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  • Sounds, Stories, and Symbols: Musical Apprenticeship
    By Lori Custodero and Danette Littleton

    Grade Level: 3-5

    Sounds are heard from a variety of video and audio recordings, are created through vocal and instrumental improvisation and composition, and are re-created with singing games. Stories are extracted from the music heard and created from the imagination. Information about composers and texts are also shared. Symbols used include enactive [body-based] representations and notated iconic figures depicting elements such as melodic contour, rhythmic drive, and texture within a structural framework. Symbolic figures, such as crescendo and diminuendo and rhythmic notation, are also used to represent compositions heard and created.

    Overview of Lesson Plans
    The lessons presented here represent a developmental sequence for the teaching and learning of musical expression. Activities are designed to address the creative potential of children as they progress from early childhood through adolescence. Beginning with an awareness of self as music maker, children move to apprenticing with the various music making roles of the culture, and continue by critically examining music making as a function within larger social and historical contexts.

    In order to offer a clearly perceptible developmental framework regarding musical expression, we found it necessary to limit our focus to a single tradition of musical practice. Cognizant of the need for authentic interpretation, we chose western art music because of our own experience and knowledge in its many genres, styles, histories, and social meanings. It is our hope that these ideas stimulate similar teaching and learning strategies with music from additional cultures.

    Scope and Use of Activities
    We planned these lessons for elementary and secondary general music teachers. In addition, these lessons may provide an excellent resource for elementary classroom teachers and secondary liberal arts teachers who wish to include music as an important part of their curriculum and instruction. We believe university students studying music and music education, and elementary and secondary education will find these lessons useful and thought provoking. To all, we hope to model the endless challenge, creative satisfaction, and joy of teaching and learning.


    Students will:
    • Apply critical thinking skills regarding musical form, technique, and expression though listening, responding, and creating with their voices and musical instruments.

    • Create movement in response to a variety of musical forms and styles.

    • Improvise with instruments to demonstrate understandings of musical forms and expression.

    • Notate sounds they create as they develop an understanding between sound and symbol.

    • Initiate invented and conventional conducting gestures in musically expressive ways.

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    Integrating Curricula

    History, social studies, drama, dance, literature

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    Materials and Preparation

    • CD Player

    • Recordings:
      • "Hoe Down" and "Air" on HUSH with Bobby McFerrin and Yo-Yo Ma

      • "Simple Gifts" from APPALACHIAN SPRING and "Gun Battle" from BILLY THE KID from AARON COPLAND, GREATEST HITS


      • Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" and Vivaldi's Concerto in G Minor for 2 Cellos, BOBBY MCFERRIN, CONDUCTOR AND VOCALIST, PAPER MUSIC.

    • Videos:

      • JUDY COLLLINS, ANTONIA: PORTRAIT OF THE WOMAN, 1974, a video about Antonia Brico.


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    Teaching Procedure

    Activity One: Apprenticing Improvisation

    1. Introduce composer, Aaron Copland and his remarkable skills at "painting a picture" of American life through an original style. (See resources for further biographical information.) Play an orchestral version of "Hoedown" from GREATEST HITS:COPLAND. Invite discussion about the familiarity of this work (popularized in TV commercials, etc,), the images it brings to mind, and the musical elements which contribute to those images.

    2. Introduce musician, Bobby McFerrin and his remarkable skills of vocal improvisation, range, and variety of sound qualities. Prepare the students to listen for each of these characteristics of his singing in the selection, "Hoedown!" from the Yo Yo Ma's and Bobby McFerrin's audio CD recording, HUSH.

    3. Ask students to describe all the amusing sounds Bobby makes. Describe the other instrument's sound and the way each imitates the other. Do you think these musicians are having fun creating together? Why do you think Bobby McFerrin named this music "Hoedown!?" How is it different from the Copland piece?

    4. Contrast the musical characteristics of "Hoedown" with the following selection on this audio CD recording, "Air" from Orchestral Suite No. 3 by J.S. Bach. Make a chart and list similarities and differences of each performance: Tempo, dynamics, organization of musical ideas (form), vocal and instrumental variations.

    5. Invite individuals or small groups of students to select "Hoedown! or "Air" and improvise rhythm patterns with body percussion ( hand clapping, finger snapping, patschen, toe tapping).

