Some might call it “Old School” to prefer receiving and distributing good old fashion printed materials at conferences and workshops… but I don’t mind the label!
A faulty laptop, projector or sound system is all too common at these events and I find the risk not worth the angst of attendees leaving with nothing to “take away” except a fading memory or minimal, illegible notes.
The worksheets provided here are representative of tried-and-true conference and workshop materials I’ve distributed dozens of times over the past twenty years to half a dozen organizations. Please feel free to reference or use them as needed, either independent of or in conjunction with Classroom Keyboard.
Keyboard: The Gateway to Music
The piano was King of the instruments when I was a child. Everyone one took piano lessons! It was considered a fundamental preparation for playing other instruments as well as acquiring the discipline and perseverance needed for many pursuits. Individual lessons were the norm, and usually, only notation was taught.
Music not notated, such as jazz, was considered “bad” by instructors at the time. The goal of lessons was to play piano literature with the correct rhythm, notes, phrasing, and dynamics typical of a particular period of music. My early teachers frowned upon “playing by ear” and improvising or composing.
Some piano teachers have long recognized the potential for teaching in groups. In the 19th century, Franz Liszt and Frederic Chopin taught their pupils this way. At the end of that century, group piano was endorsed as an effective means of instruction in the United States, and school programs grew through the 1920’s, but then suffered a decline because of the depression and World War II.
With the introduction of small, low-cost portable electronic keyboards, it is now practical to teach larger groups of students in schools and studios. My fellow piano teachers looked down on these early keyboards, “Keyboards… they aren’t pianos!”
I disagreed wholeheartedly with my peers and saw an opportunity in keyboards to use them as a means to involve students in learning the fundamentals of playing while creating music together. Since the method books focused on notation, I developed my own curriculum to include improvisation and elementary composition.
The lines and spaces in notation line up directly with the white keys, while key signatures and accidentals indicate the black keys. The keys produce octaves of the twelve pitches directly and can be fingered logically.
The intervals of music are visually, mechanically and aurally experienced from the first lesson, beginning with stepping and skipping between the keys, then 4ths, etc.
Improvisation exercises motivate students to explore many octaves of musical sound and internalize melodic, harmonic and rhythmic concepts as they develop keyboard skills and ear training.
The transposition in several keys of melodies and the structures of major, minor and 7th chords with inversions are also visually, mechanically and aurally experienced.
Students learn to arrange their own melodies with chords by playing and understanding different styles of accompaniment.
Students can relate to the particular concepts being taught by identifying or playing similar rhythms, melodic patterns or chord progressions from pop and other styles of music retrieved from YouTube.
Create to Motivate!
Improvisation is the opposite of notation. For each musical element taught through ensemble participation, there are creative exercises that can enhance and solidify these elements. The primary goal is a hands-on understanding of keyboard musicianship.
Improvise stepping, skipping and repeating short musical patterns in different positions to understand pitch motion (the direction and distance between pitches).
Improvise different note durations on the black keys. (A group can be divided into sections; one group plays low whole notes as other groups add half-, quarter- and eighth-notes in higher octaves.)
Compose short melodies (four or eight measures) using only CDE to demonstrate repetition, sequence, retrograde and inversion.
Improvise the overtone intervals (the octave, 5th, 4th and 3rds) and C-chord in several positions. Improvise in block and broken styles with white key chords and the chord progression C-F-C-G-C in root position.
After explaining the inversion of chords, including V7, that can be played from one hand position (with the extension of finger 1 or 5), improvise the C-F-C-G7-C progression with each hand alone, then hands together.
Improvise melodic blues patterns using the E♭ pentatonic scale with a twelve-bar C-F-C-G7-C chord progression.
Improvise the I-IV-V7 chords in other keys (noting that the “shapes” of these chords remain the same despite their change of position on the keyboard and staff).
Arrange an accompaniment for a selected or original melody. Then, compose a short chord progression, and create a melody for that progression.
Chords that Pop!
I teach a hands-on understanding of keyboard music. By learning about and playing chords, beginning piano students become more engaged in making music. This skill enables them to arrange their favorite popular song from lead sheets, and create chord progressions of their own.
Students are taught how to play and read melodies with emphasis on pitch motion, the direction and distance between pitches. The structure of melodic patterns such as repetition, sequence, retrograde and inversion is introduced in students’ melody writing exercises.
Six steps are used to teach chords from notation and symbols.
The overtones of C introduce octaves, fifths, and fourths and the thirds in C chord.
The 7 white key chords are played in root position with the other two pitches skipping above and are improvised in block and broken styles.
The chord progression C F C G C is played in root position using a broken style first with even quarter notes, then in a swing “Humpty Dumpty” style.
