Warning – this post is for a very specific audience – Music Learning Theory practitioners. If you are new to MLT, might I suggest searching my blog for a few introductory posts about Music Learning Theory? You might also consider checking out the Gordon Institute for Music Learning page to learn more about MLT and how to find workshops and training in your area!
One of the things that sets MLT apart from other approaches is Learning Sequence Activities, known as LSAs. For those of us teaching LSAs, we know sometimes that the sequence of those units can be a bit daunting especially when we only see our kids 1-2 times a week for 30-45 minutes. I teach at a K-5 elementary school where I see my students once every 3 days for 40 minutes. With that said, I do not do LSA activities with my Kindergarten students. Kindergarten is devoted to transitioning students out of Preparatory Audiation, and towards the end of the year, introducing the Aural/Oral level of learning. My first through fourth grade students all engage in pattern instruction during each music class but there never seems to be enough time to get through it all. With that in mind, I’d like to offer some alternative ways to ensure your students are getting what they need via LSAs without missing essential parts of the sequence.
Let me preface our discussion with one important statement – I think there is value in every page in the LSA book. The reality is instructional time for music is at an all time low and getting through it all when you see kids once a week for 30 minutes just isn’t feasible. When it comes down to deciding on scope and sequence within your curriculum, my hope is that this will help you make the best instructional choices for your program.
Tonal Unit One is an Aural/Oral unit. Within this unit, there are three skills being practiced – 1st pitch, resting tone, and whole pattern. I’m going to be completely transparent in my practice, I always do the whole pattern page first. When we discuss MLT, we always talk about a whole-part-whole process. Teaching the whole pattern page first supports this framework and builds vocabulary/context before we study the parts of the pattern. From there, if time permits, I do resting tone next. I almost always do the first pitch as a classroom activity instead of a page. For me, first pitch is simply a technique used to help students learn to listen and focus in on one specific pitch. As stated earlier, we do a lot of Aural/Oral work in Kindergarten and resting tone/1st pitch are easily reinforced as classroom activities. When it comes to class patterns, please make sure to stretch your musicianship as well as your students’ musicianship by offering patterns beyond tonic and dominant. Subdominant and cadential patterns will serve you well over time.
Tonal Unit Two is a Verbal Association unit. Within this unit, there are four skills being practiced – function, 1st pitch, resting tone, and whole pattern. Again, I begin with whole pattern first. Then I move to the function pages. I almost never do the resting tone and first pitch pages, but again, these are skills that can easily and routinely practiced as classroom activities. Again, when it comes to class patterns, please make sure to provide patterns beyond tonic and dominant – including subdominant and cadential patterns.
Tonal Unit Three is a Creativity/Improvisation unit. This unit is problematic in where it falls in the sequence. If I start LSAs in First Grade, then I most likely will get to Tonal Unit Three at the end of First Grade or early Second Grade. I know from talking with Dr. Gordon that he put it there as a bridging activity. In my own teaching, I have found that time is better spent on bridging at the Generalization Aural/Oral level or Generalization Verbal Association level of learning during classroom activities. Give students opportunities to create and improvise on neutral syllables and translate simple patterns early on and often. Helping students to understand the internal logic of solfege systems (both tonal and rhythmic) and how to apply will help students to better improvise with meaning when you do go back to Tonal Unit 3.
Tonal Unit Four is an Aural/Oral unit. This unit is pretty benign and can done in order with one “MAJOR” tweak (pun intended). The pages written in Bb major are not a range conducive for developing singers. I highly suggest transposing the patterns down into the key of G. It will accomplish both getting kids to sing in a different key as well as singing over the vocal break. The minor patterns are fine as is, but the octave leaps will be problematic for children who are still developing vocally.
Tonal Unit Five is a Verbal Association unit. This unit is comprised of both function pages and whole pattern pages. By now, I expect that my students have a large vocabulary of patterns in both major and minor tonalities. I tend to do one function page, then one whole pattern page. I also continue to transpose the pages in Bb major down to G major. Continue to push yourself to provide variety in your class patterns beyond tonic and dominant function. Class patterns are a great opportunity to build vocabulary for later units.
***This is often when I go back and insert Tonal Unit 3 in my sequence. By now, my students have had enough experience to be successful with the solfege in the Creativity/Improvisation pages.
Tonal Unit Six is a Partial Synthesis unit (MY FAVORITE)!!! I do All. Of. It. As you go through the sequence of patterns a few times, students tap into the predictability of the sequence. I find it helpful to vary the sequence of the three patterns to really force audiation. I also use the tonic chord in both major and minor for comparison beyond just the resting tone. It gives students more to anchor the series of patterns against.
Tonal Unit Seven is an Aural/Oral unit. This unit is different from past A/O units in that for the first time you have a sequence of two patterns instead of one and it’s the first time subdominant patterns are presented. Please learn from my mistakes – you must be using subdominant patterns in class patterns or classroom activities before students are expected to perform them on these pages. It’s why I mention is early on during Tonal Unit 2. Many years ago, I followed the sequence so much so that I didn’t sing subdominant to my students until this page. They struggled almost to the point of not being able to perform them because it was not part of their foundational vocabulary. The other thing that is so important to remember during this unit is that you must breathe between each pattern. Breathing gives time for audiation and at the heart of why we do pattern instruction is to build a students’ capacity to audiate. It’s never about echoing – always about audiation.
Tonal Unit Eight is a Verbal Association unit. Again, like the above Aural/Oral unit, this is the first time you have a sequence of two patterns instead of one. I don’t change much in the sequence of these pages except to do the major pages in sequence before doing the minor pages.
Tonal Unit Nine is a Generalization Verbal Association unit. Oh, how I wish this unit occurred much earlier in the sequence!!! So let’s start with what Generalization is – it’s an opportunity for students to “translate” patterns from neutral syllable to solfege. Students have to demonstrate the relationship of sound to solfege. My concern is that the first time we ask this to happen, students have to translate not one pattern – but two! I really think it’s vital to build opportunities for students to engage in Generalization activities in classroom activities early on and often! When I do get to this page, I again tend to do the whole pattern pages before the function pages. The more exposure I can give to subdominant solfege and function, the better.
Tonal Unit Ten is an AuralOral unit. Much like Tonal Unit Eight, students engage in a series of two patterns and continue to build their capacity to audiate series of patterns instead of individual patterns.
This is about as far as I get instructionally with students in an elementary setting. I would love discuss further units with anyone who works with older students! Leave me a comment about the adaptations you’ve tried with your own students using LSAs. In the coming week, I’ll post about the Rhythm progression!