March 17, 2020

0 comments

Gordon’s Skill Learning Sequence: The 30,000 Foot View

By Andy Mullen ‚Äč

MLT, Theory

In the Learning Music Learning Theory Learning Theory, we established a foundation of knowledge - The First Five - that will assist us in our understanding of MLT. As a reminder, the First Five were:

1. Audiation as the foundation of musical understanding

2. The Music/Language Parallel

3. The MLT Three: Skills, Context, Content 

4. The Whole Part Whole Learning Model 

5. Two Teaching Modalities: Learning Sequence Activities and Classroom Activities

I’ll also remind you of the MLT 3: Skills, Context, and Content

  • Skills = What can students DO? (verbs: read, write, compare, improvise, echo, etc.) 
  • Context = Everything we teach hangs on the syntactical structure of a tonality or meter
  • Content = Functions (eg. macrobeat, microbeat, tonic, dominant) and Patterns (specific examples of a function within a context (eg. do mi so in major)

In a Music Learning Theory classroom, not only do we teach students musical content (tonalities, meters, harmonic functions, rhythmic functions), but we teach them musical skills. This answers the question: What should students be able to do with the content?

For example, they can:

  • Echo a pattern
  • Read a pattern
  • Translate a pattern from a neutral syllable to solfege
  • Identify the tonality or meter of an unfamiliar song
  • Identify the chord progression of a familiar song
  • Improvise an ending to a song
  • Have a musical conversation in Dorian tonality
  • Compare and contrast two tonalities or meters
  • Write notation from dictation

As MLT teachers, we arm our students with the tools they need in order to learn those musical skills. We combine those skills with specific tonal or rhythm content in a logical manner in order to create the musicianship curriculum that best fits the musical needs of our students.

Gordon’s Skill Learning Sequence

Gordon has organized musical skills into a very elegant Skill Learning Sequence. 

Skill Learning Sequence

The level of difficulty flows from the top left down through the bottom left, then up to the top right and down the right hand side. 

Discrimination and Inference Learning

There are two broad types of learning: discrimination learning and inference learning. 

Discrimination Learning

In this type of learning, all information is explicitly taught to students. This is rote learning. “This is what something is. This is something different.”

It is called discrimination learning because we teach students to discriminate one thing from another. For example, we teach students to discriminate between:

  • Tonalities (major vs. minor)
  • Meters (duple vs. triple)
  • Harmonic functions (tonic vs. dominant)
  • Rhythmic functions (macro/micro vs. division)

There is an old MLT adage: “We learn what something is by what it’s not.”

In discrimination learning, we build a musical vocabulary of tonal patterns and rhythm patterns that we can later use to achieve musical tasks in Inference learning. (For example, we can take musical patterns we have learned, and rearrange them to create new patterns. We can use patterns to write a composition.)

For teaching purposes, we use familiar patterns in familiar or unfamiliar order. 

Gordonpic
Quotation_marks_image_03

Dr. Edwin E. Gordon

“In discrimination learning, someone teaches us, and we learn. The more information we acquire through discrimination learning, the more able we are now to make judgements and draw conclusions, to make inferences, and to be able to think for ourselves. The more we know, the more we can learn from what we know.” 

~Lecture CDs to accompany Learning Sequences in Music, 1997

Inference Learning

In this type of learning, all information is not explicitly taught to students, but rather, students are taught how to teach themselves. In fact, this is perhaps the greatest thing we can do for our students: to teach them how to teach themselves.

Students are guided by setting them up with musical scenarios so that they can practice advanced musical skills under specific criteria. Students infer the unfamiliar on the basis of the familiar.

In discrimination learning, students were taught how to achieve skills. In inference learning, they are practicing those skills with only guidance from the teacher.

For teaching purposes, we use familiar and unfamiliar patterns in (necessarily) unfamiliar order.

Levels of Learning and Can-Do Objectives

What follows is a short description of each skill level, as well as possible “Can Do Objectives.” A “Can Do Objective” answers the question, “What should students be able to do with the content?” 

For example:

  • Students can echo the teacher’s pattern with a neutral syllable
  • Students can echo the teacher’s pattern with solfege
  • List Students can listen to the pattern, and identify its function (Duple, Macro/Micro, for example)
  • Students can translate the pattern from a neutral syllable to solfege
  • Students can sing the first pitch of the pattern the teacher sings.

