Monday, 19 August 2013

Planning: Music

I don't post about what we do for music education often here because:
  • it doesn't happen often enough
  • it hasn't happened in a way that I find interesting enough to blog about

Sure, we listen to Classic FM in the car often, as a way to cultivate Tiger's taste in this genre.  We also attend ballet and opera performances at the Royal Opera House every now and then, and I also teach Tiger to play the piano, about musicianship, and music theory at home.  Is this enough?  It seems to be ok for the most part, but I keep having a nagging feeling that I ought to be doing more.  Hence I am putting together a plan for the new year that I hope will make our music learning more engaging.

Music Appreciation
We have been listening to classical music for a number of years.  While Tiger can identify a few composers from their musical styles when unfamiliar pieces of music come on the radio, I am not sure there is enough active engagement on the listener's part.  I am not inclined to introduce notebooking simply because I have come to view them to be as effective as workbooks as a tool of learning.  Notebooking and workbooks may work well for some children and for certain subjects, but I personally struggle to find a correlation between filling in pages of names/dates/titles and any real application towards the creation of art and music.  Consider this: does writing down names of artists/musicians, the dates of their lives, the titles of their work enable a student to create his or her own pieces of art/music?  Unlikely.  It is more suitable as a means to help the child become an art/music historian, which is very different from being an artist/musician who actually creates something original.

The act of passive listening also bothers me in terms of the undefined outcome that goes with it.  What kind of result, exactly, are we expecting to see from our children from merely listening to classical music?  I am constantly haunted by a passage that I read in The Element which describes how Paul McCartney and George Harrison, who went to school together and loved music but didn't enjoy music class where all the music teacher ever did was to let the children listen to records of classical music.  The book went on to say that their music teacher never thought they had potential as musicians, to which Robinson responded with, "He had half the Beatles in his class and missed it. That was a bit of an oversight, if you don't mind my saying." 

With the above in mind, I want to develop a more systematic, active, and engaging approach to our Western music appreciation.  I aim to cover the following topics as a foundation:
  1. Instruments of the orchestra - using The Story of the Orchestra and The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra 
  2. Musical genres - using various books and musical examples to introduce the concepts of symphony, ballet, and opera.
  3. Music elements - using Listening to Music Elements

Composer Study
As we work through the above topics, I expect that we'll naturally branch out to study relevant composers as we come across them.  Just off the top of my head, these are the composers that will probably be relevant to us:
  • Haydn
  • Beethoven
  • Bizet
  • Tchaikovsky
The way that I envisage composer study to work for us is that it will be very similar to the way we approach artist study, i.e. using biographies and documentaries.  An alternative to tie composer study into music history by going through the different periods of music in the same way as one might learn about artists through the different art movements.

Piano, Music Theory, and Musicianship
After a few year's of extremely slow progress at playing the piano, we have established that Tiger's interest does not lie in becoming an instrumentalist in the traditional sense, i.e. he's probably not going to get the LTCL from Trinity College at 17 like I did.  However since I am able to teach him to play the piano, learn music theory and musicianship at home, we will continue to do so on a regular basis, with the understanding that these skills are to form the foundation of Tiger's musical knowledge.

Electronic Music and Production
Tiger has been playing around with music production software for some time.  While he has not been overly enthusiastic about listening to classical music or piano lessons, he works on the software to create different rhythms, beats, and sounds, whenever he has time in-between our lessons at home.  Seeing this reminds me of another passage in The Element which tells of how "Paul McCartney could not stand music at school, but he discovered his own music and became Paul McCartney."  The idea that I glean from this is to give Tiger the opportunity to just play around and experiment with music making, even if it is not happening in the medium that I recognise, such as playing a traditional musical instrument.

While there are many online courses for electronic music, I plan to let Tiger play around with Reason while working through the online tutorials and getting some tips from Tortoise (who had trained with Berklee) every now and then .

Other Exposures
1.  Singing - Last year Tiger had an opportunity to participate in a 6-week choir training where he learnt many aspects of singing (e.g. pitch, tone, rhythm, harmony) through musical games.  At the end of the six weeks, the choir performed what they had learnt at a care home for the elderly.  I thought the performance was good in that:
  • It gave the children a chance to do a simple act of charity by bringing some joy to the elderly people
  • It also gave them the confidence to sing in public.
  • It created a community for the children to sing and make music together.

