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Music in the Grammar Stage

by Lynette Tedlund

The best music study at the grammar level is to learn how to sing well, on pitch. Tone-matching is easiest when a child copies the clear voice of a female teacher, rather than an instrument. The second best way for a child to learn the grammar of music is to take up the study of an instrument. This is second only to vocal because we don’t carry around an instrument with us at all times as we do our voice! Piano is the basic choice which comes to mind. We have found the Alfred piano series to be a good program. And by the way, there is nothing wrong with making our children practice an instrument. We make them do their math homework, don’t we?

The grammar of music is made up of four parts: melody, rhythm, harmony, and timbre, or tone color--a tuba has different timbre than a harp, for example. A child equipped with a strong study of these four elements through vocal or instrumental study would be ready for the dialectic stage of music. A final area of study appropriate to the grammar stage is music history.

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A good method for the study of melodic intervals at the grammar level is the Kodaly method. Kodaly books may be found at the public library. You may use his method, or adapt it to one of your own. A child can begin by echoing seconds, thirds, fourths, and so on after the teacher, using solfeggio (do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do). Kodaly may frown upon this, but we also often learn intervals by singing the notes of the scale. We sing, “C-E,” “C-F,” rather than “sol-fa.” We’ve also sung “This is a third,” “This is a fourth,” skipping up to the proper interval on the word, “third” or “fourth.” While singing intervals, the student should also see what that interval looks like on a staff. The key is to hear it, see it, and sing or play it.

If all of this sounds strange to a non-musician, just sing a simple song, without instrumental accompaniment, and have your child echo you or sing with you, matching pitches. Don’t sing too low or too high. Neither an Anne Murray-like sultry low chest voice, nor a super-high operatic wide vibrato, is appropriate for a child. Keep it in the range of middle C to the next highest C or D. Keep in mind that your child’s imitation of your voice is quite the same as copybook is an imitation of good literature. He will reproduce what he hears, so let him hear a relaxed, clear tone. Simple songs good for tone-matching are: “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” “See-Saw, Marjorie Daw,” “Star Light, Star Bright,” and “Bluebird.”

Any materials compiled by Mary Richards, or Education Through Music, are good for groups. These unaccompanied folk songs and singing games are perfectly suited to the teaching of tone-matching and simple melodic intervals. Our favorite singing game which teaches tone-matching beautifully is “Button and Key.”

Along with your study of melody, you should learn the names of the notes of the scale, whether a melody is travelling up or down, and the Italian terms for the dynamics of music (forte, piano, crescendo.) These terms are more easily learned within the context of actually singing or playing an instrument. The memorization of lots of vocal and instrumental pieces should be done at this time, including folk, patriotic, sacred, and classical pieces.

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Simple rhythm patterns can be echoed, then read alone. Rhythm patterns can be clapped, played on rhythm instruments, read using rhythm syllables, or chanted rhythmically with matching words. Example: “Quarter, quarter, eighth-eighth, quarter,” can be clapped, played, read as “ta, ta, ti-ti, ta,” or chanted as “New York Del-a-ware!” “Eighth-eighth, quarter, eighth-eighth, quarter,” can be clapped, played, read as “ti-ti, ta, ti-ti, ta,” or chanted as “There is sand in my shoe.”

It is beneficial for a small child to “feel” these rhythms by moving to them -- run when he hears a series of eighth notes, walk when he hears quarter notes, skip when he hears eighth-quarter, and gallop when he hears quarter-eighth. With your study of rhythm, you would learn the lengths of notes (quarter, half, eighth, whole,) and the Italian terms for the tempo of music (allegro, largo, allegretto.) Again, these terms are more easily learned within the context of actually singing or playing an instrument. It’s more fun to play allegro than just to learn what allegro means.

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A child doesn’t have to sing harmony until his later grammar years. A good early study of harmony is the singing of rounds or the playing of simple ostinati--short, repetitious melodies or rhythms played simultaneously with a song. A fun way to learn rounds is one in which your child sings a round with himself: record your child singing a simple song like “Scotland’s Burning.” Play back the recording, which will be part one. Have your child sing part two of the round at the appropriate time, while the tape is still playing. You may sing along with him on part two if he needs help. I did this exercise often when teaching class music, and it worked well. The children must know the song perfectly before attempting the round, and their sense of rhythm should be practiced so that they enter at the right times. If a child is taking piano lessons, he will be learning harmony as he plays harmonic thirds, fourths, chords, and so on.

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Timbre, or tone color, can be studied by going to hear the symphony, and pointing out the different instruments and their sounds. Peter and the Wolf is a good recording for introducing various instruments of the orchestra and their tone color. While learning about the symphony and timbre, classify the instruments into woodwinds, brass, strings, or percussion.

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Music History

A good chronological study of musical masterpieces is appropriate at the grammar level. Keep in mind that if a child hears music played in the proper way, he will imitate that in his playing and singing. Classical music playing in the background has kept my sanity during copybook and math time. If a child hears these pieces often enough, he will soon be able to easily identify the composer, the name of the piece, and the time it was composed: the who, what, and when of the piece--a great grammar study!! Include with your music history study biographies of the composers, such as The Gift of Music by Betty Carlson and Jane Smith, or the Music Masters tapes, which contain short biographies and select compositions of each composer.

Copyright 1998 by Lynette Tedlund. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced, in any manner whatsoever, without written permission of the author, except as provided by USA copyright law.

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