Graham Sattler suggests an approach to combining music, emotion, language and technology in your classroom using the NSW Music Syllabus...
It is widely accepted that music pre-dates speech (Botha, 2009; Mithen, Morley, Wray, Tallerman & Gamble, 2006; Storr, 1993). Investigations of all cultures that have ever existed, and have been documented, indicate that music played and plays an essential part in cultural, individual and group (community) human development (Harvey, 2017).
While human speech developed, and continues to develop, to impart information, music exists to communicate emotion. Music acts as a social and emotional glue, connecting and comforting, inspiring, motivating, uniting and enthusing people. Even motivational speeches, whether to small groups of people or whole populations, rely on prosody; that is, the discipline of emphasising and exploiting the proto-musical elements of speech (rhythm, phrasing and intonation), to achieve a compelling and impactful result. Think of significant speeches throughout history, expressions such as hanging on every word and music to my ears exist for a reason.
The arts (and specifically, creativity) as a learning area is becoming compromised. The requirement of teachers to engage students in the understanding of (and expression through) artistic concepts, brings with it a need to develop tools, resources and strategies to facilitate student creativity and confidence in their capacity to create, appreciate and connect creative capacity and experience to their lives, their learning, community and cultural meaning. The good news is that tools and resources are easily, and in many cases freely, available. This article proposes a practical solution, called Music Emotion Language & Technology (MELT), to the third element of the equation; it offers a strategy, by way of a project plan for students to engage in the creative process, satisfy syllabus outcomes, and integrate with other Key Learning Areas while affording awareness and appreciation of cultural and language diversity.
Although the plan proposed herein for stages 4-6, it is both practical and scalable for students of any age and stage from early stage 1 upwards. For a list of NSW 7-12 syllabus outcomes integrated through this process please see Attachment 1.
While the project can be tailored to run across any number of sessions, here we consider an eight-week or session ‘course’. The number of sessions, however, is not a critical consideration; it is the staging of the process across the course that is important.
Across the (say, 8) class sessions, students identify and explore the musicality and emotional impact of everyday language and transform information-weighted text into emotion-weighted music.
To do this, students bringing a line of text to the session, and using music notation apps (ScoreCloud or similar), chart the expressive inflection in their own vernacular, language, or dialect (elements of pitch, emphasis and rhythm) and transform the inherent intonation of speech into musical patterns, creating a musical composition or compositions.
The melody, melodies, or sets of melodic fragments that result can be interwoven, creating counterpoint (separate melodies played in conjunction with each other). Harmonies and instrumentation (both acoustic and electronic, and potentially including the use of tablet and/or smartphone technology) can be explored and applied in relation to the emotional and dramatic meaning that emerges from the melodies and the texts.
Using available music technology programs or apps, such as Garageband or Logic, the composition(s) can be assembled and recorded with all participants having contributed to the development and performance outcome. While this sounds complicated, it need not be. Simple compositions can ‘emerge’ from one simple line of text from the youngest student. Two simple lines, or more, from as few or many students in the class as desired can be woven into original compositions and recorded on whatever devices (smartphones/mp3 recorders) are available. The music notation app or program comes into play in notating the pitches and rhythms inherent in the intonation of the recited text.
This is the point at which students’ emotions present as music!
There may or may not be a lyrics component in the final work or works. To some degree, outcomes demonstrate the primacy of music in expressing emotional meaning and drama over ‘language’ as a medium for communicating information. Shared ownership of the compositions means that the pieces, or sections/fragments thereof, would be available for students to incorporate into other workshops and learning activities across animation, game development, filmmaking and so on.
Initiating the process
Students would only be required to bring one or two lines of text to the process. The text(s) should not be from existing song repertoire, and should ideally be of the student’s devising. There is no requirement for rhyme, sophistication or poetic quality, and the inclusion of texts in more than one language, reflecting the cultural and language diversity of the school or class, is encouraged. The line(s) of text should be in some way meaningful to the student, and the student should be able to articulate, in simple terms, what that meaning is. Click here to view or download table.
Through the process outlined above, students will create, record and perform a composition that is meaningful to them, is culturally relevant and, that explores both awareness and appreciation of diversity. Through thoughtful investment and engagement in the creative process from the first step, you can lead them to participate in making their own music, regardless of their age and stage, while developing facilitated collaborative practice and identity. Placing students in control and supporting them to use existing, found, and developed materials, also develops the skills to be creative, innovative, thoughtful, confident and informed musicians. Through our lessons, we can encourage our students to express themselves and their cultures; and consider and engage with the cultures, cultural values and practices of others.
And, isn’t that what a comprehensive public education is all about?
Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (2019), The Australian
Curriculum, F-10 Curriculum, The Arts, Music
Botha, R. (2009). On musilanguage/“Hmmmmm” as an evolutionary precursor to language.
Language & Communication, 29(1), 61-76.
Harvey, A. (2017). Music, evolution, and the harmony of the souls. Oxford University Press, UK: Oxford.
Mithen, S., Morley, I., Wray, A., Tallerman, M., & Gamble, C. (2006). The singing neanderthals: The origins of music, language, mind and body.
NSW Education Standards Authority. (2003). Music 7-10 Syllabus. Sydney: NSW Government. http://educationstandards.nsw.edu.au/wps/portal/nesa/k-10/learning-areas/creative-arts/music-7-10
NSW Education Standards Authority. (2009). Music 1 Stage 6 Syllabus. Sydney: NSW Government. http://educationstandards.nsw.edu.au/wps/portal/nesa/11-12/stage-6-learning-areas/stage-6-creative-arts/music-1-syllabus
NSW Education Standards Authority. (2009). Music 2 Stage 6 Syllabus. Sydney: NSW Government. http://educationstandards.nsw.edu.au/wps/portal/nesa/11-12/stage-6-learning-areas/stage-6-creative-arts/music-2-syllabus
NSW Education Standards Authority. (2018). Australian professional standards for teachers. Sydney.
Storr, A. (1993). Music and the mind. New York: Ballantine.
Dr Graham Sattler has extensive music teaching experience in primary, secondary and adult education settings. He has been involved in course design and delivery around concepts and strategies for both pre-service and existing teachers, writing and delivering K-6 and secondary Music courses in partnership with the NSWTF CPL since 2014, and is committed to the principles of access and equity and student-focused learning experiences. Graham presents regularly at international music education conferences, drawing on his PhD research in the field of socio-cultural development through group music activity in marginalised communities. He is currently Executive Director, Mitchell Conservatorium and Casual Academic, Central Queensland University.