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Sounds that Rock

Aim: What are the sounds that make music rock?
Summary: Students will explore timbre, volume, and other sound qualities that make music rock, and discover how musicians use their own individual sounds when covering an original song.
Standards: National 1, 2, 4, 7, 8, 9; NYC 1, 2, 5
Vocabulary: cover, timbre, variation
Additional Materials: classroom instruments, found objects

  • Composers use a variety of techniques to make their music rock.
  • Using the list below, listen to different pieces in the Link Up: The Orchestra Rocks repertoire and discuss what makes each piece rock.
    • What makes it rock?
      • Power of large forces
      • Timbre
      • Volume
      • Driving beat
      • Prominent rhythm and accents
    • Which pieces have this quality?
      • “Come to Play”
      • “Go BIG or Go HOME”
      • “La Follia”
      • “Anvil Chorus”
      • “Dance of the Adolescents”
      • “O Fortuna”
      • “The Brightest of All Possible Futures”
      • “Drumlines”
      • “Johnny B. Goode”

Explore Timbre

  • Listen to any of the rock songs in The Orchestra Rocks playlist and identify the different sounds you hear that give rock its “edgy” sound.
    • What instruments and sounds do you hear?
    • What do the voices sound like?
    • What do you notice about the volume of the music?
  • Orchestra instruments can also produce different timbres when they are played in different ways.
    • String techniques include:
      • Ponticello: a “scratchy” sound produced by bowing on a different section of the strings
      • Pizzicato: plucking strings instead of using the bow
      • Patting or tapping the body of the instrument like a percussion instrument
    • Wind and brass techniques include:
      • Mutes: Placing a mute in the bell of a brass instrument to muffle the sound
      • Flutter tonguing: Rolling the tongue while blowing into a woodwind instrument
      • Alternate fingerings
    • Percussion techniques include:
      • Bowing instruments—such as marimbas, cymbals, or glasses of water—with a string bow
      • Utilizing nontraditional instruments such as found objects or toys to produce unusual sounds
  • Invite students to use classroom instruments, objects, and even their voices to experiment with how they can change the timbre that is produced to create different sounds.

Create Your Own Sound through Interpretation

  • Musicians and composers create their own individual sounds when they interpret an existing piece of music in their own way.
  • “La Follia” is a folk song that has been interpreted by more than 150 composers over three centuries. It is one of the oldest European melodies on record. The first published composition using this melody dates from the mid-17th century, but it is also recorded in a 1577 book by Portuguese music theorist Francisco de Salias. Vivaldi himself created 19 variations on this melody.
  • Using the “La Follia” Listening Map (PDF), listen to Track 17 “La Follia” (piano vocal).
    • What musical elements does Vivaldi change from his original melody to produce each variation? Consider rhythm, dynamics, tempo, etc.
    • How do these changes affect the character or feeling of the music?
  • The theme and first two variations on the listening map include graphic notation to represent the expressive qualities in the music.
  • As you listen to the piece, ask your students to create their own graphic notation for the rest of the variations.
  • Students can also check off which of the variations have play-along recorder parts using the circles next to each variation.

Go Deeper

  • Below you can listen to other composers’ versions of “La Follia,” including those by Corelli and Rachmaninoff.
    • What is similar to Vivaldi’s version?
    • What is different than Vivaldi’s version?

Your Own “La Follia” Variation

  • Your students are invited to create their own “La Follia” variation.
  • Listen to and perform the theme of Vivaldi’s “La Follia,” found in measures 1–16 in the music.
  • Investigate with your students the different ways they can change the theme. Suggestions include tempo (short and long notes) and changing one or more of the notes in the melody.
  • Play your new variations using the accompaniment in Track 19 “La Follia” (continuo only).

Rock and Roll Covers

  • In rock music, a cover is a new performance or recording of a song by someone other than the original recording artist that allows the performer to interpret the piece in their own way.
  • Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” has been covered more than 40 times by other famous artists such as The Beach Boys, The Beatles, and Jimi Hendrix. An important part of rock music history, covers pay tribute to the original artist while offering a fresh interpretation of an existing melody.
  • Compare Berry’s original recording of “Johnny B. Goode” with any of the covers below.
    • What is similar to Berry’s version?
    • What is different from Berry’s version?

Your Own “Johnny B. Goode” Cover

  • Using Tracks 47 and 48, your students can create and perform their own covers of “Johnny B. Goode.”
  • Track 47 provides a slower version of the accompaniment.
  • Track 48 is more up-tempo. You can use classroom instruments to augment the accompaniment tracks.

Go Deeper

Change some of the lyrics to make the song a class anthem, or tell the story of a person other than “Johnny.”

Chuck Berry’s Legacy

Chuck Berry is known as the father of rock and roll. A self-taught musician who began playing guitar in junior high school, Berry was among the first to evolve rhythm and blues into rock and roll, particularly through his dynamic guitar solos and showmanship, which was emulated by the artists who followed him. Berry was the first Black rock and roll musician who found popularity among both white and Black audiences in the 1950s, when the US was deeply entrenched in segregation. Berry’s music was deemed so important that a panel of NASA scientists chose to include “Johnny B. Goode” along with works by Beethoven, Stravinsky, and Mozart when they launched the Voyager Golden Records into space. If extraterrestrial life ever encounters this vehicle, they too will hear Berry’s music!

Rock and Roll

Rock and roll was born in the United State in the 1950s. Its roots lie in African American music traditions, including gospel, blues, and rhythm and blues, as well as country music and folk. The signature rock and roll sound is the amplified wail of the electric guitar, combined with electric bass, drum kit, and sometimes keyboards and saxophone. Its signature rhythm is the backbeat, with a driving accent on beats 2 and 4. Over the decades, many kinds of rock music grew out of these early rock and roll roots, from “British Invasion” bands like The Beatles to heavy metal to punk.

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