I have been using John Feierabend's curriculum for music literacy since the fall of 2013. Kindergarteners and First graders are in "first steps in music." They are learning to be Tuneful, Beatful, and Artful. Beginning in 2nd grade, we start our Musical Literacy with the Conversational Solfege curriculum. We will be working through the 12 stages of Conversational solfege for roughly 1/3 of our class time. This part of class will look and feel like we are just playing a lot of games- however, students are learning how to communicate in the language of music. The other two thirds of our class time are spent singing, playing instruments, playing musical games, dancing, composing, learning music theory and music history, and generally having joyful experiences with music.
The following information was taken from an essay called Developing Music Literacy with Conversational Solfege: An Aural Approach for an Aural Art and was written by John M. Feierabend-the creator of the curriculum we use in Nottingham. The complete essay can be found here.
Before embarking on a music literacy program three readiness skills should be in place.
1) Comfortable and accurate singing skills. (Tuneful)
2) Comfortable and accurate moving skills with the beat in metrical groupings of 2 and 3 (Beatful)
3) Expressive sensitivity (Artful)
This third requirement is often overlooked in music literacy curricula. One of the mysteries of notation is that the subtleties of expression cannot adequately be represented in notation. It is the inherent expressiveness, however, that is the art part of music. What appears in notation is merely the skeleton of the music. The interpreter of the notation must breath life into the skeleton. This expressive sensitivity development must be assimilated from good musical models and from quality literature that embodies expressiveness. A preschool child who has been read to in an expressive manner will later integrate expression into his/her reading. A child who is sung to in an expressive manner will later sing with expression and be sensitive to the inherent expressive qualities in music.
The twelve stages of Conversational Solfege seem especially well suited to learning an art which is aural; music. Learning to understand music by ear and later, reading and writing, ensures that the ear and musical mind are playing an active role in the processing of musical ideas. It ensures that understanding and creating music occurs through the musical manipulation of sounds rather than the mere manipulation of symbols The manipulation of symbols does not necessarily evoke musical thinking; whereas the manipulation of sounds pursues the desired goal.After all “music” is not the symbols found on the printed page but the sounds that reach the ear. In most European countries, the word “music” does not refer to the printed copy. Music can not be seen…only heard. The printed copy is referred to as the “notation.” Notation is the skeleton of music. We must breathe life into the skeleton to make music.
The following descriptions of the twelve stages of Conversational Solfege allows for the “music” to be first learned and aurally understood before bonding to the “notation.”
Stage 1: Readiness
Songs and rhymes are learned by rote; they contain rhythm and/or tonal content which will be studied later. Rhythm and solfege syllables are not used at this stage.
Stage 2: Conversational Solfege
Rhythm syllables and/or tonal syllables are introduced. Patterns are spoken or sung by the teacher with the rhythm or tonal syllables and students repeat, by rote, those patterns with the syllables. During this stage students bond the sounds of rhythm and tonal patterns with aural labels.
Stage 3: Conversational Solfege
Decode – Familiar
This stage serves as an evaluation to see if students have bonded rhythm and/or tonal patterns with the correct syllables. The teacher speaks or sings familiar patterns, songs and rhymes with neutral syllables or texts. The students repeat the patterns, songs and rhymes using rhythm or tonal syllables. Patterns used at this stage have previously been presented with syllables during the Conversational Solfege-Rote stage. Songs and rhymes used at this stage should have previously been presented by rote during the Readiness stage. This stage only requires students to aurally recognize and decode previously learned musical examples.
Stage 4: Conversational Solfege
Decode – Unfamiliar
This stage serves as an evaluation to see if students have bonded rhythm and/or tonal patterns with the correct syllables well enough to use the correct syllables when decoding unfamiliar patterns, songs and rhymes. The teacher speaks or sings an unfamiliar pattern with neutral syllables as well as unfamiliar songs and rhymes with texts;the students repeat the patterns, songs and rhymes with rhythm or tonal syllables. Patterns, songs and rhymes used at this stage have not been previously learned. This stage requires the students to generalize from what they know to make sense out of something new.
