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Q&A for Teachers

From 2007-2010, TMEA members asked and answered over 300 questions featured in a Southwestern Musician article series called "Tutti". Over 3,000 answers were submitted by TMEA members in response to practical questions ranging from pedagogy to fundraising. This bank of valuable knowledge and experience is available here and is searchable by topic and/or magazine issue.

Listed below are answers and questions published in the October 2014 issue of Southwestern Musician. If you would like to view another issue's questions and answers, select an issue from the drop down box and click "Go".

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What kinds of assignments or research projects do you give to help students develop an in-depth understanding beyond the basic preparation and performance of a musical composition, transcription, or arrangement?
Submitted by: Anonymous, Answered in: October 2014
When I was teaching elementary, I loved having my 5th graders compose their class song before the end of the year. They composed & arranged everything (with guidance of course). Then they were able to record their "single". Everyone walked away with a CD of their composition before graduation. Great project to apply everything they've learned PLUS it keeps them engaged and WANTING to come to music that last month or two of school when they really don't want to attend school at all. ;-)

Submitted by: Kristi Savage
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My students prepare a Veteran's Day Concert with a research project attached. It is "Music Alive and Well in American History". The music selected has American historical significance and assigned by section. Selections include the National Anthem, You're a Grand Old Flag, America the Beautiful, etc. Students do research on the following topics: When was the music composed? What was happening around the world with regards to history, science, fashion, medicine, sports? We include a Medley of the Armed Forces and it's divided by branch amongst the percussion. Research for them includes origin, lyrics, and singing part of the tune :) Each section creates a power point slide that is displayed during the piece it represents. Students select a speaker to present a brief report of their assigned piece. The program begins with presentation of colors by our school color guard and finishes by recognizing all of our Veteran's. We have a large American flag displayed as our back drop. The concert is all about renewing patriotism in our students and the appreciation of the freedom we live with every day.

Submitted by: Maria Chadwell
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3rd Grade I assign some recorder homework.
4th Grade I teach a composer unit for research.

Submitted by: Anonymous
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In the moment research on ipad in classroom as we cover new pieces of music

Submitted by: Anonymous
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As a private violin teacher, listening to recordings, finding and watching other performances on YouTube, and looking up information about composers on Wikipedia.

Submitted by: Bill Atkerson
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I do a musicology unit with 7th graders where we discuss folk vs. art vs. popular music, and we learn about the periods in western art music.

Submitted by: Anonymous
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For some of our concerts I've given them a very in-depth listening review of a rehearsal or performance. The questions are specific enough that the students have to have their sheet music out to reference measure numbers. This forces my middle school singers to listen beyond simply good or bad and listen for all the details that make for a spectacular musical performance.

Submitted by: Amanda Ransom
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Each student in every grade don't matter what the music that we rehearing, I shifted the paradigm to that of reading a book. Who wants to read a book with misspelled words? How can you even begin the title of the book does not make sense it's not even a word? Music is the writers words and the distance between them is the story, we have to do anything possible, examine every piece of a printed item on the page, write an essay, look up history of what is happening then when it was written, find out what's going on because Music reflects life.

Submitted by: Mr Jessie C Smith
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Listen. Listen, Listen, Listen. To as many recordings as possible. GOOD recordings. YouTube is the best because it's free and you know your students use it. Find some for them...make a playlist for your ensemble. The first week or two your work on it, push push push them to listen it! Add a few more interpretations, ESPECIALLY if you have solos. Then ask them for recording recommendations...who did they like? What did they like about their performance? Was it just tempo and dynamics or do they like the tonal approach too? Create an open dialog about these recordings and encourage them to share ones they like. Now...show them that you're listening to them. Go and listen to those recordings and come back the next day and have a conversation with the entire band about what you found to be good and ineffective from that recording.

Submitted by: RK
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We do a lot of reflective assignments taken from concert recordings and marching performances. The questions are linked to rehearsal preparation, classroom assignments, and setting goals to keep the students aware of their personal responsibilities and overall input/output capabilities.

Submitted by: Charles 'CZ' Stollon
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I would assign students projects (they could work on a project with a maximum of three people) that made them think about what they were singing. For example, if my students were singing "Liza, Water Come A Me Eye", I had them check out library books about Jamaica. They had to describe the type of music they were singing, what it meant, why it was a certain genre, and how could they incorporate this type of music into their everyday life? I also had them give me examples of other types of music that originated out of Jamaica, sung by Harry Belafonte and relate it to Black History month (February).