    6. Invite further critical thinking about the sound by asking "If this music accompanied the movement of an animal, what might it be and how would it move? Assist students as they improvise body movement expressive of the music's qualities.

    • Invite consideration of timbre: "In the following audio CD recording, Bobby McFerrin conducts the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. The CD is called, Paper Music because the musicians are not improvising but playing note for note as the composer intended. As you listen to Concerto in G Minor for 2 Cellos, Strings, and Continuo (harpsichord) by Vivaldi." Ask students to listen for Bobby's voice with the other soloists, "What are the musical differences you hear among them?" Listen to each other's voices

    • Make connections to the historical context of this work. "Vivaldi, the composer lived and composed music long ago. Can you imagine where this music was first heard and played? How might we find out? Where could we look for information?" Ask students to create a biographical profile of Vivaldi and identify his most famous compositions.

    • Choose another familiar instrumental piece and invent a vocal part to be sung with the recording or with a rendition played on classroom instruments.

    Activity Two: Apprenticing Vocal Techniques

    1. Play the orchestral recording of "Simple Gifts" from GREATEST HITS: COPLAND (or your favorite recording of the work). Generate a discussion: "Did you recognize the American folk song, "Simple Gifts" composer Copland used as a main theme in Appalachian Spring? This song dates back to the 1700's to a religious group, known as the Shakers, so called because dancing was an important part of their worship. This practice of moving and dancing in church, unkindly, called, "shaking" by others was considered "inappropriate."

    2. Play "Simple Gifts" from the recording: DAWN UPSHAW-THOMAS HAMPTON, SONGS OF COPLAND. Provide a focus for listening: "As you listen to the words or lyrics being sung, see if you can imagine how the Shakers might have created movement for this song." Invite students' responses and musical description of the movement they imagined as they listened. Assist them in recording their ideas for future development.

      "If you listen carefully to the words of this song, you will discover that the Shakers' expressed and defended their point of view."

      What thoughts and ideas did they express in the text? Why were these ideas so important to the member of this religious group? Analyze the text and listen for vocabulary that is no longer in popular use. Try to interpret the text line-by-line and explain why the ideas meant so much to the Shakers in 1700's. Is their message appropriate for us in modern times? Why? Why not?

      "'Tis a gift to be simple, 'tis a gift to be free,
      'Tis a gift to come down where you ought to be,
      And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
      'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
      When true simplicity is gained,
      To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed,
      To turn, turn, will be our delight,
      'Till be turning, turning, we come round right."

      Possible interpretations:
      • We enjoy the gifts of simplicity and freedom;

      • Love and delight come from being true to yourself;

      • We won't be ashamed of dancing as we worship

      • We are happy because our dancing returns us to the place we belong.

    3. Replay the recording of "Simple Gifts" and guide students in the development of musical gestures and movement based on the ideas they've shared above. Create a simple dance with suitable gestures and movement. Ask individual children to create one idea for each phrase - a musical sentence - of the song. Organize the class into small groups. Instruct students to make a plan for developing a 1700's styled dance. Arrange time and space for rehearsal and appoint a time for each group to share its finished Simple Gifts Dance. Early American costumes or props would enhance the expressiveness and sense of reality of the performance.
    • Invite individual children to dramatize the spoken text of Simple Gifts:
      • As a member of the Shakers, read the text to DECLARE your position.

      • As a member of the Shakers, read the text to PLEAD to be understood.

      • As a member of the Shakers, read the text JOYFULLY express your ideas.

      Discuss the results. Raise the challenge level by asking students:
      • to experiment by modulating their speaking voices, louder/softer; faster/slower; higher/lower

      • to apply the qualities they discovered in their speaking voices to their singing voices.

      • to consider differences and similarities in the musical qualities of dramatic speaking and singing

      • to explore television and film for performances that feature dramatic singing and speaking roles.

    • Sing the song in two parts (each four line unit is a "part" which can be sung simultaneously with the other). Play with Bobby McFerrin-type improvisations.

    Activity Three: Apprenticing Instrumental Techniques

    1. Without describing the title of the ballet or excerpt, play "Gun Battle" from Copland's BILLY THE KID SUITE. Invite students to come up with a narrative story line that fits the music. The story should have a beginning, middle, and end. This may take several hearings and some class decisions to achieve a collective result. Guide the discussions by integrating musical terms about the sounds students describe - crescendo, decrescendo, as well as instrumentation, tempo, etc.

