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Teaching Time Signatures


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#1 fatar760

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Posted 26 June 2008 - 10:18

For the past couple of weeks I've been trying to get a 9 year old i teach to remember that the top number of a time signature tells you how many beats are in each bar and that the bottom number tells you which beat it is. She understands the general point of the itme signature and is able to apply it to bars but she just cant remember the point of each number.


So, on the spot, I came up with the idea of a chocolate bar (well more a tube - like smarties) called Time Signature that has 2 number on the packet. The top number tells you how many sweets are in the bar and the bottom number tells you which sweets you have.....

I think maybe if i refined this idea a tad it might be a decent way of remembering it....


Just wondering what other approaches you guys have to teaching kids how to remember time signatures ?
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#2 sbhoa

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Posted 26 June 2008 - 10:27

This is where I find the american terminology useful.
I just tell them that these are different names for the notes.
Right at the start I don't really ask them to remember what the bottom number means as they only come across music with a crotchet beat for a long time anyway. I do refer to it from time to time to give it a chance to filter in though. What they mostly need to know in the early stages is how many in a bar.
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#3 Hannah74

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Posted 26 June 2008 - 10:30

QUOTE(sbhoa @ Jun 26 2008, 11:27 AM) View Post

This is where I find the american terminology useful.
I just tell them that these are different names for the notes.
Right at the start I don't really ask them to remember what the bottom number means as they only come across music with a crotchet beat for a long time anyway. I do refer to it from time to time to give it a chance to filter in though. What they mostly need to know in the early stages is how many in a bar.



The American terminology works brilliantly, where semi breves are whole notes, minims are half notes, and crotchets are quarter notes. A time signature of 3/4 is therefore three quarter notes in a bar. Works a treat!
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#4 jod

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Posted 26 June 2008 - 10:52

QUOTE(sbhoa @ Jun 26 2008, 11:27 AM) View Post

This is where I find the american terminology useful.
I just tell them that these are different names for the notes.
Right at the start I don't really ask them to remember what the bottom number means as they only come across music with a crotchet beat for a long time anyway. I do refer to it from time to time to give it a chance to filter in though. What they mostly need to know in the early stages is how many in a bar.


This is where I hate books that tell children that a crotchet is a one beat note. That only happens in ?/4 time as a crotchet is also a 1/4 note. So as soon as 2/2 or 3/8 is introduced, I ask them what are we counting in. Then when we get to compound time its like units of 3/8 added together which is why we count in dotted crotchets.

IF you talk about the unit of the pulse from the word go, then time signatures slot into place very easily.
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#5 sbhoa

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Posted 26 June 2008 - 10:55

QUOTE(jod @ Jun 26 2008, 11:52 AM) View Post

QUOTE(sbhoa @ Jun 26 2008, 11:27 AM) View Post

This is where I find the american terminology useful.
I just tell them that these are different names for the notes.
Right at the start I don't really ask them to remember what the bottom number means as they only come across music with a crotchet beat for a long time anyway. I do refer to it from time to time to give it a chance to filter in though. What they mostly need to know in the early stages is how many in a bar.


This is where I hate books that tell children that a crotchet is a one beat note. That only happens in ?/4 time as a crotchet is also a 1/4 note. So as soon as 2/2 or 3/8 is introduced, I ask them what are we counting in. Then when we get to compound time its like units of 3/8 added together which is why we count in dotted crotchets.

IF you talk about the unit of the pulse from the word go, then time signatures slot into place very easily.


I use the phrases 'For now' and 'mostly' a lot.
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#6 jenny

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Posted 26 June 2008 - 11:05

QUOTE(sbhoa @ Jun 26 2008, 11:55 AM) View Post


I use the phrases 'For now' and 'mostly' a lot.


Me, too! And I think that they quite like the idea that at various stages in the future, as they progress, there will be lots of other things to learn. It seems to give them the feeling of moving forward.

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#7 fatar760

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Posted 26 June 2008 - 11:40

think I'm trying to get my head around some of this.

Doesn't the grade 1 theory syllabus require that a student should know that the bottom number means 'which beat it is' ?
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#8 sbhoa

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Posted 26 June 2008 - 11:45

QUOTE(fatar760 @ Jun 26 2008, 12:40 PM) View Post

think I'm trying to get my head around some of this.

Doesn't the grade 1 theory syllabus require that a student should know that the bottom number means 'which beat it is' ?


Yes, but by the time we've got as far as grade 1 they are usually ready to understand that. Grade 1 is some way from the beginning and I tend to gradually introduce theory as we go. I don't like to do too much 'formal' theory until a fair amount is already known just because you need to know it to understand the written music. It's learnt mostly by just using the language and talking about things often.
It's a case of not having too much to take in at once.
They start out by knowing about the top number from very early on. The rest comes in later and can be introduced gently by talking about it but not necessarily asking for it to be memorised too soon.
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#9 fatar760

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Posted 26 June 2008 - 11:53

QUOTE(sbhoa @ Jun 26 2008, 12:45 PM) View Post

QUOTE(fatar760 @ Jun 26 2008, 12:40 PM) View Post

think I'm trying to get my head around some of this.

Doesn't the grade 1 theory syllabus require that a student should know that the bottom number means 'which beat it is' ?


Yes, but by the time we've got as far as grade 1 they are usually ready to understand that. Grade 1 is some way from the beginning.
It's a case of not having too much to take in at once.
They start out by knowing about the top number from very early on. The rest comes in later and can be introduced gently by talking about it but not necessarily asking for it to be memorised too soon.



I see what you mean.

I generally start to look at grade 1 theory very early. It takes a while as i do each area in detail. It helps me know where I am theory-wise with a student if I'm following the book through. Time signatures is the second chapter I think, and as this student has a really good grasp of rhythm reading and note values I've moved her onto putting those notes into different time signatures. Maybe I'm way off the mark in my approach here...

