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by Chad West

Developing Internal
Musicianship in
Beginning Band by
Teaching the “Big 5”
Abstract: Early in my teaching career, my goals were to teach students to play their instruments
beautifully and to help them correctly and independently interpret music notation. However,
many of my students were missing the internal musicianship skills that enable high-level
music-making. As we teach instrument technique and notation, we sometimes overlook the
important skill of audiation. When our students perform, we want them to do so not only
because they have visually interpreted their written notation, but because they have aurally
internalized what makes musical sense. This article offers activities for developing beginning
instrumental students’ abilities in three areas of musicianship: rhythmic ability, tonal ability,
and creativity. How can music
Keywords: audiation, creativity, executive skills, internal musicianship, notation, rhythm, tonal teachers best help
their students

s a beginning middle school band and playing creatively. I had developed their internalize the music
director, I conceived of my role as
basically twofold: to teach students
(external) mechanical skills but ignored
their (internal) musicianship skills.
they study? Here are
to play their instruments beautifully and to Edwin Gordon makes a distinction some suggestions.
teach them to correctly and independently between executive skills and audiation
interpret music notation. Soon, it became skills.1 Executive skills are the skills involved
apparent that many of my students were in physically manipulating the instrument
missing something perhaps more impor- (posture, hand position, range, facility,
tant—the internal musicianship skills that breath support, embouchure, tone produc-
enable high-level music-making. I remem- tion, etc.), often referred to as “technique.”
ber wondering why students could not keep As music teachers, we generally do a good
steady time or hear missed accidentals, get- job developing these skills in our students,
ting looks of terror when asking students probably because much of the time in our
to improvise, and questioning why students college methods courses was devoted to
understood the “rhythm tree” but still could learning how to play and teach secondary
not accurately perform simple notated instruments. But sometimes, in an attempt
rhythms. My students could read notation to equip students with the myriad executive
and manipulate their instruments but had skills they need to successfully manipulate
difficulty discriminating pitch, keeping time, their instruments, audiation skills (the ability
Copyright © 2015 National Association
for Music Education
Chad West is an assistant professor of music education at Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York. He can be contacted at cwest@ DOI: 10.1177/0027432114565392 101
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internal sense of steady time that pre-
FIGURE 1 vents him or her from maintaining
the beat. In such a case, the teacher
Teaching the “Big 5” should spend time developing the stu-
dent’s rhythmic ability. When consider-
ing that many challenges that students
encounter could realistically stem from
any area of the Big 5, it is often dif-
ficult to determine the source of the
problem. Furthermore, as experienced
musicians, we draw from all of these
areas simultaneously when performing,
thus it is easy to forget that they are
distinct areas that must be developed
independently in beginners.2
Students need to understand notation
and properly manipulate their instru-
ments, but it is important that these
skills stem from audiation.3 When tech-
nique and notation are realized through
an aural sensitivity to sound, perfor-
mance is transformed from an act of
mechanics to an expression of musician-
ship. Since band directors generally do
a great job teaching executive skills and
notation, this article focuses on activities
for developing beginning instrumental
students’ abilities in three commonly
underdeveloped areas of the Big 5—
rhythmic ability, tonal ability, and crea-
tivity. Many of the activities presented in
to hear and comprehend in one’s mind was corrected; after all, the student is this article are associated with or drawn
sounds that are not physically present) now playing the correct pitches. The from Music Learning Theory; however,
can be overlooked. student may be well aware of how to this article is neither sufficient as, nor
Incorporating audiation skills devel- read notation and know the fingering intended to be, an instructional guide
opment into what was previously a two- for the correct note; the problem may for implementing Music Learning The-
fold understanding of my responsibility be that the student was aurally unaware ory. For instruction in Music Learning
as a band director (technique and nota- that the note was incorrect in the first Theory, readers are strongly encouraged
tion), I now conceptualize music teach- place. If this were the case, the teacher’s to consult the writings of the original
ing in terms of developing five distinct time would have been better spent on authors and attend certification work-
areas of musicianship. These areas, developing the student’s tonal ability. shops through the Gordon Institute of
which I call “The Big 5,” consist of rhyth- Another example where a problem Music Learning.4
mic ability, tonal ability, executive skills, in one area of the Big 5 might mas-
notation-reading ability, and creativity querade as a problem in a completely Developing Rhythmic Ability
(see Figure 1). Often what seems to be different area is when a student plays
an inability in one area may really be a an incorrect rhythm. The teacher might I conceive of rhythmic ability as one’s
symptom of an entirely different prob- presume that the incorrect rhythm is a skill at performing rhythms in the con-
lem. For example, a student consistently result of a poor understanding of nota- text of steady time. One’s rhythmic
plays a B-flat when a B-natural is clearly tion. Or, the student might cognitively ability is independent of one’s nota-
indicated. To address this, the teacher understand the rhythm but because tion ability. A student may have a well-
directs the student’s attention to the key of poor technique be unable to accu- developed internal sense of rhythm
signature and reminds the individual of rately execute the rhythm. But perhaps without the ability to read rhythmic
the fingering for B-natural. The student the problem stems neither from poor notation, and vice versa. Just think of all
nods, and the teacher proceeds think- notation-reading ability nor from poor of the complex rhythm patterns in world
ing that the student’s misunderstanding technique but from an underdeveloped drumming traditions that are performed

