Learning about music history is so helpful for piano students so I’ve decided to have musical periods as the common theme of group lessons this spring. This first group lesson of the year focused on the baroque period. I’m planning the next three to be about the Classical, Romantic and Modern eras.
Group Lesson on the Baroque Period
Here’s an outline of the March 2014 Group Lesson Plan:
- Group lessons provide a great way for students to share what they are practicing individually. Students played individual pieces, a duet and a composition. Performance was the first part of the group lesson.
- Since the theme was about the Baroque period I used related handouts. The first sheet has information about the period in general (paintings, dress, music characteristics). http://colorinmypiano.com/wp-content/files/Music_History_Periods_Lapbook.pdf (page 2)
- I found a website with good quality music clips (by Naxos) of Classical music. The website is called www.classicsforkids.com and has some great resources. We listened to some of the clips of Water Music and Four Seasons. I asked students which instruments they heard while listening to the clips.
- While the music was fading away I handed out a simple worksheet. It has a photo of J. S. Bach and lines to fill in information about his life. The link is: http://practicalpages.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/famous-musicians-biography-lined-with-map.pdf (page 2). I used the following short biography to give students some information about Bach’s life: http://www.bachcentral.com/bio.html.
- Afterwards I showed students parts of a video about the harpsichord. The first three minutes showed how the instrument is plucked. I skipped the video to another section (minutes 5:20-7:40) where the presenter gives a nice demonstration of how the harpsichord sounded (this particular harpsichord has a double keyboard). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71x4MSlpGUk.
- After watching the video we played a game to reinforce note-reading. I used the notes from low to high Do/C in treble and bass clef and hid them while students closed their eyes. The students then found one note at a time and came to the piano, playing the note they had found in the correct octave. For a video example of how to play this game, follow the link and see the 12:45 minute mark: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_EbQDrLwkxo&feature=youtube_gdata_player
- We finished the lesson off by watching a harpsichord video of Bach’s famous Minuet in G Major (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2TobXjDXF0s ) and concluded with another round of the note-recognition game.
- Another interesting video which some of us watched after the lesson ended shows an example of the clavichord and its sound: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4uCCw_hmILA.
This lesson gave the young people a taste of music history and I hope they will make connections with this lesson when they hear other things about the Baroque period. It was great to have some parents over for the lesson as well and I hope they will provide opportunities for their children to learn more about music history, particularly the Baroque era.
Students who choose to take graded examinations or who decide to go to college for music study will most likely be required to write out melodic dictations. In a melodic dictation a student listens to a melody multiple times and writes out the notes and rhythms that they hear. Students write their final copy on staff paper, filling in the time signature, key signature, bar lines, etc. While this task may seem very challenging at first as the notes rush along, there are ways to train and become more adept at melodic dictations.
- Always keep tonic in mind.
The tonic note will be given before the melody begins. Students must imprint this note in their mind as it is the most important “anchor note.” Another important note is the fifth scale note above tonic.
- Learn Sol-fah
Sol-fah is a hug aid for melodic dictations because sol-fah is consistent throughout any key (when using a moveable do). Students will be thinking of sol-fah rather than thinking of individual letter names. Sight-singing in sol-fah helps imprint the sol-fah intervals into a student’s mind.
- Listen for the intervals.
Another aid in addition to sol-fah is teaching students tunes which use specific intervals. For example, an ascending major 6th uses the notes from the beginning of the song “My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean.”
- Write a rough draft
Students should use spare staff paper to write a draft of the dictation rather than doing everything on the same page. The markings on the draft should be minimalistic with light pencil marks which can easily be erased.
- Understand harmony
I recently spoke with a guitar player who found the harmonic progression of a song useful in helping him decipher the melody in a dictation. This may be helpful for some students but they must ensure that they are also listening for the individual melodic notes and not simply doing guess work.
- Find the rhythm
Students should realize that rhythm is not the first thing to look for in a melodic dictation. The most important part of the dictation is the melody. Pencil in the melody first and add in the rhythm during spare moments. One trick for focusing on notes while figuring out the rhythm is to place notes that have a longer duration farther apart on the draft and to place notes that sound shorter close together. This will be a reminder of the general duration of the notes and will make filling in the specific durations easier for students.
- Never stop moving.
Melodic dictations end very quickly and time is of the essence. If, for example, a student cannot remember the first half of the melody, he or she should fill in notes from the last bar. If none of the notes come to mind at a certain point, he or she should work on the rhythm. Students should never stop thinking and moving their pencil. Keep as focused as possible while working diligently.
Here are some free resources from the internet:
http://pitchimprover.com/–In this exercise a piano is shown with lit up keys. Decipher the melody that is played (only the lit up keys will be options) and click on the correct piano keys.
https://www.teoria.com/exercises/ne.php–The “note dictation” section of this website allows practice of note recognition.
http://trainer.thetamusic.com/en/content/melodic-dictation–This website offers melodic dictation games.
http://horninsights.com/telling-intervals-with-tunes/–For a list of intervals with related tunes, visit this webpage.