Tube Beat or Not To Be? Discovering Sound through Rhythm and Movement

By Max Bent, Musician and beatboxer

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Young Audiences artists and teacher partners have written case studies documenting their work in schools and their exploration of one essential question. Each study provides a snapshot of how the artist or teacher works with students to integrate the arts into the curriculum and provide opportunities for students to imagine, create, and realize their full potential through the arts.

Project or Program Summary

I first experienced beat tubes (capped PVC tubes that produce distinct pitch) while playing in the ensemble of fellow Young Audiences artist Kevin Martin. Inspired by their simplicity and immediate impact on students, I worked with a team of fifth- and sixth-grade teachers to design an arts-integrated beat tube residency. Our team began with the essential question “What is sound?” Through interacting with and playing the beat tubes, students experienced the propagation of sound while applying principles of music and dance during a culminating group performance.

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Beat tubes are capped PVC tubes that produce distinct pitch.

Purpose and Rational

Beat tubes offer a wealth of possibilities for further exploration of arts-integrated teaching. As an instrument, beat tubes are linked in heritage to Tamboo Bamboo in Trinidad as well as numerous folk music traditions surrounding the pounding of grain into flour. This case study is submitted in the hopes of inspiring other educators to experiment with beat tubes.

Analysis and Outcomes

What are your overall conclusions regarding the documentation gathered for this case study?
Students learned that the phenomenon of sound can be understood as patterns of vibration through a medium–usually air. These patterns of vibration are called “sound waves.” “Pitch” and “volume” are aspects of sound waves that can be manipulated by musicians to express ideas and feelings.

What conclusions have you drawn from the responses to the assessment tools you have developed?
Students gained new insights into the phenomenon of sound. Students also improved their ability to work together cooperatively and to communicate in a collaborative setting.

Back to the initial inquiry question, can it be answered?
Yes. After the residency, students were able to identify and discuss specific scientific terms related to sound (i.e. frequency, amplitude, wavelength) and use this knowledge to enrich their compositions.

Playing the beat tubes connected body and mind in the practice of music. Students learned to play rhythmic patterns on steady beats but the challenge was both physical (kinesthetic) and mental.

Summary and Conclusions

What was learned?

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During the residency Max worked with students to define and apply the scientific principles of sound by creating musical rhythms and harmonies with beat tubes.

By playing the beat tubes, students were able to objectify the often confusing and mysterious nature of sound. Students were able to approach the inquiry question scientifically.

Students learned:

  • Sound is a phenomenon that our brains perceive and process in a specific, predictable way.
  • The physical characteristics of sound are frequency and amplitude.
  • The frequency of a sound wave is defined in musical terms as pitch.
  • Different pitches form melodies and harmonies, both of which can be defined mathematically through interval relationships.

What can be done differently in the future?
I introduced the residency with beatboxing (vocal percussion) activities during the course of three days. In the future, one day of beatboxing would suffice. This would allow more time for working with the beat tubes and further discussion and analysis of the scientific principles of sound.

I would have liked to give students more time to compose independently. Also, students can potentially be involved in the construction of the beat tubes in the future.

How will this inform the work moving forward?
This project inspired me to expand the possibilities of working with beat tubes. Specifically I learned that vocalizations and movement are essential to successful instruction. Therefore I will explore the elements of dance as well as other related musical traditions (i.e. drum lines, West African drumming) to improve the project. Overall, I was amazed at the possibilities of working with beat tubes.

Curriculum Connections

Music
Science
Dance
21st Century Skills

Learn more about Max’s  assembly, residency, and professional development programs. 

Read other case studies written by Young Audiences teaching artists and teacher partners

Are you a musician?

By Kevin Martin, Steel drum musician

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Young Audiences artists and teacher partners have written case studies documenting their work in schools and their exploration of one essential question. Each study provides a snapshot of how the artist or teacher works with students to integrate the arts into the curriculum and provide opportunities for students to imagine, create, and realize their full potential through the arts.

Project or Program Summary

For the Harford County Public Schools Title I STEAM Institute in July 2012, four Young Audiences artists were brought together to work with a group of Harford County teachers to help them develop their arts integration skills.

