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April 9th, 2009
Lesson Plan 1: Experimental Music
Learning Activity 1

1) Ask the students to recall what the scientists had to say about what experience has to do with our responses to music (experience shapes our reactions, for example what we think sounds “consonant” and “dissonant”). Explain that some scientists have done experiments to try to determine whether people in other cultures, with different musical experiences than we have had, respond to music differently than we do. FRAME Video Segment 3, “Music in Cameroon” for the class: the students will see an example of one experiment conducted in a village in Cameroon. Provide students with a FOCUS, asking them to watch the video and then summarize the experiment.

2) PLAY the video segment and then FOLLOW UP by asking students to explain the experiment (the scientist traveled to a remote village where inhabitants had no experience of Western music. They played piano pieces for the villagers, who ranked them as “happy,” “sad,” or “scary” by pointing to faces expressing these emotions). You may want to note for the students the similarity between this experiment and the exercise the students did in the Introductory Activity – but while the class used smiley face representations of the emotions, the images used in the Cameroon experiment were photographs of a woman expressing sadness, happiness, and fear. These exact photographs are often used in experiments like these – they are called “Ekman faces” after the scientist who first used them, and have been tested to make sure they are accurately understood by people in all parts of the world.

3) Ask the students what the result of the experiment seemed to be? (The villagers’ opinions of the musical pieces were very much in line with the opinions of Westerners about which music was “happy,” “sad,” and “scary.”) You may note the additional information that while in this experiment the Cameroonian villagers’ reactions to music were in line with Western responses, other studies have not had the same result, leaving the “universality” of emotions in music very much up for debate.

4) Ask the students if they can describe the differences between the “happy,” “scary,” and “sad” music used in the Cameroon experiment using the basic elements of music? You may want to REPLAY the last 30 seconds of the video segment (starting after the researcher is showing marking X’s on a chart) so the students can listen for the differences. (The happy music is in a major key, takes a quick tempo and is in a steady, simple rhythm. The scary music has a lot of repeated chords and a more unpredictable rhythm. The sad music is in a slow tempo and a minor key).

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