I compiled a text set to be used in an eight grade general music classroom to discuss timbre across world music and how timbre from various countries of origin are combined in jazz and other forms of popular music. These texts would ideally be used across a mini unit of study which would span for two to three lessons and could involve both writing prompts and small group or whole class discussions of the material. The text set begins by explaining exactly what timbre is, flowed by an article explaining how violinists achieve some of these differences in sound quality. I then included three musical selections from diverse countries of origin showing the different timbres a violin can create. This would then lead to a text discussing the multiple cultural influences on jazz music, and concludes with a jazz setting of a modern day pop song to get the students to connect al that they have learned to music that might be heard on the radio today.
What Is Timbre?
Smith, Cody. (2017, March 20). What Is Timbre: A Full Explanation. Retrieved from https://musiciantuts.com/what-is-timbre/
This online article gives a great overview as to what timbre is, how to describe it, and how it is created. The article includes audio clips and graphics to help illustrate these concepts in addition to describing and defining them.
Quantitative: This article has a Flesch Kincaid Grade level of 8.03.
Qualitative: I agree with the Flesch Kincaid rating of this article, as I feel it would be accessible for students in eighth grade, which is my intended grade level for this text set. Although some of the discussion of formants may be a bit abstract for some students, I feel that the graphics included help to illustrate this concept. Additionally, a complete understanding of formants is not necessary to grasp the main concept of what timbre is, which is what I want my students to gain from reading this article.
Vocabulary terms: attribute, waveform, interchangeably
Purpose: I would use this to introduce or review the concept of timbre to my students. Not all students in a general music class will have the same amount of musical training in their background so it will be important that everyone gains a general understanding of what timbre is before moving onto the next texts in this set. I also like how the article gives some words that could be used to describe timbres as this will be helpful for the students as we begin to delve further into this text set.
Question for Students: Describe timbre using your own words. How is timbre different from texture and volume?
Violin Sound Characteristics
Vienna Symphonic Library. (2019). Violin – Sound characteristics. Retrieved from https://www.vsl.co.at/en/Violin/Sound_Characteristics/
This is an article from the Vienna Symphony Library which gives more information about how violinists use their instruments to create a range of timbres. It also gives a range of describing word to use when discussing the timbre of the violin.
Quantitative: This article has a Flesch Kincaid Grade level of 9.74.
Qualitative: I believe that the quantitative score for this article is fairly accurate. The vocabulary of this article is likely what students would struggle with the most, as it is quite elevated. To make this more accessible to students in eight grade I would possibly read through this article as a class in a “popcorn style”, stopping every couple of sentences to have students summarize what they have read. This would ensure that all students were gaining the important information from the article.
Vocabulary Terms: eloquent, introspective sensuous, lustrous, austere, oscillation, predetermined, homogeneity
Purpose: This article would be used to show students how one instrument can make a variety of timbres. I feel that this is important for the students to grasp because often when timbre is introduced young musicians recognize it as simply the sound difference between instruments. This article will help students understand timbre as also being the wide array of musical colors an instrument can produce.
Question for students: What is one way a violinist can change the timbre of the instrument? Why might he or she want to do this?
Tigranyan, Ashot [Classical Concert Chamber Orchestra]. (2014. June 16). Vivaldi, The Four Seasons, Spring (La Primavera), 1st movement [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3nSvIiBNFo&list=PLETycSt-4rvMdsaqIjqlp1gaDDIRtXj_t&index=3&t=0s
This is a video of a performance of Vivaldi’s Spring, which is the first movement of his famous work “The Four Seasons”. This is a quintessentially Baroque piece and shows the instrumentation and musical style of the era.
Quantitative: This video is just over three minutes long, and likely intended for any audience with an interest in western art music.
Qualitative: Although the style of music might not be interesting to most eight grade students, its recognizable melody is something students can engage with. Additionally the video uses a variety of camera angles which makes watching this performance more interesting. The short length of the movement also makes it accessible to students who may not necessarily chose to listen to this song, as it is a short sample of Baroque music.
Vocabulary: Although not stated in the piece, it would be helpful for students to have an understanding of who Vivaldi was and when the Baroque era was.
Purpose: I would use this video as part of a comparative listening assignment, asking students to write about their thought on the country of origin, instrumentation, and timber of the piece while they watch the video. Their notes would then be used in a class discussion after listening to two other pieces where we would compare and contrast elements of the pieces. For this musical selection I would want students to pick up on the European origin of the piece, as well as the deep and rounded tone of orchestra, which is comprised of all string instruments in this case.
Question for Students: How would you describe the timbre of this piece? What instruments are used and what country is it from?
Shankar, Ragini and Nandini [Art and Artistes]. (2014, November 12). Ragini Shankar And Nandini Shankar | Raag Ahir Bhairav | Violin | Hindustani Classical [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OG9XVsYLK_k&list=PLETycSt-4rvMdsaqIjqlp1gaDDIRtXj_t&index=3
This is a video of a performance of “Raag Ahir Bhairav”, an Indian Raaga. This might be a style of music that students are unfamiliar with so it is good to expose them to a variety of musical styles.
Quantitative: The video is just under four minutes long and probably intended for those who are interested in traditional Indian music.
