Dr. Mark Turner

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Thinking Musically:
An Example of How One Fourth
Grade Class Transformed a
Picture Book into Music


by Dr. Mark Turner
Associate Professor of Music
Early Childhood and Elementary Specialist
SFA School of Music
meturner@sfasu.edu

Instructions: How the Children Created the Music


Each lesson contained the usual amount of activities relating to singing, moving, creating, playing instruments, reading, etc. (basically, a normal looking lesson). The only difference was that in the warm-up at the beginning of class, we focused on vocal improvisations highlighting tonic and dominant. This was used to prepare them for creating melodies for the lyrics that would be based on the story. These warm-ups were based on the work and ideas of Edwin Gordon.

Week One
At the end of the lesson, the book Giraffes Can't Dance was read to the children.

Week Two
At the end of the lesson, the book was read to the class again. It was at this time that the children were informed that this would be the story for which they would create music.

Week Three
At the end of the lesson, the children divided the book into several sections. The book was read to them and they stopped the reader when they felt there was a logical division in the story. Their first section was called "Introduction." The second section was called "Problem." In all, they divided the story into six sections. Because the pages of the book are not numbered, I assigned each page that contained text a number. For example, the page that has "Gerald was a tall . . . . " is page 1. There are 24 pages in all.

Week Four
At the end of the lesson, the children were divided into six groups and assigned one of the sections of the story. We talked about lyrics and emotions, and provided children with several examples of different "feelings" and emotions. In their groups they were to choose one word that best described the emotions of their section and then present it to the class. Once this was done, they were given the charge of creating lyrics that supported the emotion of their section. This was accomplished with the help of the classroom professional. She used part of her language arts time to have them write the lyrics.

Week Five
About half of this lesson was used for the following: The students recited their group's lyrics for the class. T hey were then given the task of clapping the rhythms of their lyrics. (Without being able to clap the rhythms of the lyrics, creating a melody will be more difficult). Before they were left to carry out their assignment, the adult demonstrated how to use an Orff instrument to play a harmonic background as she improvised a melody to the words of the book. The children were to first, clap the rhythm of their lyrics; when they could demonstrate that they could do this successfully they were given an Orff instrument (D and A) to begin creating a melody. (Even though we gave them a "key" to sing in, some groups same in a completely different key than what was being played on the xylophone. In these cases, we changed the notes the instruments played.) In some cases, the children came up with their own harmonic patterns, ostinatos. At the end of class one or two groups shared their melodies. T he adult circulated through the room providing assistance when needed.

Week Six
We continued with what we ended with the week before. This week, the entire lesson was devoted to the project. By the end of class everyone had presented their music to the class. The groups that struggled had to have more adult input. Basically, I listened for any recognizable melodic fragment they generated and spun it into "their" song. Some groups will need more help than others; this is okay. It's still their melodic ideas, their music.

Week Seven
Again the entire lesson was devoted to this project. This week the child who was selected to narrate the story, read the story and then stopped so that the groups could insert their music. It was here that we began talking about appropriate dynamics and tempi.

Week Eight
It was here that we decided that in the interest of time the children would play non-tuned percussion instruments (adding an African sound) and I would create computerized accompaniments. The children went through the project twice.

Before the performance the children ran through the project several times. The performance was VERY low tech. The children stood in a semicircle and when it was their time to play the non-tuned percussion instruments they came to the middle of the circle while the other children sang.

You might want to "write" the music in a fall semester and then add all the other production elements in a spring semester. As you may well know, children tire quickly of the same old thing and if you want to add lots of pizzazz you might want to consider making this a year-long project.

Where the Songs are Placed
Remember, the story was divided into six sections. Because the pages of the book are not numbered, I assigned each page that contained text a number. For example, the page that has "Gerald was a tall . . . . " is page 1. There are 24 pages in all.

Where the Songs are Placed
Remember, the story was divided into six sections. Because the pages of the book are not numbered, I assigned each page that contained text a number. For example, the page that has "Gerald was a tall . . . . " is page 1. There are 24 pages in all.

Lonely Gerald is placed between pages 3 & 4. I Think I Can Dance is placed between pages 19 & 20.
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Animal Dance is place between pages 5 & 6.
Giraffes Can't Dance is placed between pages 23 & 24.
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Down on Your Luck is placed between pages 12 & 13.
Giraffes Can't Dance Reprise is placed after page 24.
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I'll Be There is placed between pages 15 & 16.
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