Think Like a Cook, Part 2

Katie Carlisle likens the art of cooking to exploring and improvising with music. She shares some ideas that she “kitchen-tested” with preservice music educators and middle school general music students.

The Main Course: Initial Approaches to Musical Form

Carlisle cooks up a main course that uses folk songs to increase familiarity with form. While jazz standards often have the same musical forms (AABA, AABC, or ABAB), folk songs typically are shorter, with sections ranging from 2 to 4 measures instead of 8. These “smaller servings” provide the opportunity to develop mastery over form. Students can

  • Separate each section from the whole and explore it on its own.
  • Explore what’s obvious about that section (e.g., the most prevalent rhythm or pitch interval) and use that as the “master sauce” or “sourdough starter” for improvisation.

A single idea students develop can help them to become comfortable improvising over all sections of the form and can become an introduction or coda for the song. The brevity of folk songs makes them manageable, says Carlisle, and “smaller servings” help students internalize form and improvise within it.

Dessert à La Mode: Hitting the Melodic Sweet Spot

While you may not have room for dessert, modes can sweeten or darken a melody.

  • The Lydian mode raises the fourth degree of the major scale by a semitone. The sharp fourth sweetens the melody. Try exploring the sound of major melodies in the Lydian mode.
  • If it sounds too sweet, try darkening the melody by flattening the seventh degree of the major scale, creating a Lydian Dominant scale. (Some ears may not like the combination of the sharp fourth and flat seventh.)
  • To balance the sweet and dark flavors, keep the melody in the Lydian mode, and create an accompanying ostinato using the tonic and flattened seventh scale degrees.

The Lydian mode is a good doorway into exploring modes because it’s very close to the major scale based off of the tonic. Carlisle says, “There’s nothing stopping you and your students from starting first with dessert or any other course. If music be the food of life, play on!” Find the appetizer and a one-pot main course in Think Like a Cook, Part 1 April is Jazz Appreciation Month! See NAfME’s Jazz Appreciation Month Lessons & Resources and the official Smithsonian Jazz Mixer Teaching Tool. 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, April 4, 2011, © National Association for Music Education (