Movement is a tool to explore, discover and learn and it plays a very important role in children’s musical learning. During our sessions with deaf students, we’ve noticed that, when exposed to sounds of music, children tend to respond with movement, dancing and free exploration.
We observed a wide range of movement reactions (completely free or rhythmical, structured and descriptive, that produce sound or not) and in the majority of cases, children seem to naturally incorporate the body in the perception of music.
As teachers, we can use movement and gestures as tools to explore and describe different musical elements. or simply to let children discover through their bodies the relationship between space and time and the connection between what they are perceiving and what they’re feeling/learning.
During the Sounding Out project, we were able to observe students of different ages, from reception to Year 6, and in our sessions movement has always played an important role, which has changed over the months according to the musical and extra-musical needs of the participants.
In general, movement and body have always come to support the learning allowing a connection between perception and production.
Although we said that in the majority of the cases we have seen movement arise spontaneously to music, we have also faced situations in which the involvement of the body was not so natural.
In fact, we have noticed that the spontaneous tendency to use the body as a learning medium, decreases proportionally to the age and development of students (probably for various socio-emotional reasons).
In these cases, therefore, the inclusion of movement in the activities happened gradually, without imposition and always following the reactions of the student.
We have always tried to give the children the opportunity to freely explore music through dance and spontaneous movement, without judging their responses, but rather observing with great interest their approach to musical elements such as rhythm, speed and intensity.
It is also important to remember here as well, that the perception of sound and therefore of music, can vary a lot from child to child and this is why a long observation phase was fundamental for us before introducing musical activities where the movement was more structured and descriptive (like body percussion, for example).
Reception to Year 3
Let's now go into more details, describing the step-by-step process that takes the child from free movement to the use of the instrument.
STEPS 1 - 8
From Year 4 onwards
With older kids, we noticed the importance of the relation between music and language. Whilst younger children have shown interest also in music without words or chants, older children have seemed to enjoy especially the meaning of the songs or a symbolic association with the music.
Gestures become visual clues to the understanding of music
An approach based on multi-sensory experience is much more satisfying and effective for deaf children. It is widely accepted that a person with hearing impairments can gain a better musical understanding if sound is associated with tactile or visual perception.
We have thus started planning our sessions with this in mind, during games, musical activities and performance. Interestingly, we observed that the use of visual cues to instruct sound production engaged the children most effectively. We found that that the use of body movement as a descriptive gesture of sound was the most successful of these visual cues. With movement, the students discovered a tool for understanding and its associated musical meaning.
The body became the fulcrum to start a musical activity and its gestures gave clear comprehension of the different musical elements (pulsation, volume, speed, timbres etc.), playing an important role also whilst playing musical instruments.
We also noted that the children’s involvement increased when body movement took on particular symbolic and expressive meanings. For example, describing a story, associating an emotion to the gesture, interpreting a character (such as an animal) led them to focus on the musical elements and gave them motivation for using this type of language. The use of the body as an expressive tool is part of daily life for somebody with hearing impairment and therefore these gestures are more easily transferable into the children’s musical learning.
Music and theatre
During the year 2017-2018, we had the opportunity to collaborate with the school’s theatre group on an interpretation of the animal world. We proposed to our music students an activity to musically describe the scenes during the theatre performance by interpreting the actor’s body gestures into sounds.
For example, during the imitation of an elephant by the theatre group, our students clearly visualised the different rhythmicity present in the movement of the elephant’s trunk (realised by the arm movement of one of the actors) and the movement of the ears (made by another actor). The visual observations made by the children helped the teachers to introduce musical elements such as rhythm, speed and duration to synchronise with the actors’ visual actions. The sounds that described those movements were then analysed together (slow, fast, long, short, arrhythmic, rhythmic etc.) and finally transcribed using common musical signs or creating new symbols suitable for the children’s understanding.
This multi-sensory approach being much closer to the natural learning style of the children, showed that the body can be played like a musical score made up of big and small gestures, rich in rhythmic patterns, volume, speed, timbre and many other elements. The visual nature of this activity allowed deaf children to have a closer affinity with musical dialogue.
Example of activity for Reception - Year 4
The song: This is a major song in 4/4, based on the simple ABAB structure verse/chorus/verse/chorus). It's really catchy and its simple form makes it easy to remember and sing.
Goals: Development of musical skills, specifically rhythm; association between movement and language; communication; self-confident
Foundation activity This activity introduces Christmas symbols to visually support the learning of the lyrics. In addition, it substitutes music notation with language-based rhythms (crotchets, quavers and semiquavers are substituted with language). This is achieved through the use of cards* in association to body percussion, with Christmas symbols that can be transformed into rhythms.
*based on Rhythm Cards - Toolkit Sounding Out
Children can read, write, compose and perform a short rhythmic sequence in front of their classmates, using body percussion or instruments.
How to teach this activity
LEARNING THE SONG
Step 1: the teacher plays the song to the children from start to end.
Step 2: the teacher asks some questions to the children to understand their perception of it of the song, then sings again associating gestures or BSL.
Step 3: the teacher plays the piece again, always from the beginning to the end, suggesting the children to move freely on the space.
Step 4: the teacher performs the piece other times, asking the children to identify the salient points and underlining them with precise movements:
Verse: children move freely around the room or in a circle.
Chorus: children jump on ding ding ding.
End of the song: children sit on a chair.
MOVEMENT AND DRUMS
Step 5: Distribute some drums or djembes around your room. In part A, children will move freely in the space without playing the drums and in part B they will play on ding ding ding (you can also change ding into pam if you prefer to copy the sound of the drums, or you can ask the children to come up with different syllable).
Understanding of a rule;
Analysis of the space around;
Inhibition of impulses, in Part A when they walk around without touching the drums; in Part B when they play just on ding ding ding;
Prediction of the position of their body to arrive on the chorus on time (planning).
MEMORY CARD - rhythm and pronunciation of words
Step 6: Once the children have listened to the songs many times and explored its words and structure, they sit around a table and the teacher introduces the rhythmic cards through the memory game*.
Distribute the cards according to the time signature in which you want to play.
The teacher lays out the cards face down in rows forming a large rectangle on the table or floor. Make sure that the cards are not touching each other. Children need to be able to flip them over easily.
In this stage, children start associating language-based rhythms to each card.
Example in 2/4: (hover image)
The teacher/student starts, chooses a card and carefully turns it over and reads it.
The teacher/student selects another card and turns it over.
The teacher links the two cards together creating a first rhythmic sentence. Then they read them and the group repeats.
Step 7: The teacher divides the class into groups and asks each group to compose their own rhythm, choosing from the pack of cards.
Each group practices its own part (also with body percussion) many times alone and with the teacher, to learn it properly.
Eventually, the whole class will get together again to play all the rhythms following the structure ABA:
A. The whole group reads all the new rhythms in unison;
B. Each group reads its own part in turn, keeping the tempo;
A. Last part in unison again;
Step 8: At this point, children can transpose their rhythms onto the instruments creating an accompaniment to the song.
For more complex versions see Rhythm Cards
What we’ve noticed:
Changing the movements between part A and B helps to catch children attention as well as underline the difference in the music.
The free movement supports the development of children’s rhythm, their body image and visual - spacial skills. Also, when moving, children need to be aware of their friends’ position to avoid bumping into each other and as a result, they will keep correcting their own way of moving in the space (proprioception).
Moving and listening is a much richer way to learn music because it provides a multi-sensory representation of the music piece in children's minds.
If the teacher moves with the students during the game, there is less need for words to explain the game and as a result, there will be more music and less language during the class.