learning / teaching

These lessons are created by Zane Zalis.

Knowledge and Knowing

Consider the following matrix and think about the questions that follow.

lesson6(Hrušková, n.d., Polyphonic Music section, para. 6)

What is it?  What does it mean?  What does it communicate?  Why this form of symbolic representation?  What does it represent?  How does it represent?  What kind of knowledge does it require to generate understanding?  What kind of knowledge does it generate? Can you hear it?  What kind of feeling does it generate?

Consider the following passage of musical notation and think about the questions that follow.




(Monophonic Music section, par. 3)

What is it?  What does it mean?  What does it communicate?  Why this form of symbolic representation?  What does it represent?   What kind of knowledge does it require to generate understanding?  What kind of knowledge does it generate? Can you hear it?  What kind of feeling does it generate?

If you are a pianist please take a moment to play the above excerpt or if you have notation software of some kind please input the musical passage and take a moment to listen. If neither option is available maybe you can find someone with the appropriate skills to assist you in realizing the passage of music as sound. Once you have listened to the excerpted passage from the United Catholic Songbook consider the following questions.  What is it?  What does it mean?  What does it communicate?  Why this form of symbolic representation?  What does it represent?   What kind of knowledge does it require to generate understanding?  What kind of knowledge does it generate? Can you hear it?  What kind of feeling does it generate?

The matrix, the musical notation, and the realized music performance of the passage are representations of the creative output of a music composer.  All of the representations are forms of “knowing”.  What is known is an entirely different question.  Such a question would be framed by the nature of the quest for knowledge.  What type of knowledge is being sought? And, just as importantly, why is such knowledge being sought?  Who or what counsels the searching and re-searching?  “Questions about what counts as knowledge, and what counts as an appropriate method for generating it, are now known to be bound up with questions about the ownership and control of knowledge, including questions of power (see, for example, Lyotard, 1993; Gibbons et al., 1994).   Indeed, it has been suggested that knowledge itself is in crisis (Barnett & Griffin, 1997)” (Brew, 2001, p. 271).

Knowledge is much like a body of water – it is fluid. The shape and meaning of the body of water will be determined and defined in large part by the nature of the object that contains the water be it an ocean basin or a tea cup.  Therefore how we know and relate to the body of water is coupled with representation, the object that contains and frames, and its constituent nature – hydrogen and oxygen.  As a result of such understanding we have a comprehensive view of water and its myriad meanings to our lives.  Knowledge and knowing also are framed and understood within vessels of containment and its constitutive ontology.

The previous illustrations of music as represented by the matrix, music notation, and the suggested performance of the passage, frame and provide a form of containment to the type of knowledge and understanding that is somewhat expectant.  As a result of the type of knowledge discovered or experienced by exploring each representation of the previously illustrated passage of music, the answers to the concomitant questions will be expected to be different despite the questions being the same each time.   By extension it is reasonable to view research methods as vessels of containment as much as they are ships for discovery.  Whether our ships of discovery are in the air, on the sea, or below the sea, the situated locale of exploration defines what is seen as data and what is omitted as data.  In other words, the methodology of the search and re-search as it relates to knowledge is both enlarging and limiting simultaneously.  Although the data collected may contribute to a coherent understanding of our world it only does so in part, not comprehensively. 



Regardless of the epistemology of creativity, it is a common recognition among societal leaders and thinkers that creativity and creative people are important and critical to the sustainable success of our communities.  By extension, creativity framed within the Arts is also critically important to our communities.  For, as the singer can make us electric with emotion as they give a different life and meaning to the notes of a musical score, artistic expression can inform humanity in the same manner as it reads from the score of scientific inquiry.  Both the score and the expression of the score are inextricably linked to human existence and there is a vital need to examine why we need to position the Arts and creativity as important in 21st education.


There are four fundamental reasons to embrace teaching for creativity and the elevation of the Arts as a pivotal learning experience in this regard.