Submitted by: Erika Warren
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So much of teaching in a private studio is a combination of teaching a "song" along with instilling a good foundation of technique. Encouraging practice and diligence is key. I work with some students who have difficulty matching pitch and concentrate on teaching their ears to hear and their instruments to replicate what they hear. Involving sense and muscle memory. Also, I attempt to include basic music theory into as many lessons as possible, especially for non-readers or beginning readers. They all need to learn and "feel" the subject matter of which they sing.

Submitted by: Kathy Aldridge
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I make my students research the composers life and write essays on what was happening in that life when the piece was composed. I ask them to tell me what they think the composer wanted his audience to know and then we discuss it in class. The advanced students also analyze basic chord structure in their pieces and mark one, four, five and diminished 7ths. I do not yet have students who can do more in theory.

Submitted by: Nancy Householder
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None, it is my opinion that students are bombarded with too much outside work in other subjects. I have a sixteen year old son who is in all AP classes and his schoolwork outside of the school day is overwhelming. If I want my students to learn more than performance preparation, I need to do it in the time I have with them during the school day. We also have extra rehearsals after school hours.

Submitted by: Tracy Collins
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I have in-class discussions about composers and historical contexts, and I ask analytical questions about how circumstances might have affected a composer's style.

Submitted by: Katie James
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They must be able to know about the time period the music is from, the life of the composer and what was changing at time in art in general. Students must understand the what the composer was trying to express in the composition.

Submitted by: Anonymous
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Constant and consistent questions regarding the composer, style, context, symbolism of the pieces studied.

Submitted by: Anonymous
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very rarely due to time constraints of our block scheduling they can do some research on a composer using computer or web based or library resources.

Submitted by: Anonymous
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Each year, select a contest piece and ask for volunteers to research that piece and write a paper on that piece. Internet access makes this much easier today. Help them with it and hand the finished product out to your group. My students loved to do this and they loved the recognition.

Submitted by: Nelson Nolden
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I like to have students experience different genres of music by creating that music. My students have done scat singing, yodeling, played rustic country instruments, and more! They love it and it really sticks with them!

Submitted by: Krista Lundquist
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I typically do not give written assignments to my students. Instead, I research the music and composer as much as possible and incorporate that information into the preparation of the performance.

Submitted by: Anonymous
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My 4th and 5th graders did a present and teach type performance for their parents this past year. The 4th graders presented Texas Play Party dances and the 5th graders presented contra-dances from the Revolutionary War Era. I worked with their classroom teachers to have them research their type of dance. I provided the teachers with viable websites and sources to help relieve the teachers extra research. The best papers were shared that night in between the presentations. One teacher had her students compose an acrostic poem to go with the words PLAY PARTY. It was a great way for the kids to learn further about the dances and allowed a wonderful collaboration opportunity for the classroom teachers and me.

Submitted by: Sara Yancey
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Every year each of my students draws a composer out of a hat and they do a "composer project". On composer project day, the kids present a story board with facts about their composer. Students also dress like their composer and teachers can ask easy questions such as, "Beethoven, where were you born?" I give them a score for oral presentation, teacher favorite, best costume, and over-all effort. The winner gets a $50.00 Visa card.

Submitted by: Christina Marioneaux
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Despite my school being very STAAR test driven, I always give music history lessons about the music my beginners are playing. I believe it's not enough to know what something is; it's important to know WHY something is the way it is or HOW it came to be in the first place.

Submitted by: Julie Tyler
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YouTube is a great resource: Watch/listen to several different orchestras doing the same composition. Compare interpretations, tempi, bowings. Research the composer and current events of the period.

Submitted by: Ida Steadman
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In the past we have walked the students through the step by step process of creating a 12 tone row and then a 12 tone matrix. They then create their own matrix and write their own four part harmony passage. Afterwards we play through the music in class. Watching the facial reactions of middle school and high school to their own music is always fun and every now and then someone writes something that sounds quite good!

Submitted by: Terence Guerrero
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This really depends on the level of the student and the group as a whole.
With jazz, I have them memorize the melody and chord changes and then we work on musical language that works within the genre. The compose new melodies for the harmonic structures.
Transcribing other peoples solos and melodies using the same harmony is a great tool for them to more deeply understand the music.

Submitted by: Timothy Kochen
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I've had students research and create their own commercials, theme songs for their favorite tv shows, and research projects over time periods in music.

Submitted by: Cary Vanarsdall
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I encourage them to use Finale Notepad for all-region and other tryouts. They must input the music themselves. This allows them to learn the program, mathematics of music, and opens the world of music writing/arranging to them.

