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  • Writer's pictureJenny Ferris

Teaching Form through Folk Dance

There is an increasing amount of research that suggests an important link between movement and cognitive growth ie. kinaesthetic learning.

Kodály wrote about the importance of developing musical intelligence, aural skills, practical skills and emotional connection to music ("a well-trained ear, a well-trained intelligence, a well-trained heart and a well-trained hand") and as part of the Preparation stage of learning, we must ensure that students are exposed to visual, aural AND kinaesthetic ways of experiencing the music that we wish them to study.

Today, let's look at a way to explore music through movement. By responding physically to different aspects of the music, our students are able to FEEL the music as well as hear it. They can subconsciously start to determine factors like what time signature the music is in, where are the strong beats, are there patterns that repeat themselves, what is the bass line doing etc.

It's also a great way to get students to listen to an excerpt of music over and over! Much like when we're teaching a folk song or children's song, we want them to sing it like 30 times in a row so we have to get creative with ways to keep this from getting overly boring and repetitive.

It's the same with a listening lesson - we need to draw the students' attention to different and increasingly challenging aspects to keep their focus.

Let's take a look at a sample piece of music: Purcell's Rondeau from the Abdelazer Suite.

The teacher will play an excerpt made up of the first 8 bars (either cut from a recording or played on the piano if the teacher is able)

Students should first listen to the excerpt while keeping a steady beat on their knees. While keeping the beat, they can start to think about how many beats are in a bar (ie. what time signature the music is in).

Once it has been established that the music is in 3 metre, students should conduct a 3 pattern along with the music to work out how many bars there are (8 bars).

To draw attention to the hemiola, the teacher will ask if there are any sections which feel a little "off", like the music is no longer in 3 metre. Students will identify that the last two bars are a little funky. Hopefully, they will be able to recognise that it feels more like 2/4 time.

This can be a great way to introduce students to the idea of a hemiola if they haven't encountered it before. A hemiola is a momentary feeling of being in a different time signature. For example, in the Purcell Rondeau, we are mostly moving in groups of 3 - each bar is made up of one group of three. However, in the final two bars (which should be two groups of three) it instead feels like three groups of two. It still adds up to 6 beats, but the groupings are different.

This is a common feature of these kinds of Baroque dances and is an important aspect of the music to draw attention to.

Students can then form a circle and complete some kind of clapping game or partner dance which matches the music. This can be anything designed by the teacher which highlights the musical features they want to focus on.

Since we're looking at the hemiola, let's have students perform a 3 beat pattern such as a clap and two clicks during the first 2 bars. Students can then face a partner and place their right hand palm against their partner's palm and step forward past their partner over 3 beats, before placing their left palm against their new partner's palm. This repeats 4 times.

Once they reach the hemiola, all students face into the middle of the circle and show the hemiola by clapping their own hands then clapping a partner on one side, clapping their own hands and clapping a partner on the other side and finally clapping their own hands and clicking.

Once students have practised these movements and are familiar with them, the teacher can play the full excerpt, asking students to perform those actions whenever they hear music that is known and if they hear something new, to freeze. This way, students can discover that the music has - surprise, surprise - a Rondo form!

The teacher can then teach new movements for the new sections or, to extend the students further, have them improvise their own partner actions for the new material.

There are other musical aspects one can focus on, such as having students step the rhythm of the bass line, then eventually decode the melodic contour of the bass line and perform the hand signs while stepping, eventually sing in solfa while stepping the bass line etc.

You can also use movements to prepare and present a musical concept. I've written before about presenting 3 metre using L'Hereu Riera, a Catalan folk dance involving cups and frames which my students adore!

Next up, I'll be writing about all the concepts you can explore in the finale of Stravinsky's Firebird!

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