  1. Firstly, we must address schools and learning. By nature we are expressive beings – in part creativity means to be flexible and fluent in our relational thinking about the world around us.   The growth and development of students personally and in relation to our complex modern world should be the raison d’être of our schools. The unfolding of who we are as individuals and part of a larger social order is not best served by the present practices in many schools that reward unchallenging subscription to authority, order/management, predominately right & wrong assessment practices, and validation by grading practices that are far removed from authentic learning.  I do not imply that “good things” are not happening in the school lives of many children, I do however, question the exclusionary attitude of educational decision makers towards other modes of learning that may provide richer learning opportunities despite infrastructure challenges. Notwithstanding that there is at times room for such practices, there is an insidious danger inherent in the educational culture dominated by right/wrong answers and external validations such as grades, ”…it is extremely seductive, and once schoolchildren have been exposed to it they are in danger of shaping their behaviour, and even their thinking, into forms that lead to external rewards, such as personal recognition by teachers, praise from parents for good grades, prizes and other concrete rewards” (Cropley, A., & Cropley, D., 2008).  Good grades are to learning as physical fitness is to athleticism, vague indicators of individual potential, definitely not concrete determinants.  “Guy Claxton’s (2002) research already appears to indicate that highest achievers may not be our best learners” (McWilliam & Haukka, 2008 p.658).   Today’s graduates still require numeracy and literacy but these skills are not the conclusion to a successful education, they are tools for learning:“’…they also are required to demonstrate higher-level reasoning skills as well as self-reliance and emotional resilience in the face of a socially fragmented, unstable and unpredictable world. This is a world which rewards initiative, independence, self-motivation and self-reliance over obedience to authority and conformity. It should come as no surprise, therefore, to note that the current era is also marked by unprecedented levels of psychological and behavioural disorders among young people’” (Blau & Gullotta, 1996; Rutter & Smith, 1995) (Geake & Cooper, 2003).Artistic education and creativity demand both discipline and flights of imagination, emotional and intellectual insight – “feet on the ground and head in the clouds”.For example, learning to be a composer encompasses the discipline of years of study on an instrument, acquisition of a symbolic theoretical language, the study of history, aesthetic critique, cultural awareness, imagination, intrinsic motivation, solitary long term focus on creative development, social engagement and teamwork with performers, managing public commentary and judgment, analysis and communication, divergent and convergent thinking, and most importantly an understanding of the symbiotic nature of emotion and intellect.  These skills and attributes transcend the art of composing itself.  Learning how to learn, fostering inquiry and critical reflection are not associated with cut and paste knowledge and multiple choice testing. It is not surprising that major corporations with robust training programs recruit liberal arts graduates for the breadth of their educational experience.
  2. Economics and the workforce are the second reason for the importance of teaching for creativity and placing the Arts at the center of such teaching.   The relationship between teaching for jobs and teaching for humanity is vexatious and abrading at best.  Yet this disquieting dichotomy will not be resolved neither by ignorance nor voluminous diatribes.  “The industrial sector cannot ignore the benefits of a creative workforce to commercial enterprise, just as educators cannot ignore the importance of developing a disposition to creativity in young people” (McWilliam & Haukka, 2008 p.651).  Why, can we not teach for creativity and prepare students with the requisite numeracy and literacy skills simultaneously? It need not be an either/or educational strategy but a shift in methodology.  It is interesting to note that many of the new assessment practices used in the Province of Manitoba are borrowed, intentionally or not, from the Arts world.  Those of us, who have studied music, took private lessons, performed in recitals and were accountable to high level external examinations know all too well the importance of continuous assessment and benchmarks of excellence although our motivation was always the music and learning, not the grade.   I would invite educational leaders to look towards the creative arts as a compass that may shape the direction of their thoughts in understanding teaching for creativity and its application to other disciplines.  The Australian Dept. of Education, Science and Training has shifted its focus from global knowledge-based economy to seeing creative capacity as the key force in driving the economy. The new national policy in Australia “overturns narrow scientific and technological definitions of the sort of creativity that leads to innovation. It argues instead that ‘the creative imagination knows no divide between science and art’ (McWilliam & Haukka, 2008 p.655).