    2. Once a narrative has been agreed upon, show students a replication of the iconic score below, which depicts the beginning, middle, and end of the piece. (Note: the figures are not meant to be exact, but should serve as a way to generate understanding through visual cues to the form. Play the piece, indicating the representation in the score students focus on the score. Invite students to recreate the score.

    3. Using the score as a guide, choose classroom instruments that best represent the figures in the score. Vocal renditions of the instruments (a la Bobby McFerrin) are also welcome.

    4. Assign three different roles to class students: performers, conductor, and audience members (critical listeners). Arrange the performers in the order in which they appear in the score. Teacher may want to act as conductor first to provide a model. After each rendition, briefly discuss the qualities of the performance. Rotate roles.

    5. You may also wish to record different renditions and play them back to hear the differences. Students could even create new iconic representations of the taped renditions.
    • Replicate this activity with a variety of other styles of music.

    • Study John Cage's book, NOTATIONS, which provides examples of 20th century composers' scores that use unconventional notation.

    Activity Four: Apprenticing with the Orchestra

    1. Teach students simple conducting patterns in 2/4 meter. Let them practice "air conducting" until they appear confident. Choose simple familiar songs for the class to sing or rhythmic chants in 2/4 meter and assist individual students in conducting. Similarly, choose recorded music for students to practice conducting. Help them maintain the beat and continuity of gestures. Reinforce the 2/4 conducting pattern with visual representation: model the gestures, show videotapes from the PBS series, LEGENDARY MAESTROS: THE ART OF CONDUCTING, ask students to draw the conducting pattern and realize its shape and dimensions.

    2. Over time continue these teaching procedures in 3/4/ and 4/4 meter until students are proficient.

    3. Introduce, Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik," Bobby McFerrin and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra: PAPER MUSIC, audio CD recording. Ask students to listen to each of the three movements and determine the meter and demonstrate the appropriate conducting pattern. After students master the first movement (in 2/s) the second (in 4/s) and the third (in 3/s), they may wish to study the recording in order to discover and display changes in tempo, dynamics, pauses, entrances, and cutoffs. If school music ensembles are available, arrange for student conductors to observe, prepare, and conduct live performers.
    • Watch the Antonio Brico video for an example of a woman on the podium.

    • Have copies of actual orchestral scores of "Eine Kleine Nachmusik" prepared, with key entrances and motifs highlighted. Students can conduct from the score, listening to the recording.

    Activity Five: Apprenticing with Musicians

    This last activity provides a synthesis of the concepts, skills, and musical ideas applied previously. As students in middle elementary school become self-directed learners and show interest in challenging tasks and projects, it is important to deepen their understanding of music and raise their expectations of excellence. We offer the following ideas are important to us as partners in creative projects like those we've recommended to you. Good work is nurtured and it requires: Time for brainstorming, time for planning and starting over, time for creating compatible partnerships and work groups, time for researching and finding, time for feedback, time for producing, and reflecting.

    The composite skills and knowledge of the orchestral conductor are unparalleled among musicians. In the concert hall, soloists succeed or fail primarily on their own preparation and presentation. This holds true for the conductor as well; however the conductor's "instrument" is the composite of 100 instruments and their players! Many times questions such as these have been asked, "What does the conductor really do? Can't those highly trained professional musicians play without such help?" An investigation into the world of classical concert music with ORCHESTRA: A PERSONAL GUIDE WITH SIR SIMON RATTLE. (EMICDRM416162 provide answers to these and many more questions about the conductor, the baton, and the podium.)

    As a class project or individual and small group investigations, present an overview of the CD-ROM ORCHESTRA: A PERSONAL GUIDE WITH SIR SIMON RATTLE. Guide students in selecting compelling topics for study and production. Multi-media presentations may include:
    • Classroom displays or learning centers of completed projects.

    • Extensions of the "Simple Gifts" Movement Activity or the Copland instrumental activity into original dramas with costumes, props, etc.

    • A student directed "News Channel," in audio or videotape format, broadcasting school and community music events. May include interviews with local conductors and performers, reviews of videos, books, and websites on music, etc.

