Lesson ideas

29th April 2005 at 01:00
We can only experience music through time and yet it can speak of things that are timeless, an eternal order. Aspects of this paradox can be explored intuitively through classroom activities.

KS 12

Investigate some of the ways time affects us in music. Predict what single notes will last longest and measure them with a stop-watch - a crash on a large cymbal, a quiet sustained G on the recorder played after a deep breath, a Tibetan singing bowl. Then take the amount of time the longest note lasts, and fill it with a fast series of repeated semi-quaver patterns. Compare our experiences of the two musical events.


Use a programmable keyboard to record a simple tune, such as "Happy Birthday" or the "Ode to Joy". Use the tempo control to play it back at a variety of speeds. Describe how the music itself remains the same, while our feelings about it alter. Which tempo feels best?


Listen to composers who attempted to put timelessness into their music. La Monte Young, John Cale (of the Velvet Underground) and Phillip Glass all wrote pieces of immense length using techniques derived from Arabic and Indian music. There is, for example, the device of multiple repetition of tiny rhythmic patterns using very few pitches, the aim being to create a trance-like effect in which time itself seems to be dispersed. For contrast, listen to Harrison Birtwistle's immensely slow Triumph of Time, portraying time as a merciless destroyer.

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