  3. Politics and democracy are the third reason for placing the Arts and creativity center stage in the development of 21st century curriculum.  Consider the words of John Dewey (1939):Democracy is a way of personal life controlled not merely by faith in human nature in general but by faith in the capacity of human beings for intelligent judgment and action if proper conditions are furnished.  Dewey continues to elaborate, “For what is the faith of democracy in the role of consultation, of conference, of persuasion, of discussion, in formation of public opinion, which in the long run is self-corrective, except faith in the capacity of the intelligence of the common man to respond with common sense to the free play of facts and ideas which are secured by effective guarantees of free inquiry, free assembly and fee communication?What does Dewey mean by furnishing “proper conditions” regarding having faith in the capacity for human beings for intelligent judgment and action?  What might those conditions look like in a school environment?  It is questionable whether the development of intelligent judgment is effectively achievable within the confines of classrooms and curricula that reward behaviors diametrically opposed to creative and critical thinking practices – both of which are necessary for the growth of intelligent judgment.  Democracy requires that we don’t freely submit our will, both collectively and individually, to a governing authority.  On the contrary, democracies function best when important issues or ideas are debated openly and the exchanges are respectful, critical and creative.  Additionally, critical and creative thinkers are not easily seduced by propaganda and the chatter of interest groups, be they minorities or majorities. The Arts assiduously provide the platform experientially, emotionally and intellectually to foster the qualities of creativity and critical thinking in its students and practitioners to live within and effectively support a democratic society.
  4. Lastly, the fourth reason for the Arts and creative engagement as impacting components of 21st century education is our humanity.  It is inarguable that numeracy and literacy are important.  Both languages are symbolic codes that imply relational meaning to and for humankind.  Nonetheless, keep in view the following critique and thoughts from the philosophical writing of Suzanne Langer:Although the elements of spoken and written language are the most familiar symbolic materials, the human mind is capable of apprehending configurations that are too intricate to be adequately expressed in the medium of language. In a painting, for example, “the balance of values, line and color and light, and…other elements is so highly adjusted that no verbal proposition could hope to embody its pattern”; and the patterns found in music might correspond to “the endlessly intricate yet universal pattern of emotional life (Dryden).The creative Arts reside in the world of imagination and symbolic representation continuously searching for patterns and meaning in the external and internal worlds of human life.  Eventually the results of artistic creativity and imagination are manifest in the artist’s chosen discipline which in turn challenges its audience to think and feel in different ways and consider their connection to others and the ideas of others.  There is no right or wrong in such creative interactions – just the opportunity for empathic growth.   Our empathy for others in a crowded world informs and defines our humanity.  Unlike the sciences and mathematics, artistic study especially creative artistic involvement, is extraordinarily situated to provide an educational experience that develops both critical and creative capacities both intellectually and emotionally.  Learning at the intersection of emotion and intellect is deep and impacting – also social and personal.We are miracles and marvels of creativity which incessantly challenge our notions of life and meaning – from where does the spark of life come? “True, we can formulate conditions more or less propitious for new things to emerge; we can analytically reduce the process into increasingly tiny units and describe what is taking place in the brain but inevitably, an inexplicable ‘leap’ remains: a ‘miracle’ when expressed theologically” (Brockling, 2006).  We are born as a result of creativity and it is reasonable to think that we are inherently creative, albeit manifest in a variety of ways and degrees.  As a society we regard highly, creative people and the results of their creative endeavours, whether scientific, musical, literary, athletic, dance, visual art, politics, etc.    It may be fair to say that without our capacity to create we would be less human, or at the very least, we would not recognize humanity as it is presently understood.  Furthermore, it is essential to reflect on creativity within the context of the Arts.In the words of John Dewey, “The difference between art and science is that art expresses meanings, whereas science states them.  A statement gives us directions for obtaining an experience, but does not supply us with experience. That water is H20 tells us how to obtain or test for water. If science expressed the inner nature of things it would be in competition with art, but it does not. Aesthetic art, by contrast to science, constitutes an experience” (Leddy, 2013).   If the Arts and creativity are intrinsic to our existence and meaningful expressions of that existence, which rightfully question and challenge ourselves and society, than why do schools ignore the value of such educational opportunities? Essentially schools have become repositories for exercises in repetition, sameness and creativity killing – it should be noted that sameness and reference standards are different concepts.  Why aren’t we teaching as common practice the “stuff” that marvels, engages, and is fundamentally an extension of our ‘being’?  Or, why aren’t we teaching consistently in a manner that is creative and marvelous?    It is fair to say that our existence is increasingly becoming validated by scientific measurement and digital accountability.  Functionally, we are increasingly becoming ID & PIN numbers for reasons of management which appear to trump names, face to face meetings, or phone calls for that matter.  We have become the same; to be dealt with in broad brush strokes that continuously reduce our humanity – things and objects to be managed, thus the rise of human resource departments.   Unfortunately we are headed in the same direction with schools and education.  With a few moments of reflection, it should not be surprising that students gravitate regularly to arts rooms, music rooms and gyms on their own accord – it is where they can express and create their individuality. It is not within the purview of this paper, but the reader would be well advised to learn about the value of the Arts and creativity with regards to our health and longevity – it is telling and inspiring.  Advocating for creativity within the Arts is not a repellant position towards science, mathematics and the inexorable advance of technology, it is a statement of concern and belief in its value to keep us coherently whole and mindful of what defines humanity.