Submitted by: James Keltner
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What single activity or project has convinced your administrators, parents, and community of the academic nature of music—to understand that your program is not totally activity- or contest-driven?
Submitted by: Anonymous, Answered in: October 2014
Programs, public performances, symphony trips. When students play the game, sing the song, or perform on the recorder for their parent/guardian. When students go home and are excited about something they are learning about in music. When at home they are researching and practicing a skill we are working on in music. For example, when I first introduce Opera with the use of several kid appropriate websites. They will go home and visit the websites and share with their parents. The parents ask me "Can we go to the Opera? We really want to encourage this but we don't know anything about it."

Submitted by: Anonymous
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My winter program was a huge community attended event. I recently left D'Hanis ISD after being there for 12 years doing K-12. Every year, the winter program drew larger and larger crowds because they "wanted to see what the kids were gonna do this year." I am not with Medina Valley ISD (at La Coste Elementary PK-5) where I hope to do the same and have the same results.

Submitted by: Philip Gorden
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My students have a project over "History Alive and Well in the Arts" that requires research over music being prepared for a concert. It can actually be applied to any concert. I use it with Texas and American History. Students are grouped and assigned a musical selection. Questions they research are provide information about the composer, when the selection was written, what science/medicine was being discovered at the time it was written and what was happening around the world. They look up lyrics to music that have lyrics. Who was the President and or Governor when the selection was written and an inspirational quote by that President or Governor. Each group creates a power point slide that is viewable for parents while their assigned song is being performed. Last but not least, the speaker of the group introduces the musical selection with an abbreviated synopsis of their research. Each student turns in their own research paper before the performance. My principals love this performance because it incorporates the core curriculum.

Submitted by: Maria Chadwell
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Every other year, the Arts Dept. at our school presents a Fine Arts Festival.
We select an overarching idea (usually connecting to another core curricular area, such as science or literature, or a cultural group/region represented in our student population) and use that theme to focus our instruction for the year. In the spring, we have an evening event where the students demonstrate what they've learned through an art show, musical performances, and a variety of student led activities - families and friends that attend participate in these "artistic" offerings throughout the evening. We also invite professional artists and organizations from the community to perform and share their expertise with the students throughout the year. Administrators LOVE the amazing attendance and the students get such joy from being the "stars" - performers, docents, leaders, and teachers.

Submitted by: Debra Erck
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When my administrator comes to observe me, I make sure that we are doing some sort of activity that involves a musical element they probably don't know about (music thoery, composition, history). This shows how versatile music really can be!

Submitted by: Kelly Dennington
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After establishing a comprehensive choral program which addressed all areas possible as to the contributions made by our program educating administrators, parents and community members regarding the statistics as far as music students academic achievement and the attendant research involving the multiple areas of the brain involved when functioning as a performing musician and how that fits "hand in glove" with mental development.

Submitted by: Lewis Unger
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Every time our middle school jazz band is invited to perform in the community we try to accept. These performances are for the folks that pay the bills: administrators, board members, parents, community groups, businesses and retirement homes. The value of music is brought home to our community in this way.

Submitted by: James Keltner
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Performances with academic themes have really convinced the educational stake-holders that our program is not just activity or contest driven. When students can sing the names of all 50 states in alphabetical order or recite the Preamble to the Constitution in song or tell the story of a historical figure, dramatize important facts about the State of Texas with musicality and professionalism...they realize the value of music.

Submitted by: Gaye Fisher
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I have an Applied Music class that operates in an unusual way. The councelor puts kids in Applied Music (they do not drop their ensemble class, this is a 2nd class) and I focus on "rehabilitation." The students have a musical assignment similair to a private lesson, but they also must show me their homework, talk to me about issues with other teachers, and they can leave to go to counciling if needed. We tutor each other in different subjects and give each other as much support as possible. I let the kids talk out problems while they practice small ensembles. It's my public school version of music therapy.

Submitted by: Christina Marioneaux
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I don't believe this can be answered as a "single activity" - it is more a "walk-the-talk" philosophy. You must hold yourself and your students to the highest of standards EVERY SINGLE DAY. When administrators and others see the rigor of your program, there is never a question of its value for students in all aspects of their lives - social, emotional, and academic. Always remember: are you teaching songs/pieces or are you teaching MUSIC? When administrators walk into my classroom, the objective is always posted, the students are engaged in meaningful activities that will help them reach that objective, and the teaching process is clearly evident.