2.  Music workshops - A while ago Tiger attended a junk-percussion workshop at Wigmore Hall.

The purpose of the workshop was to encourage children to make their own percussion instruments out of junk materials such as soda bottles, cardboard boxes, elastic bands, beans, etc, then improvise a rhythmic piece to go with their instruments.  Below is a clip of Tiger's home-made "drum":

After they have presented their improvised instrument and music to the group, the children had a chance to work in small groups with a professional musician to play with musical ideas and to compose a group piece to perform to the other groups.  Tiger's group leader was a drummer so they had a great time jamming together.

I will be keeping my eyes out for more singing and workshop opportunities for Tiger in the coming year.

Based on the above observations, and after reading passages about Paul McCartney's unpromising start in his early music training in The Element, I have had to reconsider my assumptions that:
  • Tiger is not interested in music
  • Tiger has no inclination towards music
His enthusiastic participation in what I consider to be the non-traditional ways of music training is forcing me to "stop being a classical music snob" (as Tortoise would say) and to broaden my own ideas of what constitutes music making so that I am able to support Tiger more meaningfully in this area.  The last I want is to become an adult like Paul McCartney's teacher who drew the wrong conclusion about his student because he was blindsided by his own traditionalist ideas of what a potential musician should look like.


  1. Home schooling is simply one big round of educating both ourselves and our children, isn't it? It always helps me to realise that even at 38 I am developing, redeveloping and educating myself. It is good to know, that as parents, we don't have to teach them everything before they are an adult!

  2. I agree, Claire. Homeschooling is as much about educating ourselves as it is about educating our children. :-)

  3. I think some notebook pages could work for music, the ones that have you describe or draw how the music makes you feel or how the music is played to get a better appreciation of the music style, but I'd agree, the fill out every detail would drive my kids nuts.

  4. Not having a strong music background I often find myself questioning what and how I teach music. It looks like you have developed a very well rounded approach. I like the way you are teaching music theory, instrument, listening, composition and live performances. I have enjoyed your prior posts on opera and look forward to your new opera posts as well as what you are learning in regards to ballet.

    When my children were young we had a software program from the library. One was based on Mozart's Magic Flute and there was another which I think was centered on the music of Tchai. Anyway I thought it was excellent. The kids would listen to a piece and select the instruments they heard. There were many games. Last I looked it wasn't updated, but if I ever find a new version I will be sure to blog about it.

  5. Ticia - you're right. The notebooking pages that have the children actively respond about music will work, but most of what I've seen so far are more about recording the details of composers' lives and works, which seem more about getting the children to write than to listen and respond accordingly.

  6. Julie - The software sounds really interesting, and provides yet another aspect to engage the children while listening to the music. I hope you'll find the new version and tell us all about it, because it sure sounds like a very useful learning tool!

  7. Love all these great ideas. I've found some free online tutorials for teaching yourself guitar and drums. Also, some Music History books. I figured I'd do this before I seek out lessons. Thanks for the ideas.

  8. I can say that's a great music program. My son wants to start but this is our first year doing this with him and his sister so I want to pace myself. I went a bit nutty with my oldest girl and our schedule was exhausting. With me working out of the home I can say I rush home everyday excited to teach my kids.

  9. Thank you, Nita. Pacing yourself is the best way forward. We don't have to do everything on the first day, but if we take a steady pace we'll eventually get most of the plan done. Thank you for sharing your excitement to teach your children with us. It is indeed a previlege to be able to homeschool. :-)

  10. I am SO bad about music appreciation. We've enjoyed Maestro Classics - but otherwise I'm a major slacker in this area!

  11. Thanks for stopping by, Stef. I've neglected music appreciation too, which is why I'm hoping that by putting the plan out there I'll get more organised about it in the new school year. :-)

  12. I agree Homeschooling is also about educating ourselves, for instance I've enjoyed previewing 3 biographies about Newton this year. Ended up reading one of them cover to cover because it was so interesting. We love music but have been rather lax on our appreciation this post is an encouragement.

  13. Thank you for stopping by, themcvays. :-) I'm glad you're enjoying the process of homeschooling as much as your children are enjoying learning. It is very good to hear that it is working both ways for your family. That's part of the fun. :-)

  14. Wow your talents never cease to amaze me, Hwee! I learn so much here, thank you :-)

  15. No pressure, there, Lucinda. *gulp* :-) Seriously, it's more about trying to provide the best solution than it is about talents. :-)


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