"In musical composition and performance, the decisive element is the intuition. Technique and intelligence, of course are vital functions for domining an instrument and taking out his whole posibilities, and for applying the intelligence to explore every face of music - but, in spite of, the main significance concern to the intution" (Pau Casals)
Imagine living in a world 100 years ago with no radio or cd players. A musical experience to a child during that time would be received very differently than that same experience in todays world. Any musical experience that at that time could be the most coveted and fertile sound stimuli for early age senses.
If we let our minds digress for a moment, we can see a large group of "little people" gathering around the grand piano in the living room, waiting for an adult to dazzle them with his piano playing.The magical melodies and harmonies rising from that big wooden box, in addition to fantastic games and stories told next to the fireplace will establish unforgottable moments and memories childhood.
In the past the music classes were an important part of the children's global and basic education of the family music teacher. This person, like the cook, the chimney sweeper or the dressmaker, had a very specific and fundamental job.
But music was not a social distinctive sign, because everybody, in every social class, had the option to access the marvellous world of the sound language.
Paintings, engravings and drawings from that era also show the passion for this enfant musical education. That revealed a great passion for the children musical education, with titles such as: «Music lesson», «Family concert», «Duet» or «Table music». These titles are very common.
What happened since then?
It's obvious that the musical panorama at home has changed perceptibly. Musical instruments have disappeared from the home because electronic devices, mainly visual have monopolized, reducing the musical world to a single switch. Sounds are not homemade, but are rather imposed upon by pictures on television or video games. The importance of the music has been conquered by the omnipotent images and visual contents. Imagination and fantasy derived from the music has been reduced to a minimum expression. The development and cultivation of the imagination is not a part of the educational activities that were happening at home, as well as in school. There is an excessive amount of artificial stimuli that chilren are exposed to today, among other things, that do not awaken the curiosity of the world of sounds, secrets, imagination and communication.
Techniques for «Intuitive musical listening»
Below I describe the techniques that could apply to «active listening», according to the characteristics of every piece of music. Each one must be practiced with the music playing in the background.
1. Bodily musical expression
From the book “Music for children” (C. XXI Editores, Madrid 1993, México 1999, 5ª edition)
This is the most primary and intuitive one. It is about moving, playing, dancing... whenever we listen to a work with a given rhythmic character. Although this technique has similarities with dancing, it is just the first phase of it. Some elements like imitation or mime could be included in this technique. The teaching procedure consists of imitating the teacher’s movements or acts. Through this way, pupils learn each part of the piece of music and the structure, as well. Once they have acted in this way, they could invent or improvise more freely perfect exercises. Charles Chaplin acts like a jewish barber in the film "The Great Dictator". He uses the "Hungarian Dance" nº 2 in D minor by Johannes Brahms for his performance. Many pieces of music could be worked on the same way:
“Children’s games" by Georges Bizet.
"Carnival of the animals" by Camile Saint-Saëns.
"Animals prayer" by Friedrich Meschwitz.
2. Musical Narration
This technique consists of inventing a story paying attention to the structure and content of the work. This story will be read or told by the teacher at the same time the music is being listened to or played. The teaching procedure is not difficult although we shouldn’t forget children have to be constantly motivated. We must make sure that the duration of the story is exactly the same as the piece of music (narration will be synchronized). There are many musical works associated with famous pictures and images. To develop this technique properly, the teacher has to know the structure of the work very well. We also have to be sensible in choosing appropriate words for the child. Some musical works which could be used in this way are:
3. Musical Drama
"Children’s Scenes" by Robert Schumann
"Youth’s Album" by Piotr Ilich Tchaikowsky
"Children’s Corner" by Claude Debussy
"Youth’s Tales" by Enrique Granados
"The almanac with Images" by Gabriel Grovlez
This technique is simple acting out the whole musical work. Two types of ways to distinguish:
a) Dramatizing a "musical tale": We can define a "musical tale" as one in which a composer has composed music to a story. In recent recordings it is quite common to find the narrator part included in the musical work. A lot of them includes the collaboration of popular artists or actors as narrators. The teaching procedure consists of dramatization at the time the music is being listened to or played. The acting could be done through puppets or movement. It would be better to use recordings without the narrator’s voice. Otherwise, by the teacher. We can find many popular master works to demonstrate this:
"Peter and the wolf" and "The ugly duckling" by Sergei Prokofiev
"The Babar story" by Francis Poulenc
"The little bull Ferdinand" by Aland Ridout
"The Tinder-Box" by Poul Schierbeck
b) Dramatizing a "musical work": Acting on a musical work is a little different. The composer has made the music thinking of something very specific defined by the instruments. But this time, there is no narrator to tell the story. The language doesn´t complete the musical effects. So the teaching procedure would be to have the pupils dramatize what they hear. Some piece of music belong to this kind are:
"The sorcerer's apprentice" by Paul Dukas
"The wand of Youth" by Edward Elgar
"The toy box" by Claude Debussy
4. Musical Illustration
This kind of technique requires more imagination. Music plays a secondary role here. It supports and backs up other artistic languages like paintings, plays, films, etc. We can enumerate many examples where music has been used to go with other master works: "The Isle of death" by Arnold Böcklin is put to music by Rachmaninov or "Hary Janos" by Henrik Ibsen is put ot music by Kodaly. In school, might need to modify the original text so that the children can fully understand or provide illustrations of the musical story. Of course opera and ballet belong to this classification. The teaching procedure consists of commenting or reading something about the musical work. Great master works like óperas or ballets must be abridged. Next, pupils would be invited to make a montage with drawings or pictures about the plot. This montage will be useful too as a listening guide, making the structural sight of the works easier. Popular pieces of music for early ages would be:
"Sports and divertissements" by Erik Satie
"Mother goose" by Maurice Ravel
"Happy animals pictures" by Sarmanto-Neuvonen & Miikkulainen
"The sleeping beauty", "Swan Lake" or " Nutcracker" by Tchaikowsky
"The magic flute" by W. A. Mozart
5. Lyricing a melody
The teacher will take a Melody and add lyrics to it, hopefully suiting the music well. The teacher should work all those suitable words according to the pupil's vocabulary and the line-story of the work. In doing so, we should take advantage of every feature of the music.
At first, the songs must be listened to by the teacher singing without any instrumental accompaniment, developing the different possibilities of the voice, increasing the progressive use of tunes in the sentences. Once they remember the song, the teacher can help playing an instrument as well as a recording. The children feel happy when they recognize this song played by an orchestra.
This last technique develops mainly the pupil’s active and listening capacity, memorizing melodic sequences, intuitive learning of the structure, the musical forms and, possibly the most important one, to become music lovers. This technique can be applied to any musical work with suitable range. After completing this, a student will be able to pick up a recorder and with his teacher’s help, be able to play the song they just put words to. The students can blow into the recorder while the teacher finds the exact notes on the instrument.
Piano versions of orchestral works are better suited to the children understanding. Later on, once they become more familiar with the music, the orchestral versions can be introduced and better appreciated.
For example "Trumpet and drum" from "Children's games" by George Bizet, will recover life in the orchestral version. Also "Laideronnette, Impératrice des Pagodes" by Maurice Ravel will reveal other dimensions played on the xylophon for example.