I should point out that the theory side of things never last longer than 5 - 10 mins and the majority of the lesson is foccused on scales, repertoire and somtime aural and sight reading....but at a very simple level.



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#10 cindy

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Posted 26 June 2008 - 13:06

With the youngest students I introduce theory using Chesters Theory Puzzles. I introduce these whne they are around Prep test standard. They begin thinking that these are very easy. Having completed 2 sets (20 sheets) they are then well prepared to move to Grade 1 Theory and have indeed covered quite a bit of the work. Although the workbooks look more daunting they soon realise that they can do it. I would expect the theory work to be around a grade behind practical. I also agree with some of the earlier responses where in the early learning stages we look at the top number, play lots of duets together and then the student really understands that the top number is how many. As your student is 9 years old, it may be worth slowing the theory process down as it could be a maturity problem. Have you enquired about her mathematical ability? In my experience there is a fairly close correlation between the 2.
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#11 jod

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Posted 26 June 2008 - 13:26

If I go through my pupils notebooks, they have been taught theory from day one, but adjunct to their lessons, so that as soon as I give them an Eric Taylor theory book, the keys they need, the Italian terms, and the Time signatures should be terms they have in common use. The things they need to learn are notation and how to put it all together.

My son is 9 too, and I am planning to buy him the Grade 1 workbook soon. I don't think he'll find it too daunting. He reads music well, uses the Grade 1 italian terms, understands the key signatures he needs for the grades, he just needs to learn how to notate music properly (something he wants to do) and put it all together. When he is ready, he'll do the exam. He is also good at maths and english, so I do not forsee any great difficulties.
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#12 fatar760

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Posted 26 June 2008 - 13:34

QUOTE(cindy @ Jun 26 2008, 02:06 PM) View Post

As your student is 9 years old, it may be worth slowing the theory process down as it could be a maturity problem. Have you enquired about her mathematical ability? In my experience there is a fairly close correlation between the 2.


I will have a look through the chester's book i think for some ideas. Cheers for that smile.gif On your question though.... She is a very intelligent girl. She organises her music books, files and my practice updates with great maturity. I don't think she does have a problem with maths as her note value work is faultless. I would'nt have moved on from it if there were signs of problems.

I should probably have said that I don't use the workbooks with the kids. I just use it as a guide for myself in terms of structuring in what order they learn theory work. So for example the first chapter is note values so what I do is I go over drawing of the notes, spelling, how long they last etc and set all this on manuscript paper as homework. they keep all their work in an A4 file (of which this particular student is very neat and tidy with).

She understands that if the top number of a time sig says 3 then she needs to count 3 beats in every bar, similar with 4 and 2. It's just the bottom number she is getting confused with and I'm trying to think of more 'child friendly' ways (such as the sweet thing) to get her to remember it.
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#13 jod

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Posted 26 June 2008 - 13:36

QUOTE(fatar760 @ Jun 26 2008, 02:34 PM) View Post

QUOTE(cindy @ Jun 26 2008, 02:06 PM) View Post

As your student is 9 years old, it may be worth slowing the theory process down as it could be a maturity problem. Have you enquired about her mathematical ability? In my experience there is a fairly close correlation between the 2.


I will have a look through the chester's book i think for some ideas. Cheers for that smile.gif On your question though.... She is a very intelligent girl. She organises her music books, files and my practice updates with great maturity. I don't think she does have a problem with maths as her note value work is faultless. I would'nt have moved on from it if there were signs of problems.

I should probably have said that I don't use the workbooks with the kids. I just use it as a guide for myself in terms of structuring in what order they learn theory work. So for example the first chapter is note values so what I do is I go over drawing of the notes, spelling, how long they last etc and set all this on manuscript paper as homework. they keep all their work in an A4 file (of which this particular student is very neat and tidy with).

She understands that if the top number of a time sig says 3 then she needs to count 3 beats in every bar, similar with 4 and 2. It's just the bottom number she is getting confused with and I'm trying to think of more 'child friendly' ways (such as the sweet thing) to get her to remember it.

Bottom number = type of beat quarter notes are crotchets, half notes are minims. Its like doing fractions.
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#14 Guest: BusyBee_*

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Posted 26 June 2008 - 13:45

I draw them a giant egg shaped semibreve and then draw through it to divide it up into quarters. I write in 1/4 in one section and check they understand what a fraction is. Then I tell them that someone waved a magic wand and changed the 1/4s into big crotchets. I then fill in the remaining sections of the quartered 'egg' with crotchets and tell them that a 4 is used as the lower number in a time signature to represent crotchet beats.

We can follow this up and do the same for minims and quavers later as visual reminders.
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#15 jenny

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Posted 26 June 2008 - 14:56

QUOTE(BusyBee @ Jun 26 2008, 02:45 PM) View Post

I draw them a giant egg shaped semibreve and then draw through it to divide it up into quarters.



Mine is either a pizza or a chocolate cake, depending on the child... tongue.gif


QUOTE(cindy @ Jun 26 2008, 02:06 PM) View Post

With the youngest students I introduce theory using Chesters Theory Puzzles. I introduce these whne they are around Prep test standard. They begin thinking that these are very easy. Having completed 2 sets (20 sheets) they are then well prepared to move to Grade 1 Theory and have indeed covered quite a bit of the work. Although the workbooks look more daunting they soon realise that they can do it. I would expect the theory work to be around a grade behind practical.


I've started using the Lina Ng books instead of AB workbooks - 'daunting' is the right word for those!
My students tend to keep theory at the same level as their practical work, in fact some of them forge ahead with theory, because they enjoy is SO much! smile.gif

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