Writing about Music Lesson Plan: Constructing Sentences with Technical Vocabulary

Lesson Plan on Constructing Sentences with Technical Vocabulary
Emily Wilbourne, Queens College, CUNY, Music
Music 121 or 122

Lesson objective(s): Students will practice using technical vocabulary to describe music.

Total estimated time: 45 minutes.

Additional outcome(s): These sentences will seem formulaic at the outset, but ideally they should help the student to integrate unfamiliar terms into their papers in a comfortable and natural-sounding way.

Course work or assignment underway: This exercise is intended to be used early in the semester. No specific piece of work need be underway, however in MUS 121 and 122 students are required to complete a descriptive assignment; this exercise is a useful preparatory task.

Work and/or reading completed before class: A previous class should have discussed a set of technical musical terms (for example, tempo, crescendo, dynamics, timbre). Students may have been required to compile written definitions for these terms and to bring them to class.

Sequence of Classroom Activities:

1. On a handout or on the board, provide an example sentence or two for each of the vocabulary words. (15 mins). Be sure to differentiate between noun and adjectival forms of the terms where appropriate.

For example:

“At the end of the first section, the tempo changes dramatically,” or “The shift is marked by a new tempo.”

“the timbre” vs “timbral shifts”.

2. Play two or three musical examples, one at a time. (20 mins). For each example, have students

  1. identify the three most striking musical features (with reference to their list of terms).
  2. write a sentence describing each of the three features identified above, closely following one of the model sentences provided on the handout.

NB You will need to chose relatively short musical examples; it will be easier for students if you pick music that is either very, very familiar (such as Queen, “Bohemian Rhapsody” [extracts]), or very, very distinctive (such as Gregorian chant).

You will also need to play each example several times—as many, perhaps, as four or five times.

3. Ask for volunteers to read out the sentence they felt most happy about. Discuss the relationship between the new sentence and the model sentence. Ask for other examples that differed more (or less) from the models. (5 mins).

4. Discuss the use-value of model sentences such as these in longer descriptive projects. (Where this is a preliminary exercise for a piece of descriptive writing, talk about how these models can serve in the paper they need to write. (5 mins).

Reflection on the lesson’s success or alternative approaches:

It is likely that someone will bring up the issue of plagiarism in regard to this exercise. Ideally this will provide a really nice opportunity to discuss fair use, common usages and questions of sentence structure more broadly. Be prepared that this discussion, if it does arise, is likely to add and extra 10 minutes to your lesson plan.

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