Aural/Oral

Skill Level: Aural/Oral

Type of Learning: Discrimination

Readiness: Preparatory Audiation

Readiness For: Verbal Association and Generalization-Aural/Oral

Aural/Oral

Aural/Oral (abbreviated A/O) is the most fundamental level in the Skill Learning Sequence. At this level, we use a neutral syllable because we want students to hear the pure sound of music first. Gordon insists that the sound itself is fundamental. Movement is considered part of the Aural/Oral skill level, as well. Any time we learn new tonal or rhythm content, we always return to Aural/Oral and learn the sound first without any syllables.

Can-Do Objectives

  • Students can move with Continuous Flow in Space (CFS)
  • Students can listen to the teacher sing or chant
  • Students can move to macro/microbeats
  • Students can echo tonal and rhythm patterns
  • Students can sing first pitch of tonal patterns
  • Students can sing resting tone after listening to tonic and dominant chords

Aural/Oral in Action

GIML faculty member Jennifer Bailey teaches a rote song at the Aural/Oral level. Check out Jennifer's Teachers Pay Teachers page for lots of great MLT material!

GIML faculty member Heather Shouldice does a classroom activity with bass lines at the Aural/Oral level. Check out Heather's MLT podcast, Everyday Musicality.

Verbal Association

Skill Level: Verbal Association

Type of Learning: Discrimination

Readiness: Aural/Oral

Readiness For: Partial/Synthesis and Generalization-Verbal

Screen Shot 2020-03-17 at 9.43.04 AM

Verbal Association (abbreviated VA) is the second level in the Skill Learning Sequence. At this level, we use tonal solfege (movable do with a la-based minor) and rhythm solfege (movable “du,” a beat function rhythm syllable system) to label the sounds we have heard at the Aural/Oral level of learning.

At this level, we name things in our audiation. Specifically, we label: 

  • Names of contexts (tonalities and meters)
  • Functions within contexts (e.g. major tonic; duple macrobeats)
  • Pitches and durations within those functions (e.g. do re mi; du de)

Can-Do Objectives

  • Students can move to and label macro/microbeat
  • Students can echo rhythm patterns with macro/microbeat function using rhythm syllables 
  • Students can move to macro/microbeats
  • Students can aurally label (name) rhythm patterns by function
  • Students can aurally recognize meter by explaining what microbeats they are audiating
  • Students can echo harmonic patterns with tonic/dominant function using tonal syllables
  • Students can aurally label a tonality by its resting tone

Verbal Association in Action

GIML faculty member Jennifer Bailey teaches a Learning Sequence Activity at the Verbal Association level. Check out Jennifer's Teachers Pay Teachers page for lots of great MLT material!

In this video, I teach a bucket drum lesson using rhythm syllables at the Verbal Association level. 

Partial Synthesis

Skill Level: Partial Synthesis

Type of Learning: Discrimination

Readiness: Verbal Association

Readiness For: Symbolic Association and Generalization-Verbal
Partial Synthesis

Partial Synthesis (abbreviated PS) is the next level in the Skill Learning Sequence. At this level, students are able recognize the difference between contexts (tonalities and meters) of a series of familiar patterns. The teacher explains HOW to tell the difference between, for example, major and minor tonalities (by recognizing the resting tone or quality of the tonic chord) or between duple and triple meters (by pairing the patterns with the correct microbeats). 

Can-Do Objectives

  • Students can aurally recognize tonality or meter of familiar patterns with teacher guidance 
  • Students can audiate the difference between Duple and Triple meters using familiar patterns
  • Students can audiate the difference between Major and Minor tonalities using familiar patterns

Partial Synthesis in Action

GIML faculty member Cindy Taggart demonstrates a classroom activity at the Partial Synthesis level. 

In this video, GIML faculty member Jennifer Bailey teaches a tonal Partial Synthesis Learning Sequence Activity. 

Symbolic Association

Skill Level: Symbolic Association

Sub-levels: Reading, Writing

Type of Learning: Discrimination

Readiness: Partial Synthesis

Readiness For: Composite Synthesis and Generalization-Symbolic
Symbolic Association

Symbolic Association (abbreviated SA) is the first time that students read musical notation. Students first heard the sound at Aural/Oral, gave it an aural label in Verbal Association, solidified musical context at Partial Synthesis, and now they are ready to read notation, and bring meaning TO it. At this level, students are reading tonal and rhythm patterns that are familiar to them because they learned them at the first two levels (A/O and VA).