Stage 5: Conversational Solfege
This stage develops the ability to think and bring musical meaning to original musical thoughts. Students create original rhythm or tonal patterns or melodies using rhythm or tonal syllables. Reading notation should not be introduced until students have achieved success at this stage. During this stage students begin developing improvisation skills which will enable them to later compose during the Writing-Create stage.
Stage 6: Reading
During this stage students are introduced to notation symbols. The teacher reads notated patterns for the students. The students repeat the pattern while looking at the notation. This is much like the introduction of a set of vocabulary words in the elementary grades. While looking at the new words the teacher speaks each word and the children repeat.
Stage 7: Reading
Decode – Familiar
This stage serves as an evaluation to see if students have bonded the notation for rhythm and/or tonal patterns with the correct syllables. The teacher asks the students to think through notated patterns, songs and rhymes with rhythm or tonal syllables and then speak or sing them aloud using the rhythm or tonal syllables. Patterns, songs and rhymes used at this stage should have been presented previously. This stage requires students to visually recall the sounds and syllable names of previously introduced material. In learning general reading skills this is similar to students being able to read vocabulary words the teacher previously presented.
Stage 8: Reading
Decode – Unfamiliar
This stage serves as an evaluation to see if students have bonded the notation for rhythm and/or tonal patterns with the correct syllables and can generalize that knowledge to unfamiliar patterns, songs and rhymes. The teacher asks the students to think through unfamiliar notated patterns, songs and rhymes with rhythm or tonal syllables and then speak or sing them aloud using the rhythm or tonal syllables. Patterns, songs and rhymes used at this stage have not been presented previously. This requires visual decoding skills and inference thinking. This stage represents true sight-reading skills and is similar to students being able to recognize their new vocabulary words in the context of a new story.
Stage 9: Writing
During this stage students practice writing notation. Students should copy existing patterns, songs and rhymes and be instructed in proper manuscript techniques. This is similar to early elementary children practicing penmanship as they learn to write letters, numbers and words.
Stage 10: Writing
Decode – Familiar
During this stage students engage both conversational decoding skills and writing decoding skills. The teacher speaks, sings or plays familiar patterns or phrases from a song or rhyme with neutral syllables or the text. Students think each pattern with rhythm or tonal syllables (Conversational – Decoding) and then write the notation for the pattern (Writing-Decode). This stage requires aural and visual decoding but not inference thinking. This stage is similar to students taking a spelling test based on the latest list of vocabulary words.
Stage 11: Writing
Decode – Unfamiliar
During this stage students engage both conversational decoding skills and writing decoding skills. The teacher speaks, sings or plays unfamiliar patterns or phrases from a song or rhyme with neutral syllables or the text. Students think the pattern with rhythm or tonal syllables (Conversational – Decoding) and then write the pattern (Writing-Decode). This stage requires aural and visual decoding as well as inference thinking. If you can sing it with syllables you can write it. The syllables tell you what to write. This stage is commonly understood as “taking dictation.” In language development this stage would be the equivalent to children determining the spelling and writing of an unfamiliar word by “sounding it out.”
Stage 12: Writing
This skill requires students to conversationally Create through inner hearing and then Writing-Decode by transferring their musical thoughts into notation. Musical improvisations can now become compositions.
Developing Literacy Skills with “Music Art”
An individual is considered literate when he/she can read new material with expression and write his/her thoughts. When an individual is truly musically literate he/she can expressively read new musical material without the aid of an instrument and can write his/her own musical thoughts. Developing music literacy skills with quality literature enables students to develop the skills to hear, read and write music while introducing them to the rich repertoire of our cultures expressive music as well as exemplary composed pieces. With these skills and musical influences we may just inspire a new generation of citizens who will be able to not only read and write music but be able to understand and appreciate the subtle expressions of music that are embodied below the surface in art.