Learning microtones

October 27, 2009

The students in our fab new Music History, Culture and Creativity class have a challenging assignment this week. They are required to compose and record a one minute melody that includes microtones.

Last week one of the three teachers, AJ Racy, was on the stage with three students, a bassoonist, a bass clarinetist, and a violinist. He would play them a phrase that included some non-Western notes (ie microtones), and the students would try to imitate it. It was actually kind of funny watch students who have worked so hard for so long to TRY to play in “tune”. The fingerings that use for the notes don’t work for these “new” notes.

I told the students: define the mode you’ll be using, practice playing it so that you become used to the new intonation, then start improvising with the mode. Now, write a melody. I didn’t require that they notate the tune, but have encouraged them to do it for ease of learning and in case they have someone else play it. After they compose the melody, they must record it, convert it to an MP3, and then upload it to the class website so that their classmates can hear and comment on them.

A really interesting assignment, and a damned tough one too!

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