Practical Suggestions for Working on the Development of Expressive Playing and Singing
by Lois Veenhoven Guderian
Choral and Vocal Music Education – Many Also Apply to Teaching Instrumental Ensembles
Begin with a whole picture of the piece by playing an excellent recording of the piece. At various benchmarks in the learning process, refer again to the recording using inquiry – a list of questions you have prepared to engage the students in noticing particular features of the music and the performance of the music.
Discuss the dynamics using inquiry to engage students in noticing where the dynamics occur.
For review of dynamics and expressive markings, using an overhead or doc cam, show students a score with the dynamics whited out. Ask them to recall from memory the dynamics the composer intended.
In order to free older students’ from too much concern for the technical aspects of music making that at times can affect their ability for expressive response, and to draw from their natural and less inhibited expressiveness that they experienced in childhood, engage students in free improvisation activities where they can respond expressively to expressive conducting gestures (without a score).
Discuss the what, where, when, why, by who and for what purpose a piece of music was created.
Research the meaning and background of a piece (can assign as homework for your students).
Analyze the text/lyrics. Speak or chant the lyrics applying emphasis where it makes sense to emphasis for expressive content and meaning. Compare the process with how the composer has manipulated sound in order to express the text – melodic contour, harmonic progression and/or tension, rests, form as applied to phrasing and sections, repetition and contrast in the piece. Decide what is expressively necessary in order to communicate the lyricist’s and composer’s messages.
Analyze the rise and fall of musical phrasing – ask students, how should we shape the phrase for expressive delivery?
Use inquiry often to engage your students in thinking in and about the music the decision making process of how to deliver the express quality of the music that involves critical and creative thinking. In other words, whenever possible, ask instead of telling.
Use whole group, small group strategy. Have a small group of students evaluate a practice performance of the larger group for expressive quality. Vary groups throughout the year so all students have the opportunity to be the evaluators.
Draw students’ attention to meter and rhythmic implications. Help them to realize that not all beats, rhythms, notes, words, etc. have the same importance and thereby do not need the same emphasis in dynamic level.
Discuss and emphasize the responsibility the ensemble has to share the music with the audience, to communicate the composer’s intention and to provide the audience with a musical experience. The main purpose of the performance should be all about them (audience) and not all about us, that is, what a great singing or playing group we are.
Emphasize that regardless of ratings, integrity in preparation, giving the best that one can in performance and again, with concentration on the communicating of the music will result in a meaningful performance.
During vocal and instrument laying activities apply the suggestions as given under ensemble teaching and learning.
In regard to pieces that students are studying in class, hand out music to students or show on overhead with no dynamics and have students write in or determine what dynamic levels or expressive markings could be viable choices for the piece.
When engaging students in composing activities, include in the criteria for the assignment or rubric grading the determination of dynamics for their piece.
In whole and small group activities, provide students with opportunities to learn and practice conducting skills. Allow them to compose, organize, conduct, practice and perform compositions in small groups with again, inclusion of dynamics and determined expressive delivery. Have each group perform for the class.
Use poetry or students’ original poetry to create songs, compositions and rap/hip hop pieces. Use the poetry as a starting point to develop understanding as to the expressive content and how that might take shape in the organization of musical elements and expressive markings.
In listening experiences, in small groups, have students map and discuss the dynamics. Return to large group to report findings and whole group discussion.
Lois Veenhoven Guderian is the music education coordinator at UW-Superior. Email: email@example.com.