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Rob Jones

Staff Notation

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This always generates a heated debate!

Personally, I think teaching staff notation at KS3 and to some extent at KS4 is largely a waste of time. Time is precious at KS3, so we should be optimising that time by doing practical tasks and teaching pupils to be analytical about live and recorded music. You don't need notation to be creative with sound. Take a 4 bar syncopated rhythm for example. You can get a Year 8 class to copy and be creative with it but writing a syncopation is hugely complex for them.

Sure, some recognition of staff rhythmic and pitch notation is desirable, but it should only be tackled when the creative work has been done.

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I totally agree with this. Pupils can get completely confused with notation. I think that teachers should encourage pupils to develop their awareness of notation while offering them other ways of writing their music. During a Pachabel's canon unit where pupils write their own variations, my colleaugue uses an excellent system where pupils write their own music into a grid and show note lengths by lines/arrows. It is very basic but effective. Then those who can write in notation. Allowing them the option means that they do not stiffle their creative ideas.

At GCSE level pupils do require some basic notation skills for the mini dicatation style question in the listening paper. I do encourage pupils to work towards gaining grade 5 theory standard by the end of year 11 - especially if they wish to continue their musical studies. However some pupils will simply find this area really difficult.

One pupil I have is an excellent drummer and developing really good improvsational style piano skills. However if you put a piece of notated music in front of him he is 'absolutely useless miss and about 5 grades behind' as he would say. I am sure that this is fthe case in many schools - if not all!

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Hello, everyone!

I think a knowledge of staff notation is really important, as is reading and writing in English and MFL. I can understand that there are many circumstances under which one can be creatively restricted if tied to notation, but a "no notation" approach can be just as limiting. To learn music without staff notation is like learning conversational Spanish: very useful, but the result being an illiterate practitioner. A mix of approaches is clearly required.

Andy

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It really depends on what you mean by notation. "I played a note C and it lasted for 1.5 seconds and I played it quite loudly" is a form of notation. West African drummers and Indian tabla players among others use mnemonics as a form of notation. Many other cultures don't use notation at all and rely on the music being passed down from teacher to pupil. A survey in 1994 estimated that 0.02% of all music ever performed exists in staff notation. Horizontal line notation probably goes back to the 9th or 10th century and then only in Western civilization. To have a good appreciation of music, I would argue you really don't need any knowledge of how to read or write it.

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I think a mix of approaches is really important. Personally I need "dots" in order to play anything. Whilst I marvel at those "naturals" who can pick up an instrument and play, I am grateful to my teachers who made music accessible to me by teaching me how to read music.

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I've found that ploughing straight into notation can confuse some kids. Recently I've been using graphic score alot to show shape and duration as we all probably do. From this point, in in co-ordination with the Maths Dept, I've moved on to plotting pitches on a graph and replacing lines with traditional note value symbols. The final stage is removing the axis lines and substituing a treble clef. It seems to work and uses transfeable prior knowledge. Note, those who already read use standard scoring.

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I would have to agree that reading stave notation is mind numbingly tedious for most kids but I also think that you are short changing them if you ignore it completely. A balance is clearly needed but you have to decide with your own kids, classroom, resources etc where that balance falls.

Musotech is music to my ears! I've been trying to convince kids that staff notation is just a graph for years - but also combine it with map reading in geography, once you understand the code used you can read it.

Chris Barnard

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I think that a balance is needed when teaching notation. In effect, notation is a common way of communicating music to each other, so it covers more than just the conventional methods of staff notation.

I admit that I do use rhythmic notation quite early on with my Year 7 pupils as I teach with percussion a great deal. I find that by using simple notation, they can use this as a tool in composition. I also think that it is so useful when developing skills such as time-keeping/pulse/rhythm etc and I constantly test my pupils on their aural perception. I tend to use made-up phrases for rhythms, and I think there is a lot to be said for the "john" (crotchet) "susan" (quavers) "huckleberry" (semiquavers) way.

I also like to explore non-conventional notation such as graphic score or grids, which works really well with some of the lower ability range as well as the more dynamic kids at the top end.

I'm not a great fan of the keyboard in the classroom so I tend not to labour the point too much with staff notation although I do use it a bit with tuned percussion. I find that using the mnemonics which we were all brought up on ("Every Good Boy Deserves Favour" and the like) means nothing to kids who can't perceive the concept of pitch. I'm still looking for a good way to teach notation on the stave as I've tried many ways now. Any good ideas, anyone?

The use of keyboards in the classroom should be a thread in itself.... Thirty kids blasting the "Star Wars : Theme" demo is enough to see me into an early grave :)

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