in between it is up to you and your personality and if you are able to adapt that is a bonus for you. You will have to please the adults as well as the children and one group is more important that the other. Do you know which one? Discuss with your clients what their vision is and plan accordingly.
The main key here is: keep all (in reality is most of the children, about 80%) engaged and taking part in the session. Whatever style you have your sessions are a success if you see the children interacting with you and each other, gradually staying focused for longer periods of time, and taking part in the songs and activities.
All the way back in the 2010s I worked in a nursery school. At first as a nursery practitioner in the baby room and a few months later I was promoted and my title became something like: the music practitioner in residence. I immersed the children’s and babies’ time in music across all six locations of the company’s nursery schools, all located in London, UK. My schedule was regular in terms of which day I would be at each nursery and what time I would teach in each room, and it would change every three months or so.
Taking this job opportunity was very exciting and adventurous. I was constantly learning about teaching, interacting with adults and children and how music works with children and babies. It is safe to say now that my confidence levels on taking up this job were quite low, I had no idea what to do and I was learning on the job. I asked friends, and fellow classmates, and Google of course all the whats and hows and whys and as you might expect (not saying it ironically), the information was still a bit scattered. It’s not just piecing things together but also finding what would work best for me and the nurseries.
I organised and delivered music sessions with a lot of singing, and activities that allowed the children to explore, interact and learn about music and sound. The babies were from about 6 months old and the oldest children around 3,5 to 4 years old. Each session was focused for only one age group, babies, toddlers, preschoolers and the in between toddlers and preschoolers. This job comes with a handful of challenges, rewards, moments of exasperation and moments of contentment. There are many ways to think about this and to one that troubled me the most was: Is my primary purpose to entertain or educate?The answer may be obvious but as I will explain in a following post, it wasn’t as simple. I wanted to have a very creative approach, one where the children would be investigating and experimenting with throughout the 20 minutes of their session.
With this series of articles I’d like to share with you some of my experiences and learnings from this process as well as some of the lesson plans and activities I developed and played with the children, what worked and what didn’t and potential improvements. So, if you want to find out more about the job of being a music practitioner, or want to incorporate more musical play with your children then these posts are for you.
I will be sharing some of my lesson plans, tips that I picked up, difference between an entertainer and a music practitioner, general advice for working with children, toddlers and babies, what to look out for when working as a musician in a nursery, and at some point I will also try to figure out if a musician (knows how to play an instrument, and studied music in university or conservatory, is serious about music and knows and appreciates the complexities of many music genres and subgenres which are and not limited to: classical music, contemporary classical music, folk, traditional, modern and pop music from various countries).
When do you introduce contemporary techniques to your students?
You might have anticipated that there is no one answer fits all but you can… Recognise your instrument’s “proper” timbre in the first lesson or two, but allow them to discover it on their own and praise them for hitting that gorgeous air sound. Quite early start introducing contemporary techniques. If you opt for giving your students pieces from many eras including 21st century piecesthen they will get used to them sooner.
Sometimes, technical words aren’t needed, AT. ALL. Just space and time to play and discover what the instrument can do. Especially if you have very young students, allowing discovery time where we can find lots of ways the instrument makes noise and music will keep things separated in their head (why can I sometimes blow a lot of air and other times I have to try to focus a specific pitch?). You don’t want them to come to the lesson and just bang the the keys with no purpose.
Here, I recommend a few more ways to go around with it, Games or Distractions as I call them:
Listen! Share many recordings with your students and talk about emotions and thoughts. What does this remind you of, the piece is called —– can you guess why, what do you hear in the music when you feel nervous… Introduce music from different eras and styles as well as music that was performed yesterday!
Choose your words. Try avoiding absolute words like right and wrong and proper as it suggests there’s only one way of playing. You may also encounter problems later on when you would potentially want to break that pattern. Instead say something like, this type of playing is appropriate here for reasons yxz. You are throwing in a bit of music history without even trying!!! 2a) If a child is very young you don’t even have to say the words “contemporary techniques”. You can describe a sound (i.e. ringing bells, the roaring sea…) and let the child experiment to find ways of representing these sounds with instruments available.
Storytelling time where the child has time to discover different sounds independently based on a story (a concrete concept) and find out how all sounds can fit together to make music.
Dedicate 5 minutes at the beginning of each lesson to create sound colours. You can base each lesson on one theme, musical or non musical – using only percussive sounds, or only harmonics, or only multiphonics / describe emotions, places, animals, circumstances…
If your students are over 11 years old then they will most likely be able to separate to recognise what playing is appropriate in each situation. You can talk a bit more in depth about contemporary techniques. So try introducing short phrases from pieces that use them, if not full pieces*.
Demonstrate and listen to recordings (yes, it is very important to listen)
*I have a piece for flute that can easily be arranged for any other instrument that is like a beginner’s piece to contemporary techniques, available on request
These are only suggestions.You know your students betterand you can invent more!
In school classroom settings It might be a bit tricky to show or teach your students a piece that uses contemporary techniques. That’s what they are playing before you enter the room!!! Depending on your year group, the school (how open to new sounds they are) and the classroom you will get different reactions. As early as we can normalise that ‘proper’ music has many forms is usually better. So again, listening is one of the easiest tricks to introduce contemporary classical music – any music for that matter – and that timbre matters in music. This philosophy, normalising what is proper, goes beyond the music boundaries to understanding their world.
