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Music, Performing Arts and Rosenshine: Ask a large number of questions and check the responses of all students

Catherine Barker

25 April 2019

More questions!

  • Do you ask musical questions as well as verbal ones?
  • Do you ask questions that allow for creative thinking and higher level responses?
  • What opportunities do your schemes of learning allow for the re-teaching of skills and concepts when needed?
  • Within your lessons, do students have the chance to ask questions of each other?

The best music lessons use music as the language of the classroom, and questions do not all have to be asked verbally. A teacher could ask a student to improvise a response to a musical phrase, choose an appropriate cadence, play a defined chord or interval, or choose how to interpret a graphic score.

Questions following musical demonstration/modelling are most powerful: rather than introduce a lesson on dynamics with a list of terms to learn, start with a listening exercise that poses a question:- “During this excerpt of music, you will notice 5 musical changes relating to how loud or soft the sound is: the dynamics. Describe what is happening for each change.” There is enough framework given here to allow for active listening and present the musical knowledge in context. You could also engage class in a quick body percussion/vocal warm up at the very start of the lesson, where they are experiencing different dynamics. From here, you can introduce more detail and include more specific and detailed knowledge (crescendo, diminuendo, subito and other dynamic performance markings).

Once a student has answered a question, how do you respond? Do students feel that their answers are valued? Positive language is important, but so is reflecting on their answers and asking more questions to prompt deeper thinking. A teacher looking to deepen knowledge and understanding would go on to ask ‘How do you know? Why?’, probing for better comprehension of musical processes. In a unit exploring rhythm and instrumental ensembles through Reggae, a sequence of questions may go like this:

Q: What style of music is playing?
A: Reggae

This could be enough – but if you keep going, you have an opportunity to addresses misconceptions and deepen knowledge across the class

Q: How do you know it is reggae?
A: The rhythm

Q: Tell me more about the rhythm..
A: Well, they are sort of jumpy

Q: Yes, they aren’t on the beat – we’d say that they are ‘off beat’. (To the whole class) Everyone, listen to the guitar carefully and tap quietly on your knee when you hear the chord being played…(watch them all carefully, who is doing this correctly?) Now count along to the music in your head…1,2,3,4. (to an individual) Which beat is the guitar playing?
A: 2 and 4

Q: OK (to another student) Do you agree?…Why? Clap the beat and show me

Q: Good concentration, yes – the guitar chord plays on beats 2 and 4, this is a strong feature of reggae music

Unlike many other areas of the curriculum, music is a social practice as well as an academic discipline. Therefore, it is musically authentic to use questioning around the classroom to support their reflection on their own work: ‘Think of three interesting questions to ask your partner about the piece they have composed, or their process of composition’, or ‘Ask the lead vocalist in your group three questions about how they have practised’.

Share how you ask questions in Music and Performing Arts – tweet @United_Music1 with your ideas