Teaching K-12 Music Concepts

Teaching Music Concepts

First, what are the music concepts?
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Second, when should music concepts be taught?
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Third, in what order should music concepts be taught?
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Fourth, how does one teach music concepts?
Like Rhythm & Tonal Skills, always Sound before Sight!

What Are The Music Concepts?
How Does One Evolve Into Another?

For a full explanation of the Music Concepts and how they may evolve one into the other, please see the Music Concepts Chart.

Teaching And Understanding Music Concepts
Ineffective Traditional Music Concept Teaching Practices Must Cease!

Music Concepts have traditionally been taught through association with non-musical attributes, which seem to be more cognitive than aesthetic. Some of these non-musical attributes have been minor = sad, major = happy, fast = running, slow = walking, dynamics as loud and soft, melodic direction as up and down, register as high and low, timbre such as bassoon is the clown, and articulation such as staccato = short, and legato = smooth. There are many contradictory cognitive uses of association such as "turn down" or "turn up the TV." Not only can cognitive labels be counterproductive to the aesthetic realm, but cultures may be contrary as well. In other cultures, minor is not sad. In light of this, what should a music teacher do? When asking students to describe contrasting music concepts, allow them to use their own words whether cognitive or aesthetic, but do not suggest or affirm cognitive words. Simply allow them to describe the aesthetic sound as linguistically as they best know how. Music is the least discursive of all art forms anyway. (See Teaching Music Aesthetics.) Applying the cognitive domain (logical/mathematical and linguistic) to learn the musical/aesthetic domain may be an ineffective crossover of multiple intelligences, although not proven at this time (Gardner, Frames of Mind, 1983). The learning sequences for Music Concepts are not as complicated as for Rhythm & Tonal Skills.

Discrimination And Inferential Learning
Effective Learning Progresses Through Two Levels, Discrimination And Inferential

When we first learn something new, we are in Discrimination learning. Discrimination learning is the presentation of Knowledge, learning how to Comprehend that knowledge, and learning basic Application of it. These are the lower three levels of Bloom's Revised Taxonomy of the Cognitive. The goal of learning should not stop there. All teachers should lead students into Inference Learning. Inference learning is being competent with using the knowledge to Evaluate, then Synthesize the knowledge with other knowledge, and Create new music events. These are the upper three levels of Bloom's Taxonomy. In inferential, music students become proficient with improvising, creating, composing, arranging, manipulating, reading, notating, describing, evaluating, comparing, and contrasting. Discrimination learning is learning by rote or imitation. Inferential learning is the transfer of any familiar knowledge or skills to produce something new.

Step 1: Experience/Recognize (abbreviated E/R)
Sound Before Sight!

In a way, Step 1 for learning Music Concepts is similar to Step 1: AOK in Rhythm & Tonal Skills because sound is always first. Students must experience music concepts by sound first, without any introduction of labeling or vocabulary. Music concepts sounds must be experienced first by wide contrasts. Guide students into showing through movement and describing with aesthetic words that they hear the differences between two contrasting modes, two contrasting meters, two contrasting styles, or two contrasting timbres, etc. This begins internalization. When it becomes apparent students are consistently recognizing and describing (isolating and discriminating between) the contrasting opposites, they are ready to progress to the next step.

Step 2: Apply Terminology (abbreviated AT)
Applying Traditional Vocabulary To Each Music Concept

At this step, encourage the students to use aesthetically descriptive terminology for the concepts recognized at the previous stage. No definition nor associative (cognitive) terminology is needed, as the students already understand and perceive the sound (internalization). At this stage, the students are provided with the traditional historical names of the sounds with which they are aurally completely familiar: minor mode, major mode, dorian, mode, duple meter, triple meter, jazz, blues, strings, woodwinds, etc. (See previous discussion in "Teaching and Understanding Music Concepts.")

Step 3: Music Notation (abbreviated N)
Applying Visual Symbols To The Music Concepts

In this step, a crossover of Rhythm & Tonal Skills and Music Concepts may occur. Once students are reading Tonal and Rhythm Patterns at the SP and SS steps, and they have accomplished the AT Music Concepts step, they can be taught familiar music concept symbols, and recognize familiar music concepts in the context of written rhythm and tonal patterns (music notation). Now students may look at the notation of a familiar song to determine its form, or they perform a familiar song following the dynamic levels indicated in the music.

Sequence Is Imperative
Always Sound Before Sight

Music Concept development sequence is not as inflexible as that for Tonal & Rhythm Skills literacy. It is logical that the larger picture and extremes should be presented first. For example, concerning timbre, families should be taught before specific instruments; and in tempo and dynamics, the large contrasts of largo/presto and piano/forte before smaller nuances are introduced. Large contrasts are taught first, which then progresses to finer detailed hearing. For example, students more easily perceive contrasting presto and largo before andante and moderato.

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