It's a music room not a dojo but you wouldn't know it by the zest, fight, and skill in the room. The Leading Tone has incorporated Recorder Karate to its curriculum and the students have been fine-tuning their skills to test for their next belt.
You may remember we recently added recorders for the third graders in our after school program. The addition of the woodwind instrument meant students could work to build their skill sets and their musical ability -- both in class and at home -- a very exciting proposition since up till recently, when it came to musical instruments, The Leading Tone had solely focused on bucket band. Bucket Band is an activity that helps students learn through play, imitation, and experimentation, but doesn't require the fine muscle control that recorders do. Now that the students have grown in their skills, we're helping them to develop finer motor control, which an be applied toward other instruments, and, as always -- the process of acquiring and developing a new skill can be an asset in real-world problem solving.
Recorder Karate is a positive reward system for teaching the recorder that involves a belt system, similar in style to traditional karate where students earn a belt when they reach a certain level of expertise. In Recorder Karate; however, students who successfully pass a test receive a "karate belt" to hang from their recorders, not to tie around their waists. The belt is a symbol of hard work, discipline and achievement. The belt system starts with no belt, then a white belt, then other colored belts on ascent toward the coveted black belt.
In Recorder Karate, basic music techniques are taught through a series of nine familiar songs. As students test and pass each belt, the songs become progressively more difficult in terms of concepts, notes and rhythm. The repertoire builds gradually from two G A B songs through the black belt song with D E F# G A B C D. Throughout the process, students learn proper fingering techniques, how to hold the recorder, how to read music, how to play and feel the recorder, how to care for their instrument, how to self-pace, and how to be a valuable contributing team player.
The Leading Tone recently graduated all of its students to white belts following their successful renditions of Hot Cross Buns. Some of our students have quickly moved on to achieve their orange, and yellow belts! It is exciting to see how our students are practicing on their own and embracing the new challenges in each test piece. Stay tuned!
The Leading Tone has added bell sets to its growing musical curriculum! First it was buckets, then recently we added recorders and now bell sets!
A Bell Set is similar to a little glockenspiel. A glockenspiel is a German word that means "bell play."
The original glockenspiel started as a set of small bells suspended in a rack and played with mallets. While the mallets consistently remained in use, the bells changed over the years, ultimately taking the shape of steel bars by the end of the 17th Century. At first the glockenspiel was just a substitute for real bells but over time it became an instrument in its own right, and secured its spot in the percussion family -- with its siblings: chimes, cymbals the xylophone, timpani, snare drum, bass drum, gong, and other small percussion instruments.
Much like the better-known glockenspiel, the bell set makes a sound when a player strikes the bar with a mallet. The mallets come in different strengths and the sound that's produced depends on the mallet that's used. A hard mallet will create a sharp and bright sound. A soft mallet creates a lighter, more muted, sound.
Each bell set has a series of bars that are cut and shaped in various lengths. The longer bars play low notes. The shorter bars play high notes. The bars are arranged like they would be on a piano, from smallest to largest.
The bell sets we have in class are lightweight, portable and, importantly for us, durable! They include 25 notes, feature steel bars, and range from G to G. Our bells sets are tabletop sets, which means the case becomes the music stand. Tiny feet help to secure the instrument to a table or flat surface. Our mallets are flexible, made of hard plastic and store easily inside the case for safe-keeping.
These bell sets are an exciting addition to class and a great way for students to explore, create, even recreate, melodies. They're also fantastic for budding musicians to begin musical illustrations. In class we plan on having students form small groups and represent narratives through musical compositions - the bell sets present a whole new range of expressive sounds.
Our work with bell sets is just beginning. We are looking forward to telling many more stories!
The Leading Tone took a step forward this semester and added recorders to its musical program!
The addition of the woodwind instrument, means students are continuing to build their skill sets and their musical ability. Until now, when it comes to musical instruments, The Leading Tone has focused on Bucket Band -- an activity that helps students learn through play, imitation, and experimentation, but doesn’t necessarily require fine muscle control. As the students progress, the program is evolving to build upon their skills and incorporate fine motor control.
Recorders are great instruments that are played across all skill levels --from absolute beginners to the seasoned professional; they're also an excellent teaching tool. While recorders are a part of the woodwind family, our recorders are plastic, so students at this stage don't have to worry about the issues inherent with a wooden recorder, like cracking and humidity. The recorders are light and durable, and relatively inexpensive too. They can be played individually or as an ensemble without the need for additional instruments. Each recorder we have is assigned to a student for the duration of the semester -- allowing for children to practice at home, outside our twice weekly sessions, and build upon their skills at their pace, as well as instill a sense of personal pride and responsibility.
Recorders are excellent tools for teaching students how to read, play, and feel music. They're also great to teach musicality and a sense of musicianship. It's extremely beneficial in helping children learn how to coordinate their fingers, their tongue and their breath -- a skill set that will serve them well down the line for learning any instrument. The ability to play the instrument independently is incredibly important to personal growth because it puts a child in a position of power -- they begin constructing their own understanding of music and their own songs. In addition to the benefits associated with the learning of different concepts and acquiring new skills, independent musical appreciation also creates a safe outlet for self-expression.
Music teaches students the value of sustained effort and the rewards of hard work. No one is born knowing how to play an instrument; the process of struggling to acquire a skill, and the practice needed to improve upon it, teach determination, discipline, and self-reflection.
