Performance Project Group: Instruments

While the performance project group has focused primarily on the act of performing and learning about specific performers, they have also been learning about lots of new instruments. To gain some insight into what they know and what they are thinking about, I brought them to the studio to listen to various types of instruments, and then have a chance to make models of instruments out of clay.

While we sat and ate snack we listened to clips of instrumentals. After some discussion, there was a reveal.

Some quotes of note

“A cello or a banjo or a guitar!”

“Maybe they are using their feet?”

“I was right, it was actually a Sitar!”

“It’s kind of like the other string instruments.”

“It’s sharp.”


“Maybe it’s a bass, I don’t know if it’s a bass or a cello.”

Noticing a trend to show interest in the stringed instruments, out Studio Teacher placed some wire out along with the clay.

“Guitar. I’m going to pretend this is a guitar.”

“My instrument is going to sound like this (makes high pitched, elongated sound).”

“I’m playing a note. I’m playing notes.”

“This is how you play. You put the string in the hole and then you play it.”

“This is my big instrument. My cello, my cello!”

H seemed the most invested in his instrument, demonstrating how to use it and carefully fixing it anytime it came apart. He showed us how to play it by running his hand up and down the wire while vocalizing.

Continuing, the next week I brought a banjo into the classroom. I was curious how their interest in stringed instruments combined with our new rule that the instruments in the classroom stay on the stage would impact the overall classroom environment. Music has a tendency to overtake the space and become a group activity. However, this is an instrument they have been thinking about for awhile, there is only one, and they are restricted in where they can use it.

“Strummin on my ole banjo!”

“It heavy.”

“I wonder if I can play it like a cello. I can!”

“Is that a banjo I hear? I hear the banjo but no I haven’t seen it yet. The banjo! I knew I heard a banjo!”

“Strumming on an ole banjo cuz I have a banjo!”

“I’m like the musicians from the book, the deaf musicians!”

I really enjoyed getting to watch the children each have an experience with the banjo, on their own, in their own space. While others often stayed nearby, eager for their own turn, it remained rather laid back most of the morning. We created a list on the mirror behind the stage to keep track of who was waiting for a turn and the children, though occasionally flustered while waiting, seemed to understand and appreciate the system. C would say, “I waiting. I next.” At one point O and T disagreed about whether or not a conductors baton could be off the stage or not, eventually agreeing that it could be off the stage since it was not an instrument itself. Each child spent their time seemingly experimenting with different ways to use the banjo.

“I hold this part, the neck. Not this part.”

“Is it hollow? (turns over) It is hollow. Is it?” – H seemed confused by the shape of the body. While it is “hollow” it also isn’t fully encased. He repeated this question and statement a few times.

“These are the strings, this is the neck and this is the head. That’s the parts of the banjo.”

“I don’t like really loud sounds, just soft.”

“You can play with those strings down there while you wait C.” – C sat next to O for quite some time waiting before expressing frustration. O offered the part of the strings that are at the very bottom of the banjo, which she happily plucked at.

“It gets muffly.” – said while strumming with their hand over the strings.

Eventually one of the strings broke and I brought in the banjo case and tucked the banjo inside, informing them I would have to learn how to fix it before I can bring it in again.

I plan on introducing instruments in this manner over the next few weeks, pairing it with performers. We recently read about Charlie Parker and Millo Castro Zaldarriaga so it would be interesting to learn more about instruments they played. O has been saying, “Be-Bop, Charlie Parker plays Be-Bop” throughout the day, occasionally asking to listen to “Charlie play Be-Bop”.  I have loved playing Jazz in our classroom since the bulk of their musical interests have revolved around performing and dancing and they don’t seem to know how to respond to jazz music. It would be wonderful to pair the introduction of an instrument with an introduction to various styles of dance paired with the various instruments.

Next week, they are going to make conductor batons at the request of O. We will hunt for sticks, sand them down, then add a handle out of fabric of their own choosing. I plan on pairing this with an introduction to various conductors/composers, building upon the thread that connection to others is a part of their underlying interest.



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