Submitted by: Norm Sands
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I wish I had one. The biggest is to be an advocate of music at all times. Send them e-mails and letters and have parents contact them about the great things you are doing. If they get more e-mails about how they love what you do than e-mails about how they hage what you do, the administration will support you at all times.

Submitted by: Anonymous
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We always have a beginner band Demonstration Concert at the beginning of the school year. We usually schedule is about 6 weeks into the year and use it as a tool to show the parents all the skills their children have already learned. We talk about how they are not only learning the basics of embouchure, fingerings, note recognition, etc, but they are also learning how to complete many skills at the same time. This year we plan to also show a video about the benefits of music education before the concert so they can see that music helps grow their child in academic, social and musical ways. Parents always leave the concert so impressed by all the different steps to go into learning a musical instrument.

Submitted by: Katie Lewis
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For my principle it is what we do in the sight-reading room at contest. He tells me every year that of course he loves it when we do well at contest but watching the students in the sight-reading room tells the whole story of music and the academic nature of it. The students are focused, prepared, and demonstrate their ownership of learning.

Submitted by: Amanda Ransom
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During a walk through evaluation or a formal evaluation connect the music study with history, math, physics of sound or just spelling and defining a term.

Submitted by: Ida Steadman
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What is your favorite piece of music to teach that you know students will love and that challenges them musically? And why?
Submitted by: Anonymous, Answered in: October 2014
Any march! It's a great way to teach technique, style (including contrasting styles within the same march), dynamics, etc. There are hundreds of marches for every level and type of band. This genre is probably the easiest to find several compositions that will align with the strengths of your band.

Submitted by: Nicholas Durham
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Believe it or not, my favorite piece of music to teach is The Star Spangled Banner. Before I give the lesson, students are very luke-warm toward the song. Once we're through, they are enchanted by the history and therefore begin to embrace the song more fully. There are several reasons that I enjoy teaching this to my elementary students. First of all, I believe it is imperative that every United States Citizen knows the words to our National Anthem. Secondly, the history behind it's writing is SO rich. I love telling the story of the bombs bursting in air, lighting up the sky so Francis Scott Key could still see the flag in the usually dark Boston Harbor. The language in the song is quite complex. Additionally, I enjoy "demystifying" the words and bringing meaning to the song (what exactly IS a rampart?) Finally, we all know the song is very melodically challenging. I enjoy working with the students to make it sound beautiful. We work on pitch, enunciation and phrasing to take a difficult song and make it into a work of art.

Submitted by: Dawn Danowski
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I love teaching listening of large works of music. Symphonies, operas

Submitted by: Anonymous
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I really enjoy teaching the kids the Star Spangled Banner. I teach them the history of the song and then teach them to sing it with respect and not with all the crazy inflections that they see their idols, the "Professional", aka the Pop stars, they look up too. It is a song that should be done respectfully!!

Submitted by: Philip Gorden
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In the 8 years of teaching, I've never repeated a music selection! I arrange most of my music because teaching at a charter school means a very tight budget. I love arranging, so I love it! I try to think outside of the box and choose songs that are current, but not necessarily pop. I strive to make my concerts different than most middle schools.

Submitted by: Kelly Dennington
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Victoria's "Vere Languores" This is one of the pieces I have used to teach the longitudinal polyphonic sound as opposed to the "vertical chordal style that my students have grown up hearing with the primarily important line being a melody on "top". I have used it to teach the interplay (rise and fall) at different times so that the ear recognizes the longitudinal lines as if they were "seen" with the ear as through glass. Please see note in the following question.

Submitted by: Lewis Unger
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For Music Appreciation: "The Young Person's Guide To The Orchestra" It has a beautiful, soaring theme that is passed back and forth throughout the orchestra which introduces each individual instrument and section.
Elementary: "Night On Bald Mountain" Exciting and Mysterious melody, they love expressing themselves in art projects (paint, marker, crayon) as they listen to this work.
Beginning Low Brass: A little bit of everything: quintet music, jazz, brass band, symphonic winds and percussion. The different works and ensembles open their minds to the possibilities of the instruments they have chosen to play.

Submitted by: Dr. Janet Tracy
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I love teaching about P. Tchaikovsky. His music is familiar, inviting and memorable. Students engage when they hear about his troubled life story and the beautiful musical created in spite of this.

