Teaching Approach and Philosophy
Music classes at the Mary S. Shoemaker School involve active learning and music making through a variety of activities. As the students are introduced to a new musical concept, they sing songs, play games, practice rhythm or tonal patterns, learn folk dances, and listen and move to teacher-performed or recorded music that reinforces the concept. When they are ready, they gain experience in reading/writing rhythm and pitch notation. Students also create their own music through improvising and/or composing. Classroom percussion instruments are periodically used to practice rhythm skills and accompany singing, and occasionally music technology devices such as iPads are incorporated into creative activities. Students learn a wide assortment of folk songs from the United States and various other cultures each marking period; songs are chosen to focus on specific musicianship and literacy skills. The overall goals of general music classes at Shoemaker School are to:
- Develop students' ability to audiate, or to think musically, with the eventual objective of independent musicianship and music literacy at a developmentally-appropriate level.
- Instill a love of making music and moving to music through fun, interactive, age-appropriate activities.
- Develop an appreciation for and understanding of the music of many time periods and cultures.
- Develop cooperation skills, self-confidence, and motivation for achievement through individual and group music-making experiences.
Mrs. Nowmos's teaching philosophy and the Mary Shoemaker School music curriculum are based on several well-known teaching approaches. These include First Steps in Music, an early childhood music curriculum designed by Dr. John Feierabend, a leading authority in childhood musical development, to help pre-K and kindergarten students develop the basic musical skills of feeling the beat, singing on pitch, and responding expressively to music; the Kodály approach of music education, a system of teaching music that first evolved in Hungarian schools under the guidance of composer and musicologist Zoltan Kodály (1882-1967); and Music Learning Theory, a comprehensive explanation of how children learn music developed by Dr. Edwin Gordon, a well-known researcher in the field of music education. All of these approaches of music education are related to the child's own development, physically and intellectually, and are in wide use today in schools throughout the United States and around the world. The basic concepts of these philosophies include:
- Music is for everyone, not just select "talented" individuals, and it is necessary for healthy human development. Every person is born with the potential to make music.
- It is important to start music education as early as possible. Aural/musical development is similar to language development, and the earlier children are exposed to music, the more success they will have.
- Folk songs and traditional songs are the primary source material for beginning music education.
- The voice is the main instrument, with singing as the basic musical activity.
- The eventual goal is to make every child musically literate. After gaining basic musical skills, including the abilities to match pitch, feel the beat, and respond expressively to music, each child will learn to read, write, compose, and improvise music at his/her own developmentally-appropriate level.
- The music learning process is an "ear-before-eye" process. A sense of inner hearing should be developed through singing, dancing, echoing music patterns, and playing musical games before any work with notation commences.
- Rhythm syllables (du, du-de, du-da-di, etc.) and solfège pitch names and hand signals (do, re, mi, etc.) are used to establish rhythmic and tonal relationships. These tools accomodate a variety of learning styles including visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.
Music Learning Theory also incorporates the following important musical concepts. Although these concepts may seem very advanced, they are introduced to students in a specific, step-by-step sequence appropriate for the students' age and developmental stage of learning.
- The development of audiation, the ability to think musically with full comprehension of musical sounds.
- The ability to feel macrobeat (the "big beat" underlying a piece of music) and microbeats (the "little beats" into which each macrobeat is divided). Students will learn to recognize the difference between duple meter, in which macrobeats are divided into 2 microbeats, and triple meter, in which macrobeats are divided into 3 microbeats. They will gain a more complete sense of feeling rhythm (the combination of long or short duration of sounds) and eventually being able to read and write rhythm when they are able to distinguish these divisions of the beat.
- The ability to recognize tonality (whether a piece of music is in a major or minor key) and the function of pitches (high or low sounds) within each tonality. Students will learn to hear and sing the resting tone of a song (the pitch around which a song is centered) and will learn to recognize and sing different combinations of pitches in tonic and dominant chords in major and minor tonalities. Eventually they will learn to read and write pitch notation on the musical staff.
- Coordination of some learning activities to each student's individual musical aptitude as determined by a standardized aptitude test. All students learn the same musical concepts, but each child is given specific patterns in which the difficulty level is matched to his/her rhythmic or tonal aptitude, so that instruction is differentiated to meet the needs and abilities of each child.
- Experiences with discrimination learning, where the child is guided toward succes in learning musical concepts with the teacher's assistance, and inference learning, where the child applies information learned to make his/her own connections and create his/her own music.
Music classes also include units throughout the year on the music of various time periods, cultures, and composers, and students in all grade levels prepare for and participate in a music program performance each year. Music class activities are selected to meet the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards for the Performing Arts and the National Standards for Music Education. Please visit the Music Education Standards page for more information about the state and national standards.