What can babies do

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.

All children are different and develop at their own rates.

page 2 and footnotes

Use this as a rough guide and if you are not sure, ask and use your judgment. At about:

  1. 4 – 6 months they will be making sounds 
  2. 5 months start crawling – some children may skip crawling completely.
  3. 7 months start standing by holding on to things
  4. 12 months start walking on their own – and for some it may take longer
  5. 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
  6. 24 months (two years) to walk and clap at the same time
  7. 18 months will be saying some words
  8. 18 months will be very mobile, move around independently and through a ball (or let it fall from their hands)
  9. 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
  10. 24 months their attention span is short so activities should be around 2 minutes long and gradually as they get older make them longer
  11. 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. 
  12. 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. 
  13. Play hiding games, show pictures, pretend vocabulary (let’s pretend we are frogs), use animals and make funny noises – These are always a hit!

FURTHERMORE:

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!

© Rania Chrysostomou, 2020

Lesson plan 1: Love our Body

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.

Let me know how it goes!

© Rania Chrysostomou, 2020, lesson plan for nursery schools music

Finding my voice as an Early Years Music Practitioner

Tips for introverts on managing communication

The Nursery made it clear to me from the beginning that they didn’t want a music entertainer (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:

  1. 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”.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

  1. Singing a lot louder that the children 
  2. Not engaging with the children at all 
  3. 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. 
  4. Giving a singing performance for every session 
  5. 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….

© Rania Chrysostomou, 2020

Music Practitioner or Entertainer

In a Nursery Setting

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

  • language
  • 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
  • setting boundaries
  • stimulate
  • 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.

© Rania Chrysostomou, 2020

Music For the Early Years

Music Education in Nursery Schools

Photo by CDC on Unsplash
Of course I wasn’t allowed to take pictures so these are stock pictures

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).

© Rania Chrysostomou, 2020

Properties of Sound – Timbre [part 2]

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 pieces then 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:

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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…
  5. 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*. 
  6. 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 better and you can invent more!

Photo by Soundtrap on Unsplash

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.

Because…

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!

personal stock

© Rania Chrysostomou, 2020

Properties of Sound – Timbre [part 1]

Timbre…
Sound Colour | Quality of Sound 
It’s what 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.

mix and match and add other ones!


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 location and ask someone to tell you what they can hear.

I’ll quote what philarmonia.co.uk say about the bassoon describing its timbre.

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”.

philarmonia.co.uk

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 about Contemporary 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…

© Rania Chrysostomou, 2020

Properties of Sound – Location

We are exploring the properties of sound, introducing creative games that help identify the uniqueness of each instrument. So far we looked into the Envelope , Duration, Loudness, and Pitch. Now we will look at Location. 

Location refers to the listener’s perspective, in front, behind the listener, etc…

The location of a sound is vital for our survival, like when we misplace our phone and ask Alexa to make it ring on full volume so we can locate it; or when we are crossing the street and we use our sense of hearing as well as our eyesight. Pop music producers (pop, R’N’B, rap…) or artists involved in electronic music pay more detailed attention in organising the location of each sound (panning) and how it evolves over the course of the song location-wise.

This is a fun audio to listen to. Wear headphones to get a good sense of how the location of a sound affects the overall experience. This is a very concrete example of sound location and how it affects us in making sense of the sound and the world around us. 

But, as classical musicians how much do we think about the location of the music when we are performing, writing or listening to music? Is it important to know which direction sound, music, noise is coming from when we are in a concert setting? 

In theatre, and film as well as pop and electronic music, artists take extra care in panning the sound – and making it feel that it is coming from any one direction. In the performing arts it’s important to know the location of a sound because it adds to the story telling; we know that at some point a horse is going to come in the character’s way.

Knowing, or not knowing, where a sound is coming from affects the listener psychologically. To inspect the psychological side of placing a sound in a specific location one needs to watch nothing else apart from a haunted thriller movie. The necessity of positioning a sound is extremely highlighted in this genre. 

Marco – Polo — 󠀫group game (assess the use instruments or voice)

Photo by Rene Bernal on Unsplash

The normal game: one player is ‘it’ or’ Marco’, and tries to find the other players while the ‘it’ player’s sense of sight is limited by shouting ‘Marco’. The other players must respond with the word ‘Polo’. So ‘Marco’ needs to locate where the sound of the word ‘Polo’ is coming from to find the other players.

This game will allow the children to experience how the location of a sound manipulates their emotions and realisation of their space. The children can play it in a nursery room in the dark (if it is age appropriate) or just covering someone’s eyes with a scarf and surrounding them in a designated space will be fine. The second option is less traumatizing for children prone to daydream, and less of a mess at the end of the game. 

