As a boy that speaks very little and cannot read, music is essential to Andrew's identity. Though he does not frequently use words to communicate with others, he still makes observations about the world around him and expresses himself. When he doesn't have his harmonica with him, he wishes he had it because he has musical ideas to communicate what he is thinking or feeling. For better or for worse, when people think of Andrew, they think of him playing the harmonica. More importantly, it is a part of his identity that he feels strongly connected to. When Andrew's harmonica is broken, he becomes withdrawn. Places that should feel familiar to him, such as his bedroom, become foreign.
offers an opportunity for students to explore music and sounds as imagery, and in turn, decide how that relates to Andrew's identity. In their language arts classes, students are already expected to find language from the text that creates pictures. This includes sight words, touch words, sound words, and taste words. This will serve as pre-work for music class. Students will bring in the list they created of “sound words.” After introducing or reviewing the elements of music, we will discuss how words and descriptions can be depicted through music. Here are some possible examples, though there are many possibilities, for each element. Further discussion and brainstorming in individual music classes will help students decide what certain sounds make them think of.
Marches are usually written using a 2/4 time signature, two beats in each measure, and a quarter note receives one beat. A march could indicate a celebration, like a parade. A Waltz, or dance music, is written using a 3/4 time signature. There are three beats in each measure, with a quarter note receiving one beat.
A fast tempo could represent several things: excitement, anxiety, or a chase. A slow tempo may indicate calm or relaxation, but possibly depression or discontent.
Piano or pianissimo may remind students of quiet moments in life, like sleeping or a time of peaceful solitude. In turn, it could instead signify loneliness. Forte or fortissimo could represent a crowd of noisy people, but also could represent the cheers of a victory, or protesting screams.
Melody and Harmony
Generally, major scales sound happy and minor scales sound sad. A conjunct melody (smooth and easy to play) could signify a time of certainty, while a disjunct melody (disjointed and jumpy) would create a feeling of unpredictability. When creating harmonies, dissonant chords sound harsh, while consonant chords sound smooth. Basic chord progressions end with a resolution – an absent musical resolution could represent the absence of a real-life resolution.
In this context, this element will be based on what is available in the classroom. It will not be possible for students to learn and play harmonica, like Andrew, but there are plenty of alternatives. In my classroom, I have electric keyboards that have many different sound options. I also have various percussion instruments, such as, xylophones, tambourines, different sized drums, guiros, maracas, and shaker eggs. Any of these instruments, or any other noise maker, will work with this unit. The goal is to provide several different options so students can make musical decisions regarding the sound that will dictate a specific emotion or part of their identity.
Form and Texture
Students will choose what form they would like to compose with. For form, I would most likely have students determine a form to use as a way for me to check their understanding of the concept, and not necessarily the artistic use. The same would apply for texture. If students choose to write a composition and perform it on their own, at a fourth-grade level, most would be monophonic, or possibly homophonic.
After review these ideas, I would use the list that the students created and select some examples to display for the class. There are plenty of examples in the book of words that are meant to create sounds, and some are more complex than others. Here are some possible examples.
Scene: Andrew listens intently to the sound of bacon cooking on the stove. He plays a buzzing, cracking sound on his harmonica.
Possible student response: Using shaker eggs, shake to create the cracking sound of the bacon. Play forte and allegro at first, then diminuendo and , as the bacon cooks and the noise quiets down. For every new slice of bacon, another shaker egg is added.
Scene: Andrew wishes he could play his teacher's voice – “low and kind and floaty.”
Possible student response: Using a wooden xylophone, play low notes andante, dolce, and mezzo piano. Gently, play the notes going up the scale, then back down the scale, stopping briefly in between. This will represent the teacher talking, with breaks between sentences.
Scene: Andrew plays a sound like his mother is calling him. The voice would be more scared than angry, but insistent and powerful, like the time he tried to cross the street by himself.
Possible student response: Using the keyboard, create dissonant chords, playing two or three notes at a time. Use a rhythm comprised of one quarter note and one half note, and play fortissimo. Play each rhythm quickly, as if in a hurry. This will simulate Andrew's mother yelling his name in two syllables, trying to get his attention before he goes into the street.
After going through these examples as a class, students could be broken into groups and given an excerpt from the list of sound words they generated. After trying it on their own and sharing it with the class, they will have the skills necessary to express their own identity and emotions through music.