I taught a two-session program called “The Physics of Steel Drums.” Each session combined a steel drum rehearsal and a science lesson. I worked with the group to show how learning the steel drums could be combined with understanding the science behind the drums, working through basic wave theory. The program ended with a group performance of two songs on the steel drums and with small group demonstrations of wave theory using arts integration.

Purpose and Rational

As part of a year-long program to bring arts integration learning to all five Harford County Title I schools, this program showed teachers how to bring music into their classrooms by helping them begin to see themselves as musicians. By empowering the teachers with the ability to play and the confidence to perform music while learning science curriculum objectives, we can help empower them to bring that same experience to their students.

In order to develop their ability to use arts integration in their teaching, it’s important for teachers to develop the confidence to take on arts projects that are new to them. The question that was explored with each group of teachers was: ”Are you a musician?”

Teacher responses to initial survey of comfort level with music.
Teacher responses to  an initial survey of their comfort level with music.
Teachers also were asked to answer the question "Are you a musician?"
Teachers also were asked to answer the question “Are you a musician?”

Surveys were taken at the beginning and end of this program to measure the change in how teachers felt about performing music and whether they can view themselves as musicians, even if this was their first musical instrument experience.

Analysis and Outcomes

What are your overall conclusions regarding the documentation gathered for this case study?

This program was successful in its goal of empowering teachers to have the confidence to use music performance in their classroom teaching. Specifically, this project helped to change their view of themselves as musicians and decrease their anxiety of performing in front of others as well as taking on other art projects in which they have no background.

What conclusions have you drawn from the responses to the assessment tools you have developed?

Teachers work hard to become experts in the field of study that they teach. It is part of “what they stand on” when they teach. One of the barriers to bringing arts-integrated STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) lessons to the classroom without the aid of a teaching artist is that teachers can be uncomfortable teaching something in which they are not an expert. Many described it as feeling vulnerable.

By learning to play songs on the steel drum while learning core curriculum science objectives, the teachers agreed at the end of the program that it would be fun to try to incorporate other art forms like painting, acting, and dancing without having to be excellent at the art form themselves.

Back to the initial inquiry question, can it be answered?

Yes. When looking at the question “Am I a musician?” we started by listing what it would take for each teacher to answer “yes”:

  1. Be able to play songs well enough to perform.
  2. Have the confidence to play those songs for other people.
  3. Express oneself through music.

Each teacher, by successfully completing the program and through feedback given on a conclusion survey, achieved all three goals.

Summary and Conclusions

What was learned?

Teaching using arts integration is a great way to bring core subject material to life in the classroom and reach all types of learners. For classroom teachers to write and teach arts-integrated lessons, it is essential that they have the confidence and ability to take on projects that will require them to learn an art form with their class or even to be guided in art forms by their students who have specific art skills. By teaching teachers to play music and to see themselves as musicians we can achieve this.

What can be done differently in the future?

In the future, this program can be taken one step further by working with teachers with the instruments that they can get their hands on at their school to use in their classroom. During this program teachers learned how to play the steel drums and this is not an easy instrument to get a hold of for classroom work.

To help address this issue, Young Audiences has prepared a box of musical instruments that each of the five Harford County Title I schools can have access to for arts-integrated lessons.

I also would like to build into the program a final section where teachers can create a musical demonstration or activity for a subject of their choice.

How will this inform the work moving forward?

In February 2013, I worked with four of the five Harford County Title I schools whose teachers were trained at this program. I was able to work one-on-one and in small groups with teachers to help them start writing their own arts-integrated lesson plans using these instruments as well as those that the classes can make themselves.

Curriculum Connections

Music
Multidisciplinary Arts
Science Technology
STEAM

Learn more about Kevin and Rockcreek Steel Drums’  assembly, residency, and professional development programs.

Read other case studies written by Young Audiences teaching artists and teacher partners

How can the Blues be used to learn fractions?

By Curtis Blues, One-man Blues band

Young Audiences artists and teacher partners have written case studies documenting their work in schools and their exploration of one essential question. Each study provides a snapshot of how the artist or teacher works with students to integrate the arts into the curriculum and provide opportunities for students to imagine, create, and realize their full potential through the arts.