Submitted by: Gaye Fisher
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My favorite piece of music to teach is Dance Celebration. It is upbeat and cheerful-sounding, so the students enjoy it (both junior high and non-varsity high school). The piece is Grade 1, and it is easy enough for struggling students to learn the notes and rhythms, yet their are still details and challenges for more in-depth study. Each time the melody returns, something new is added or changed to keep things exciting. The percussion parts are fairly easy to learn - last year I was working with one of my new percussionists to help him learn to read music, and he was successful at performing this piece. It features the clarinets, and I usually have a fairly strong clarinet section.

Submitted by: Stephanie Wlodkowski
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I love Sleep by Eric Whitacre. He is a master musican and it is great to see kids light up when his music reaches them. The best is to watch them hear the choral version before we play it.

Submitted by: Anonymous
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I Have Had Singing by Stephen Sametz—it’s a joyful journey to lead students through this incredible setting of this extraordinary poem. The sustain of line, eight-part divisi, and flawless, elegant tone required make it tough, but the students do not grow weary of rehearsing this beautiful piece. Almost any piece of music by Z. Randall Stroope falls in this category as well. Students love it, and it’s musically meaty and worthy of the effort required.

Submitted by: Amy Allibon
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Some of my favorite teaching pieces are the “screamer” marches of Karl L. King, such as The Big Cage, Circus Days, Prestissimo, and Rough Riders. Each of these pieces sound great on the first reading because there is excitement in every part. They become even more rewarding as students are able to add nuance and velocity. It’s so gratifying when the music takes over and students discover these 70-year-old treasures.

Submitted by: David Cross
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For my third orchestra, which is mostly second-year string students and advanced sixth graders, I always program Themes from the Nutcracker arranged by Carrie Lane Gruselle. A challenging and enjoyable work, it has all the highlights from the march to the Russian dance. Students learn 3/4, triplets, slurs, and bow lifts all while having a good time playing songs they recognize.

Submitted by: Elizabeth Compton
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Galop by Ken Berg. All the words are solfege and there is a TON of musicality to teach. It is a great introduction to solfege for my sixth graders. They see all kinds of dynamics, lots of tempo markings, and the form is very clear. Plus the kids love it! What more could you want?

Submitted by: Amanda Ransom
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2nd movement of Beethoven Seventh Symphony. The history of this movement is fascinating. The main melody is haunting and the piece requires several bow/articulation styles and the fugal element.

Submitted by: Ida Steadman
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What kinds of assignments or research projects do you give to help students develop an in-depth understanding beyond the basic preparation and performance of a musical composition, transcription, or arrangement?
Submitted by: Anonymous, Answered in: October 2014
We are always in the process of creating, tweaking, and performing in elementary music. Orff process.

Submitted by: Anonymous
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My students have a project over "History Alive and Well in the Arts" that requires research over music being prepared for a concert. It can actually be applied to any concert. I use it with Texas and American History. Students are grouped and assigned a musical selection. Questions they research are provide information about the composer, when the selection was written, what science/medicine was being discovered at the time it was written and what was happening around the world. They look up lyrics to music that have lyrics. Who was the President and or Governor when the selection was written and an inspirational quote by that President or Governor. Each group creates a power point slide that is viewable for parents while their assigned song is being performed. Last but not least, the speaker of the group introduces the musical selection with an abbreviated synopsis of their research. Each student turns in their own research paper before the performance. My principals love this performance because it incorporates the core curriculum.

Submitted by: Maria Chadwell
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I have a motif project. The students write a simple 2-4 measure motif. I pick the top 3 and they take the motif and expand on it. It takes a bit of time to complete, but they come up with some beautiful pieces!

Submitted by: Kelly Dennington
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My students are required to provide me with scores of high level performance pieces marked to indicate their understand of dynamics, style, theoretical (chord progressions, repetition, etc. The students at a given point have a "picture" drawn for them of exactly what we and they individually are trying to accomplish.

Submitted by: Lewis Unger
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Have them listen to recordings of the original piece, study the score, and have them listen to multiple performances of the various renditions of the work, then have them assign both positive and negative descriptions of each sample.

Submitted by: Dr. Janet Tracy
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My kids designed their own project. They wanted to learn how to arrange their own popular music. I was thrilled! They are constantly practicing their own compositions and they love working in groups on a project. We stick with 32 -48 bars of one refrain or verse. When they present them to the class, we have a great time. Sometimes the arrangements are fantastic and we play them for talent shows or for recruiting trips. Sometimes they are terrible and we roll on the floor laughing. Good or bad, we give every composition a round of applause and 100!

Submitted by: Christina Marioneaux
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This is an area I would like to see what others come up with. I currently don't have one, but would love to see one.

Submitted by: Anonymous
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