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The Orchestra Moves with Meter

Aim: How does meter affect movement in music?
Summary: Students learn how rhythms are organized by meter through listening, movement, and conducting activities, and how meter is related to movement in music.
Standards: National 4, 11; NYC 1, 2, 3
Vocabulary: barcarolle, meter, rhythmic subdivision, samba, time signature, waltz

Meter defines the way music moves through time, organizing the rhythmic pulse into groups of strong and weak beats. The meter can be even or odd, simple or complex. The meter is noted with a time signature, in which the top number indicates the number of beats per measure, and the bottom number indicates the type of note that gets one beat.

Exploring Duple and Quadruple Meter in the Link Up Repertoire

  • When the rhythmic beats of a piece are organized into groups of two, the work is in duple meter (2/4). When the rhythmic beats of a work are organized into groups of four, the work is in quadruple meter (4/4). It’s easy to move to the basic beat in duple or quadruple meter. You can sway in place, walk, march, or even run, depending on the tempo.
  • Ask students to stand up.
  • Play one of the Link Up works that is in duple or quadruple meter: Track 1 “Come to Play” (complete), Track 15 “Toreador” from Carmen, or Track 18 “Cidade Maravilhosa.”
  • First, ask students to sway, alternating from one foot to the other on each beat.
  • Next, ask students to walk, march, skip, or run to the music.
    • Which movement matches the tempo and overall feel of the music best?
  • Finally, students can learn to conduct duple meter and quadruple meter. Using a baton or their hand, students can learn the patterns below. Then play one of the Link Up works above and have students conduct the music. An additional activity related to the 4/4 conducting pattern can be found in Instrument Families.

Learn Dance Movements for “Cidade Maravilhosa”

  • “Cidade Maravilhosa” (“Beautiful City”) is a samba song composed by André Filho as a Carnival march in 1935. The song was made popular by Carmen Miranda, a Brazilian-born Broadway performer, and has become the official anthem of Rio de Janeiro. In this activity, students will have the opportunity to learn some samba movements to perform along with “Cidade Maravilhosa.”
  • Not all movement to duple meter music is as simple as walking or marching. In fact, movements can become quite complicated! One example is the samba, a style of Brazilian music and dance with origins in West Africa.
  • Watch the video below to learn some basic samba movements to perform at The Orchestra Moves culminating concert.
Samba to “Cidade Maravilhosa” (“Beautiful City”)

Exploring Triple Meter by Dancing the Waltz with The Blue Danube

  • When the rhythmic beats of a piece are organized into groups of three, the piece is in triple meter. For triple meter dance forms like the waltz, the pattern is strong-weak-weak.
  • Ask students to line up single file in a circle.
  • Establish a steady, moderate beat and count 1-2-3, 1-2-3 out loud.
  • Step down and bend your knee on the strong beat and step lightly on your tiptoes for the weak beats, as follows: DOWN right (1)–up left (2)–up right (3), DOWN left (1)–up right (2)–up left (3).
  • Play Track 9 The Blue Danube (complete). Have students move in a circle, waltzing to the music. If they master this movement, have students try waltzing in pairs.
  • Students can also learn to conduct triple meter. Using a baton or their hand, students can learn the pattern below. Then play Track 9 The Blue Danube (complete) and have students conduct the music.

During his lifetime, Johann Strauss II composed more than 500 waltzes and was widely referred to as the “Waltz King.” The waltz was one of the most popular styles of dance in the 19th century, and is still performed today in many settings, including ballroom dancing, ballet, opera, and musical theater.

Go Deeper

Think about how moving to the triple meter waltz feels compared to moving to duple meter songs like “Come to Play,” “Toreador,” or “Cidade Maravilhosa.”

Explore Compound Duple Meter by Moving to Offenbach’s “Barcarolle”

  • When the number of beats in a measure is divisible by two but each beat is subdivided into three, the piece is in compound duple meter. One of the most common compound duple meters is 6/8, which is generally counted as 1-2-3, 4-5-6.
  • Moving to music in compound duple meter can feel very similar to moving to music in simple duple meter, since the movement is concentrated on the strong beats.

The “Barcarolle” from Offenbach’s opera The Tales of Hoffmann is a duet about love and a beautiful night. A barcarolle is a traditional folk song that was sung by Venetian gondoliers, who rowed gondolas, a type of boat from Venice, Italy. The 6/8 meter is indicative of the strokes gondoliers used to propel their boats forward.

  • Look at the image of the gondolier with your students.
    • Imagine you have a long paddle, like the one pictured. Imitate the motion of stroking downward with the long paddle on 1-2-3, and up on 4-5-6.
  • Listen to Track 11 “Barcarolle” from The Tales of Hoffmann.
    • Imitate the motion of the gondolier in time with the music.
  • Finally, students can conduct “Barcarolle” using the duple meter pattern below.

The Instruments of the Orchestra Move to Create Sound

  • One way that the orchestra moves is when the musicians literally move their bodies and instruments to make sound. The lyrics of the Link Up theme song, “Come to Play,” introduce each of the instrument families and some of the ways they produce sound.
    • Sound is produced when an object vibrates, creating an invisible form of energy that travels as sound waves. Let’s explore how musicians move to create the vibrations that produce sounds from their instruments.
  • Refer to the “Come to Play” lyrics and Instrument Family Portraits (PDF).
  • Think about the kinds of movements musicians use to create the sounds that composer Thomas Cabaniss describes in “Come to Play” (“Winds blow,” “trumpets sounding,” “strings sing,” “drummers pounding,” etc.)
    • What instruments or families of instruments do these lyrics refer to?
    • How is movement used to create sound with different instruments?

Go Deeper

Explore Sound Vibrations. Experiment with sound, vibrations, and found musical objects through a lesson plan developed by PBS LearningMedia.

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