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“Hot Cross Buns” (Minor/Triple)

without written notation; these perform- microbeats. To make sure that students Developing Tonal Ability
ers have highly developed rhythmic are keeping time independently and not
abilities. simply chanting a fraction of a second Think of tonal ability as the ability to dif-
The use of movement is essential to behind the students around them, pro- ferentiate pitch in the context of a tonal-
the development of rhythmic ability. 5 vide students with a metronome beat, ity. As with rhythmic ability, a student’s
Many ensemble directors teach their stu- and then turn off the metronome and tonal ability is independent of the cogni-
dents to tap their toes to the beat; how- have students silently audiate the rhythm tive function of understanding notation.
ever, starting with toe tapping may be of the tune inside their heads and raise A student may have a well-developed
challenging for students who are unable their hands when they get to the final sense of pitch without any cognitive
to keep a steady beat with their bodies. In note of the piece. Teachers might begin ability to read tonal notation, and vice
these instances, music teachers can draw by having students audiate only the first versa. Many pop and folk artists sing
from Laban-based movements to help few beats and increase the duration as and play beautifully without using (or
students develop a kinesthetic response students progress. Once the teacher even knowing how to read) notation.
to music.6 For example, moving the body has taught students the fingerings/ When a student has a well-developed
in a continuous, fluid manner, or flow, slide positions/sticking patterns by rote, tonal ability, correct notes become the
helps students to experience the space students can chant the rhythm patterns fruit of audiation rather than the fluke of
between beats. By varying heavy and while executing the corresponding fin- technique. We want our students to play
light body movements, students experi- gerings/slide positions/sticking patterns the correct pitches because they hear
ence meter and accents. By moving their in time with a recorded tune, Garage- that they are correct, not simply because
bodies using both sudden and sustained Band loop, or metronome click. By they know the corresponding fingering
movements, students can experience limiting the executive skills demands, for each notated symbol. Essential to the
time. Instrumental ensemble directors teachers can focus on developing stu- development of tonal ability is the abil-
should also draw heavily from the myr- dents’ rhythmic abilities. ity to match pitch by manipulating the
iad movement activities used in instruc- After students learn a simple three- voice.10 The teacher could ask students
tion based on Dalcroze, Orff, Kodály, and note tune such as “Hot Cross Buns,” the to manipulate their voices high and low
Music Learning Theory to continue the next step might be to teach the same like a siren until they arrive on a given
rhythmic development that was begun in tune in triple meter where students keep pitch. Another activity that can help stu-
elementary general music classes.7 the macrobeats in their heels and a triple dents begin to differentiate pitch is to
Beginning band students want to division of the beat in their fingertips (for play three notes that move diatonically
learn tunes immediately, and teachers an example of how a duple tune might such as concert B-flat, C, and D and
can incorporate rhythmic development be converted to triple, see Figure 2). teach students to associate the pitches
activities when teaching students to play Kodály and other approaches, including with low, middle, and high, respec-
rote tunes. 8 Using simple three-note many of those for band, often use one tively. The teacher could then play these
melodies such as “Hot Cross Buns” and set of tunes to teach duple meter and pitches in different sequences and ask
“Mary Had a Little Lamb,” the teacher a different set of tunes to teach triple students to label them as low, middle,
could model the tune while students meter. While this approach has merit, I or high corresponding to the order in
keep the macrobeat (pulse) in their also find value in applying both types which they were given.
heels and the microbeat (division of of beat division to the same tune so that As with rhythmic development,
the pulse) in their fingertips, allowing students’ attention is directed toward teachers could also use tonal develop-
students to experience the tune in the only one variable—in this case, meter. ment activities when teaching students
context of steady time. 9 The teacher This also helps students feel the kines- to play rote tunes. Teaching simple
could then chant the rhythmic patterns thetic difference between duple and tri- three-note melodies such as “Hot Cross
of the melody and have students echo ple beat division before they are asked Buns” and “Mary Had a Little Lamb” by
while maintaining the macrobeats and to understand the notational difference. rote, the teacher could first establish 103
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of musicianship if they have not devel-
oped some sense of independent musi-
tonality and then vocally model the their parts function within the ensem- cal thought. Think of all of the garage
tune for students and ask them to sing it ble, leading to better balance and blend. band members, living room guitar play-
back. Sometimes students are hesitant to When students are singing and audiating ers, and self-taught pianists who create
sing but will readily play on kazoo what the correct pitches of the tune, it is a their own music; regardless of their abil-
you ask them to echo, which accom- good time to transfer this understanding ity to read or write notation, they are
plishes the same thing (tonal develop- to the instrument. After teaching the fin- functioning as creative musicians.
ment) in a way that students sometimes gerings by rote, the teacher could then As music teachers concerned with
perceive to be less threatening. To help have students sing the tune while press- the ever-looming performance, we
ensure that students are audiating the ing the corresponding fingerings. Of often find it easy to spend time teach-
tune, the teacher could give the starting course, the end goal is that students play ing notation skills and executive skills
pitch and ask students to silently sing the tune on their instruments, but devot- at the exclusion of developing students’
the tune inside their heads and then ing a little time to preparatory exercises musical creativity. However, music edu-
sing the last note aloud on the correct such as these will help ensure that their cator and improvisation specialist Chris
pitch. This activity could even be valu- playing is guided by audiation. Azzara found that students who receive
able for middle school and high school When students can accurately per- music instruction that includes oppor-
students who struggle to retain the cor- form a simple three-note tune such as tunities for improvisation performed
rect pitches of a phrase from start to fin- “Hot Cross Buns,” the teacher could then notated music more accurately than did
ish without the aid of their instruments have students learn the same tune by students whose musical instruction did
and/or without the aid of hearing those rote in the parallel minor mode. This will not include improvisation opportuni-
around them. help them hear the difference between ties.12 Often, as students gain proficiency
Another helpful activity is to sing the major and minor in the context of the reading notation and manipulating their
tune for students, stop at various places same tune and in the context of sound instruments, they become less willing to
in the tune, and ask them to sing the rather than sight. As students become improvise; therefore, it is usually best
resting tone (tonic pitch). This activity comfortable playing three-note tunes, to get students improvising as early as
is aimed at helping students audiate the teacher could pick a new tune that possible. Incorporating improvisation
the tonality and key in relation to the is aurally familiar to them, give them the exercises into early instruction also sig-
melody, leading to improved intonation starting pitch, and ask them to figure out nals to students that musical creativity
when performing. This ability will also the pitches on their instruments by ear, is a tenet of basic musicianship rather
pay dividends in the future when stu- further solidifying the ear-to-hand con- than an advanced skill to be developed
dents are more aurally aware of how nection. This activity could also be used later.