There is not one proper, right sound (thing) that is law binding and then some other sounds around it of less importance, called exceptions. Each sound serves in its era and has its purpose, its value and usefulness according to that time period and region, when it was used more prominently. In different eras the purpose, usefulness and value of a sound changes because the resources and human needs change. Today, we know how that sound was important in the past and what it represented. We can evaluate its necessity in our present. Each person’s present is different and each present changes every few while. Those values and uses and purposes change as well. Sometimes we have to re-evaluate a technique or a sound and maybe we have to let go of it if it’s no longer useful to us in the present; or at least put it aside. It is okay to not use it anymore, we learnt a valuable lesson. It is less okay to condemn anything new because we have not learnt to live with it yet.
The ambiguity that comes with music becomes more prominent when we talk about timbre, the sound colour in a piece. This is the entire story of the piece and it becomes personal to each listener. This is what makes music so arousing and perhaps confusing. It is okay not specifying what is right or wrong, embracing experimentation and play, establishing new findings, and living as a contemporary musician. It is another muscle to work on!
Timbre… Sound Colour | Quality of Sound It’swhat separates the sound of the saxophone from the sound of the banjo.
I often underestimate how choosing the right tone colour can alter, elevate or diminish a music piece. Imagine singing Twinkle Twinkle Little star with a breathy voice, and with a rawring voice. The meaning changes. It gives me goosebumps just thinking how powerful timbre is! Choosing the appropriate sound colour could be as simple as choosing to play the melody in a specific range, high or low, articulation, dynamics. Sometimes that’s all it takes to convey your meaning. But alas, there is always more, much, much more!
To discover what our instrument can do, its possibilities regarding timbre, we will be looking at acoustic instruments without any pedals and we will start with the conventionally agreed normal playing style of the instrument. How would the instrument sound like if it played a piece written by a composer in the classical era. I think it’s a good base to start from.
Distraction 1 Listen and discover your instrument’s timbre. Identify the normal / proper way of playing your instrument. Discover the full spectrum (sound colour) of your instrument while maintaining its primary character. Then try mixing techniques together.
It always helps if I am trying to describe a person I know already, or an animated character or an animal. A heavy elephant, a slithering snake, the river, would sound like *this* on my instrument.
That is the characteristic sound of your instrument. Try to add some adjectives to establish its sound, e.g: The flute has an airy sound, the violin has a mellow sound, the saxophone has a bright sound. In this so called normal playing we still vary the colour of the brightness, airiness, and mellowness of the instruments by slightly tweaking some properties of sound or combining them together, like dynamics (loudness), articulation (envelope), duration if possible, and the range we are playing in (pitch), but the sound still keeps its identity. Also, try changing your locationand ask someone to tell you what they can hear.
“The bassoon’s double reed gives it a rich, slightly buzzing quality in the lowest notes and a sweet nasal sound higher up. Bassoons can be extremely expressive as solo instruments and their warm vibrato enables them to sound remarkably human, a little like a resonant baritone singer. They are also great for creating punchy rhythmic lines and as bass instruments they help provide support for the whole orchestra”.
This is the timbre of the bassoon in the classical orchestra, without any external or imaginative sound effects. Isn’t it remarkable and fascinating?!
Even though there is a charm in playing like this we can and we should* go beyond these boundaries, especially as educators. Timbre is such a powerful tool. It creates an engaging storytelling experience, the student can learn muscle control, breath control and so on, it promotes individuality, and confidence to say the least. You can’t play a multiphonic or a jet whistle, or pianississimo unless you put your whole heart into it. Composers should* know – or be aware of the possibilities – of an instrument and performers should* be playing and discovering new possibilities of their instrument, even if it’s just new to them.*should: of course, that’s my opinion. I’d like to hear your thoughts.
Exploring the timbre of an instrument, voice, ensemble, leads us to the (in)famous extended techniques!!!
These techniques are extended in one sense, as they go beyond the conventional techniques we are used to hearing and playing in classical music. They are part of what the sound of the instrument. I prefer talking aboutContemporary Techniques as I feel it’s a more appropriate description, they are used more prominently in contemporary times.
Distraction 2 To familiarise ourselves with the shades of timbre, the possibilities of our instruments and how timbre affects storytelling, choose a simple melody or song and play it in different ways. Again, thinking about characters will help the process A Lot! An elephant hopping around some sleepy mice trying not to wake them up
Here are some ideas you can work withNot all ideas will work for your instrument, but elaborate: 1) use a lot of air. 2) Play it using harmonics, very high harmonics 3) sing as well. You can also be playing one low note and it will act as a bass note. 4) combine different, pizzicato / staccato techniques 5) place different instruments around you while playing
Distraction 3 ‒ ELEMENTS You need a card deck. ♠️ = Water ♥️ = Earth (stone) ♦️ = Wind ♣️ = Fire
Pull out one card at a time and your students need to describe the element by producing music / sound. All students need to play at the same time. It gets noisy but there are reasons for it. They have to be impulsive, they don’t have time to sensor or rethink their option to make it pretty, and they will feel less self-conscious if everyone is playing at once. Encourage them to use sounds that go beyond the pretty playing of the instrument and give them a chance to demonstrate. There is no wrong or right way as long as there is a logical explanation. The execution may not be perfect at first but it gets the brain working. Try to add different restraints, like play only forte / piano, fast / slow, set a specific number of notes they can use each time…