3/16/2007

So, last semester I had students fill out a little evaluation sheet at the end of the semester. One of the questions I asked was about which activity students had most enjoyed during the course of the class, and a huge number of students said that the thing they most enjoyed was the thing we did today.

So here’s the thing we did today: I described what I could about this vague idea of “tone.” Since it’s kind of hard to figure out what to look for and how to describe it once you find it, I’ve decided to use music to get into this discussion. The thing about the word “tone” is that it refers to the sense of sound, so using actual sounds seems to help us to develop the type of scrutiny and the vocabulary we need to talk about tone in a literary sense.

Anyway, the activity goes like this: I create a playlist of music with a wide variety of styles, moods, and, well, tones, and students listen attentively to the song. When any individual student wants to move on to the next song, they put down their pencil. As long as 75% of the class is still holding a pencil, I let the music play.

Before we started listening, we developed a list of what to listen for. This is a list of actual attributes of the songs that we then use to figure out the emotional content that the artists are trying to convey. Here are the aspects of music most of the classes came up with:

Pitch: How high or low (or both) is the general pitch of the music and voice? If it’s polytonal, do the tones create harmony or dischord?

Tempo & rhythm: Is it fast or slow; regular or irregular?

Volume: Is it loud or soft or both?

Instrumentation: What kind of instruments are used and how many?

Voice (of the singer): Diction (pronunciation, etc.), texture, pitch, rhythm, etc.

Of course, there are many other aspects of music we could talk about, but this was a good enough list for students to draw clues about the music’s general tone.

Roughly speaking, we approached tone by noting the types of details listed above, and then asking, “How does the artist want me to feel when I hear this?”

Here’s the list of songs we listened to, in case you liked one and wanted to hear more like it. (Note: First period had an extra song not on the list below–it was #12, and it was Pizzicato Five’s “It’s a Beautiful Day.”)

 

Song Name

Band

Album

1

A Winter’s Sky

The Pipettes

We Are The Pipettes

2

America

Simon and Garfunkel

Bookends

3

American Errorist (I Hate Hate)

NOFX

The War On Errorism

4

between the bars

Elliott Smith

Either/Or

5

Big in Japan

Tom Waits

Mule Variations

6

Boots of Spanish Leather

Bob Dylan

The Times They Are A-Changin’

7

Burning

The Baptist Generals

No Silver/No Gold

8

Click Click

The Beat

I Just Can’t Stop It

9

Cosmia

Joanna Newsom

Ys

10

Dynamite!

The Roots

Things Fall Apart

11

For The Price Of A Cup Of Tea

Belle & Sebastian

The Life Pursuit

12

Hoboken

Operation Ivy

Energy

13

Juxtaposed With U

Super Furry Animals

Rings Around The World (Disc 1)

14

Mr. You’re On Fire Mr.

Liars

They Threw Us All In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top

15

Naked as We Came

Iron And Wine

Our Endless Numbered Days

16

Paragraph President

Blackalicious

Blazing Arrow

17

Robot

The Futureheads

The Futureheads

18

Round The Bend

Beck

Sea Change

19

Rule

Nas

Stillmatic

20

Seven Swans

Sufjan Stevens

Seven Swans

21

So Says I

The Shins

Chutes Too Narrow

22

The Fox

Sleater-Kinney

The Woods

23

The Gloaming

Radiohead

Hail to the Thief

24

Wouldn’t It Be Nice

The Beach Boys

Pet Sounds

Anyway, on Monday we’ll discuss the notes on tone and try to figure out how to represent some of these same “tones” we’ve heard in music in our writing.

A good weekend to you all.

MT

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