The GCSE/A-Level listening exams is now my focus for the coming few weeks and I thought I would blog my approaches to revision. My feeling on revision lessons is that they need to be helpful, enjoyable and totally exam question focussed. What we all want is to send students in to that exam room with the knowledge and skills that they need to get the top grades. So let me tell you what I did today.
Now firstly I will say that my revision lessons are not in any way revolutionary or innovative. They are simple, but with clear aims and clear foci. But in my revision lessons I sit at the piano in my room and I think that is the key to their success. I also make sure that they are helpful by feeding off of questions from students. Sometimes preparing stuff is great but might not actually tackle the live issues in the lesson.
Today I wanted to focus on Melody and the infinite number of misconceptions about what describing melody is actually all about. Whatever the exam board, melody will come up in some way shape or form and often students don’t really grasp how to write about it. So today I asked my students for three ways to describe a melody. And guess what, on the whole they didn’t describe the melody. They told me how loud it was played, or how fast, but not the actual melody. So I got one thing straight with them. Melody is the horizontal organisation of pitches. It has got nothing to do with dynamics or tempo or texture. They are all related, but if you are going to describe melody successfully you need to ignore these things. As music teachers we need to get students into good habits with how to describe melody. We then discussed how we can actually go about describing melody and melodic features/devices:
I then asked students to imagine a melody they know really well – maybe a recent performance piece. I then asked them to describe that melody. I didn’t let them listen to it, I just wanted them to think about it. We then chatted over answers and from the piano I attempted to play their melodies and show how I could change the melodies etc.
I then played them some melodies – Bach Anna Mag. being one of them, and we chatted over the intervals and the shape. I also used Eine Kleine for a bit of arpeggios based melody!
The thing that worked in this lesson was the focus on melody and my strict approach to students who talked about anything other than melody. I sat at the piano and played as much to them as possible, but didn’t play overwhelming examples that are hard to work with at times. I just played melodic ideas to them to get them thinking and chatting over melody. We looked at sequences and their impact and also thought about intervals and their impact. It was a great lesson and I feel they came away with a clear picture of melody and how to write about it. The key thing for me is that they need to think about melody and hear lots of examples. Full orchestral recording examples are great. But sometimes a simple melody on piano can really help. I like just coming up with tunes on the spot. I enjoy it and you can tailor the melody directly to any questions from the class. Finding tunes in advance is great, but the live nature of the lesson is really fun and enjoyable for me and the students.
So I suggest focussing on different elements and giving them lots to think on and listen to. Link it all to the exam and make sure that you are forcing them to only think about one element at a time and also use musical terms as their primary language. Melody confused with dynamics or texture can really lead to lower marks. And if you are not sure where your class are at then ask them to tell you what a melody is and some of the ways they would describe it. You will soon know what they need to cover for revision.
And get yourself a copy of the Classical Fakebook – it is a bible of classical tunes and I love it.