Coping with the abstractions of music, when teaching, often relies on analogy to help pupils grasp otherwise elusive ideas. Consequently, you end up with a bank of ideas of all the things to which music seems comparable. However, this doesn’t often run the other way round – and, in my experience, people using music as an analogy for something else often don’t quite hit the spot.
Listening to Radio 4’s Open Book the other day, I caught an article about a new, unabridged audio book version of George Eliot‘s Middlemarch. At nearly 36 hours on 28 CDs, recording this 800-page novel is a gargantuan task. The reader, Juliet Stevenson, completed it in 12 days – a feat of which many musical recording artists would be extremely proud. She talks here about the many features involved – notably rhythm (of character and also of writer), inhabiting character, and coping with paragraph-long sentences – scroll forward to 19′ 20”
p.s. if this doesn’t seem like a big deal, why not try recording yourself reading a few paragraphs?
In 1977, while preparing for Higher Music, we used to practise rhythm dictation as a preparation for the more demanding melody dictation. It was a way of preparing a skeleton of the tune before worrying about the topography. Why not try it in this life-affirming syncopation-fest?
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I recently read something in Steven Mithen‘s excellently written and thought provoking book The Singing Neanderthals which stopped me in my tracks. The passage concerned the research, by Professor Willi Steinke of Queens University in Kingston, Canada, into the melodic recall of a subject with amusia, following a stroke at the age of 64. The subject was unable to identify many well-known instrumental themes. However, when themes with lyrics were played, recall was normal – even although the lyrics were not present! Steinke and his colleagues concluded that melody and lyrics were stored in different parts of the brain – the prosody of the lyrics helping to summon up the tune, and the rhythms of the tune aiding the reverse.
Suddenly my mind jumped back 42 years to my first piano tutor book, in which every melody featured lyrics – added after the event by the author, John W. Schaum. At the time I regarded them as a slightly annoying irrelevance because I was six years old and knew everything. Now the aspiration behind them seems clear. I began to think that, although the beginners’ materials I use have no lyrics, there may be an argument for adding some – more particularly for asking the pupils to add their own.
By an amazing coincidence of timing, this topic was brought up at our in service on Thursday, by one of my colleagues who was keen to discover similarities and differences in our approaches to teaching rhythm. Recommendations and reservations were expressed – the latter concerning examples where words had been forced to fit rhythms in an unnatural way, and possible confusion arising from the differing prosody of varying accents and dialects.
Still – it’s something interesting to think about. Any experiences, views, recommendations to offer?