Reading music notation is an integral component of State and National learning standards. When do you begin a focus on music notation with your elementary-aged students? During the past few weeks, I have been preparing a presentation for music educators on the topic of reading music notation in the elementary grades. As I have canvased music educators, I have found a common resistance to investing large amounts of time into teaching the mechanics of notation in grades K - 5. As I review my own experiences in the classroom, I remember in most cases using the time-tested call and response method for teaching singing and instrumental parts during my early teaching years. We have such a limited amount of time with our students that it is difficult to allow large blocks of that time to be utilized for teaching the nuts and bolts of notation.
Even when we present portions of a score for our students to reference, the complexity of reading music notation has the potential to overshadow the main conceptual goal of learning to sing or play a part. Students can be confused by the symbols and function of music notation, but, at the same time, they are eager to decode this language of music expression that is available to skilled readers. The modern music classroom has access to teaching tools that help young musicians decode and use the symbols of music notation while learning to sing or play a part.
During the last decade of my teaching career, I began creating music lessons in animated form. My students responded enthusiastically to the use of projected music notation in our curriculum. When the notes were projected and later animated on the screen, my young singers and players were all concentrating on the exact point of instruction. The positive results of these animated lessons were evident in the progress my students demonstrated while learning and mastering their instruction.
By the year 2000, I was regularly using notation in all grade level lessons when introducing new parts for my students to play or sing. My attempts to visually animate the notation helped my students to intellectually grasp the form and function of notation without using large blocks of lesson time to teach the mechanics of reading music. My first attempts at notation animation required "real time" input at a computer keyboard, similar to playing the piano to accompany a rehearsal. As computers became more powerful, I was able to record the desired animation and have it automatically projected for my players. The excerpt from "Boom - A - Tunes" below demonstrates how notation animation can help students quickly grasp the function of notation and use this information to learn to play a part.
(Excerpt One: Listen to the melody and view the notation.)
As the excerpt demonstrates, elementary students can quickly grasp the function of music notation when it is presented in animated form. After reviewing the notation using the previous excerpt, the players are now ready to sing the pitches, then play the notated music on an instrument. In Excerpt Two located below, my early second grade students would attempt to play the melody as a class using Boomwhackers.
(Excerpt Two: Attempt to play the notation using Boomwhackers for performance.)
I created this lesson in the 1990's and animated it for the first time in the early 2000's. As we learned to sing and play the parts, the animated notation was a natural part of the lesson, helping the students to master their assignments. In later lessons when the melodies learned in "Boom-A-Tunes" were presented in traditional static scores, the singers and players were not confused by the notation symbols and were ready to read their parts. The current realization of "Boom-A-Tunes" is presented in Animated Boomwhackers Volume 2 (BB224), published in 2012.
I have created hundreds of animated scores for playing Bells, Bars, Boomwhackers, non-pitched percussion, and Soprano Recorders for all age levels since retiring from the classroom in 2009.
As I have the opportunity to teach and present these lessons in schools and workshop sessions, I have been thrilled with the responses of teachers and students to the material. I am convinced that as we move into the upcoming decades of the 21st Century, animated notation will become the new standard for the introduction of music reading in elementary settings. We have the equipment available in most music rooms today to project this motivating and efficient teaching technique. Students who learn about reading music using animated scores are able to efficiently translate (synthesize) their understanding to traditional scores and embrace the use of notation as they learn to sing and play their parts.
That's “Brad's Beat” for May, and June 2015. We at Rhythm Band Instruments are wishing you the best for a relaxing and rewarding summer break! Don't hesitate to call (800) 424-4724 or visit us on the web at www.rhythmband.com if we can be of assistance to you in your program. Keep the beat.
President, BLB Studios
Elementary Music Specialist, Rhythm Band Instruments