The Orchestra Moves with Melodic Patterns
Aim: How do composers create movement with melodic patterns?
Summary: Students establish an understanding of melodic direction and contour through “Come to Play” and The Blue Danube, and explore the effect of rhythmic subdivision in Overture to The Marriage of Figaro. They also explore the movement of the motif in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.
Standards: National 4, 7; NYC 1, 2
Vocabulary: contour, leaps, motif, opera, overture, steps
Melodies move through a combination of meter, rhythm, and pitch. A melodic line moves up and down by steps and leaps. A motif moves around the orchestra, changing shape and pitch as it goes. Meter and rhythm come together to define the speed of the movement. In all these ways, melodic patterns create a sense of movement through time and space.
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Melodies Move by Steps and Leaps in “Come to Play” and The Blue Danube
- Demonstrate melodic direction that moves by steps by singing or playing a short phrase and asking the students to repeat after you.
- Example: Do-Re-Mi-Re-Do
- Demonstrate melodic direction that moves by leaps (or skips) by singing or playing a short phrase and asking the students to repeat after you.
- Example: Do-Mi-Sol-Mi-Do
- Next, demonstrate some simple phrases for the students. Play or sing excerpts from the Link Up repertoire, or make up your own phrases.
- Did the phrase move by steps or leaps?
- Which direction did the melody move (up or down)?
- Play Track 5 “Come to Play” (recorder part 2).
- Trace the contour of this melody with your finger.
- Does this melody move primarily by steps or leaps?
- What is the overall direction of this melody?
- Repeat with Track 9 The Blue Danube (complete), or with any of the Link Up melodies.
Motifs Move: Explore the Famous Motif in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5
Listen to the Motif
- Listen to Track 22 Symphony No. 5 (motif excerpt)
- Ask students to repeat the motif’s pattern after you by clapping the rhythm above.
- Or, ask students to repeat the pattern on the recorder.
- Tell students that the motif is now forbidden, and when they hear it they should remain silent.
- Lead the students through a series of call and response patterns, reminding them to echo back all patterns except the forbidden motif. If they play the forbidden motif they are out of the game. Keep going until one “winner” remains.
Play “Pass the Motif”
- Sit in a circle, with one person holding a small object such as a ball or an eraser, which represents the motif.
- Play Track 22 Symphony No. 5.
- Each time the motif is heard, the person holding the object should pass the object to his or her neighbor.
- When the motif is not heard, the person holding the object should hold onto it until the motif is heard again.
- Did you notice moments when the motif was moving faster or slower, or when something new happened and it disappeared?
Watch the Motif
- Watch the video below, Music Animation Machine, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.
- How do you know this is a motif?
- What changes do you see and hear (pitch, instruments, etc.) in the four-note motif?
- Watch the animation again, starting and stopping to point out and list all the ways that Beethoven develops and changes his motif.
My Own Motif
- Using My Own Motif (PDF), create a short motif and develop it just like Beethoven by starting on a different pitch or by reversing it.
- This activity can be done as a class or on an individual basis.
Composers develop motifs in a variety of ways, including:
Repetition: motif repeated with no changes
Transposition: motif repeated at a higher or lower pitch
Inversion: motif repeated with reversed pitch direction, rhythm, or both
Similar to how Beethoven and Angélica Negrón experiment with motifs in their pieces, we invite you to do the same with your students using the 1-2-3 Composition Challenge. Ask them to create three-note motifs using specific emotions as their inspiration, and then ask them to develop these motifs into short pieces that use at least three ideas from the Motivic Menu in the 1-2-3 Composition Challenge (PDF). Students can use any combination of melodic instruments in their pieces.
Angélica Negrón’s piece “Un, dos, tres” was inspired in part by a chant that she grew up with. “As I started working on this piece, I kept coming back to a game I played during my childhood in Puerto Rico. The game has a very simple and playful chant, and the rhythm of the chant was the main inspiration for the similarly simple three-note motif in the piece.”
Rhythmic Subdivision in Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro
- Explain that a composer can create a sense of movement within a melody by the choice of note values or rhythmic subdivisions within the beat, regardless of the tempo.
- Listen to Track 23 Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, or watch the video Music Animation Machine, Overture to The Marriage of Figaro.
- How does Mozart create a sense of movement with this music?
- Move around the room, walking in time with the beat.
- What is the tempo?
- While the notes move very fast, the underlying pulse of the music is actually rather steady (a fast walk, not a fast run).
- Now let’s explore how Mozart subdivides the steady beat to create a sense of speed.
- Play Track 24 Half Notes: Overture to The Marriage of Figaro.
- The main pulse that we can walk to is the half note, in what is known as “cut time” (or “double time”). Let’s walk in time with the half notes.
- Play Track 25 Quarter Notes: Overture to The Marriage of Figaro.
- Next, let’s listen to the orchestra play the quarter notes. Keep the pulse of the half notes in your feet, marching in place. Then, let’s see if we can clap the quarter notes while still marching in place to the half notes.
- Play Track 26 Eighth Notes: Overture to The Marriage of Figaro.
- You can now listen for the very fast notes, the eighth notes. These move very quickly in cut time and would be difficult to clap, so let’s create a fast-moving gesture with our hands and fingers to represent the rapidly moving eighth notes.
- Keep the pulse of the half notes in your feet, marching in place.
- Next, let’s add our gesture for the eighth notes while still marching in place to the half notes.
The Marriage of Figaro is an opera that tells a funny story about a whirlwind day filled with confusion, chaos, surprises, tricks, and a happy ending. The Overture to The Marriage of Figaro uses slow and fast tempos as well as loud and soft dynamics to represent the different characters of the opera and all the tricks they play on each other.
Ludwig van Beethoven: Musical Pioneer by Carol Greene (ISBN-13: 978-0516442082) allows us to look into Beethoven’s life, from his childhood to his professional successes and challenges. It includes photographs of important places and people in his life, drawings, and portraits.