An Approach to Musical Understanding for Secondary School Students

  • PDF:

A Progress Report on Curriculum Development Project H221.

One of the central conclusions of the Seminar on Music Education held at Yale University in June, 1963, was that "the development of musicality is the primary aim of music education." The Report of the Seminar defined musicality as the sum of two separate abilities: the ability to express accurately a musical idea through time and pitch, and the ability to understand in detail a musical statement heard.

In an effort to provide materials for the development of certain aspects of musical understanding, the Yale University School of Music, through a contract with the U.S. Office of Education, has launched a three-year music curriculum development project entitled "An Approach to Musical Understanding for Secondary School Students."

The project proposes to design and test a curriculum to develop intelligent musical understanding through listening, analysis, performance, and discussion of a limited number of works that are representative of various musical genres. The curriculum also encourages the development of basic skills in music reading and understanding concepts of rhythm, melody, harmony, form, style, and texture through the examination of these works.

The proposed curriculum is a one-year course consisting of eight related units. Each unit deals with a particular musical genre—dance, instrumental solos, chamber music, symphony, opera, concerto, choral music, program music—and is built around a core work representative of that genre. In planning the curriculum, a number of problems were considered that have plagued listening courses in the past. The projected solutions to these problems may constitute a significant departure from the traditional textbook-lecture type of high school music literature course.

Certainly one of the recognized problems in all areas of music education is the gap that exists between what is being done at the highest levels of scholarship and creativity and what is going on in the secondary school classroom. Both the Ford Foundation Contemporary Music Project and the Office of Education Cooperative Research Project at Juilliard are designed to bridge the gap in the area of performance. The Yale Project is attempting to accomplish the same goal in the area of music literature.

In order to assure the highest level of scholarship, the research and actual writing of the Yale curriculum was made the responsibility of experts in music history, musicology, and theory. Furthermore, whenever possible, each unit of the curriculum will be written by a recognized specialist in the genre covered by that unit, even if this means drawing on scholars outside the Yale faculty.

Having taken a stand on the level of scholarship, the curriculum designers were then faced with the practical problem of finding a way to present the findings of the scholars to teachers and students. The solution of this problem demanded the consideration of a number of qualifying points.

First, few teachers in secondary school music have the facilities, inclination, or time to engage in high-level historical research or theoretical analysis. Therefore, the curriculum had to supply background information to the teacher.

Second, organization of material for effective classroom presentation is almost as time-consuming as original research, so the curriculum had to supply especially designed materials and help the teacher order instruction.

Third, the order of instruction must take into account the fact that students who study the curriculum may be unfamiliar with musical terminology or unable to read music.

In trying to solve these problems, a new problem appeared: scholars accustomed to writing polished expository prose for highly sophisticated readers were being asked to couch their thoughts and special knowledge in what might be called "Dick and Jane" language. Furthermore, they were asked to demonstrate musical points in a manner teachers could use to instruct students who cannot read music.

In casting about for a prose style and format that would both inform the teacher and instruct the student, the developers and scholars came to the conclusion that three different kinds of presentation are necessary to accomplish the purposes of the project.

Straight information of a biographical or historical nature seems best conveyed in the standard text-book expository style. This kind of information is presented in a Student Manual.

On the other hand, investigations and analyses of musical processes are probably better suited to classroom discussions under the guidance of the teacher. To help him carry on this activity the teacher is supplied with tape-recorded and printed musical examples taken from the core work and related works. He also is provided with a series of discussion questions and answers in a Teacher's Manual.

The Teacher's Manual is written in question and answer form not so much to predetermine classroom procedure as to provide key questions that the teacher might use to open discussions of particular points. Under each question there are explanations that the teacher would want to have on hand for discussion. Ideally, the answers should come from the students. The answers are given in the Teacher's Manual in the kind of language that students would be equipped to use. At first, layman's terms are used; as the student's knowledge becomes more sophisticated, a more technical and precise language is employed. Technical terms are explained as they occur. This is not because it is assumed that the teacher does not understand them, but to provide a ready definition, should the teacher wish to present them this way.

