What happens when an idea is the product of both necessity and inspiration? A win-win, that’s what.
Recently, Music Director Rob Thomas decided to revise his Music 6 Curriculum. He describes the need: “in sixth grade, students come to Watkinson from all different schools. They have had differing levels of preparation and instruction, so there’s not a baseline understanding of musical concepts. I needed to devise a course that helped to create a unified understanding among my students.” The essential question that inspired Thomas: “If this is the only music class my students will ever take, what real world skills and understanding can I give so they have a deeper understanding and appreciation for the music in the world around them?” And he decided his primary tool for teaching the desired music principles and skills would be none other than the ukulele.
In retrospect, Thomas said, “The course, and the ukulele, was met very well by the kids. While it was educationally appropriate, it is more relevant, and slightly cooler than the recorder”, an often used instrument for teaching music to this age.
Course objectives for the class included:
- Identify notes in both treble and bass clef
- Describe essential aspects of music using correct terminology.
- Play a I-V-vi-IV chord progression on Ukulele in the key of C.
- Perform at varying tempos and dynamics.
- Perform a complete song on Ukulele individually and as a group.
- Write and record an original song composed of MIDI Instruments, loops, and recorded sounds using SoundTrap.
Middle School Head Jenny Esposito adds, “When Rob approached his department chair and me with his proposal for a Music 6 course that included the ukelele, we immediately recognized the potential of this opportunity for our youngest students. Being a small school, we were able to quickly adjust our schedule to make room for what turned out to be a fantastic class. At Watkinson, our teachers are empowered to respond to the needs and passions of their students. Rob’s innovation makes our school an even better place for budding musicians of all levels to thrive.”
And thrive they did; by the end of the semester, all of Thomas’ students could play chords and simple songs. “The kids know enough to play a couple of campfire songs. They might even be able to play and sing along, alone or with a friend.”
One of the highlights of the class came when Thomas wanted the students to use Soundtrap recording software to share their ukulele song writing assignment.“To introduce Soundtrap,we found loops and midi songs; some kids recorded speaking and singing. The whole class collaborated enthusiastically while learning this new software.”
Another highlight came early in the course. “We learned four chords, 4 common pop song chords. When we could play all of them somewhat comfortably…I showed them a video about how hundreds of songs have these four chords. I played piano and sang a variety of songs while they played. They were excited because they saw a real-world application of the skills they were in the midst of learning.”
Check out this great example of the course’s Song Structure Project by Zoey S. ’28. She created a song review in the form of a podcast, where she analyzed the structure of the song “You’re On Fire” by They Might Be Giants. Or check out this original composition, a collaborative final project by Paris W., Eniyah G., and Harper H. (all from the class of ’28).