MagnaBeat was created to assist students to feel the steady beat/pulse required to perform as an ensemble. This involved changing some major daily pedagogical (teaching stategies) thoughts, processes, and presentations.
Through the years my students began to feel musically beyond themselves, to connect to others in the ensemble. The process, which has grown into the system called MagnaBeat, helped young musicians understand how to listen to each other and feel the same steady beat/pulse with everyone in the ensemble.
The problems surfaced. MagnaBeat was the answer for me. This is the MagnaBeat genesis story.
Event One: The Ensemble
Our Elementary Music Department presented The Annual All City Orff Concert for decades. Fifth grade students from 10-11 different elementary schools came together to perform 7-10 Orff works for their family, friends, teachers, and community. Students learned the vocal, recorder, movement, percussion, and barred instrument parts with their respective General Music teachers during music class for months prior to the performance. We came together for one rehearsal the day of the evening performance.
The total number of 5th graders numbered around 150 students. There were 12 General Music Teachers, 6 Bass Xylos, 4 Bass Metallophones, 8 Alto Xylos, 6 Soprano Xylos, multiple alto and soprano Metallophones, a fleet of glockenspiels, hand drums galore, hand percussion instruments that rivaled the inventory of a well stocked music store and 3 sizes of tubanos that would make World Music Drumming proud gathered for the one rehearsal and the performance that night. You get the picture- a mega, gala event.
A colleague and I were sitting in the empty auditorium during the rehearsal of one of the selections with which we weren’t involved. It was a very troubled time for the conductor; one of those times we’ve all shared at one time or another. We heard it said, “Well, they [the students on stage] don’t know their parts.” I took another very serious look at the 8 alto xylophone players. Their heads were down, focused on their mallets, tapping the correct notes, playing measure by measure from beginning to end. They did know their parts. What they didn’t know was how their parts fit into all the other ostinato patterns (short musical patterns that repeats over and over) around them. “That’s the problem,” my brain screamed to me. I need to teach my students how what they are playing/singing fits into the entire ensemble. They need to feel what they are doing; not just do what they are told; not just play their parts in their own individual worlds.
Event Two: Real Assessment
Our Elementary Music Department was doing a pilot of several teacher-created common assessments that were related to our new curriculum at the time. One of the performance assessments related to rhythms and rests. Specific rhythms were assigned to each grade level, adding more complex rhythms and rests as the grade level increased.
“We can do this, not a problem,” I said to myself. Each class practiced rhythmic flash cards related to their required rhythms and rests for about 5 minutes, almost every class for a 9-week quarter. We’re ready. I was excited for their success.
A “real” performance assessment takes the skills learned in class and requires the students to use those skills in a different way. So, I created new flash cards for the assessment using the same rhythms in different sequences. The week of the common assessment came… EPIC FAIL! I was flabbergasted! These kids knew those rhythms! They knew those rests! They knew those flash cards-solid! What went wrong?
Event Three: The Bedtime Story
Newborns to Kinders and beyond love their bedtime stories. Parents/Guardians across the planet take those precious moments before tucking in their sons and daughters to read a bedtime story. Children become attached to some books that become their favorites. Time moves on and sometimes those favorites become a staple in the bedtime routine much to the chagrin of their ever so tired, sleep-deprived reader of the “favorite”. “Please pick a different book tonight,” we sometimes almost beg our charges. But over and over again that favorite is the book of choice. Then, this small child, obviously unable to “read” begins to read along, knowing every word, pause, period, and page turn. It appears that this young one is actually reading. We know through experience that the book has been internalized to the point of subliminal memorization (in most cases)..
Event Four: PE Warm-Up
Our Music Room and Gym share a common wall. Several years ago I starting seeing students entering the gym with such enthusiasm they broke into a quick trot about 5 yards before they even got to the gym. The excitement continues to this day. I looked into the gym that day and saw why. Mrs. Costello, the amazing PE teacher had warm-up stations set up around the circumference of the gym. Posted on the wall at each station were exercises to get all the major muscle groups tuned in to physical movement. Students knew the exercises and moved around the circuit on their own, followed by 2-3 laps around the gym and then met in the center of the gym for further instructions for their PE class that day. There was a student-centered, self-guided, routine for each class. It took 5 minutes to get their bodies ready and their brains into PE-Mode.
Event Five: It All Comes Together
If I was going to get my students to be able to feel the steady beat/pulse to be able to perform as an ensemble, I needed to change some major daily pedagogical thoughts, processes, and presentations.
I needed to find a way to get my students to feel musically and feel a steady beat/pulse beyond themselves and connect to others in the ensemble. They needed a way to understand how to listen to each other and feel the same steady beat as everyone in the ensemble (Event One).
Learning rhythms and rests needed to be practiced in a way where the rhythms and rests were interchangeable during the time prior to the assessment/performance. (Event Two).
Permanently printed flash cards have many uses in the elementary music room. But students subliminally memorize permanently printed flash cards used routinely and consistently every class. Rhythms and reset needed to be interchangeable for true understanding to be assessed. (Event Three).
I needed to find a way to create a student-centered, self-guided routine to get my students’ bodies and brains tapped into music as they are crossing the Music Room threshold that takes no more than 5 minutes. They needed to warm up their beings, to shift into music regardless of where they were coming from (i.e. Math, PE, Art, Library, LA, etc.) (Event Four).