In the post Preparing Pulse I introduced my simple composition Black Crow and how it can be used to experience pulse or steady beat. It is also perfect for preparing and presenting pitch.
We start with my blackbird puppet Quaver. While we sing the song, the child holds the puppet and makes it dance, or fly around. If the child does anything that maps to the melodic contour then draw attention to it. If not, then feel free to model or guide the child.
“Ooo, Quaver is very musical! Did you notice that Quaver did something very clever while we sang? Why do you think that was?”
They may have been matching the lyrics of the song, which start with “High, low, high, low” which was composed to reflect the melodic contour. See if they think the actions from the first part of the song will still work. It is interesting to delve into the child’s thought process. There’s no wrong answer, but it gives you some insight into their awareness of the pitch.
One pitch activity isn’t enough though. The children need multiple experiences to prepare them. Each one can be done with Black Crow, another of the simple songs at the start of Sing and Play or your favourite so–mi song.
Don’t limit the movement to manipulation of a puppet! Get the child’s whole body (and yours!) involved. They can be the Black Crow, or the Big Clown. They can try and touch the Blue Sky. The first songs in Sing and Play all have lyrics to match the melodic contour so the children will make the right choices, even before they have an understanding or awareness of the pitch.
The Game Cards include a set of Black Crow icon cards as well as clowns, puppies and hammers. The children have their own set to take away so that they can practise these games at home. You can buy them as hard copies to cut up or as a studio-licensed pdf.
They will already have laid them out to prepare pulse so it’s a simple step to move them up and down to show the melodic contour. Of course I don’t use the term melodic contour yet. Instead I might say…
“Show me how the song goes with the cards.” or “Can you move the cards to show the song.”
My students LOVE the lyrca, especially when we have paired lessons. We stand around the edge holding on and lift it higher and lower. I also use it to extend the Mind Reading Game described in Preparing Pitch. For those struggling to discern high and low pitch it enables me, or their more confident classmate, to help them with the physical motion. We love putting Quaver the blackbird on the lycra and then sending them high into the sky.
I use a 2m x 1.5m rectangle and that’s sufficient for my small group musicianship classes too.
In the same way that we used the game cards, we can use other toys. From lego to puzzle erasers, anything small will do. I find it’s best to lay them onto a landscape A4 whiteboard so that the children are clear on the orientation.
So all the hard work goes into the preparation, making the presentation quick and easy. When you’re ready, any of the preparation activities can lead to the presentation of pitch.
“The musical word pitch describes how high or low a sound is. When we put different pitches together we make a melody.”
“Let’s sing the song, then sing it again singing “high” and “low” instead of the words.“
“We can show the melody on our bodies. When we sing a high pitch we can touch our heads. When we sing a low pitch we can touch our shoulders.”
And now we have a lifetime to practise! Over time we can introduce more terms like phrase, shape of the melody and even melodic contour.
Do you remember the improvisation pictures your student drew in their First Lesson? Go back and describe them with the new musical vocabulary. Re-explore the piano keyboard.