A School-Wide Music Programme Based on a Pentatonic Theme
Sacred Heart Primary School – a small Catholic school in Dunedin with five teaching staff and 87 students – are committed to providing quality learning experiences in the arts for all their students, believing that this will benefit both the children and the wider school community.
With assistance under the Professional Development In-depth Teacher Support contract (made between the Dunedin College of Education and the Ministry of Education), the staff collaboratively planned a school-wide overview for the arts. This overview was thematically inspired, and ensured sequential, carefully considered skill-building experiences in all four arts area – dance, drama, music, and the visual arts.
Singing and listening underpin the music programme, because the staff understand that aural skill development is the foundation for music making. They also believe that singing is a fundamental social and cultural experience, and that expression through song is an important part of the special character of their school.
The term plan ( 65 KB) for one term in the middle school (Years 3 and 4, working at level 2) focussed on melodic singing and playing using the pentatonic scale. The source of this theme was the study of Indonesia being undertaken as part of the school-wide social studies programme for that term. Traditional Indonesian gamelan music uses the pentatonic scale (among other tuning systems) and is played on a wide array of tuned percussion instruments. To facilitate this link, the school hired a class set of tuned percussion instruments – a mixture of soprano and alto glockenspiels. (The school was already well-resourced with untuned percussion instruments.)
Pentatonic scale theme
The term's work described in this case study centred around the pentatonic scale. This is a five-note scale that corresponds to the black keys on the piano – if starting on C natural, the pitches are C natural, D natural, F natural, G natural, A natural, and starting on G natural, they are G natural, A natural, C natural, D natural, E natural. (See Into Music 1 and 2 for further information about the pentatonic scale.) The children investigated this scale through singing and improvisations, which were supported by simple musical structures, such as rondos and ostinato accompaniments.
In the junior school, the term's work moved from imitation and repetition, leading to the layering of simple patterns, and simple accompaniments to pentatonic songs. In the senior school, more complex patterns were layered to create whole-class ensemble pieces, which also provided a structure to support individual and group improvisations.
The importance of generating ideas through listening and responding, and experimenting with and refining ideas, was emphasised so that the children created music that was musically satisfying and interesting. This represents a process of action and reflection.
Opportunities to connect this music making to other contexts where the pentatonic scale is important provided the listening thread for the term's work – for example, listening and responding to the traditional music of Indonesia, and pentatonic folk songs from around the world.
Term planner overview
The term plan ( 65 KB) began with an introductory/review period of two weeks in which the children:
- sang previously learned waiata-a-ringa;
- learned a new song – 'Koromiko' from Into Music 1;
- played to the beat of contrasting pieces;
- developed rhythm patterns based on word rhythms from poems and songs;
- listened to Tihore Mai from Into Music 1, focussing on texture.
During the next six weeks, the students:
- sang pentatonic songs;
- imitated and played simple pentatonic patterns on tuned instruments;
- developed patterns to accompany performances of the pentatonic songs by the whole class.
They listened to some contemporary music inspired by Indonesian gamelan music (from Into Music 2), and identified and responded to the different rhythmic and melodic layers in the music. They learned about the features and purposes of traditional Indonesian gamelan music, supported by a visit to the gamelan orchestra at the university.
In weeks 7 and 8, they learned to play 'Jazzy Cat's Walk' from Into Music 1. This piece uses simple repeating patterns, but also includes opportunities for individual improvisations supported by the accompaniment of repeating melodic patterns.
Advantages of term planning
The term planner is an attempt to ensure that the skill areas are well linked and meaningfully integrated in order to, for example, avoid a unit on 'beat' followed by one on 'pitch'.
Listening and singing should underpin the other skills being developed, forming a vital thread linking each term's work. If schools are borrowing sets of tuned instruments for a term, it would be sensible for them to have a school-wide focus on melodic playing for that term. Alternatively, it may be that the focus for skill development grows out of the term's listening material, or that the term's work may be planned around selected songs. Also, a term could have a particular focus linked to some other aspect of the curriculum, for example, poetry.
To summarise, a term's music programme could be planned around:
- a variety of songs;
- a variety of listening material;
- a topic linked to another part of the curriculum, such as poetry;
- a family of instruments that can be hired, such as tuned percussion or recorders.
Whichever way the music programme is planned, the important thing is that students meet each skill area repeatedly, in a spiral way, building up language, skills and conceptual understandings throughout the year.