Music and the Brain Newsletter No. 9 – June 2002
The year is finishing up with a musical bang! So many great things are happening in your classrooms that there are too many to include in one newsletter!
Dr. Gordon Shaw
It was great to have so many of you at the meeting with Gordon Shaw a couple of weeks ago. His discoveries are fascinating! I hope you enjoyed it. One thing I found particularly amazing was an experiment one of Dr. Shaw's graduate students proposed. She thought it would be interesting to map their model of normal brain functions in musical notation. The result was recognizable formsof music. Some patterns sounded like Baroque music, others sounded like Asian music, displaying patterns, symmetry, retrograde and inversion. Shaw described those patterns as the "grammar" of the brain, or how the brain communicates with itself. The patterns we find in certain forms of music are intrinsic in us!
For some reason, Mozart seems to be most similar to our brain "grammar",or at least was shown to effect brain function in a way that improved many subjects' abilities to perform spatial-temporal tasks. Shaw defined spatial-temporal reasoning as our ability to see ahead in time in pictures, or anticipate how things will look and behave. Gordon Shaw and Frances Rauscherare responsible for the "Mozart Effect" study that illustrated the short-term benefits of listening to Mozart before performing spatial-temporal tasks. Other types of music like 40's swing and Phillip Glass were used as a control in the experiment and had no effect on the subjects (spatial reasoning skills).
Rauscherwent on to do a similar study with rats (exposed to huge doses of the music mentioned above) - with similar results! . The same piece of music, Mozart's K448 sonata for 2 pianos even had positive effects on softening the spikes during an epileptic seizure (of a patient in a coma!).
Spatial-temporal reasoning is integral to our ability to solve mathematical problems, especially geometry and proportional math. Dr. Shaw and the M.I.N.D. institute have developed a math and piano-keyboarding curriculum to test the hypothesis that spatial-temporal reasoning methods in conjunction with piano keyboard training will enhance the learning of difficult math. (Music and the Brain was createdout of a similar desire to enhance the learning of young children through keyboarding and music theory due to the results of Shaw's study.) Shaw's results in Los Angeles public schools are amazing! The theory seems to be proving effective.
Lisha has several of the articles Shaw referred to for those of you who enjoy reading science papers. Contact her directly for copies.
Music Theory Worksheets are a Hit! Many sources tell us that the new theory worksheets are a hit with the children. Kindergarteners at PS 149 are getting straight 100% ontheir worksheets! Other children come after school begging for homework! What'shappening to these children? They love music theory!
Irene McByrne-Pepe the Multi-media Magician! Irene-McByrne-Pepe, one of the music teachers at PS 164 in Queens is a master of supplementing the Music and the Brain curriculum with her own extremely creative ideas and a vast amount of resources and materials.
Every lesson Irene teaches involves a variety of activities, musical recordings,instruments, games, books and anything else that might inspire her students tolearn. She recently described her lesson on "Peter and the Wolf" andI would like to include it in her words: "Next, we started "Peter andthe Wolf", my favorite! I have a video, (Disney animated 15 minutes). We watched it and discussed the instruments and how they suited the particular animals (they represented). I showed them pictures of the instruments and illustrations of "Peter and the Wolf" from a book. We listened to the music without the video and tried to imagine the characters and their music. We pretended to be cats as I played (very poorly) my clarinet and of course studied the (music board) - they love staccato.
Next I played for them some alternate animal music from "Love for TwoCats" by Ravel- this is a very different cat! "Flight of theBumblebee" by Korsakov, "The Swan" by Saint-Saens, "Danceof the Mosquito" by Liadow, "Personages with Long Ears" bySaint-Saens and "Royal March of the Lion" and "Ballet of theUnhatched Chicks" by Mussorgsky. We listened first without me telling them the animal. They guessed (the animal) and then I told them and we listened again. They are all excerpts so they're short. I handed out "Peter and theWolf" copies from a coloring book and we took them home slinking out the door like cats."
Concert sat PS 150 Accordingto intern Lucian Ban, the concerts at PS 150 were a big success! The two music teachers at PS 150, Paul Madden and Maria Schwab, recently held end of the yearconcerts for the keyboarding children's parents. The concerts were different but equally successful! They involved large ensembles playing in unison,smaller ensembles playing different parts, conducting and singing.
Solfege Deborah Nomani has encountered a cultural difference in the teaching of music in France as compared to theUnited States. The French use solfege syllables instead of letter names toidentify notes. Their fixed "Do" is C. Fixed or moveable, solfegesyllables with the hand signals are great for ear training.
HowFast Should We Be Moving? Many Kindergarten classes finished or went beyond Book One by the end of the year. Many are also very good at identifying note names and recognizing notes without finger numbers. Obviously, children are capable of moving quickly and absorbing lots of information. How far did your classes go? Do you have any opinions of how fast or slow this curriculum should be taught? What seemed to work best for your classes?
Different Ways of Using the Rhythm Cards Many of us have been experimenting with clapping rhythm cards at different tempos this year. Mixing up the tempo is a good idea - it keeps the children alert and thinking. Lisha recommends, however, that time signature cards NOT be mixed up too much. She recommends that we stay with one time signature long enough to allow the children to get into the groove of the rhythm. They will get used to seeing the same kinds of notes in different patterns and be able to anticipate the next rhythm. Switching too often and too quickly between types of notes, tempos and time signatures may cause more confusion than benefit.
