Teaching for Tomorrow
Note: Originally published in 1997 in the Newsletterof the Music EducationNetwork
for the Visually Impaired, MENVI, This article has become a staple for
teachers who have requested reprints many times.
Richard Taesch is the director of the Braille Music Division at the Southern
California Conservatory of Music. Because an understanding of rhythm and pitch
are important for any type of music study, Mr. Taesch suggests ways of helping
children start gaining this basic knowledge with a teacher or as a home activity.
This can be done before braille is introduced. Readers will
find these methods extended and carried through the learning of braille music
in Mr. Taesch's curriculum, "An Introduction to Music for the Blind Student"
published by Dancing Dots.
MENVI is a coalition of parents, educators, and students, whose members work
together to provide support and resource information from their shared experience.
For more information Contact Richard Taesch, 8711 Sunland Boulevard, Sun Valley, CA
91352; Phone (818) 790-5903,
We have learned much about academic development through the teaching of music. At the SCCM Braille Music Division, we have seen youngsters begin new lives in the world of literary braille by means of their own natural musical gifts. We must, however, continue to look well beyond the obvious advantages of providing music to our children, and beyond merely providing the opportunity to play a musical instrument.
Whether a youngster will plan for music studies in college, or simply to play a band instrument in middle or high school, we have a serious obligation to see that proper groundwork is done at the earliest levels. Care must be taken to see that music fundamentals are established as real academic skills that can be built upon by future teachers. There is perhaps no subject more difficult to re-teach than music. It is for this reason that music classes are the one subject area that most universities and conservatories will not allow direct transfer credits. Students normally must either test out of a subject, or re-take it. In music, unlike other academic subjects, one must be able to clearly demonstrate skills required- you simply can't "fake" it!
The SCCM Braille Music Division has the opportunity of advising and serving the music transcription needs of at least 8 middle schools and several universities. It is from this vantage point that we are able to observe the weaknesses in braille music disciplines. Schools are becoming aware that blind students can use written music just as sighted students, and are requiring these skills at an accelerating rate. They are no longer forced to treat VH students musically different, other than procuring the specialized media required.
We must, therefore, insist on requiring and providing specific approaches and good pedagogy for the youngest of children. The educational consequences of weak fundamentals for a musical child can be just as devastating as the inability to read or write.
PARENTS AND MUSIC TEACHERS, IT'S UP TO YOU!!
We have provided a short strategy list of musical priorities that can be taught to children at very early levels. Parents can handle many of these items themselves without actually being music teachers or even musically trained. As far as teachers are concerned, you are the professionals. Do not shortchange your students musically. Do not make the mistake of assuming that sight singing and interval recognition is only for college students.
The following list of skills is highly recommended as an essential "gateway," to all music AND braille music skills.
BASIC EAR TRAINING
1. Scale structure: SING, do re mi fa sol la ti do AND scale numbers 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8.
2. Recognize varied scale steps when played on piano. (Parents can easily learn where middle C is located, and drill step recognition daily).
3. Recognize "intervals," i.e. the numbers of scale steps between different notes in the C scale, using middle C as "home-base."
4. Sing back small groups of notes when played on the piano.
5. Understand and recognize the different sound of major and minor chords (Sunny? Cloudy?)
6. Play little note groups making a game out of recognizing when home-base or middle C is played.
7. Play short melodies of 2-4 (or more) notes, and ask the student to write the scale numbers they hear on a braille writer (melodic dictation).
PREPARATORY THEORY AND RHYTHM
1. Teach simple alphabetical principles by asking students to recite the scale from various points in the musical alphabet, i.e. abcdefga; bcdefgab; cdefgabc, etc.
2. Clap and play simple rhythmic patterns, asking students to clap them back.
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