Becoming familiar with the elements of music can help parents and teachers become more comfortable about doing music activities.
The tempo of music refers to how slowly (andante) or how quickly (allegro) the music is played. The beat is the underlying pulse of the music. Like a heartbeat, it can be fast or slow. Music specialists agree that understanding and being able to respond to the beat of music and the tempo of that beat is a fundamental skill that should be started early and practiced often. In the Baby Artsplay class featured in Program 1 of Art to Heart and the Music in Motion class featured in Program 4, parents and children engage in activities designed to get youngsters moving to the beat—like walking, bouncing, and clapping in time to the music.
Rhythm in music is created by combining sounds and silences (notes and rests) of various durations. The beat provides the foundation over which rhythm is organized.
Pitch refers to how high or low the sound is. Instruments and the human voice have a range of pitch—think of how high you can sing a note and how low you can sing a note. Teachers note that identifying high and low pitches can be difficult for children to learn. When they hear a high note, it sounds softer to them, so they think it is low. The low pitches sound loud to them because of the timbre (tone quality) of the voice, so they think they are high. They also confuse pitch with volume, which is natural because adults tell them to turn up the radio or turn down the radio. Therefore, it takes a while for them to hear the really high pitches and realize that you can play either soft or loud on that pitch, but the pitch doesn’t change.
Melody is the combination of pitch and rhythm that we usually refer to as the tune of a song. Music specialists teach primary students to read music by using notes, lines, and spaces on the treble clef staff. You can reinforce this idea by providing many opportunities for children to sing. Showing the music as you sing helps with reading both music and words.
Harmony is the simultaneous sounding of two or more pitches. This vertical aspect of music is often characterized as the music that supports the tune. A way to reinforce this aspect of music is to provide opportunities to sing songs like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” in rounds. This activity will also reinforce listening skills and sharpen attention.
Form is the plan or structure of a piece of music. Some of the forms suitable for primary grades are call and response, AB, and ABA. In call-and-response form, one part is sung, then another part is sung in response. “Hole in the Bucket” is an example of a call-and-response song. In AB form, there are two parts; a song with verses and a chorus (such as “Jingle Bells”) would be in AB form. In ABA form, there are two parts, with the first part (A) repeated after the second (B), as in “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”
Timbre (pronounced tam-bor) is the tone color or unique sound created by an instrument (including the voice). Primary students can learn to recognize different qualities of musical sounds and identify instruments by family: brass, woodwind, string, percussion, and human voices.
Dynamics is the relative loudness or softness of sound. You can reinforce this concept by asking students to sing, play instruments, or speak fortissimo (very loud), forte (loud), piano (softly), or pianissimo (very softly). Children enjoy the opportunity to experiment with their voices.