Tempo and Dynamics are key elements for students to understand, and arguably, the easiest. In my experience, these are the two that students find it easiest to retain and explain. However, they will need to be introduced to the vocabulary like any other concept, and getting students to use the correct Italian words is definitely a higher level challenge.
It is not, however, necessarily a challenge that must be put off until secondary school. Why not teach these words in primary school and embed the vocabulary right from the start?
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So, stage 1 of embedding the vocabulary is, of course, to teach it. For KS2 or KS3 I start with the following list:
For KS4 you can then add in more terms such as Grave, Presto, Ritenuto, Rubato, Poco, Meno, Piu and Molto.
Similarly, with dynamics, start with a short list:
Then add on more terms such as Fortissimo, Pianissimo, Sforzando, Accent.
As always, these words should be threaded through listening, performing and composing activities. Students should experience these words and their effect on music through all of these channels and across a variety of genres.
Physical movement also works particularly well for younger classes. Whilst it is also beneficial for older students, you do run the risk of
a) students look at you as if you are insane by asking them to actually move
b) students just can't be bothered
c) students mess around and go slightly mad because you have freed them from the confines of their chair.
So, what to do?
Start simple and play a repeating melody on an instrument. As you change the tempo or dynamics students could...
1. Move towards a keyword. (Stick up the keywords around the room first)
2. Change their physical action - move faster/slower or become small/large for dynamics
3. Sitting, write the correct word on a whiteboard. When they have their word jump up.
Move on to playing pre-recorded pieces from a variety of genres
4. Discuss the changes in elements. How do they make you feel? Why did the composer do that? What were the effects on the music and the listener? Try some pieces that don't change. Ask why? Would they have been better with more variety? What was the context eg Baroque terraced dynamics, or Minimalism?
5. Guess what - ask the students to predict what happens next with tempo and dynamics. You could do this verbally or with some hold-up cards, or even physical movement again. Use some 'surprising' pieces to have fun with them. Ask why the composer did that?
Move on to a simple composition project
6. Animal Composition - Give students a particular animal to work with and decide on their tempo and dynamics. They may need to think carefully about the animal eg a tiger would be fast but can be very quiet and very loud. Perhaps use 'Carnival of the Animals' to introduce this. Students write an 8 bar phrase for their animal (chance to recap rhythm and notation and increase skills here). You could then play a 'class zoo' and students would guess the animal.
7. A Typical School Day - students briefly storyboard their typical school day from waking to bedtime. They analyse the tempo and dynamics of their day and then compose a short piece to demonstrate this. This can start off quite free but could be developed into a bigger, more structured project. For instance, this could become a Rondo, with a single thought ('I am really hungry', or 'Can't wait for the game on Saturday') being the 'A' section, or a Theme and Variations.
Performance Projects are also a must-have...
8. Simple versions of 'Hall of the Mountain King' and even 'Zorba the Greek' have been top favourites for my students. They can practise playing Lento, Accelerando and Allegro with these simple and repetitive pieces.
9. 'O Fortuna' is perfect for practising dynamics. Simple to play and works very well in a band set up with a variety of instruments, it has clear and different sections of 'forte' and 'piano'. Students can also experiment with crescendo and diminuendo between sections. Another classic is Haydn's 'Surprise Symphony', where students can tackle sudden dynamic changes.
Music Technology is great if you have it...
10. Online games such as Kahoot and Plickers are great if you have access to computers and/or phones and are ideal for assessment, starters and plenaries. I will always recommend the awesome Music Tech Teacher games for independent student work. This is also brilliant for extension work and has gone down well with students with certain additional needs too.
This list is of course by no means the best or only way to teach these two concepts. They are, however, tried and tested and work very well to embed the language. Try these activities with different year groups and remember - don't teach it once and forget it - students need a long time to retain these words!
Do you have any more top tips? Let me know!