To play with your music students, you can keep the words ‘Marco – Polo’, you can add other sounds with your instruments or body percussion, (if age appropriate) walk towards or away from the sound or mix up different sounds and add direction to the sound as well. (A variation of this game we played in my parkour session by Esprit Concrete. I love how a simple game like this one can have multiple benefits depending on the context you are playing it in). You can make it a bit more complex by adding a series of sounds, and depth: high, low, near, far, all combinations of these. 

There are two music based focal points: 

  1. Identifying the correct location of the sound
  2. How does the player feel when 
    1. the sound comes from each location
    2. when there are more than one sources of sound
    3. Doesn’t know where the sound is coming from

I would specify the point I want to make each time as it gives an entirely different intention to the game. The first point, apart from it being a great motivator, it trains the players for when they are part of an ensemble to listen to other instruments and adjust their playing. And for survival purposes! The second point intends to awaken creativity, which is useful from a performance or compositional perspective as the player will learn to identify the intent of each decision. 

Depending on who the listener is, the sound arrives to them in an entirely different context even though it is part of the same music. For instance, when playing in an orchestra, the violin player will hear the other violins louder and perhaps not so loud the flutes because they aren’t sitting next to each other. But the audience member will hear a compact sound, a blend of all instruments. 

Mini Sound installation Performance

Place your students in various locations around the room or outside (perhaps two meters apart from each other) and ask them  to play one of their pieces. Ask other students to walk through the various locations and report their impressions. Do they hear the same piece? Do they blend all the sounds in their head creating a new piece? 

Food for thought

If you are playing offstage, to give the impression that you are far away, do you have to play forte to be heard? Can you have the same effect just by playing pianissimo? Have a look and listen at these music pieces where the composers ask for an instrument to be offstage, you may find some in this article.
This might be a silly one but it is a fun experiment with your students to better explore the necessity of why it is important to place your sound source in the specific position and understanding how their instrument works. If the performers turn their back to the audience does anything change in the location or direction of the sound? If you are a pianist or play on another big instrument you could ask your audience to turn their backs.

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

There are some very practical and functional reasons why classical music performances are set as they are. With these games and thoughts I would like to trigger your perception to the matter so you make the best choice in your next recital. It might be that the best way for your performance is by setting the stage in front of the audience, as it has always been. It might also be that for this performance taking meticulous thought on the location of the music in regards to the audience will add another layer to your story telling making it overall a more compelling performance.

Photo by Will Francis on Unsplash

Location of sound

  1. Performer to performer 
  2. Performer to audience
  3. Performer to conductor
  4. Moving around the stage
  5. Moving around the auditorium / space
  6. The audience moves around
  7. Sound installations / performance installations

© Rania Chrysostomou, 2020

Properties of Sound – Envelope

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

(not this envelope🠁!) Read the article and find out games about Duration here
The Envelope of a sound, or a note in our instance. 

People interested in sound, when they talk about the Envelope of a sound they refer to the shape or contour of the sound as it evolves over time.
A simple envelope consists of three parts: 
Attack | Sustain | Decay. 
Or as used in music production: 
Attack | Decay | Sustain | Release

As always with these posts, we will examine the instruments in their most basic form. If a typical student that has been learning an instrument for two months was asked to describe the three parts of a sound, of a note they produce on their instrument what would they say? 

Produce a note with minimal and adequate effort in the middle (or easiest) register of each instrument. Also, imagining we’re in a very dry room, no reverb / echo. If you have a piano, do not use the pedal and instead try to hear the natural shape of the sound coming from your keys.

An acoustic guitar has a sharp attack, little sustain and a rapid decay. A piano has a sharp attack, medium sustain, and medium decay. Voice, wind, and string instruments can shape the individual attack, sustain, and decay portions of the sound (here). We know that we can manipulate the ASD of all instruments but it takes effort and practice. For now, familiarise yourself with the most basic form of the envelope of your instrument. 

Game 1:
The lottery of the animals’ walk

Photo by Robert Coelho on Unsplash

Write on pieces of paper different animals (giraffe, antilope, snake, frog, and so on…). Put those papers in a hat. Draw an animal at a time and just by using your instrument try to mimic their walk while the other person tries to guess what animal it is.

By adjusting the quality of your playing to better describe each animal you were playing with articulation. When classical musicians talk about the envelope of a note they will use the word articulation: staccato and legato, and all that is in between and beyond.

Another thing to notice about the envelope of the notes on your instrument is that notes in the extreme registers have a significantly (using the word very generously) different envelope. On the guitar, a very high note on the high E string will have a smaller decay than playing the lowest E string. 

Game 2
It will never happen(?)

Find the differences between the registers on your instrument going from high to low. Then try to match the envelope of a high note with the envelope of a low note. Use anything you have available (still no electronics until you hear all the faint sub-sounds your instrument makes naturally).

Game 3
Story in the Envelope

Articulation defines the character of a melody. Play the same melody with different articulation. Play 5 consecutive notes of equal length on your instrument and try to create a story through articulating each note differently than the one before it and after it. 