    • A student acted, directed, and produced videotape series, MEET MUSIC MASTERS on conductors, Sarah Caldwell, Bobby McFerrin; Simon Rattle, composer-conductors, John Williams, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland and other great musicians from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.

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    Assessment Recommendations

    1. Observe students' movements and musical improvisations.
      Ask if behaviors
      1. Demonstrate a range of expression?
      2. Reflect original thinking?
      3. Represent stylistic variation?
      4. Sustain musical thought through the complete musical unit?

    2. Record (audio and video) student performances of learned and improvisatory material.
      Ask if student performances
      1. Demonstrate a range expression?
      2. Reflect original thinking?
      3. Represent stylistic variation?
      4. Sustain musical thought through the complete musical unit?

    3. Collect paper-based student work including stories and written reports.
      Ask if students' use of musical symbols and language
      1. Demonstrate a range expression?
      2. Reflect original thinking?
      3. Represent the musical experience or topic matter authentically?

    4. Provide time for student reflections on their own experiences.
      Gather response to questions such as
      1. Today I learned .....?
      2. The best part of music was when we (I) .....I liked that because ...
      3. I would like to learn .....

    5. Combine these four sources of assessment to form a portfolio. Instruct students to critique their own progress based on material in the portfolio at the end of a unit, semester, or school year.

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    Extension/Adaptation Ideas

    1. Suggest starting each music session with instrument exploration in the following way: Set up room with several areas for exploring classroom instruments - shakers, guiros, glockenspiels, small drums, finger cymbals and/or triangles, tambourines, etc. The general rule should be that there are more instruments than there are children. Provide a nonverbal cur, such as the playing of a special instrument or singing a song, to indicate it's time to stop the exploration and resume group activity. Allow at least 8-12 minutes.

    2. Develop inter-age connections by establishing a relationship with an upper grade performance group. The high school concert band could work together on arrangements of children's songs (like "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star") and the lower grades could take a field trip to watch the band rehearse and could be invited to be guest conductors!

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    National Standards

    1. Content Standard: Singing, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music
      Achievement Standard: Students
      a. sing independently, on pitch and in rhythm, with appropriate timbre, diction, and posture, and maintain a steady tempo
      b. sing expressively, with appropriate dynamics, phrasing, and interpretation
      d. sing ostinatos, partner songs, and rounds
      e. sing in groups, blending vocal timbres, matching dynamic levels, and responding to the cues of a conductor

    2. Content Standard: Performing on instruments, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music
      Achievement Standard: Students
      a. perform on pitch, in rhythm, with appropriate dynamics and timbre, and maintain a steady tempo
      b. perform easy rhythmic, melodic, and chordal patterns accurately and independently on rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic classroom instruments
      c. perform expressively a varied repertoire of music representing diverse genres and styles
      e. perform in groups, blending instrumental timbres, matching dynamic levels, and responding to the cues of a conductor
      f. perform independent instrumental parts while other students sing or play contrasting parts

    3. Content Standard: Improvising melodies, variations, and accompaniments
      Achievement Standard: Students
      c. improvise simple rhythmic variations and simple melodic embellishments on familiar melodies
      d. improvise short songs and instrumental pieces, using a variety of sound sources, including traditional sounds, nontraditional sounds available in the classroom, body sounds, and sounds produced by electronic means

    4. Content Standard: Composing and arranging music within specified guidelines
      Achievement Standard: Students
      a. create and arrange music to accompany readings or dramatizations
      b. create and arrange short songs and instrumental pieces within specified guidelines
      c. use a variety of sound sources when composing

    5. Content Standard: Reading and notating music
      Achievement Standard: Students
      a. read whole, half, dotted half, quarter, and eighth notes and rests in 24 , 34
      c. identify symbols and traditional terms referring to dynamics, tempo, and articulation and interpret them correctly when performing

    6. Content Standard: Listening to, analyzing, and describing music
      Achievement Standard: Students
      c. use appropriate terminology in explaining music, music notation, music instruments and voices, and music performances
      d. identify the sounds of a variety of instruments, including many orchestra and band instruments, and instruments from various cultures, as well as children's voices and male and female adult voices
      e. respond through purposeful movement to selected prominent music characteristics or to specific music events while listening to music

    7. Content Standard: Evaluating music and music performances
      Achievement Standard: Students
      a. devise criteria for evaluating performances and compositions
      b. explain, using appropriate music terminology, their personal preferences for specific musical works and styles

    8. Content Standard: Understanding music in relation to history and culture
      Achievement Standard: Students
      d. identify and describe roles of musicians in various music settings and cultures
      e. demonstrate audience behavior appropriate for the context and style of music performed

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    PBS Resource


    Suggested Internet Resources

    Bobby McFerrin
    The official homepage.