Qualitative: This piece is different from much of the music that middle schoolers enjoy listening to so it may be difficult for some students to connect with. The piece isn’t too lengthy however, and engaging students in taking notes on what they hear will help them to be more active listeners and hopefully add to their appreciation of the music.
Vocabulary Terms: Although not stated in the piece, it might be helpful for students to know what a raaga is.
Purpose: Like the previous piece, this would be part of the comparative listening activity. Students would take notes on the country of origin and instrumentation as well as describe the timbre of the instruments used. These notes would then be used in a class discussion to compare the pieces to one and other, with an emphasis on the different timbres. I would want the students to note the buzzier and forward sound of the violin in this piece with roots in India.
Question for Students: How would you describe the timbre of this piece? What instruments are used and what country is it from? How does this piece differ from the previous one?
Mariachi Sol De Mexico [Recording Academy/ GRAMMYs]. (2014, May 9). Mariachi Sol De Mexico Perform Guadalajara [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vtRn2qmmOes&list=PLETycSt-4rvMdsaqIjqlp1gaDDIRtXj_t&index=4
This is a video of a performance of “Guadalajara”, a traditional mariachi tune. The leader of this ensemble is a Grammy nominated director, which is reflected in the vibrancy of this performance.
Quantitative: This video is about three and a half minutes long and is intended for audiences with an interest in either mariachi music or the Grammys.
Qualitative: This piece’s cheerful melody combined with the enthusiasm of the performers makes it an engaging video for nearly any audience. It is impossible to pander to the musical taste of all students, so the short length of the video makes it accessible to those who may not enjoy this style of music. Also, having students take notes on what they hear will keep them engaged when watching this performance.
Vocabulary: It might be helpful for students to know what mariachi music is and where Guadalajara is located before listening to this piece.
Purpose: This is the final piece that would be part of the comparative listening activity. Students would have taken notes on the country of origin, instrumentation, and timbre while watching the video, hopefully tuning into the bright and brassy tone of this mariachi piece which originates from Mexico. I would then have students share what they heard in this piece, the Indian raaga, and Vivaldi’s Spring. The main conclusion I would want my students to draw was that although the violin was used in all three pieces, it had a drastically different timbre in each. We could then discus how music and instruments from different countries have different timbres.
Question for Students: How would you describe the timbre of this piece? What instruments are used and what country is it from? How does this piece differ from the previous two? What do all three songs have in common?
Where Did Jazz Come From?
Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. (2018). Where Did Jazz Come From? Retrieved from http://www.jazzinamerica.org/lessonplan/5/1/249
This resource from the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz gives students a brief, easy to read outline about the musical origins of jazz, emphasizing the European and African elements that contribute to jazz’s unique sound. The article also includes some information about Louis Armstrong and includes an audio example of one of his songs.
Quantitative: This article has a Flesch Kincaid Grade level of 9.67.
Qualitative: I somewhat disagree with the Flesch Kincaid score of this text, as I feel it is very approachable for students in middle school. The outline format keeps the reader organized as they read, and most of the vocabulary terms are explained within the article. Overall the vocabulary is simple and I feel that this would be a fairly easy read for most of the students in the eighth grade general music class for which this text set is designed.
Vocabulary Terms: improvisation
Purpose: I would want students to engage with this text to understand how musical elements from multiple areas across the globe can be combined to create a unique sound, such as in jazz. This would be a great way to branch off of the previous discussion of how timbre differed across various countries of origin.
Question for Students: How would you describe the timbre of jazz? Is its timbre similar to any other style of music?
Carling, Gunhild [PostmodernJukebox]. (2017, November 30) Happy – Pharrell Williams (on 10 Different Musical Instruments Cover ft. Gunhild Carling) [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xywNeumntoE&list=PLETycSt-4rvMdsaqIjqlp1gaDDIRtXj_t&index=6&t=0s
This is a video from the YouTube channel postmodern jukebox, who set modern pop music in various vintage styles. This video is a performance of Pharrell Williams “Happy” played and sung in the style of 1920’s jazz. The mail performer of the piece Gunhild Carling played many different instruments and showcases her skills in this performance.
Quantitative: This video is about three and a half minutes long, and targeted towards audiences that enjoy both jazz and modern pop music.
Qualitative: I believe that this music selection would be very accessible for middle schoolers, as it incorporates music from the current century with the style of 1920’s jazz. This makes exploring a new genre more approachable for students, and the short length of the song selection combined with the various types of instruments used will help to capture students’ attention and interest.
Vocabulary: This song selection does not require much if any vocabulary for the students to grasp before viewing, thus adding to the accessibility of this multi-media text.
Purpose: After having the students view this video we could discuss the various timbres used in this jazz setting of a modern pop song, with a particular focus on which sounds were part of the European and African traditions. We could also branch off of the previous comparative listening activity and discuss how the string instruments timbre differs within the jazz genre. This would also be a great way to spark students’ interest in studying jazz due to the creativity seen in this song selection. This video could also serve as a segway into a discussion of how jazz contributed to rock and roll as well as other modern popular music genres.
Questions for students: Which timbres do you think came from the European tradition? Which are influenced by the African tradition? How does the use of string instruments in this piece differ from the use of violins in the pieces we previously looked at?