Throughout the month of October, students at Cooper’s Poynt Elementary School in Camden learned about the fundamentals of music through composition. We started with learning simple rhythms (quarter notes, half notes, and whole notes for the 2nd and 3rd graders, with the addition of eighth notes and sixteenth notes for the 4th graders). As a class, we created a rhythm that we liked and would keep working on for the remainder of the month.
The next week, we learned about how to read notes on the staff (treble clef). Classes made up their own ‘lines of the staff’ sentences. Some of the favorites were “Eagles Get Better During Football” and “Erik Got Bananas During Funtime.” Next, we took the class’s rhythm from the previous week and figured out where to put the notes on the staff to create a simple melody using notes we know on the recorder.
The week after that, we took those simple melodies and put them to different tempi, making sure to use the Italian musical terminology. We created a parade around the room, marching to the different tempi and playing our piece on the recorder. Students picked their favorite tempi and wrote it in their journals. We learned the terms Largo, Adagio, Andante, Allegro, and Presto. Some classes made sure to learn about Prestissimo also. Finally, we put dynamics to our piece, once again using musical terminology. Classes learned about how our dynamic terms came from the piano’s original name: pianoforte. Classes learned about and experimented with the whole range of dynamics from pianissimo to fortissimo, including mezzo piano and mezzo forte, of course. Within that dynamic conversation, we discussed the meaning of prefixes and suffixes, and how they change the meaning of a word.
Classes then practiced playing their piece at their chosen tempi from the prior week, this time adding dynamics. Students discovered that it can be hard to play the recorder at a loud dynamic without squeaking, so they learned how to drop their jaw in order to allow more air to smoothly flow through the recorder.
All of these musical concepts and skills will be used throughout the year as we continue to delve into music exploration and composition.
Here's audio of a 4th Grade Classroom's composition with different tempi (as in the 3rd picture below): https://goo.gl/9vT5wx
Teaching Artist Susanna Loewy has been working in the Philadelphia Orchestra's School Partnership Program since 2009, and has been at Cooper's Poynt Elementary since 2010. More information about SPP is available: http://spp.philorch.org