At the very end of the 2017-18 school year, teachers from all four Orange schools gathered to hear about new changes and innovations to the district’s music curriculum.
As Turkey Hill Music Teacher Kyle Ryan explains, music is not just about teaching children to sing a song. “There are two dimensions of music, which are the foundation of our music—that’s the tonal dimension of music and the rhythm dimension of music. Those two are factually the two dimensions of music,” he said. “There is just no way around it. They have to be taught in isolation of one another before we can ask kids to approach the more complicated task of combining them.”
The music teachers at each of the schools are working together on a changing curriculum that is intended to teach tasks in layers as opposed to in one package. “Sometimes combining complicated tasks seems really simple,” Ryan said, using the example of teaching a preschooler or kindergartener to sing us a song.
“That is actually a complicated task for someone who is in their musical infancy. You have all of these tonal dimensions, getting the pitch right, being able to sing harmony over the choral progression, all happening alongside all of these rhythm dimensions, getting the rhythms right and being able to read the meter,” he said. “If you haven’t adequately built their foundation in each of these pillars, when you ask them to do something like that, what you wind up with some kids failing and not being able to do it and some kids excelling, and having us thinking ‘wow, these kids are really musical!’ and for other kids, maybe music’s not their thing.”
The music teachers are finding that if they back up, break music down and build those skills sequentially, by the time they ask students to do a complicated task, they wind up succeeding across the board. “There is no such thing as ‘tone-deafness’ and everyone has musical aptitude,” said Peck Place Music Teacher Turkosz. “Everyone is able to make music.”
The teachers are leaning on their classroom teachers to reinforce the method of learning. Race Brook Music Teacher Marie Olden said that not only do students learn best through doing, teachers do too. “After we did some tonal and rhythm activities with the teachers, they were given ukuleles to differentiate chord patterns. By doing this with students, we’re finding that if we have higher aptitude students, we can give them a harder challenge and have them play more chords so they’re not bored in class,” Olden said.
The primary goal is supporting a skill-based curriculum: something where students are actually sequentially building both tonal rhythm skills and rhythm skills and then adding more complicated tasks after that. “Rather than repeating, echoing or imitating something you’ve heard before, it’s very similar to language where we’re trying to teach kids how to think and create rather than just spit back things that they’ve heard before,” said Ryan.
Sixth grade students were given an extra advantage to experience building music. “We were very fortunate this year to get a program called Soundtrap for each of the sixth-grade students. This program allowed us to build on both, their tonal and rhythmic skills. Given our new curriculum and all of the new skills they’re gaining, we expect to bring them even further in years to come,” said Turkosz.
By Melissa Nicefaro – Orange Town News Correspondent