Getting Rhythm

Video summary

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Lorrie Heagy brings a Sistema-inspired sensibility to teaching third graders in her general music class at Glacier Valley Elementary, serving a diverse population in Juneau, Alaska. She demonstrates a unique approach to teaching musical notation through narrative. The story of the rhythm family, accompanied by gesture and movement, helps students master abstract concepts. Big brother “Tah” is the quarter note, and sets the beat. Two little twin brothers — the eighth notes known as “Tee-Tees” — have their arms around each other, and are always pestering big brother Tah. The boys’ two parents are both half notes; Lorrie represents them by joining her hands and chanting “half note, hold it,” as the students imitate her. For a dotted half note, she represents one of the parents holding an adorable baby and touching its nose.

In a subsequent class that builds on understanding of the rhythm family, Lorrie challenges students to create a class composition. To promote familiarity with symbols, Lorrie uses cups of different sizes and colors to represent different note values and prompts students sitting in a circle to divide their cups into measures of four beats. On the cups she then places Post-its of different colors to represent notes students already know how to play on the recorder. Blue is B, red is A like an apple, green is G, orange — which connotes energy — is E, and yellow is D, like vitamin D that comes from the sun. Lorrie plays the group composition on the recorder as students take turns “conducting” and counting out rhythms on their cups with their fingers.