Listen and Learn: The Key to Effective Secondary General Music Instruction
by George Ober and Joe Pergola
Teaching secondary general music can be one of the most challenging and one of the most rewarding courses for music teachers. The multitude of requests for guidance regarding curriculum and learning goals on social media teacher sites demonstrates widespread concern about teaching this subject. There is no question that secondary general music instruction instills significant discomfort in teachers who are assigned a full schedule or just a single section.
Issues in Secondary General Music Education
**Why do so many secondary music educators feel insecure when asked to teach general music? Perhaps it’s the amount of preparation necessary to teach a music course to predominately non-performing music students! Maybe it’s the lack of a unified sequential curriculum! Possibly it’s question of which materials will be useful! Maybe it’s the fear of disciplinary issues due to a lack of confidence in the lessons being taught! Whatever the reason, music educators desperately need resources and a research based curriculum designed specifically for today’s secondary general music student.
Learning Goals for Secondary Education
It’s important to ask ourselves the following question. What are the essential skills and knowledge that all students should learn. For some educators the primary goal is to have students perform on instruments such as recorder, guitar, percussion and electronic keyboard? In other programs the most important skillI is for all students to know how to read and write traditional musical notation? From a humanities perspective the primary goal may be to understand music history?
However, since the vast majority of students required to take secondary general music are not members of a school performing group, the most important goal must be the development of “listening skills”.
The Importance of Aural Skills
We live in a world where MTV, VH1 and YouTube have replaced aural acuity with visual imagery, the need to increase our students ability to better appreciate music by developing listening skills is essential. We need to help our students develop the aural skills necessary to perceive the expressive qualities inherent in various musical styles.
This can be accomplished by having students understand and recognize the basic elements of music such as beat, tempo, dynamics, rhythm, instrumentation and form. The development of independent listening skills for each basic element provides the building blocks for the ability to a) hear, b)describe and c) identify the qualities inherent in music of varying style. By incorporating these basic skills into an instructional design, can help all our students cultivate the skills needed to demonstrate an aesthetic response to music.Initially, the basic elements of music should be described and discussed in non-technical terms, supported by various learning activities involving description, creation and performance all in conjunction with appropriate listening examples.
Gradually, connections to proper terminology and musical symbols should be used to describe, analyze and assess listening examples.
Students need to internalize beat and tempo. With repeated listening activities, students can learn to maintain a steady pulse in varying tempos by clapping or tapping.
The ability to recognize and identify various dynamic levels including crescendo and decrescendo is a listening skill all students can develop.
With developmental practice students can learn to audiate and perform notated basic rhythm problems.
Have students learn to compose four (4) measure rhythm patterns.
Using simple song form, (Intro, Verse, Chorus, Bridge) students can develop the listening skills necessary to graph song form.
True knowledge of the basic elements of music is exemplified by aural recognition and oral description. In other words, students must be able to recognize each element in isolation and in relationship to other elements present in the music. Students must be able to describe the function served by each element and how it is connected to the style being performed.
Each individual teacher must choose the best material suited for the level and age of their students. All styles of music should be employed; classical, jazz, rock etc. Emphasis should be placed on current popular styles because success in introducing students to new musical concepts is considerably easier when the student is dealing with familiar music. Plus, when students see that “their music” is accepted by the teacher, they are more receptive to listening and learning about other styles of music. Secondary general music teachers must stay open-minded and up to date with the ever changing styles of popular music.
It is time secondary general music develops a curriculum design and effective pedagogy that builds the listening skills necessary for students to better appreciate the expressive qualities inherent in all styles of music.