What do children need to learn before being able to interpret a graphic score?
‘Chorstudien’ by Hermann Regner
What is the purpose of a musical score? What does it tell the reader?
On an elemental level a musical score conveys information about time, pitch and expression.
Time – A score provides us with a sense of time. The duration of musical notes enables us to create relationships between sounds; it provides us with a framework within space and time. However, we must remember that time is relative and subjective.
A _________________ B _______
If line A and line B were blocks of sound then I think that we would all agree that line A would sound for longer than line B. In western classical notation these relationships have been clearly addressed. We know that a minim note is twice the length of a crotchet note. Regardless of the tempo of the crotchet note, the minim will always be twice this value therefore a clear relationship within time is present. Within the Regner score, the duration of musical sound is presented as horizontal blocks. Visually this provides us with a very clear time picture. Some blocks of sound are longer than others but of course the relationships between shorter and longer blocks will rely on personal interpretation.
Pitch – A score expresses the intricate spectrum between high and low sounds. In the western classical score very precise information is given, via the stave, to show the relationships between pitches. On an elemental level, the stave communicates the distance between pitches and the concept of a sound being higher or lower than another within a vertical framework. Regner also adopts this approach within his score and it is clear to see how he has layered the pitches of sound within vertical structures.
Expression – A score can convey indications for dynamics, tempo, articulation and expression. In the Regner score, clear markings are made for which vowel sounds to use and for which notes need to be sustained. Dynamic markings are also expressed.
A graphic score provides many creative opportunities to connect music, dance and speech with the visual arts. It provides an opportunity for children to interpret and express what they are experiencing aurally, orally and kinetically in a visual form. The following activities could be explored as ways through which to enable the children to be able to interpret Hermann Regner’s ‘Chorstudien’ score.
Movement and Speech (Thinking about time within the graphic score)
- Create a movement sequence using movement words. Explore each word in turn using the full body and isolated body parts for variation. In groups of around eight children, vary the order of the movement sequence. Four children can explore the movements and four children can accompany with speech. Can the other children guess what movement sequence is being performed? In pairs, provide an opportunity for the children to create a graphic score of their movement sequence. Talk about the similarities and differences in the images between each couple of children.
Movement (Thinking about direction and following a line)
- To make a direct connection with the Regner score the teacher can create horizontal rectangles, similar in size to that of Regner’s score, with the chosen movement words written inside. Together the children can explore time parameters through movement.
- Ask the children to think about time and the duration of each movement. For example, should a rotation movement last longer than a bursting movement? If so, how can we show this in our drawings so that it is clear for the dancers?
- In pairs, ask the children to draw or paint these movement words. What does a rotation movement look like? Does it have a circular form?
- Allow the children to accompany their movements with their voice. What does a bursting movement sound like? What does it sound like when then snow melts and falls from the trees? How can we show this quality with our body and our voice?
- e.g. ‘ROTATION – BURSTING – MELTING – GROWING’
- Ask the children to explore different pathways as they walk. The children can explore walking in different lines (straight, curvy, zig zag, geometric shapes) in both forwards and backwards directions.In pairs, ask the children to draw a ‘pathways’ score. Initially, the score should be drawn in a linear way, from left to right, so that the progression of ideas is clear.
Music (Thinking about pitch and rhythm)
- To make a direct connection with the Regner score the teacher can create horizontal rectangles, similar in size to that of Regner’s score and ask the children to add their ‘pathways’ lines into each box. Together the children can explore the concept of following a line within a time parameter.
- The children should exchange their graphic ‘pathways’ score with each other and work on carefully following the movement lines of each score.
- As a class, look at how these different lines can be drawn.
- After allocating each child with paper and paint, ask the children to paint what the teacher sings or plays.Generate a discussion with the children and encourage them to share their ideas. Ask the question, how can we paint long sounds and short sounds? How can we show high sounds and low sounds?
Music (Thinking about dynamics)
- Create some simple graphic score examples of high and low pitch combinations and examples of graphic rhythmic notation and perform these for the children. Can the children guess which graphic score belongs to which musical example?
- After the teacher plays a rhythm, on the drum for example, the children should try to represent this rhythm with their paints.
- Provide each child with a drum or a hand held percussion instrument that has a good dynamic range.
Music (Working with a conductor)
- The teacher should, using both hands, in a horizontal fashion, indicate a dynamic shape to the children (e.g. beginning quietly making a crescendo to very loud and then a diminuendo to quiet). The children should then perform this dynamic shape with their instruments. For this activity there should be no direct leader or conductor. Ask the children to draw the dynamic shapes created by the teacher’s hands.
- The children should create their own graphic scores. These can be movement scores or sound scores which indicate the use of different instruments or voices. The children should be encouraged to think about time duration, pitch and dynamics. In small groups the children should have the opportunity to conduct their own score and the scores of others. Hopefully these preparatory activities will create an environment where the children feel comfortable with graphic scores and notation. If the children are curious and interested then they will be keen to think about, explore and interpret the graphic scores of other composers.