Elements of Music and the Super Six – Timbre
Teaching The Elements of Music to students is a tough ask. Most of the time, your students simply come to class wanting only to “make noise”. They don’t want to know the ins and outs of music theory, of any description. Even though it is tempting to give in and let students play on the instruments every lesson, they will end up not progressing as a well-rounded musician. The time taken to teach students about the theory behind what they play and listen to will only improve their skills as a musician in the future.
Timbre is one of those “weird” musical terms that is rarely used in common conversation! For those of you who are not sure what Timbre is, it is trying to put into words a description of the unique sound quality an instrument makes. It is like trying to describe sounds to a person who has never heard this particular sound before. It encompasses instruments, classifications, performance techniques and lots of adjectives!
I find that using Super Six Strategies while teaching helps my students understand this important Element of Music in a more holistic way. Below are the steps that I use to teach Timbre. These steps are taught over a series of lessons, and taking the time needed to teach this thoroughly will pay off in the end!
You can find all the resources that are described below at my Teachers Pay Teachers store.
Step 1 – Making Connections
This is easily my favourite way to start anything new, the good old KWL chart. It is a simple strategy that gives me a good “feel” for where my students are at in regards to the Element – Timbre. I like to give my students time to complete the table first, then we discuss as a class and students fill the gaps as needed.
- 3 things I know about Timbre …
- 3 things I would like to know about Timbre …
- 3 things I think I will learn about Timbre …
There will often be a cross over between the “would like to know” and “think I will learn”, but that’s OK – it makes for good discussion.
Step 2 – Monitoring
No matter what you do, you must teach the specific vocabulary! There are many ways to do this, and the choice is yours. One strategy I like to use, to mix things up a bit is the K.I.M.S. Strategy. It can be completed using the worksheet, but that will mean too much photocopying. I ask students to write it out in their books with their age divided into four sections. For each new term they complete the following
K- Key word
S-Statement or Sentence
For this stage of teaching the element, I have copies of the terms and definitions available for my students to use and copy from as they complete the K.I.M.S. strategy into their books. I will put on a playlist, of “our” choosing, and the class just gets on with working away getting to know their vocab.
Now either before or after they have written out all of their terms and definitions, I like to then go through and demonstrate and clarify the terms as a class. This way I know they have understood both in a written and aural manner.
Step 3 – Predicting and Visualising
Now comes the fun part! Putting their new-found knowledge into practice. A nice way to introduce students to listening for “purpose” is the Predicting and Visualising activity. For this activity, choose a piece of music. Tell the students what the title of the music is and who the performer/compose is. I like to add here that before they listen to the music, the students “predict” what instruments they think will hear, then “predict” what purpose the music would best suit.
Next you play the music, please note that I rarely listen to a whole piece of music, I will only play a section of the music – usually about 1:30 to 2 minutes long. While listening, the students can check off the instruments that they predicted as they hear them. This can be a competition if you like – who predicted the most correct instruments??? After the students have listened to the excerpt, discuss and check the instrument predictions. Now is the time to discuss the “purpose” of the music. This will be an interesting conversation – especially depending on the music you selected!
After the “discussion”, put the music on again and ask students to draw their “purpose” for the music. You might want to put the music on repeat here so they have enough time to complete their drawings.
This activity can be repeated for a few pieces of music, it is up to you how much time you want to invest in these strategies. From past experience, I have found that spending approximately half a lesson on this activity is enough.
Step 4 – Answering the Listening Questions
Here is where you get down to the “nitty gritty” of teaching this Element of Music. Simply choose a piece of music, choose which level of listening questions you want to complete, and off you go. The Level 1 Questions are below. You can grab your own FREE copy of the Level 1 Listening Cards by clicking here.
- List all the instruments that you can hear in the music.
- Classify each instrument you can hear.
- Choose FOUR instruments and describe their Timbre.
Depending on the music you choose, this can be a simple or complex activity to complete! The music you choose to listen to is vital in this part of teaching the Element – Timbre. In the Elements of Music Timbre resource, I have tried to include a good variety of music to use in this part of the teaching.
Step 5 – Questioning
Once your students have completed a few listening activities, it is good to move onto letting them create their own questions to answer about the music selected for analysis. One of my favourite activities to use is “The Power of Three”. For this, the students listen to the music and then complete the following prompts, keeping in mind the Element – Timbre.
- What are three important points from the music?
- Write a three-sentence description of the music.
- Three questions I have about the music are…
You might want to change the last part to
- Write three questions about the music in reference to Timbre.
It is a good idea to play the music excerpt and ask students to only answer one part of the strategy at a time, and discuss in between their responses OR ask them to discuss in pairs/small groups.
Step 6 – Summarising
For this last Super Six strategy – Summarising, I like to use the “Three Circle Map”. This works really well when you have a piece of music that has instrument changes between sections. Students are asked to describe what instruments are used in the beginning, middle and end sections. You will need to play the three section excerpt a few times so students can listen and record their answers. After listening, discuss and correct the instruments in each section. Lastly put the music on once more while students write a brief statement about the instruments used in each section – their summary!
I hope these strategies and activities help you understand how you can use the Super Six in the Music classroom. Now don’t forget you can visit my store to purchase the Elements of Music Bundle or the Elements of Music – Timbre resource, or you can “try before you buy” and grab the FREE Level 1 Listening Questions by clicking here.
Until next time
Julia form Jooya