STORIES FROM THE FIELD
Deborah Nomani, our Parisian correspondent, has spent the year teaching Music and theBrain in three bilingual Montessori schools in Paris. She incorporated the Montessori bells in a lesson on "Pentatonic Waves" to show in a concrete way that only five note were used in the song. The children took turns playing the song with the bells. This is a good example of how using other instrumentscan help illustrate concepts. Orff instruments are great for expressing skips and steps
The children at PS 164 are now world travelers! They have visited so many different countries in music class that they decided to make a passport to keep track of their travels. Irene McByrne-Pepe has her classes get on the airplane and make the journey to whatever country the day's song is from. They find the country on the map and learn a little bit about it before moving on to the music.
Cybele Gouverneur described a game called "Name that Measure" where she'll sing a measure from a sing and the children try to find it on the large poster.
Nicole Becker did a theory paper equivalent, "Name that Song" where she presented written music without any title or finger numbers and had the kids identify it. They also write in the finger numbers and note names.
At Midtown West, intern Liza Gibbs reports success with "My Mama's Callin Me". First, teacher Robin Casey introduced the idea of triplets by asking how the children would say a rhythm with three notes in one beat. One girl answered, "teary-tee?" A smart idea even though it wasn't the one Robin was looking for. Next they worked on clapping the rhythms call and response style. The children really picked up on the syncopated feeling. Many were able to transfer it to the keyboards. Due to the repeating patterns, the missing finger numbers were also becoming easier to find. According to Liza,the most important thing is that the children enjoy the song so much that they want to play it.
The classes at PS 149 just keep graduating! As each class finishes Book One, teacher Krista Wozniak has started the tradition of having a graduation party for them with certificates of achievement, cupcakes and the traditional"Eine Kleine Nacht Music" dance. I got to participate in one of these important ceremonies and see the joy and pride on the faces of the graduates as they received their certificates. They couldn't read the cursive signatures and needed a translation, but were amazed that we both signed them! They were bursting to tell their families.
Liza Gibbs had the inspiration to have the children do finger exercises on the rug with their eyes closed. She thought it would help them be more automatic once they got to the keyboards. If finger numbers become automatic, then the children can keep their eyes on the music instead of hunting for fingers and keys.
Kevin Hill and his team of interns at PS 207 have started a project of playing in ensembles. To challenge some of the children that were moving at a faster pace than others, Kevin decided to have them experiment with playing in small groups. It's so much more difficult to play with others and keep a consistent tempo. I had the opportunity to witness an amazing performance of "Bingo". Three children played together in almost perfect unison. When one child got lost, he immediately found his place and after the performance he went back and practiced the tough spot to make sure it wouldn't happen again. Shinya Muto,one of the interns, mentioned that his conducting and tapping the beat at the same time helped the children stay together in the beginning stages of theensemble. (Lisha strongly recommends that teachers conduct/lead the childrenin any kind of ensemble playing for several reasons; it is the only way for groups to really play together, it is the musical and professional way to lead ensembles, kids should get used to it during the year so that when it comes time for concerts they are good at following and staying together.)
During a lesson on "WilliamTell", the children at PS 149 begged their teachers to "sing in an opera way!" (Thanks to the singers involved with Music and the Brain, we are creating the opera audiences on tomorrow.) Krista Wozniak and Coralie Gallet had them come up and sing recitatives to eachother. They love it! Here is a sample recitativo: "Hello. Hello. What did you have for breakfast today? I had Cherrios! I like Cherrios! Etc..."During the same lesson they children were having trouble reading the music and singing the finger numbers on their own because their eyes weren't on themusic. Krista picked up a book and began to read it out loud. She looked away from the book and stopped reading. Then she told them that's what happens when they take their eyes away from the music. When they continued practicing, all eyes were fixed on the music.
Irene McByrne-Pepe at PS 164 in Queens did a great listening lesson with "PopGoes the Weasel". The class squatted down in three rows and popped up 2X each row. (The song pops 6x on the recording.) When only the music pops without the words, they used their arms to pop.
Richard Johnson had a child at PS 24x point out that the melody they were singing with the numbers was the same melody they sang with the words of the song. He thought that would be obvious, but a lot of teachers are finding that the children don't necessarily connect what happens on the rug with what happens atthe keyboard and on the printed page of music. Be sure to emphasize the connections between these two halves of the lesson. The rug lesson gets them ready to play the keyboard.
Meryl Cullom, at PS 36x, wrote: "Sorida was so much fun in the Bronx. Kids loveto get up and move. It's really very focusing even though it seems like itwould be chaos. I did it with my 2 year old at home. Being a pat-a-cake lover she loved it too." Movement helps to expel extra energy and is also agreat way to express concepts.
Michelle Turner's excellent "movable fermata post-it method" has been passed around from school to school thanks to Coralie Gallet. In "Happy Birthday" we see the fermata for the first time, so after explaining that the fermata allows you to stop on a note and hold it as long as you want, takea post-it note with the fermata drawn on it and while the children are singing,place it above different notes in the song, causing them to hold the notes until the fermata moves on. Kids loved this!
Looking Beyond the Notes My favorite thing about teaching at PS 149 is that the children always want to know the story behind the song. Who is the composer? Is he dead? How did he die? What language is it in? What's happening in the song? All these questions come naturally to the children's minds because their teacher, Krista Wozniak, has made it a habit to look beyond the notes. The arts are an important part ofour lives because they embody the things that can't be expressed in every-dayspeech. Music evokes images and emotions, tells stories, makes political statements, and makes us want to dance. The ability to read music and play and instrument is only one element of music education. The more ways children feel connected to the music the more they want to play it. Fill the children with anticipation, be it stories of composers or personal feelings for songs, or even preparation for specific musical moments on a recording. They will be as excited as you.
PS One final note...
This comes from Deborah Nomani who wrote: "The other afternoon I was doing the afterschool program and I was sitting at a table with some boys who were coloring pictures and they started singing, unsolicited, some songs that they learned this year with me. It was one of the sweetest teaching moments for me ever."
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