In the previous article, I showed readers ways that teachers can engage students at the Symbolic Association level with a focus on reading. In this article, I will show you how, just like with language, I extend the teaching of reading with the teaching of writing.
To begin with, here is a video of me demonstrating this with one of my 7th grade classes a few years ago.
Gordon presents writing Learning Sequence Activities in his Reference Handbook for Learning Sequence Activities, and although I don’t agree wholeheartedly with the way he presents them, as with much of his writing, there is much insight to be gleaned from his thoughtful approach. One of the most important takeaways from Gordon’s LSA is that he makes a distinction between two seemingly disparate ideas: merely copying notation as opposed to writing from your audiation.
As with writing language, both are necessary components to the music writing process. One has to be able to have reasonable command over the physical mechanics of writing music notation: note heads, flags, beams, rests, and the like. However, that task can be completed with little to no audiation. This can be accomplished rather simply, quickly and efficiently. In fact, you will see some students who may struggle from an audiation perspective truly shine when it comes to their musical calligraphy.
While one must teach their students the mechanics of how to draw notes before they can write from their musical mind, the skill of writing from one’s audiation must also be taught. I ask students to think back to when they were much younger, and they wrote a letter to Santa Claus. “You had to reach into your mind for the right words, and then put them down on paper in a logical manner in order for your ideas to be communicated. The same is true for music!”
Gordon’s Writing Process
I have appropriated Gordon’s rhythm writing process, added some tweaks, and have arrived at the following process that has served my students well. It is as follows:
1. I pass out a writing worksheet to students, and attend to the mechanics, as described above. Below is an example of the type of sheet I use. Several of these writing worksheets are in the Digital Appendix of MLT Any Music Teacher Can Du...De for ease of printing should you want to use them in your classroom.) I give my students the rhythmic words that they are going to write and have them copy them twice: once with the stems going up and once with the stems going down (to prep them for the fact that when note heads are on or above the third line, the stems will go down). I demonstrate how to write them “upside down” on the board.
2. Next, I briefly explain the process to students. “You will see the words you just copied appear in a musical sentence on the board. We will read the sentence together, I will hide it from your view, and you will write it from your audiation.” This is the key (and genius) from Gordon’s LSA: that they need to write the pattern by recalling it from their musical mind rather than simply copying it down.
3. I follow this process for three to four patterns, making sure that pencils are down until I remove the pattern from sight by switching the slide. (I have presentations like this prepared in Google Slides.) I walk around the room for each pattern to monitor their process. If students need to see the pattern more than once, which they sometimes do when we write more complicated patterns, I walk around with the patterns, and show them only to individual students when necessary. I have them read it to me in a whisper.
4. After the activity, I collect their papers. I grade them on their effort, not their accuracy.
MLT Any Music Teacher Can Du...De
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Writing Tonal Patterns
As with rhythm, it is highly advisable to have students write patterns in addition to reading them. Reading informs writing, and writing reinforces reading. Follow a similar process that we used with rhythm patterns.
1. Pass out a writing worksheet to students, and attend to the mechanics of writing the notes as well as the two DO-signatures (F-DO and Eb-DO). For younger students, drawing the treble clef and the flats may take some extra practice. I give my students the tonal words that they are going to write and have them copy them.
2. Next, I briefly explain the process to students. “I will tell you the DO-signature for each example and you will write it. Then, you will see the words you just copied appear in a musical sentence on the board. We will read the sentence together, I will hide it from your view, and you will write it from your audiation.”
3. I follow this process for four musical sentences (two in F-DO and one in Eb-DO), making sure that pencils are down until I remove the pattern from sight. I alternate between F-DO and Eb-DO, as in the examples to the right. I walk around the room for each pattern to monitor their process. If students need to see the pattern more than once, I walk around with the patterns, and show them only to individual students when necessary. I have them read it to me in a whisper. If they need me to sing it, I will.
4. After the activity, I collect their papers.
Writing Tonal Pattern Examples
I strongly encourage readers to try out these writing Learning Sequence Activity-type activities! They are highly motivating for students. In addition, this activity provides the readiness for Composite Synthesis-Writing, dictation, as well as many opportunities for composition at the Creativity/Improvisation-Symbolic level!
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. (2001). Reference Handbook for Using Learning Sequence Activities. 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.
Additionally, the Gordon Institute of Music Learning has many resources for MLT practitioners, including a wonderful YouTube channel and a members-only area that contains lectures, videos, and exclusive content. I would strongly encourage my readers to become a member of the GIML community!