There are both reading (SA-r) and writing (SA-w) sub-levels. In Reading, the students move from notation to audiation, whereas in Writing, students move from their audiation to notation.

Can-Do Objectives

  • Students read familiar patterns using solfege
  • Students write familiar patterns from their audiation using standard notation

Symbolic Association in Action

GIML faculty member Heather Shouldice reading tonal patterns at the Symbolic Association level.

In this video, GIML faculty member Cindy Taggart demonstrates a classroom activity at the Symbolic Association level. 

Composite Synthesis

Skill Level: Composite Synthesis

Sub-Levels: Reading, Writing

Type of Learning: Discrimination

Readiness: Symbolic Association

Readiness For: Generalization-Symbolic

Composite Synthesis

Composite Synthesis (abbreviated CS) is the highest level in Discrimination learning.

It subsumes all of the previous levels of learning. At this level, students can 1) read a series of patterns and 2) bring contextual meaning (tonality or meter) to the notation. In the same way that Partial Synthesis synthesized Aural/Oral and Verbal Association, Composite Synthesis synthesizes Symbolic Association with Partial Synthesis. Partial synthesis only partially synthesizes because there is no notation. Whereas Symbolic Association is only reading, Composite Synthesis is reading with comprehension.

Composite Synthesis, like Partial Synthesis, always implies a fair amount of inference learning. At any time in Composite Synthesis, we could be attending to either of its two primary sub-skills (reading a series of patterns; identifying context), or to both. This level has varying degrees of difficulty depending on the amount of scaffolding you provide your students, which in the beginning experiences of this level, could be significant.

There are two sub-levels: Composite Synthesis-Reading (CS-r) and Composite Synthesis-Writing (CS-w).

Can-Do Objectives

  • Students can read a series of familiar tonal or rhythm patterns in familiar or unfamiliar order.
  • Students can write a series of familiar tonal or rhythm patterns from dictation.
  • Students can write a series of familiar tonal or rhythm patterns from memory after seeing them in notation.
  • Students give syntax (tonality or meter) to a series of familiar patterns in notation (Reading with comprehension)
  • Students give syntax (tonality or meter) to a series of familiar patterns from dictation (Writing with comprehension)

Composite Synthesis in Action 

In this video, I "dip my toe" into Composite Synthesis in some classroom activities. 

Generalization

Skill Level: Generalization

Sub-Levels: Aural/Oral, Verbal, Symbolic-Reading, Symbolic-Writing

Type of Learning: Inference

Readiness: Discrimination Learning

Readiness For: Creativity/Improvisation

Screen Shot 2020-03-17 at 1.39.24 PM

Generalization (abbreviated G) is the first Inference skill in the Skill Learning Sequence. The skill of Generalization is very broad in that there are many sub-levels that can happen at this level (just as there are many types of generalizations one can make in language.) At the Generalization level, we use familiar and unfamiliar patterns in a necessarily unfamiliar order.

There are several sub-levels of Generalization. At Generalization-Aural/Oral (G-a/o), students identify if two patterns are the same or different. At Generalization-Verbal (G-v), students can provide solfege for patterns with neutral syllables, they can identify the functions of familiar or unfamiliar patterns, or they can identify the tonality or meter of familiar or unfamiliar patterns or songs. At the Generalization-Symbolic level (G-s), they can read (G-s-r) or write (G-s-w) familiar and unfamiliar patterns. This is what some teachers may call “sight-reading.”

It should also be noted that, like several other levels, Generalization is on a continuum depending on the complexity of the skill and the amount of scaffolding a teacher provides.

Can-Do Objectives

  • Students can identify that two patterns are the same or different (G-a/o)
  • Students can translate pattern from neutral syllable to solfege (G-v)
  • Students can identify the tonality of a familiar or unfamiliar song (G-v)
  • Students can identify the tonal or rhythmic function(s) of familiar or unfamiliar patterns (G-v) )
  • Students can read unfamiliar patterns (on the basis of familiar patterns) (G-s-r)
  • Students can write unfamiliar patterns (on the basis of familiar patterns) (G-s-w)

Generalization in Action 

GIML faculty member Heather Shouldice demonstrates a classroom activity at the Generalization-Verbal level. 

In this video, GIML faculty member Jennifer Bailey teaches a classroom activity at the Generalization-Verbal level. 

