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Curriculum Insights • Tell Me More about Music!

Ashtyn Avella, Music Teacher

Coming together in song and dance is as old as humankind. Today there are an endless number of global folk songs and dances that unify communities around common melodies and movement. What could be a better embodiment of our core value of community than music and accompanying movement? We know that we are bonded together in that moment whether we sing songs that are silly, songs that make us think, or songs that elicit strong feelings as our ancestors did.

Music and movement education take students deeply into social-emotional and academic learning. They explore and learn teamwork, risk-taking, confidence, improved memory skills, improved coordination, and development of language through music. Through the introduction of world languages in the embodiment of song, students benefit from a deepening knowledge of other cultures and develop a better understanding of their own. Most importantly, music transcends the limits of language, learning styles, and differences. All learners have the ability to be successful in music, and the PBS music program strives for all children to find their own triumphs.

What sources does the PBS music curriculum draw from?

  • Overarching themes are derived from the Orff Schulwerk Approach. This child-centered approach is based on the belief that music is a natural part of every person and can therefore be used as a universally recognized linguistic tool.
  • Simple instruments, body percussion, and vocal patterns are used to communicate through the musical language. Children learn by communicating and experiencing first-hand rather than from a distance.
  • Confidence is built through practice of songs, dances, and games, resulting in feelings of accomplishment and pride. Children discover that it’s okay to take risks and that the process of experiencing music and movement is more important than the product.
  • Fine motor skills are built through use of pitched and unpitched percussion instruments requiring fine motor skills. Over time and with practice, students are able to play more precisely on each.
  • Social skills and group coordination improves by working together to create. Students might create rhythm patterns, body percussion movements, a dance, or a song. This requires teamwork and listening to all ideas to achieve a product they all can feel proud of.
  • Creative thinking and problem-solving is promoted through movement. Students might be given a list of locomotor movements and asked to create a dance using those movements. The challenge is creating a series of movements that flow into each other while also fitting into the style of the accompanying movements.
  • Memory is improved through song. Songs are usually taught by rote (memorization based on repetition) in younger grades. Using that technique, students hear the contour of melody and lyrics, and they repeat back what they heard. In middle to older grades, students take a song they learned and match it to a pitched percussion instrument. They find the familiar melody by using only their voice and ears.
  • Dexterity and agility are developed via instruments that require a tool (e.g., a mallet) to play or by placing fingers in a particular position to play a chord (e.g., a ukulele). The ways we have to move our body to use these instruments can be counterintuitive to our everyday movements, so they take time to develop.
  • Open and nurturing educational space is provided by encouraging students to take musical risks and by knowing they are in a safe learning environment. Musical risks can be some of the hardest to take yet offer big rewards in confidence. We strive to encourage these risks.

What does our music program look like as children progress through the curriculum?

  • ELC: Students are getting comfortable with their voices and bodies through song, games, and creative movement.
  • Kindergarten–5th: Students learn songs, games, dances, and music from all around the world. They learn, review, and assess concepts using games. Children learn through play, and it’s important to incorporate play into music – not only to learn musical skills but also to build community and trust.
  • Kindergarten: Students begin learning concepts such as steady beat, high vs. low, loud vs. soft, and fast vs. slow by using their bodies, voices, and unpitched percussion instruments. In movement, students explore how to use their bodies using locomotor movements – moving around the room and combining to create small phrases of movement.
  • 1st Grade: Students begin learning melodic patterns using Sol and Mi, and rhythmic patterns using quarter (ta) and eighth notes (ta-di). Eventually students transfer these skills to pitched percussion instruments (xylophone and metallophone). In movement, students create short dances alone and in groups. Students are introduced to choreographed dance via folk dances.
  • 2nd Grade: Students add Mi Re Do to their melodic patterns and half note (ta-a), whole note (ta-a-a-a), and quarter rest to their rhythmic patterns. Students learn terms such as ostinato (a continually repeated musical phrase or rhythm) and bordun (an open 5th), and how to use these on pitched percussion instruments. In movement, students continue with folk dances and start using body percussion to accompany songs they learn or create.
  • 3rd Grade: Students learn about pentatonic (a musical scale). Through this, they are able to create songs and improvise. Students add sixteenth notes (ta-ka-di-mi) to their rhythmic patterns. Instruments such as ukulele and tubano drums may be added to enhance learning. In movement, students are more independent and may create dances or body percussion pieces.
  • 4th Grade: Students add Fa and Ti to their melodic patterns. This completes the diatonic scale (major scale), and students begin learning basic chords to accompany songs using the diatonic scale. Students will be able to identify rhythms with sixteenth notes in any combination. In movement, students continue to learn folk dances and focus on dances from around the world.
  • 5th Grade: Students are able to identify and use the I, IV, and V chords on pitched percussion instruments and through their voices. Students participate in drum circles to build community and discover global drum music. In movement, we work with unusual objects such as resistance bands, basketballs, and tennis balls to create sound.

What can I do to support music at home?

  • Ask about activities from music class: Encourage students to sing a song from class or teach you a game or dance. Music is an activity that brings families together!
  • Listen together: Bring music of different genres into the car, while cleaning, and while cooking and eating. Listening to music of different genres and styles can open children’s minds to what is out there in the musical world.
  • Attend live performances: Any genre, any style, any level. Seeing a live performance offers an experience you can’t get from listening to recorded music. It’s raw and mostly untouched by heavy editing. Live performances show students the vulnerability of performers taking risks on stage.
  • Be vulnerable: Don’t be afraid to sing and dance with your kids. As with learning in the classroom, it’s about community and togetherness – not whether we can sing every note correctly.

To learn more about music and other multigrade subjects at PBS, watch for upcoming parent education opportunities:

  • Every Tuesday before spring break: Articles on each multigrade subject (upcoming: physical education and technology)
  • April 5: Virtual parent education at 8:00 p.m. led by Jon Fulk and PBS multigrade teachers

Thank you for supporting our multigrade programs!

Ashtyn Avella, Jon Fulk, and Scott Erickson
Music Teacher, Head of Academic Programs, and Head of School

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