Students build the chords C, F, and G7 in the Key of C major and then the I, IV, and V7 chords in other keys, inverting them in order to play from one hand position with extended thumbs and little fingers. Patterns of chord structure (root on the bottom, middle, or top) are understood in terms of the interval, rather than memorized letters to enable students to transpose and play chord patterns more readily.
Students play white key major and minor chords with inversions in one position for the “Heart and Soul” progression.
The structure of seven chord types - major, minor, augmented, diminished, dominant 7th and major and minor 7th chords are explored from a summary page.
Interaction with a wide variety of YouTube music selections that emphasize students’ choice of music provides the opportunity for further demonstration of each step, creating an engaging experience for the students.
Create & Relate with Music Technology!
Today’s music is often accessed by students utilizing computers and Wi-Fi-enabled devices. By composing music with a musical keyboard and a computer, students can learn to utilize current technology to produce music, and increase their creative thinking and problem-solving abilities, in addition to gaining an outlet for self-expression; an assertion of their uniqueness. Through this exercise, students obtain information, accomplish tasks, and solve problems using higher order thinking skills (critical and creative), and deal with complexity and ambiguity, the capacity for sound judgment, and the ability to consider differing viewpoints. These skills can be effectively integrated into future jobs and careers in their adult lives.
LESSON ONE: KEEPING A STEADY BEAT WITH QUARTER AND EIGHTH NOTES AND IMPROVISING
TWO PLAYERS PRACTICE ON THE MUSICAL KEYBOARD. Listen to the percussion sounds, PATCH #99, using only the black keys. Play each black key with flat fingers, observing the picture of the percussion instrument placed above each one.Then, following the presenter’s directions, Player One practices playing four beats alternating bass-snare with a four-beat introduction on the marked C# and F#; Player Two practices eighth notes on the closed high-hat sound, the G#.
RECORD 8 BEATS COMBINING PLAYERS ONE AND TWO FOLLOWED BY A SHORT IMPROVISATION.
LISTEN AND EVALUATE. Did both players keep a steady beat? Did Player Two play the eighth notes correctly? Describe the improvisation.
LESSON TWO: CREATING A MUSICAL BACKGROUND FOR A STORY USING A WHITE KEY SCALE
THREE PLAYERS PRACTICE ON THE MUSICAL KEYBOARD. Set PATCH #35, the strings. Players select either the low, middle or high part of the keyboard and practice the C-major scale and chord following the beat of the drum. The players decide on an order of parts and the white key which will be the beginning and ending pitch.Player One will emphasize longer length single pitches, Player Two skips, and Player Three keeps shorter length single pitches.
Goal One: Achieve contrast in the musical parts.
Goal Two: Show the repetition of musical ideas.
RECORD THE IMPROVISATION.
WRITE THE BEGINNING OF A SHORT STORY THAT WILL USE THIS MUSIC AS A BACKGROUND. Identify the time, place and characters, and the problem and resolution in the story.
LISTEN AND EVALUATE. Was contrast shown between the musical parts? Was repetition used? Do you have suggestions for changing any of the musical elements?
The Blues, Literacy & Technology
An inner-city school where I teach received a Federal grant several years ago to focus on the development of literacy. Through this grant, I applied for and received funds for musical keyboards to implement a music literacy/music technology program. In this program, fourth-grade students create repeating and contrasting patterns with various scales to compose and record music, using a musical keyboard and computer. These musical ideas serve as a basis for an original story, poem or academic project that each team of students writes together. This past year, the objective has been called “Let’s Make a Movie!” Each team of students has four 20-minute periods (one each week) to create an original story or another project with music and make a presentation to their class, which is videotaped.
SAMPLE LESSON ONE: CREATING A MUSICAL BACKGROUND FOR A STORY
PRACTICE ON THE MUSICAL KEYBOARD. Using the string voice on the keyboard, three players select either the low, middle or high part of the keyboard and improvise. They are told that C is to the left of the group of two black keys. Then they practice C major scale and “chords” (taught as white key steps from C, and skips from any white key). The players decide on an order of parts. All parts are to begin and end on C. Player One (low) will emphasize longer-length single pitches, Player Two will use skips, and Player Three will do shorter-length single pitches.
Goal One: Show repetition of musical ideas in each part.
Goal Two: Achieve contrast in the musical parts.
RECORD THE MUSICAL PATTERNS.
LISTEN AND EVALUATE: Was each part clearly played? Was contrast shown between the musical parts? Was repetition used? Are there suggestions for changes in the musical elements?
WRITE A SHORT STORY. Let the musical patterns suggest a story (at least the beginning). Identify the time, place, characters, problem, and resolution in the story.
SAMPLE LESSON TWO: IMPROVISING THE BLUES AND WRITING A VERSE
Fourth-grade students learn about and perform African and African-American poetry and music that are a part of the blues tradition in a unit called “How to Blues” (www.nmc.org.com). They combine literacy with music as they learn to improvise a twelve-bar blues chord progression with bass and melody and write blues verses to sing along with their music.