Creativity/Improvisation

Skill Level: Creativity/Improvisation

Sub-Levels: Aural/Oral, Symbolic-Reading, Symbolic-Writing

Type of Learning: Inference

Readiness: Discrimination Learning/Generalization

Readiness For: Theoretical Understanding

Creativity/Improvisation

Creativity/Improvisation (abbreviated C/I) is the next level in the Skill Learning Sequence. This level is where students get the opportunity to apply what they have learned and make musical decisions of their own. Teachers set students up with opportunities for creativity and improvisation, and can only guide students. Like other levels, Creativity/ Improvisation is on a continuum, depending upon the complexity of the task, how specific you ask the students to be, and the nature of the task itself.

Creativity/Improvisation Continuum

In Exploration, there are no restrictions. Students could simply play on Orff instruments where “everything sounds great!” In Creativity, we begin to put restrictions on students, but they are more limited. For example, we could limit them by tonality or meter. In Improvisation, there are further restrictions. For example, we could limit students by function. Composition is Improvisation, but is more permanent, and can be repeated (and notated). (Shouldice)

There are several sub-levels. Creativity/Improvisation-Aural/Oral (C/I-a/o) is where students are not beholden to syllables. However, at this level, a teacher can choose to use syllables as a technique. Because they are not “creating” the syllables, this level is technically called Creativity/Improvisation-Aural/Oral with syllables. At the Creativity/Improvisation-Symbolic levels, students are reading and improvising over chord changes (C/I-s-r) or composing their own music (C/I-s-w).

Can-Do Objectives

  • Students can create/improvise patterns orally, with or without solfege
  • Students can create/improvise with patterns orally, with or without solfege  
  • Students can read chord symbols or figured bass 
  • Students can compose
  • Students can create new endings to songs

Creativity/Improvisation in Action 

GIML faculty member Heather Shouldice demonstrates a classroom activity at the Creativity/Improvisation level. 

I took the "unfinished song" idea from Jennifer Bailey, and added it into my The Literate Musician course.

Theoretical Understanding

Skill Level: Theoretical Understanding

Type of Learning: Inference

Readiness: Audiation

Readiness For: Your High School Band Teacher

Theoretical Understanding

Theoretical Understanding (abbreviated TU) is the highest level in the Skill Learning Sequence. Theoretical Understanding, like grammar in language, deals with all of the “whys” in music. Furthermore, proper music vocabulary, like the names of the lines and spaces, time value names, cadence types and the like all fall under the purview of Theoretical Understanding.

Quotation_marks_image_white_03

“The difference between music theory and theoretical understanding is that theoretical understanding assumes audiation.”

- Dr. Cynthia Taggart -

There are no Learning Sequence Activities for this level, and, as it is not addressed in any specific manner in the practical applications of Music Learning Theory, it will not be addressed in any more detail in this blog post. 

References


Bailey, J. & Reese, J. (2018). GIML Certification Course in Elementary General Level 2. Baldwin Wallace University. Berea, OH.


Gordon, E. E. (2012). Learning Sequences in Music: A Contemporary Music Learning Theory. Chicago: GIA.


Gordon, E. E. (1997). Lecture CDs to accompany Learning Sequences in Music: A Contemporary Music Learning Theory. Chicago: GIA.


Reynolds, A. & Burton, S.L. (2016). GIML Certification Course in Elementary General Level 1. Temple University. Philadelphia, PA.


Shouldice, H. & Taggart, C. (2019). GIML Certification Course in Elementary General Level 2. Michigan State University. Lansing, MI.

Resources


  • Jennifer Bailey's Teacher Pay Teachers page has many, many activities for the MLT-inspired classroom! 
  • Heather Shouldice's website and podcast, Everyday Musicality, are both amazing resources for both the beginning and seasoned MLT teacher alike!

pinit fg en rect red 28 - Gordon’s Skill Learning Sequence: The 30,000 Foot View

About the author Andy Mullen

Andy Mullen is a teacher, folk musician, multi-instrumentalist, recovering songwriter, and lifelong learner. He has taught all levels of students in a number of subjects, and is currently a middle school general music and choir teacher in Burlington, Massachusetts. Mr Mullen holds Masters degrees in Music Education and School Administration, as well as certification from the Gordon Institute of Music Learning (GIML) in Elementary General Level 2 and Early Childhood Music. He is the author of "The Literate Musician" and "Fifty Tunes for Teaching," the creator of The Literate Musician podcast, and the composer of the children's album, "Chucka Chucka Wawa."

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

You might also like