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Sample Activities for Developing the “Big 5”
• Have students sing a melody [T]
• Have student move to the macrobeat and microbeat while singing a melody [T, R] R = Rhythmic
T = Tonal
• Audiation exercises with a melody (singing in head and raising hand when done) [T, R] C = Creative
• Resting tone exercises with a melody (sing tonic at various places throughout the tune) [T] N = Notation
• Learn to play a melody by ear [T, R, E] E = Executive

• Tonal and rhythmic echoing exercises [T, R]

• Tonal and rhythmic call-and-response exercises [T, R, C]
• Disguise practice of a melody focusing on executive skills [E]
• Have students notate a previously learned melody using iconic notation [N]
• Help students transform their iconic notation to standard notation [N]
• Play beginning of previously learned melody and have students improvise endings [C]
• Improvise counter melodies [C]
• Learn a major tune in the minor mode (and vice versa) [T]
• Learn a duple tune in triple meter (and vice versa) [R]

While many of the activities presented in Figure 3 are derived from research-based sequences suggested by many of the authors cited in
this article, I offer them simply as a collection of activities in no particular order that can help students develop in areas of the Big 5.

Music Learning Theory makes a dis- phrase and end on the tonic pitch (B-flat the notes and rhythms to familiar melo-
tinction between discrimination learn- in this instance). Creative development dies. All of these activities could also be
ing where students are taught by rote can be easier for students when they are used in middle school and high school
and inference learning where students given parameters. Students can some- band settings with the use of more
are asked to make decisions by drawing times be intimidated with improvisation complex literature and a more sophis-
from information previously learned by because there are too many choices. ticated treatment of harmony.
rote. Rote learning, or echoing, provides When we limit the possibilities, students
students with the necessary vocabulary are often much more comfortable with Putting It All Together
to begin making their own musical deci- and successful in making creative music
sions. Once students have echoed tonal decisions. Devote time in each class, if even in
and rhythmic patterns, a sequential next Another activity to help students the warm-up, to developing each area
step might be to then have them crea- develop creativity is to use previously of the Big 5 (see Figure 3 for sample
tively apply those patterns in ways that learned tunes as platforms for improvi- activities that can be used to help stu-
make musical sense. Sometimes referred sation. This could be as simple as play- dents develop in each area). Certainly,
to as “call-and-response,” this can be as ing the first half of “Hot Cross Buns” the bulk of class time should usually
simple as the teacher playing the notes and having students create the second be devoted to rehearsing the ensemble
B-flat, C, and D using a combination half by improvising a musically appro- (sound, balance, blend, intonation, etc.),
of quarter notes and eighth notes and priate ending. When students are com- but by beginning every rehearsal with 5
students providing musical responses fortable creating alternate endings to to 7 minutes of audiation-building activi-
using the same parameters. To help familiar three-note tunes, the teacher ties, we help students develop elements
ensure that students are making delib- could have students create counter- of musicianship that can lead to more
erate sounds and not just picking ran- melodies to the same tunes. It is usually sensitive and autonomous ensemble
dom pitches, the teacher might ask the best to first model this for students by playing. I want my students to push the
