Today is World Teachers’ Day. I was just wondering: do you have a personal Teachers Hall of Fame – with teachers who you are grateful of having met or been able to study with? What teachers are in your personal Teachers Hall of Fame? What traits do these teachers have in common?
Here are some thoughts about some of the best teachers I have had. These teachers:
Mastered their content and were enthusiastic and passionate about it.
Provided me with guidance and tools that suited my way of learning and helped me understand the content.
Thought outside of the box and created new ways of explaining things.
Never stopped learning themselves.
Created successful and positive learning environments.
Contributed to my personal growth in a profound way.
Inspired me because of their contributions to the community I lived in.
There is another thing that these teachers have in common. I believe these teachers were / are in what Sir Ken Robinson calls “The Element”:
“…the place where the things we love to do and the things we are good at come together.”
Every time I have met a teacher who is in their Element they have helped me find out something about my own Element.
What do you think makes a good teacher? And if we narrow it down to the areas of specialism this blog is about: what do you think makes a good music teacher? A good singing teacher? What teachers do you think belong in a “Music Educators Hall of Fame”? Why?
“Pentatony is an introduction to world literature: it is the key to many foreign musical literatures, from the ancient Gregorian chant, through China to Debussy.” – Zoltan Kodály
Any music educator who has taught songs or musician who has improvised melodies using the pentatonic scale knows the power of the five tones. The five-tone pentatonic scale has been called the most universal of scales, because of its substantial use in music cultures around the world, including West African music, Sami joik singing, Hungarian folk music, Indonesian music, Appalachian folk music, Celtic folk music, Chinese music, and Andean music, to only mention a few. The pentatonic major and minor scales are commonly used in jazz, blues and rock music, and the blues scale predominantly derived from the minor pentatonic scale. In classical music, the pentatonic scale was used by Western impressionistic composers including Claude Debussy.
In this interesting video from the World Science Festival 2009 Bobby McFerrin uses audience participation and the pentatonic scale to demonstrate neural programming, as part of the event “Notes and Neurons: In Search of the Common Chorus”. At the end of his “pentatonic brain hacking” McFerrin mentions that regardless of where he is, anywhere, every audience gets it. Aside from the fact that the pentatonic scale seems to be used in music cultures around the world, interesting questions arise. Why does it seem that the pentatonic scale is universal? Is our brain programmed to “think pentatonic”?
Perhaps it is. A Belgian research found the pentatonic scale could be heard in the vocal interaction between babies and their mothers. And whoever has listened to children on a playground, can recognize the so-mi / la-so-mi patterns in their chants. This natural use of the pentatonic scale by children lead music educators including Zoltan Kodály and Carl Orff to largely use the pentatonic scale for pitch-matching and improvisation in their music education approaches. Not only babies and children seem to gravitate towards pentatony though: military cadences, used to keep soldiers in step while marching or running, also typically use pentatonic scales.
“Some people (Leonard Bernstein among them) have theorized that the universal quality of the pentatonic scale comes from a subconscious sounding of the overtone series. A string produces a sound based not only on the vibration of the whole string, but also on vibrations of that string in halves, thirds, etc. Each division produces a soft, but audible tone called the overtone that becomes a part of the texture of the fundamental tone. This is not only true of strings, but any vibrating body, be it a tube of air or metal gong or drumskin.”
I find it interesting to theorize about the universal quality of the pentatonic scale or about our brains being wired for music, but what counts for me in the end is that it actually works. No matter what age, no matter what cultural background, be it with people who are completely new to music/singing or with music professionals…the pentatonic scale can always be used. In my singing workshops I often use pentatonic songs from various cultures and music styles, and base a lot of my vocal improvisation and ear training exercises exercises on the pentatonic scale or pentatonic modes – often combined with accompanying drones or ostinato melodies.
Some musicians and music educators dismiss the pentatonic scale as sounding one-dimensional. Before you dismiss these powerful five notes, try exploring beyond the major pentatonic scale. Also, in my opinion, whether a scale sounds one-dimensional or not does not only have to do with the scale itself. It also has to do with how we use our instrument (in my case, the voice). A pentatonic improvisation can either sound like a “somewhat boring children’s song” or “sound like magic” depending on how the singer uses rhythm/timing, sound color, volume, etc. and on how the accompanying vocals are built up. Perhaps more about that another time. For now, let yourself be inspired by Bobby McFerrin and his “pentatonic brain hacking”!
By Katja Maria Slotte
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26-27 November 2011 Jeanne Schmartz and Katja Maria Slotte will lead a professional development workshop for teachers, childcare professionals, social workers, and music educators in Luxembourg.
The workshop is called “No Instruments? No Problem!” and is designed to cater to the needs of many educators and schools that struggle with (budget) issues and not having (enough) musical instruments for their students. In the workshop we will explore the vast possibilities there are to teach music in a meaningful and creative way without using any instruments at all. The participants will get introduced to the possibilities of working with body percussion, singing voice, speaking voice, and vocal sounds, and get lots of hands-on activities and ideas to bring back to their own classrooms and teaching situations.
In the workshop we will explore the connection between the Orff Schulwerk approach to music education and common elements used in world music styles, such as ostinato patterns, echo, improvisation, and other techniques. The workshop repertoire consists of children’s singing and rhythm games from all over the world. Participants will not only receive a lot of ideas and activities to bring back to their own classrooms, but also train their own vocal and rhythm skills and become more confident in presenting music activities.
This professional development weekend is organized by SCRIPT (Service de Coordination de la Recherche et de l’Innovation pédagogiques et technologiques), the institute for professional development of the Luxembourgish Ministry of Education (Ministère de l’Education Nationale et de la Formation Professionnelle).
Workshop languages: English and Luxembourgish.
Jeanne Schmartz; percussionist, music teacher, musicologist (MA, BMus)
Katja Maria Slotte; singer, musician, singing teacher & music educator (BMus, MMus, Authorised CVT Teacher)
Jeanne studied violin, and trained as a percussionist and is specialised in Latin percussion. She’s also a musicologist with a research interest in world music and music education. Katja studied piano and flute, trained as a music teacher and voice teacher, and as a singer specialising in world music, jazz and pop. She is specialised in the methodology of teaching singing, and in singing techniques for all styles of music.
We do workshops and professional development courses, coach teachers, write handbooks for people who teach singing and music, create new teaching materials, develop music education projects and give school concerts.
From time to time we share our thoughts on music education in this blog. The following aspects of music education that are especially close to our hearts:
Singing & Vocal Education
Percussion (Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, Latin)
World Music & Multicultural Music Education
Early Childhood & Elementary Music
On our blog you will find news, observations, reviews on music education materials (books, DVD’s, CD’s), information on interesting music education projects, initiatives, concerts and workshops, as well as mini-interviews with interesting music educators and musicians that inspire us. From time to time we will give away some lesson plans and share our favorite teaching tips.