Timbre and Pulse

Lesson Plan for nursery school, 8 – 20 month old, by Rania

Duration: approx 20 minutes

Scroll down for downloading the full lesson plan options

Aim of Session: feel a steady pulse moving fast, or slow
Skill:  observation, listening to the music, being social, memory, gross motor skills, fine motor skills, spacial awareness, awareness of loudness, confidence
Knowledge: Learn about 2 qualities of sound: loudness and timbre; and 1 element of music: pulse

Description of Session

  1. Warm up
  2. Move with scarves to slow music
  3. Move with scarves to fast music
  4. Give small percussion instruments and allow some time for the children to explore them.
  5. Drum patterns (PDF download further down): create small 3 beat, 4 beat or 5 beat sequences with the drum where everyone is quiet until the last beat and they make some noise 
  6. Sing: Open Shut them – 1st time normal, 2nd time fast, 3rd time quiet
  7. Sing: A Sailor went to Sea, sea, sea – 1st time normal, 2nd time slow, 3rd time loud
  8. Sing: Roly – Poly – 1st time quiet and fast, 2nd time loud and slow, 3rd time normal but omit the ending of each line.
  9. Warm down music and goodbye

Music Suggestions

  1. Changing between faster and slower sections:
    Sonata for Alto Saxophone and Harp (movement 1) – Andy Scott performed by Polaris Duo
  2. Or try this one, What is joy to you? performed by Polaris Duo again and written by Esther Swift, there are more subtle changes between mellower and more energetic parts
  3. Slow music or for calming down music Unicorn in Rainbows by Alison Berry  Listen to Unicorn in Rainbows by Alison Berry on #SoundCloud

Classical music suggestions

  1. Fanny Mendelssohn – Piano Sonata in C minor (there are 3 movements that you can use for fast music – presto movement 3 – ; slow – Andante con moto – ; or the Allegro moderato con espressione that has little textural changes

View full lesson plan including tips and explanations, covid-19 tips, and EYFS links Googls Docs here or

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

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