1) IMPROVISE A TWELVE BAR BLUES:
First Player (low – piano voice): broken chords with added steps bass pattern. Second Player (middle – piano voice): C F C G7 C 12-bar block chord progression. Third Player (2nd keyboard middle – saxophone): melody includes the roots of chords C F and G, plus the Eb and Bb blues notes (flatted 3rd and 7th) of the C major scale. Count 4 beats per measure with an appropriate chord and bass note on each beat to support the melodic improvisation. (Group alternating stamp/clamp.) The melodic improvisation should use a long-short “Humpty Dumpty” rhythm with two notes per beat.
2) WRITE A BLUES VERSE: Use the form A A B and rhyme the ending words.
“St. Louis Blues” by W. C. Handy – “I hate to see the evenin’ sun go down, Hate to see the evenin’ sun go down, ‘Cause my baby, he done left this town.”
State the problem: _________________________________________________________
Repeat the statement: ______________________________________________________
A Video of Literacy and Music Technology
1. Creating: Each student explores the different voices on his or her keyboard. A scale is selected, and each student composes short, repeating patterns and makes them contrast with the other students’ patterns. As a team, they discuss the performance, as well as the different qualities of their music, and begin to create a short story to go with the music.
2. A Trip to Jamaica: The adventures of four students who take a trip to Jamaica.
3. Sea Otter: Sea otter moves swiftly across the blue sea.
It sits on the shore eating fish and feeding its young.
Its fur is as soft as cotton, and as brown as the bark of a tree.
When I think of its fur, I feel all warm inside.
Sea otter moves swiftly across the blue sea.
4. Mars: A story about four friends that were challenged to stay in space for three days on Mars. When they landed on Mars, they found it was covered with red spots. As they went out of the spaceship, they saw creatures that had oval heads and four eyes. They were attacked and tried to run away. They were able to tie the hideous creatures into a knot and throw them off the planet. They celebrated with a dance, and then returned to earth.
5. Pokémon: A story about two Pokémon and their friends who went to a haunted house to see a ghost Pokémon. One of them tripped another by mistake on their way. They challenged each other, settled their differences, and went home.
6. Africa Dream: A song by Eloise Greenfield with improvised conga accompaniment.
7. The Blues (original verses)
8. The Blues (assembly performance)
9. Under The Chinaberry Tree: A book by Evangeline Nicholas. The author as a young girl loved to sit under her Chinaberry tree. She reads books there, and she drew letters in the sand there. Both her father and grandfather read to her. She also had parties under that tree and found peace as a child. When she grew up, she traveled all over the world, but still, she remembered the tree – the peaceful feelings and wonderful times she had there.
A Video of Music Technology
Fourth-grade students from the Martin Luther King School use a sequence as an accompaniment for their singing and begin to create a musical background for an original short story.
Improvisations by the following: a) A technology class at the Lincoln-Bassett Elementary School in New Haven using C major scale with bass, chords, and melody. b) A technology class at the Augusta Lewis Troup School in New Haven with repeating and contrasting patterns using half-steps, repeated notes and chords demonstrating different timbres. c) Eighth-grade students from the Augusta Lewis Troup School playing the blues at the 6th Annual at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.
A Lincoln-Bassett Elementary School presentation of a story titled, with music, an original work by fourth-grade students, in which the use of contrasting sounds and rhythm and pitch patterns express both the character and action elements of the story using the pentatonic black key scale.
A presentation of the sequence, “Percussion Improvisation,” in which two fourth-grade Lincoln-Bassett Elementary School students show teamwork in keeping a steady beat with pattern repetition, contrast, and imitation.
A presentation of the sequence “A Minor Improvisation” by Augusta Lewis Troup School eighth-grade students.
Two selected sequences presented to the New Haven Board of Education by Augusta Lewis Troup School students: a) a rhythm sequence using whole, half, quarter and eighth notes. b) an improvisation of white key fifths to accompany a poem.
Selections from the music technology presentations at the Augusta Lewis Troup School showing:
A three-note melody, based on GAB, with first and second endings and chord accompaniment.
An original melody based on CDEFG with chords, bass and percussion accompaniment, based on “Ode to Joy.”
An original melody based on CDEFG with chords and percussion accompaniment, based on “Oh, When the Saints Go Marching In.”
An original melody based on CDEFG with quarter and eighth note variations and first and second endings, chords and counter-melody.
“Ice Cream,” an original sequence emphasizing minor chords.
“Contrasts,” an original sequence using repeating and contrasting patterns.
An arrangement of a favorite song.
Students play melodies from notation, learning the principles of notation through the understanding of pitch motion (interval) – both direction and distance, and how it relates to the staff. Rhythmic notation is also addressed through the performing of notated rhythm patterns using the percussion sounds. The goal for each student is to notate his or her simple three or five note range melody on the staff.