students to sing their responses before having them play the familiar melody correct buttons at the right time and to
playing them. To help students design while the teacher creates the coun- do so with a characteristic sound and
their responses in ways that make musi- termelody. This does not need to be, have found that the quickest and most
cal sense according to Western Euro- nor should it be, complex; by simply musically authentic way of accomplish-
pean syntax, the teacher could imply a choosing one or two notes and align- ing this is to develop their tonal, rhyth-
quasi–half-cadence by ending the first ing them harmonically, students are mic, and creative abilities. 14 When my
half of a phrase on a dominant pitch making deliberate creative decisions. 13 students perform from notation, I want
(such as C in this instance), with the stu- Finally, the teacher could have students them to do so not simply because they
dents’ task being to then complete the create their own tunes by rearranging have visually interpreted their written 105
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instructions but because they have Educators Journal 85, no. 6 (May 1999):   7. Campbell and Scott-Kassner, Music in
aurally internalized that which makes 22–46. Childhood.
musical sense. When students aurally   4. Many of the activities presented in this   8. K. A. Liperote, “Audiation for Beginning
recognize that they have missed a note, article are drawn from, or adaptations Instrumentalists: Listen, Speak, Read,
we no longer have to remind them of of, those suggested in the following: Write,” Music Educators Journal 93,
Gordon, Learning Sequences in Music; no. 1 (September 2006): 46–52.
their fingerings and key signatures.
Eric Bluestine, Ways Children Learn   9. Schleuter, A Sound Approach to Teaching
When students feel the pulse and its Music: An Introduction and Practical Instrumentalists.
division, the cognitive task of recogniz- Guide to Music Learning Theory, 2nd
ing notation becomes that much easier. 10. Campbell and Scott-Kassner, Music in
ed. (Chicago: GIA Publications, 2000);
When students create melodies in their Richard E. Grunow, Edwin E. Gordon,
heads and realize them on their instru- and Christopher A. Azzara, Jump Right 11. See Donald J. Running, “Creativity
ments, they become independently In: The Instrumental Series Teacher’s Research in Music Education: A Review
Guide, 2 ed. (Chicago: GIA, 2001); (1980–2005),” Update: Applications of
functioning artists. As students develop
S. L. Schleuter, A Sound Approach Research in Music Education 27, no. 1
their abilities in each area of the Big 5, to Teaching Instrumentalists: An (November 2008): 41–48.
they get that much closer to becoming Application of Content and Learning 12. C. Azzara, “Audiation-Based
comprehensive musicians. Sequences, 2nd ed. (New York: Improvisation Techniques and
Schirmer Books, 1996); and C. Azzara Elementary Instrumental Students’
and Richard E. Grunow, Developing
Notes Musicianship through Improvisation
Music Achievement,” Journal of
Research in Music Education 41, no. 4
  1. Edwin E. Gordon, Learning Sequences in (Chicago, IL: GIA, 2006). (December 1993): 328–42.
Music: A Contemporary Music Learning   5. Patricia Shehan Campbell and Carol 13. See Azzara and Grunow,
Theory (Chicago, IL: GIA, 2007). Scott-Kassner, Music in Childhood: From Developing Musicianship through
  2. Edwin E. Gordon, Introduction to Preschool through the Elementary Grades Improvisation.
Research and the Psychology of Music (Boston, MA: Schirmer, 2010).
14. C. M. Conway, “Good Rhythm and
(Chicago: GIA, 1998).   6. Rudolf Laban, Mastery of Movement Intonation from Day One in Beginning
  3. Bruce Dalby, “Teaching Audiation (London: MacDonald and Evans, Instrumental Music,” Music Educators
in Instrumental Classes,” Music 1971). Journal 89, no. 5 (May 2003): 26–31.


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