One of the desired outcomes of the curriculum is that students learn to use musical notation and develop a reasonable fluency in following a notated musical line while listening. Students' reading ability and knowledge of musical fundamentals are expected to vary widely within each class. For this reason, the development of these skills is handled in a programmed music-reading supplement in the Student Manual. Programmed supplements of this nature will be a part of each unit and will cover the technical information that the student needs to know to participate in the investigations in that unit.

The decision to use three styles of presentation, i.e., expository prose, discussion questions, and programmed supplements, and the Student and Teacher's Manual format were reached while writing the first of the eight projected units. This unit, entitled Music for the Dance: Stravinsky's Petroushka, was written by Claude Palisca, Professor of the History of Music, Allan Forte, Associate Professor of the Theory of Music, and Kenneth Wendrich, Assistant Professor of Music Education, all from the Yale faculty; they were assisted by Kerala Snyder and John Rothgeb, graduate students in history and theory respectively.

Petroushka was chosen as the core work for Unit I because of its immediate appeal and its capacity to arouse the student's curiosity about many aspects of musical composition. An examination of the broad range of techniques used by Stravinsky offers an introduction to various musical practices that can be studied more fully in later units. For example, the relation of music to non-musical subject matter; the relation of music to other arts, such as dance, theater, and scenic design; the role of invention and borrowing as sources of melodic material; the differences between popular folk songs; the differences between western and non-western folk music; the nature of key, scale, and mode; basic principles of musical design; varieties of musical texture and varieties of rhythm and meter; these are all topics that arise naturally from a consideration of the essential and characteristic aspects of Stravinsky's style in this ballet.

The material for Unit I has been arranged so that the student first becomes acquainted with the work as a whole by listening to it several times while following the scenario in his Student Manual and seeing slides of the ballet scenes and characters. These slides include scenes from the 1957 Royal Ballet Production and pictures of Benois' sketches for the original stage sets from the 1917 Diaghilev production.

The student is then asked to consider the relationship of the music to the scenario. This inquiry should bring to light many interesting details of the score that are readily perceived through simple auditory inspection. To facilitate the student's investigation of these points, excerpts have been recorded on tape.

The original version of the Petroushka score has stage directions in Russian and French. The student and the teacher are supplied with translations of these directions. Where the relationship of the stage directions and the music seems to merit some discussion, a tape example of that section is given.

Next, the student is asked to consider the origin of the numerous melodies or themes. Five authentic Russian folk songs, two Viennese Waltzes, and a French cafe tune were borrowed by Stravinsky for use in Petroushka. The student is supplied with the music and translations of the texts of the songs and tape-recordings of the borrowed music in its original form. Having become acquainted with the principal melodic material, the student is ready to approach some elementary principles of musical construction—the organization of rhythm, the unification of shorter and longer sections through elemental motives and repetition schemes, and to learn some basic concepts such as key, scale, chord, and the like. Sufficient material is provided in the Student Manual so that the student can discover for himself the points that the authors of the curriculum felt were important components in the understanding of the music.

The program for testing and evaluating the curriculum is to be carried on over a three-year period. During the first two years, preliminary testing is being carried on in six secondary schools in Connecticut. In the third year, the curriculum will be tried in fifteen to twenty nationally situated schools. Prior to the use of the curriculum in their schools, teachers who are selected to participate in this final testing and evaluation will attend a six week in-service session in the summer of 1967.

This summer program will include graduate level courses in contemporary theory and analytical thought, and a seminar in music history. The seminar will be devoted to supplementary research in the areas covered by the curriculum. The purpose is to provide testing teachers with a background of research techniques and historical information upon which they can draw when presenting the curriculum to their students. The summer session will also include practical instruction in the use of the curriculum materials and techniques of presentation.

The testing teachers will meet for a one-week seminar after using the materials in their schools. Their reactions, comments, and evaluation will be included in the final report. The project is scheduled for completion in the summer of 1968.

Read 1563 times

Last modified on Wednesday, 14/11/2018

Go to top