The Leading Tone is excited to add recorders and help students begin to forge new understandings. The more they know, the more they grow, and the more they can create.
Music fills the campus after school at Vista College Prep twice each week. The Phoenix charter school, which opened its doors in 2013, has been steadily growing its curriculum and its extra-curricular activities and The Leading Tone is thrilled to be among its very first after school offerings.
"It is definitely something the students are excited about and one of the highlights of the week," said Kela Powers, founding director of operations. "Initially it was our only afterschool program and we had a wait list to get in, but the wait list ended when Alex [Laing] just allowed the students to join anyway. He took on more students in order to accommodate everyone."
That first year, the program began with the REACH Bucket Band, which stands for the school's core values of Respect, Enthusiasm, Achievement, Courage and Hard Work.
At first, the students were a bit shocked. "They'd never been exposed to drumming, let along drumming on buckets. The progression we've seen is amazing. We have the bucket band incorporated into school assemblies and community performances. Some community groups have made requests that we attend their events every year," expressed Powers. She added that the parents are excited that the Bucket Band is a creative way to build upon the skills the students develop during the academic day. She also said that goal setting and practice are skills that allow for achievement.
It's not just the students and their parents that are excited… the teachers are into it too. "I grew up a Chicago Cubs fan and I remember outside of games there would be all these people playing buckets and it's so cool that our kids get to do it," said Sam Shapiro, manager of the after school program.
He feels the different style of learning can only benefit the students. "It requires practice even if you're frustrated and since you're getting better and getting the chance to perform, it's enormously rewarding," he said. "Refining your craft and going up and executing is a tremendously important skill. When they're 60, they're still going to be doing that to some extent, whatever their craft or skill."
Shapiro finds the program also has extra perks, especially since the coach is the principal clarinetist with the Phoenix Symphony. "For Alex to be their music liaison is incredibly powerful," he said. "We went on a field trip to the symphony and they were amazed to see Alex on the billboard outside. They got to see the symphony players warm up. The other kids from other schools were there too but our kids got a song dedicated to them. It was a very powerful experience."
The students are always eager to know what lies ahead. "There's a curiosity about what happens next," said Julia Meyerson, executive director of the school. She said the students beam with pride at their many requests to perform. "They're the highlight of every local community event in the area."
Meyerson said one of the biggest takeaways is a reminder of how music and academics can go hand-in-hand. "This program truly confirms my belief in the power of music for our students. Music and music education is a great complement to our academic model. I can’t wait to see how this program evolves with our school.”
The Leading Tone started its after school program at Vista College Prep with the REACH Bucket Band. It has since added stepping, recorders, and other instruments.
The Leading Tone's after school music education program features two rock star coaches --Nicolette and Billy. Get to know them personally in class. In the meantime, here's some additional tidbits to serve as an introduction.
Coach Nicolette, more affectionately known as Coach Nic, is a sophomore at Arizona State University where she's studying music education and percussion performance. She's a classical percussionist, who sort of stumbled into playing while growing up in Washington D.C. Back when Coach Nic was just Nic, she needed to switch middle schools and was told she had to choose -- play an instrument or take home economics -- so she grabbed the bongos and has been at it ever since; she now also plays orchestral timpani and jazz vibraphone.
Coach Nic teaches The Leading Tone students about bucket drumming. She also helps develop the curriculum and lead group instruction. Her favorite part is working with children who don't necessarily have the background in musical technique and helping them learn their artistry, as well as develop their social and emotional skills. She thinks it's important for the students to develop a personal connection to the music, particularly in terms of rhythm and pulse. She finds the Bucket Band helps keep her on her toes since has to be innovative and is always looking for ways to make the after school sessions meaningful.
When she's not talking or thinking about music, you'll find Coach Nic hiking or paddle boarding.
Coach Billy started playing instruments in his school band fairly young. In fact, he grew up playing drums and singing in his church choir too. In high school he started stepping. He was part of a stepping team and often traveled around Arizona to step at different schools. Now he teaches stepping at The Leading Tone. He likes combining movement and music and loves the excitability that comes from the art. His favorite part is watching students explore something outside the box and challenging themselves to more. Often times, Coach Billy will hear someone say 'I can't do it.' Then after they break a combination down, it's followed with 'Hey, Coach Billy, I got it!' He's thrilled that the stepping experience goes beyond the classroom and into the students' households and communities.
Coach Billy studied psychology and communications in college. He's an avid spoken word artist and enjoys working with musical elements and theater. He is the co-founder and Artistic Director for BlackPoet Ventures, a multimedia arts entity that focuses on keeping alive the spoken and written works of the African diaspora.
Welcome to our blog! This is where we plan to document some of the exciting work The Leading Tone is doing, give you updates on program activities, and share our plans and news.
A look back: I started The Leading Tone because of an interest in exploring how music can be of service to community, especially in the context of youth development. After an initial, 8-week pilot project in conjunction with Local 586, American Federation of Musicians (the Oak Street Bucket Band, named in honor of of 586’s location at 12th and Oak Street) we were fortunate to find a home at Vista College Preparatory.
A look forward: In 2015 we started with the REACH Bucket Band; to that we’ve added movement (stepping) and recorders. Our hope is to grow musically with the scholars (as the students of Vista College Preparatory are called), introducing more advanced instruments and concepts while deepening our program’s understanding of how learning music and youth development intersect.