In 2015, I went from teaching choir and voice lessons at a university to teaching music at several elementary schools.
At the school where I spent the most time, the principal suggested that I should begin teaching theory to the students.
Here’s the thing. I love music theory. But a lot of music students greatly dislike taking music theory. I needed them to like it so I wouldn’t be pulling teeth to get them to learn it.
What is Music Theory?
Theory is the reading and analysis of music. Some people call it the math of music. But it’s also kind of the grammar of music.
As I am learning more about the world, however, I now know to specify that the music theory I know is the math and grammar of Western musical notation. The method by which I know how to notate music is what is was developed in Europe. Eastern traditional music is outside my purview.
In order to effectively teach music theory, I needed a few things from my method:
- Immediately Applicable
- Multiple learning styles: auditory, visual, verbal, kinesthetic
- Useful with or without instruments, specifically useful with the voice
- Open to students’ creativity
So, I developed a method I call “Imaginary Basketball.” Imaginary Basketball is for reading the rhythm of musical notation. I started teaching it in 2016, and I developed it over the next four years.
It takes only a short time to teach the rules of imaginary basketball, therefore you can start playing in the same lesson.
It’s a game! It has a name and the words that are spoken rhythmically are related to the name of the game. Kids like playing it.
Multiple Learning Styles?
The call-and-response way of learning what rhythmic word to say when you see a particular note is auditory. The notes and rhythmic words are written, because this method is about reading and performing. The performance of rhythms involves speaking words the kids already know: verbal. And it can be quite kinesthetic if you bring in other forms of bodily percussion such as stomping, clapping, and tapping the rhythm or to keep beat. (Rhythm and beat are different. I explain in the book)
Useful for Voice
Yes! In fact, I have a short explanation in my book as to why I prefer this method to clapping, tapping, or drumming. First, I developed this method for choirs. Second, the duration of long notes is a lot easier to illustrate with the voice than it is with a clap.
Open to students’ creativity
The main reason I loved music theory so much was that it gave me tools to write my own music. I composed a lot of music in my teens and twenties. Tangent – I should make some of that available on my blog. When kids know two or more rhythmic notations and how to perform them, they can write their own rhythms. This is often the highlight of imaginary basketball for the class, when they can each hold up the rhythm they wrote and have the rest of the class perform it.
In fact, one of my most motivated and high-achieving classes learned solfege (do-re-mi) and created their own song. They replaced the rhythmic words of Imaginary Basketball with their own lyrics, I think something like, “Taco Cat, Nyan Cat,” and performed it for the school.
There are methods for reading rhythm that involve counting beats in a measure, something like, ” One, two-and, Three, Four-and. . . .” Or using syllables such as “Ta, ti-ti, Ta, ti-ti.” But Imaginary Basketball uses specific words that are a little more distinct and memorable than numbers or meaningless syllables.
I know this because at two different schools, I have taught this method, then revisited it the next year after the summer break, and most kids remembered how to play Imaginary Basketball. This overlaps with the fun/engaging aspect of my method.
A Work In Progress
I’ve been referring to this book as “A book I’m writing on a method for teaching rhythm to kids.” I didn’t want to let you behind the curtain enough to know that my method is called “Imaginary Basketball.”
But my current working title and subtitle are much more marketable:
Imaginary Basketball: a new method for teaching students to read, write, and perform rhythmic notation
Maybe I can get rid of “method” because too often I think of the ineffective form of birth control called the “rhythm method,” when I see those two words in the same sentence.
Imaginary Basketball: teaching students to read, write, and perform rhythmic notation
But, I need the word music in there? Like, if you are a teacher who doesn’t know anything about reading music, I want you to know that this is a book that can teach you to teach musical rhythm to kids.
Imaginary Basketball: a game to teach students to read, write, and perform musical notation for rhythm