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Lesson 1: Identifying Elements in Context


I wanted the students to put terms and definitions to the concepts they have already experienced in songs they have performed before. Using the arrangements of Electric Love (SSAA) and Put Your Head on My Shoulder (TTBB) I wrote for them, I had them identify the elements that we would be focusing on for the entirety of these three lessons on circle singing. Once they felt comfortable with identifying the elements in their own music, I changed the context to arrangements that they haven't looked at previously. (Shown in the video below)



My in person students filled out a physical assessment sheet together while the members on zoom followed along with a google doc that they filled out. For the students in person, I gave verbal feedback to them when they answered a question (as shown in the video). For the students online, I gave individual feedback afterward on the google form they had turned in.

Lesson1 Online Feedback.JPG



“We do music in context here, Mr. Dade.” - Madrigal Student

I was met with this statement from one of my students when I had asked if they wanted to experiment with creating their own parts for a circle song exercise at the end of warm ups. Though he said it jokingly, it really inspired me for this project. I wanted to take the students out of their comfort zone and get them to start creating their own music, even if it was just a looping two measure idea, it’s a huge step towards creating larger original ideas.

For this project, I really wanted the students to conceptualize how they can create music using a strategy called circle singing. The students learned about the different elements that a circle song contains in this lesson. The motor, which creates space and drives the song forward, the interlock, which weaves through the motor using syncopation to create polyrhythm, and finally the contrast, a melodic phrase that contrasts both the motor and interlock. The students learned how to identify these elements in the context of music that they have already performed, then began to venture out into identifying the elements in arrangements they have not seen before. Many of this lesson was led by asking questions, because I feel like the students need to communicate the ideas for the concept to stick with them. I don’t love just talking to students, from my personal experience, they just zone out and don’t retain any of the important information. It feels like a waste of my time, but more importantly, their time.

After handing out the terminology sheet and assessment sheet, I started the lesson by having the kids stand and sing a circle song with me, giving them the information and purpose of each element on the terminology sheet while also reassuring them that there isn’t just one way of doing something. Instead of giving the motor to the basses for the first group, I gave the motor to the tenor 2’s, and allowed the baritones and basses to experience the two contrasts, which doesn’t often happen. I did the same with the Soprano 2’s in the second group, and I had the alto 1’s and 2’s experience the two contrasts. I allowed them to experience what their end product would be before we even started analyzing things we’ve done in the past. To make sure that I was able to accommodate my students that are online or learn better through reading I created a terminology for the students to look back on in case they felt like they had forgotten something. I knew the concept of improvisation was foreign to these students, but I knew how much fun they were having with these circle singing exercises I had them sing.

While planning this lesson, I couldn’t get that quote that my student said out of my head,

“We do music in context here, Mr. Dade.”

I figured the best way to go about making this new uncomfortable context less foreign for the students was to take the context that they’ve already known these elements to be in and apply it to a new context, and improvisational context. Luckily, my mentor teacher had asked me to arrange some short Singing Valentines pieces for them, and they wanted it to be a cappella (my specialty). Using these materials (Electric Love [SSAA] and Put Your Head on my Shoulder [TTBB]), I led a discussion with both sections (Group 1: Tenors and Basses / Group 2: Sopranos and Altos) helping them identify the elements of circle songs shown on their terminology sheets in the music that they have already done. Once identified, I had the section sing that part, or element, in the song to experience what that element feels like (motor, interlock, contrast). This step was extremely important in the development of understanding the type of motifs they would be looking for in the next step of the process.

Since we have an Apple TV in the classroom I figured it would be a great idea to use that to display the materials needed for this lesson on the TV screen. While I did have some technical difficulties with displaying the score for the sopranos and altos, I quickly adapted and had extra hard copies of the arrangement on hand for the students to view and a copy uploaded to the Google Classroom for my online students to follow along with. During the assessment portion, I asked the students the question that we were focusing on and had them answer, either as a group or an individual. I gave the students informal feedback in the form of discussion led by me. I also allowed the students to make comments on what they had thought was the correct answer. If the student seemed to be heading in the wrong direction of what element we were looking for, I tried to help guide them to the correct answer by acknowledging their thought process and reviewing the terminology sheet on what exactly was a motor, interlock, or contrast.

I thought this lesson went extremely well, but if I were to change anything, I would like to change the way I approach the subject to accommodate and acknowledge my online students more. It is so easy to get caught up with the students that are physically in front of you it almost feels like I forget that there are students on the computer screen. I feel like I could have led more of the discussion starting with the focus to my online students so they would feel more included, normalized, and comfortable in this weird environment that is hybrid learning.

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