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Teaching Music to 8th Graders

I think I can help you with the 8th graders because I have been teaching this unique breed every day for the past 20 years or so! I'll just give you a few quick ideas that I have worked through in the past month or so. We have been studying John Cage and 20th century musicians and other artists.

I showed them a video on "Pattern" and then we watched "The River Dance". Prior to watching "River Dance" we discussed Michael Flatley, the theory and meaning behind each piece, and choreography. Next I presented John Cage: the man, his music, and of course the prepared piano and the 12 tone row. At this time students had to write a comparison paper explaining and supporting their ideas on how the video on Pattern, Riverdance and John Cage related to one another.

Next, I went over the basic rules for a 12 tone row. I provided the rhythm, while students had fun determing the 12 different notes to use (The B flats and F sharps were all used). (Be sure to use rests in your rhythm foundation.)

We explored a vareity ways of playing the 12 tone row: right to left, retrograde (reversed) and then experimented with a variety of variations (Ex: tremelo on the long notes, added eighth notes where quarter notes were present, twice as fast or slow, etc.) After we were in total agreement or our class 12 tone row and one or two variations, the students created an introduction, interludes where needed , added unusual non-pitched parts and of course a coda. It was wonderful!

Last but not least, we brought in a second grade class to enjoy this creation. The 8th graders worked on narration attempting to explain about "John Cage, a prepared instrument and the 12 tone row technique" at a second grade level. We arranged the instrument players in a circle facing in with the 2nd graders in the center, free to look in any direction. Prior to the start of the "sharing", we turned the lights off!

At the conlusion of the sharing, we let each 2nd grader (with the assistance of an 8th grader) play and create a 12 tone composition. At this point, we left the prepared 12 tone row but simply altered the rhythm pattern to be at their level using quarter and half notes. They even came up with an into and coda.

In the end, I'm not sure who enjoyed the project more.... the 2nd graders or the 8th!

Oh more thing, I also showed a short 21 minute video about Harry Partch to the 8th graders.... another 20th century composer who made all of his own unique avant guarde instruments. Neat stuff.

Hope this helps.

Chris Judah-Lauder