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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Keyboard Geography: Learning to Visualize

In the second year, Green Turtle Shells, we learn how to look at the keyboard.  It may seem like a simple skill.  As adults we can see the patterns of the keyboard easily and in one glance we may have already memorized the characteristics of the keyboard.  However, children need these characteristics pointed out to them and it often takes weeks of practice for them to completely find their way around a piano.

Keyboard Geography is simply learning the look and feel of the keyboard so that one can visualize it.  The goal is to create a mental map of the keyboard.  If you think about a familiar place, the floor plan of your house for example, you can visualize it.  You could even draw a little map of it for someone else.  It is the same for the keyboard, but at first a child may only visualize a keyboard as barcode.  They know there are black and white keys and that is it.

Using "Kit Kat Keyboard" we help children notice the arrangement of black keys, in groups of two and three.  Once this conclusion is firm, we notice how the white keys are influenced by the black keys.  The black keys help us identify all of the white keys.  "A group of two is CDE...."

Once in the Yellow Arrows semester, students will begin naming all of the notes on the keyboard.  It is important to remember that keyboard geography is a mental image formed from visual conclusions!  Because of this we shouldn't use hints like "what comes after G?" or "Count up from C" when labeling the keyboard notes.  It would be better instead to prompt them by saying "Think about which group the G is in....Good, now where is the G?"

Now let's see how well you're children can visualize the keyboard!  Use these flash cards to practice naming all of you're white keys.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Solfeg: 7 More Reasons to Love It!

This post was written by another Let's Play Music teacher and I couldn't have said it better myself!!  Enjoy learning about solfeg and why we use it.
- Miss Jessica

Solfeg: 7 More Reasons to Love It!

Today I'll share 7 more reasons Let's Play Music teachers use solfeg and LOVE IT!

1. There's a Word for That

Can you imagine teaching your child to identify colors without having any color words? Not easy!  Similarly, as students learn to discern pitches and intervals between pitches, using a system for putting a name to the pitches (solemnization) facilitates the process immensely.  China, Japan, Korea, India and Indonesia all have solemnization schemes for associating pitch to a name.  When talking about fixed pitches, we use the alphabet (C is always C) and when talking about scales and relationships between notes in a scale, we use solfeg!

2. Whole-Body Involvement

Each of our young students (and even many of our toddler Sound Beginnings students) master the hand signs and use them to experience singing, ear training, and note-reading with their whole body.  As they hear the pitches moving up and down, their hands move up and down through space accordingly.  As they recognize intervals and relationships between the notes, they can feel the distance of jumps between pitches and grasp them with their hands.

Adding this kinesthetic mode of learning to an auditory and visual skill heightens a child's absorption of the information, accommodates various learning styles, and facilitates integration and long-term learning.  Solfeg is a popular tool for University students majoring in music fields; it should be shared with young children too, who adore and quickly internalize having a physical movement to put with their singing.  You already knew wiggly, active children enjoy having actions to accompany their favorite nursery songs, right?  If there's a way to make teaching more physical AND more fun for them, let's do it!

3. Understanding Scales and Key Signatures

Would you love to be able to quickly and easily sing every major scale?  You can do it  today!  You don't have to memorize the notes of every single scale, just memorize the 7 solfeg syllables and star singing on whichever pitch you wish to be DO.  That's part of the power of the moveable Do (read more here): the relationships within each scale will remain the same.

'Do' corresponds with the tonic of whatever key a particular composition or melody is placed.  Thus in the Key of C major, C is Do, and in the Key of F major, F is Do.  You can see those two scales already engraved on your Let's Play Music tone bells!  Truly, any bell or piano key could be Do.  Of course you'd have to add some black keys to your scale to get it to sound like a major scale, but now after a few months of Let's Play Music training, your child could pick out (by ear) which  black keys were needed.

Do is the note that the music rotates around and pivots back to.  Whatever key we sing in, Do really is home!  Most songs end by bringing the melody back to Do.

4. Intervals

Solfeg is a handy tool for students wishing to master interval training.  The goal is to instantaneously recognize the precise intervals when hear, and having solfeg words to identify them can be very helpful in this process.  "The notes I just heard sounded like......Do Fa! It's a 4th!"

Here are just a few relationships I think my Let's Play Music students can hear and identify.
Do - Re: major 2nd
Do - Mi: major 3rd
Do - Fa: perfect 4th
Do - Sol: perfect 5th
Mi - Sol: minor 3rd: In class we sing this as Sol-Mi more often than as Mi-Sol, but their the same interval of course.

5. Sight Reading Music

Choir class is a very common place to find solfeg at work; students are taught to rely on solfeg for sight-singing melodies.  Singers can quickly read and sing the written melody if they interpret it in terms of solfeg because they have learned the relationships between each solfeg note and don't need to be retaught those relationships for whatever key the music is written in.

Here are some videos of students performing 4-part vocal music they have never rehearsed using solfeg syllables and hand signs.

At the piano, sight-reading music in the same way and hearing it with our inner voice helps us to self-correct as we play.  Solfeg allows us to be able to play a tune in another key (transpose) by choosing a new DO and playing the same solfeg pattern (see an example here.)  We will practice singing and transposing this way in Purple and Orange semesters!

6. Sharps, Flats and Minor Keys

Now that we know having a way to sing the steps of a scale makes it easier to learn music, some folks have wondered why we don't prefer to sing numbered steps (1,2,3,4,5,6,7) instead of the solfeg syllables.  The word 'seven' is already less-than-popular because it is not a monosyllable,  but all of the numbers become problematic if we ever want to introduce sharps or flats. 'Raised-seven' is definitely not an easy-to-sing monosyllable!

With solfeg, for a note that is lowered a half-step, we sing it with and A sound (like in the word "nay") but spell it with an e.  Thus mi becomes me (may), la becomes le (lay), ti becomes te (tay), etc.  This works for all scale steps except re which is already an e sound, so re lowered a half-step becomes ra (rah!).

For a note that is raised a half-step, we sing it with and ee sound, but spell it with an i.  Thus, fa becomes fi.  This works for all steps except mi and ti, but they are almost never raised anyway.

Here are the syllables for the chromatic scales (play every single key on your piano, both black and white, as you sing):
ascending: do di re ri mi fa fi sol si la li ti do
descending: do ti te la le sol se fa mi me re ra do

In Let's Play Music class, we won't spend much time teaching the raised and lowered syllables, but it is a beautiful and simple system to grow into as your child takes interest in further music skills.  Each year I have one or two Orange students wanting to compose in minor keys, and I do help them master me, le, and the so they can be sure to write an appropriately minor melody.

7. Solfeg Works

The final, and perhaps best, reason I want to share about why Let's Play Music teachers love solfeg is simply that it works.  Students wanting to become better musicians (and get passing-grades in their college-level music classes) find that having the right tools will get the job done.  There's no need to wait until college; solfeg can help your very young child improve musicianship right now.

- Gina Weibel, MS
Let's Play Music Teacher