Project or Program Summary

My co-teacher and I met with Arts Integration Specialist Maria Barbosa to create a lesson plan that connected fractions to Blues music. We aimed to create a lesson that was aligned with the state math and fine arts curriculum as well as the Common Core Standards. Specifically, we wanted to address how music arises from a person’s cultural context. I immediately thought that the first Blues instrument, the single-stringed diddly bow, might serve as a great physical model for a number line fractions lesson.

The diddly bow was created by Delta blues musicians in the South before they could afford six-string guitars. It was usually put on the side of a barn door and played with a bottle, but my classroom model is a single string on a board, using the resonance of metal jar tops to project the sound. It is a piece of musical history that shows students the ingenuity of the men and women who invented Blues music.

Maria went to work to figure out how to put versions of this instrument in the students’ hands. She came up with a brilliant cardboard and rubber band version of the diddly bow that each student could play. Maria felt that the strength of the lesson was in having the students not only see and hear my instrument, but to play their own.

I started the class off with the art form, playing a Blues song on the diddly bow while the students clapped the work-song Blues rhythm with their hands. The students were fascinated with the instrument and understood how the Blues arose from the context of African Americans working on farms without access to instruments other than homemade ones like the diddly bow.

My co-teacher reviewed the material about fractions and number lines, and then it was time for the students to make their own instruments and apply their knowledge.

After attaching the rubber band to their cardboard, students marked the fractions along the number line below the string. This was their first experience of comprehending the relationship of fractions on a number line physically. Students were eager to get this right because they knew that only after filling in their number line correctly, would the real fun begin!

Purpose and Rational

My fine arts goal for the lesson was to show the students how Blues music was invented in the context of real people’s lives. This is how art emerges within cultures all around the world. I believed the diddly bow instrument would be an appropriate metaphor for the number line fractions lesson, but was not sure how to get the students involved beyond a demonstration.

The challenge was to create a lesson to help students who were having trouble remembering the relationships between different fractions, as well as being able to accurately place them on a number line. This difficult cognitive jump was a perfect candidate for an arts-integrated lesson to help students really own these distinctions by looking at them in an original way.

Analysis & Outcomes

What are your overall conclusions regarding the documentation gathered for this case study?
I think the strongest part of this project was the description by my co-teacher of how students used the diddly bow model as a conceptual tool for their tests. I would like to be able to follow up with test scores in the future.

What conclusions have you drawn from the responses to the assessment tools you have developed?
It was obvious through our final assessment of the students that they had mastered the material through this project. Students who could not tell us which was bigger, one-quarter or one-third, at the beginning of the class could answer the question correctly at the end of it. They also answered questions on the music objectives correctly at the end of the lesson, demonstrating a deeper understanding of how humans invent music within their culture and daily lives.

Back to the initial inquiry question, can it be answered?
The initial inquiry was whether or not teachers can use building a simple, single-stringed Blues instrument in their classrooms to help students better understand the relationships of fractions on a number line. The answer is a definite “Yes.”

Summary & Conclusions

What was learned?
There were many different examples of what was learned for each of the participants. The students learned how to build a simple instrument and then they learned the proper placement of fractions on a number line. Students overcame their natural cognitive challenges of conceptualizing abstract fractions in a concrete way. They learned the proper answer to questions like “Which is bigger: 1/4 or 1/3?

My co-teacher learned how to use an arts-integrated approach to help students master material. I learned how to manage a classroom during such a project from my teacher partner.

Combining my co-teacher’s classroom management skills with Maria’s innovative ideas made this lesson possible. Now because of their help, I can bring this powerful lesson to other classrooms. I have learned the skills I need to guide the students to get the most out of the lesson. My teacher partner can use this tool in her classes when I am not there, to help future students grasp abstract principles with something concrete and experiential.

How will this inform the work moving forward?
I am better prepared to deal with the specific logistics of classroom management during a craft building project. My co-teacher now has more tools for achieving the testing goals for the class. The students gained a conceptual tool for mastering abstract concepts that they can continue to use in their tests.

Curriculum Connections

American History
Music
Math
Common Core Standards
21st Century Skills

Learn more about Curtis and his assembly, residency, and professional development programs.

Read other case studies written by Young Audiences teaching artists and teacher partners