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The Orchestra Rocks with Pulse

Aim: How do we use rhythmic pulse to make music rock?
Summary: Students explore steady beat, tempo, and strong and weak beats as they experience the pulse that drives music.
Standards: National 1, 7, 10, 11; NYC 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Vocabulary: accelerando, backbeat, pulse, ritardando, steady beat, subito, tempo
Additional Materials: classroom instruments

Pulse can be understood as the consistent, regular underlying rhythm that drives the flow of music. It can include the steady beat as well as smaller subdivisions within each beat. Pulse gives music its sense of time; the concept of meter is dependent on a clear sense of pulse.

Explore Steady Beat

  • Ask students to find their pulse on pressure points on their bodies (such as the wrist or the neck). Explain how a pulse is connected to the heart and heartbeat.
    • Just like our heartbeat, music has a pulse. It might be fast or slow, but this steady beat is the repeating rhythm that helps us keep time.
  • Play “The Name Game”: Form a circle and establish a steady beat by snapping fingers, patting knees, or clapping hands. Once the steady beat is established, go around the circle and have each student speak their name to fit in with the beat. The class repeats that name before moving on to the next student in the circle.
  • Try variations: Speak the names with longer or shorter breaks between syllables, or even try elongating them or speeding them up, but always keep with the steady beat.
  • You can also play “The Name Game” accompanied by instrumental selections from The Orchestra Rocks repertoire, such as “La Follia” or “Go BIG or Go HOME,” adapting to the steady beat of each piece.
  • Try other variations on this game, playing instruments or creating movements that represent each name. Be sure to keep the steady beat going with body percussion or instruments.
    • What was fun about this activity?
    • What was challenging or easy about this activity?
    • How did we all stay together?
    • Why is the steady beat important?

Verdi’s “Anvil Chorus”

This lively tune is from Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Il trovatore. In this scene, a group of men are going to work with their hammers and anvils, tools used to shape metal. They sing along with the women in their camp, all looking forward to the end of a long day’s work.

Explore Strong and Weak Beats in the “Anvil Chorus”

  • Listen to Track 7 “Anvil Chorus” from Il trovatore (complete).
  • Divide the class into two groups to perform the rhythmic patterns below from the “Anvil Chorus” (may be performed with the recording or unaccompanied).
  • Group 1 stomps on the strong or accented “anvil” beats.
  • Group 2 claps lightly on the weaker or unaccented beats.
  • You may also try the above activity with classroom percussion instruments, with Group 1 playing a louder, heavier instrument like a drum and Group 2 playing a lighter instrument like a triangle.

“Viva Verdi!”

When Giuseppe Verdi began composing, Italy was not yet an independent country and was ruled by Austria. People would cry out “Viva Verdi!”; the Austrian rulers believed that they were just shouting the name of their favorite opera composer, but it was also a secret code they used to voice their support for the man they wanted to lead them: Vittorio Emanuele Rei (king) DItalia (of Italy).

Metropolitan Opera: “Anvil Chorus”

Watch a video performance of “Anvil Chorus” from Il trovatore by The Metropolitan Opera and ask students to observe the motions of the metalworkers as they swing their hammers, striking the anvils on the strong beats. Repeat the activity above, inviting students to utilize this movement to embody the strong and weak beats.

Go Deeper

Explore strong and weak beats in Track 43 “Johnny B. Goode” (complete) and Track 16 “La Follia (Madness)”:
  • “Johnny B. Goode” has a backbeat that is characteristic of rock music: The strong beats fall on beats 2 and 4 and the weak beats on beats 1 and 3, inverting the pattern in “Anvil Chorus.”
  • “La Follia” is in 3/4 meter, and the pattern of strong and weak beats is different in each variation.

The Impact of Tempo

  • In several pieces of repertoire in The Orchestra Rocks, there are shifts in tempo that impact the performers’ and listeners’ experience of the steady beat.
  • Listen to any of the following Link Up selections to discover tempo changes:
  • Ask your students to maintain the steady beat on their body (either through quiet tapping or patting) to note where they hear the tempo change.
    • Did the tempo change happen suddenly or gradually?
    • If the tempo change happens suddenly, it is called subito.
    • If the tempo gradually speeds up, it is called accelerando; if it gradually slows down, it is called ritardando.
  • Listen again to the selected piece, this time asking your students to experiment with several ways to reflect different tempos. This can include:
    • Body percussion: Using different parts of the body
    • Instruments: Using different instruments, or different techniques or pitches on a single instrument
    • Stationary movement: Using shorter, lighter movements with smaller parts of the body for faster pulse (i.e. fingers, shoulders, eye blinking, and other fine motor movement) and larger, heavier movements for slower sections (i.e. stomping, pounding, and other gross motor movement)
    • Locomotor movement: Using smaller, lighter movements for faster tempos (i.e. tip toes and small steps) and larger, heavier movements for slower sections (i.e. lunges)
  • Invite students to reflect on the impact of the tempo changes.
    • Do different tempos change the quality, character, or personality of the music?
    • Why or why not?

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