    Bobby McFerrin
    Entry at

    McFerrin, Bobby
    Biography and concert review.

    McFerrin, Bobby
    Entry in Encarta.

    McFerrin, Bobby
    Entry in UBL.

    Aaron Copland: American Composer
    LucidcafŽ's profile includes a biography, related links, and book and recording recommendations.

    Spectrum Biographies: Aaron Copland
    Researched by Rachel Sahlman for the home and school magazine. Includes premium links to purchase books and recordings.

    Featured Subject: Aaron Copland
    Kentucky Educational Television's distance learning program presents music and book reviews and articles by and about him from fromthe archives of The New York Times.

    Aaron Copland
    Information about his operatic works, especially the both the two and the three act versions of The Tender Land.

    Aaron Copland (1900-1990)
    Library of Congress citations.

    Aaron Copland: The Gift To Be Simple
    Biography, key works and suggested further resources from Heart's Ease Conservatory.

    20th Century Music: Aaron Copland
    Emory University outline of his life includes list of works.

    The Aaron Copland Homepage
    Includes biography and music list, plus works cited. An analysis of the ballet Rodeo is featured.

    Copland, Aaron
    Brief biography with information about orchestral pieces and ballet music. Includes recommended recording.

    Copland, Aaron
    Short biography from The Timid Soul's Guide to Classical Music.

    The Copland Heritage Association
    Aaron Copland's long-time home near New York City now administered as a composers' retreat and creative center for American music. Includes biography, works, calendar, contact information.

    Classical Net
    Copland: basic repertoire list.

    The Kennedy Center Honors honors/history/honoree/copland.html
    Short biography as part of his being recognized in 1979.

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    About the Authors

    Dr. Lori Custodero
    Dr. Custodero is an Assistant Professor of Music and Music Education at Teachers College, Columbia University has established an Early Childhood Music concentration that integrates pedagogy and research though both theory and practice. Over twenty years experience with young children, parents, and teachers in a variety of musical settings has informed her work - she continues these interactions at the Rita Gold Center for Early Childhood on campus. Her research on musical experience has focused on children from infancy through preadolescence, and addresses issues of musical challenge, engagement, and meaning. She is currently working on the Parents' Use of Music with Infants Survey study, which involves 2250 interviews with parents across the country. Dr. Custodero serves as the U.S. representative on the International Society for Music Education's Commission for Early Childhood and is former chair of research groups for both the American Orff-Schulwerk Association and Music Educators National Conference. An active participant in national and international psychology and music education conferences, recent publications include "Observing Flow in Young Children's Music Learning" (GENERAL MUSIC TODAY), "Context and Discovery: Rethinking the Nature of Creativity" (THE ORFF ECHO), and "Music for Everyone: Creating Contexts of Possibility in Early Childhood Education" (EARLY CHILDHOOD CONNECTIONS).

    Dr. Danette Littleton
    Musical training in piano, voice, and conducting led Dr. Littleton to an academic career in music and music education with professorships in the USA and Canada. As a university professor and educational consultant, she has designed music and arts education programs funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, Head Start, and the Getty Foundation, conducted professional development workshops for teachers and artists supported by the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning in the Arts, Tennessee Department of Education, and Georgia Council for the Arts, and created integrated music, visual art, drama, and social sciences curricula for students from preschool through graduate school. Dr. Littleton has worked in radio and television as a writer and on-air performer of music programs for children, directed children's choirs, published works on music education, and made presentations at conferences and universities in the USA, Canada, Japan, Korea, Sweden, and South Africa. Her interests in music and the performing arts are expressed through consulting with arts organizations, teaching young children, and writing about the emergence of musicality. Her area of expertise concerns the relationship between music learning and play during infancy and early childhood when the urge to play and learn is most fervent.

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