Think Like a Cook, Part 1

Cooking, like music, calls for creativity and improvisation. In music, skill development lies in familiarity, manipulation, and transformation of “ingredients,” says Katie Carlisle. Working with small ideas can keep the creative process fresh and simple. Here are some ideas that Carlisle “kitchen-tested” with preservice music educators and middle school general music students. Use them for a unit (or a meal), and adapt them to suit your situation.

The Appetizer: A Few Key Ingredients

Carlisle recommends keeping the number of ingredients to no more than five. She uses a musical appetizer called Additive Pentatonic* to warm up and build the creative palette. It works with the D-minor pentatonic scale (for major scales, the root, second, third, fifth, and sixth degrees; the minor pentatonic uses the same pitches and begins on the major scale’s sixth degree.)

  • Working in a circle, students develop a simple rhythmic accompaniment using body percussion.
  • Students take turns exploring all facets of the pitch D, exploiting all musical possibilities for expressing that single pitch.
  • Students select one of their ostinatos and translate it to pitched instruments.
  • Students add pitch A and explore D and A in a similar way, as a two-ingredient appetizer.
  • Students choose a variation on D and A for the new ostinato.
  • Students add F, G, and C one at a time, with ample time for exploration.
  • Students create a bordun harmony with D and A, the first and fifth degrees of the major scale. They vary the accompaniment to practice improvising in 4/4 and 3/4 time.

The Additive Pentatonic appetizer generates many small warm-ups to use over time.

The Main Course: Initial Approaches to Musical Form

A one-pot meal musical approach works with singular phrases of varying duration:

  • Students practice moving from and improvising on major to minor pentatonic scales with Orff barred instruments or keyboards.
  • Students borrow the chordal structure of some 8-measure Hungarian folk songs (which often begin with the I major chord and end with the VI minor) to improvise for 6 measures on the I major pentatonic scale and two measures on the VI minor pentatonic scale.
  • Students take an ostinato pattern appetizer and adapt it to include both the I major and VI minor chords to create an accompaniment.
  • Students can support the ostinato with virtual instrument tracks they create with GarageBand (for Apple computers) or Mixcraft (for PC computers).
  • When students feel comfortable within their accompaniment structure, “fold in” a familiar 8-measure folk song that begins and ends on the I major chord. (You also could fold in a Hungarian folk song for students to use to practice improvising.)
  • To extend this structure, students can add a two-measure vamp on the VI minor chord (measures 9 and 10) before continuing with the second verse.

This one-pot meal facilitates improvisation and familiarity with major and minor tonalities while enabling manipulation of form. * The Additive Pentatonic is an activity from the Musical Futures (UK) Connect workshop based at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. In 2 weeks, Part 2. April is Jazz Appreciation Month! See NAfME’s Jazz Appreciation Month Lessons & Resources and the official Smithsonian Jazz Mixer Teaching Tool. NAfME member Katie Carlisle is an assistant professor of music education and the director of the Center for Educational Partnerships at Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia. —Linda C. Brown, March 28, 2011, © National Association for Music Education (