Game 3a

Add some more characters now, people you know, feelings, and add chords as well as individual notes. Once you start experimenting with this you’ll hear some accents, sharp brutally cut off sounds, mellow intertwined sounds, merging different articulation effects and even creating ones never used before!

I encourage you (and you, your students) to play using their whole body and face. Make grimace faces, move around as the character might to get a good feeling of articulating musical sentences. I like how nerdy this exercise is as it also awakens the desire to look up other styles of music and their characteristics. And I think it’s a fun way to do a bit of conditioning and technique.

I think playing around with the envelope – articulation – of a melody is like punctuation. It needs to be convincing to make sense.
So play with courage!

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

© Rania Chrysostomou, 2020

Properties of Sound – Duration

Photo by Ryan Stone on Unsplash

Here I will focus on how the duration of one and each specific sound created in a music piece affects the music. Read the other article of the series here

Talking about sound, any sound: the clicking of the flute keys, the car when it’s idling, the sound of tapping on a crystal glass… each sound has a duration, lasts for this (x number of seconds / milliseconds / and so on). For example, the clicking of the flute keys make a short sound whereas the car engine when it is idling makes a continuous sound. The sound of tapping on a crystal glass has a short ring that lasts some seconds after the crystal has been tapped. 

Photo by Anjo Antony on Unsplash

Game 1:
Choose only one tone and play it as long as you can. Try it with non musical and with musical instruments. Experiment with only one sound source and play around with the parameter of changing or not changing the timber, loudness, intensity, octave of the sound. Next step would be to hear a sound for as long as you can (murmur of people in a busy shop – that is not a huge possibility at the moment so try something else). Whatever you do start as simple as possible, As Simple As Possible, and then add parameters focusing on duration (of a sound). 

Different things to notice for: 

  1. What are your rules if the tone is percussive?
  2. Changes in the quality of the sound (do you use more air – less air throughout your playing; do you change the dynamics?)
  3. Does your concentration change?
  4. Does your intensity of the tone change?
  5. If you repeat this game on 3 separate occasions, what changes to your sound and to yourself?
  6. Use an instrument that produces a A) continuous sound A1) indefinitely (violin), A2) as long as it is humanly possible (flute) B) percussive sound (drum) C) percussive / plucked with an after sound (guitar, piano) D) if you know any other type I am forgetting.
Photo by James Thomas on Unsplash

Composers have experimented and composed with this concept in mind perhaps the most famous is La Monte Young’s Composition 1960 #7 and there are many more performances of this.

La Monte Young
Composition 1960 #7

James Tenney / Having Never Written A Note For Percussion
Then you can get a bit more elaborate with your rules but still focusing on the duration of a sound Andrew Crossley – Koan #2
Read about Pauline Oliveros and the meditations here
Listen to Yves Klein’s Monotone Silence Symphony as well 
With these pieces the focus is on the duration of the breath and that drives the duration of the sound(s) and the piece.  poem in one breath – Matthew Welton | performed by Kathryn Williams (check more from K. W. and her project Coming Up for Air

Now we will move on from the music that offers an experience to more conventional scores where there are many tones / sounds interchanging and the duration of each sound or pause is related to the common pulse, the tempo. 

Photo by Mihály Köles on Unsplash

I’ll skip some steps where I would talk about tempo and jump to the duration of each note that along with other neighbouring notes create a rhythmical sequence. Each note has a specific value that is meant to be held for the exact duration. This brings us to the next game. One thing to observe is how rhythm is functioning to the performer’s or audience’s psychology when it is evident or regular or the ‘proper’ rhythm and when it is slower or faster or there is no rational relationship between each note value.. 

Game2:
Choose your favourite piece, perhaps an easy one to start with, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and give each note a different rhythmical value, or tempo marking. 

Think about
1) your feelings and emotions
2) What happens with your tempo?
3) can you make much sense?
4) how radical can you make it?
5) would you say it’s the same piece, a variation of it, a completely different
composition…?
Carry on by changing the tempo for each fragment or note or forgetting that tempo has to exist in this context.

More questions for you to think about

  • Why does the duration of each tone or pause matter? 
  • If we are playing by ourselves, no accompaniment or C.D. playing, what is the purpose of keeping all the correct note values?
  • If every detail regarding how long a note should be is highly specific, is there any room left for leeway and how can we use it? 
  • What happens when we shorten the short notes and elongate the long ones? 
  • In what ways can we manipulate rhythm and when should we choose to do it?

Game 3
Observe how long it takes for something to happen from the birth of the sound-or even the preparation of it – to the sound fading away. How does that sound change? Mimic it with your instrument.

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

There are no right or wrong answers and no one wins in these games (sadly). They are more of a trigger to challenge our comfort zones.

These thoughts and games are aimed towards educational and practice purposes regarding composition and instrument playing or singing.

© Rania Chrysostomou, 2020