Why We Need to Learn Notation: The Music Language



There is a comprehensive rhythm or pattern to life that is critical to our existence.  It informs us physically, intellectually, and emotionally.  We tend not to take notice of this rhythm if it is functioning smoothly and effectively, however, if it is disturbed or altered we will quickly take notice and respond to the change.  Consider the following examples of rhythmic coherence: heartbeats, tides, seasons, senescence (biological aging), and walking, each with a rhythm that is defining and symbolic.  There is deep meaning in the rhythms and associated symbols that frame our lives both internally and externally, but as important, are we aware of and sensitive to such subsistent rhythms.

Although there is an argument for a priori knowledge, it is understood at the very least that we learn and acquire knowledge through our senses.  And, the more senses we can incorporate into learning the deeper the comprehension and meaning.  Let us examine the ways in which we can determine if an apple is rotten.  We can smell, taste, touch, hear (tap an apple!), and see the indicators of a rotten apple, each sense providing different information that informs our decision to either eat or not eat the apple.  Multiple sensory inputs provide different perspectives concerning learning and knowing.  It is for the same reason we consult others for advice when making critical decisions – at the very least it is a prudent action.  Now consider applying the same principle to acquiring the language of music.  Although the ear is considered the final judge in all things musical we should not be too quick to discount the impact of the other senses to inform our comprehension of the music language and its extant rhythm/patterns.  I am not certain whether we will ever taste, smell or touch music (except Braille), even though such a premise would be fantastically interesting, but we can use our eyes to read notation in addition to using our ears.  Reading music notation is important for it contributes in an impacting manner to our creative insight when composing music.  With training and experience our eyes can glean from a score, relationships and patterns (melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, and timbre) before we listen to score.  We not only hear patterns/rhythms, we can see patterns/rhythms, especially the inner workings of more complex compositions.  Even songs take on new meaning when we see a simple “lead sheet”. Once again with knowledge and training we see and hear new possibilities/patterns/relationships for musical development as a result of incorporating the eyes and ears into the process of creating music.  The symbols of music are deeply meaningful and enhance the learning and understanding of music as opposed to “getting in the way” of an individual’s creativity- which is a commonly heard remark.  For many musicians, learning to read music after years of playing by ear can be an intensely frustrating endeavor. Undeniably, their performing skills far exceed their ability to notate musical ideas thus there is a challenging and perplexing polarity in their musical life.  Talented and highly skilled performers who cannot read music are also beginners from another perspective.  They have denied themselves an aspect of the musical language that would impact their ability to communicate and develop their musical ideas in novel ways.  Not being able to read music doesn’t diminish the artistic gifts and years of practice for many musicians, however, the ability to read would add another layer of communication and insight to an already rich musical experience.  It is possible to see a parallel with highly intelligent and achieved individuals who are also illiterate.  It takes strength of character and a keen awareness to becoming a beginning learner once more – humbling but forward thinking and enormously rewarding.

Composing and notating music is a commitment to an idea, much like writing a short story or novel.  The musical idea has been symbolically coded for posterity and replicability by other musicians who also can read and speak the language of music. The ability to improvise is undoubtedly an essential skill for musicians to spontaneously express themselves, much like public speaking, but it is not a commitment like a written statement. The digital recording world has provided a means to capture musical conversations but it still not the same as notating music.  When music is notated the process demands thoughtful reflection in way unlike the recording process.  To wit, compare and contrast television news broadcasts (CBS) versus written news reports (New York Times). Both are informing but there are distinct differences in the reporting process which affect our understanding of the news event. A similarity can be drawn to writing by “ear” versus using the eyes and ears to create music.  Both ways inform the creative process but the result of the multiple sensory approaches favorably increases the opportunity for musical exploration. 

Essential Learning

Students will receive an introduction to the complexity and the symbolism of language regarding both communication and cultural meaning.   By extension, students will receive the opportunity to examine music as a language, rich with symbols and meaning.

General Learning Outcome

Students will apply the concepts of lesson 3 to the creative work.  It is critical that they implement the concept of “eyes and ears” when creating music.

Specific Learning Outcome

Students will learn and apply the practices of music notation using Notion 4.

The Lesson
  1. Write on a board the word “CAT” or any other simple noun
  2. Ask every student to make a comment about what you wrote on the board
  3. Encourage each student to respond quickly
  4. The banter between teacher and student should be light and playful

Every student’s response should be as spontaneous as possible, do not give them time to reflect.  Some comments will be factual, whimsical, physically descriptive, or emotionally descriptive but what is important is the meaning of the word CAT to each student.  Bring to their attention that in spite of all the different descriptions and comments about what the word CAT means to each individual, there is consensus regarding the general meaning and images associated with the word CAT.  This consensus was achieved because each student learned how to read the written English language – a symbolic code laden with meaning.  Additionally, there is experiential knowledge of cats which informs the meaning of the symbol CAT.

  1. Write on a board a word from a foreign language that uses a different Alphabet than English, e.g. Russian (Cyrillic), Hindi (Devanāgarī), etc.
  2. Ask every student to make a comment about what you wrote on the board
  3. Encourage each student to respond quickly
  4. The banter between teacher and student should be light and playful

The nature of discussion will be radically different than the experience with the word CAT.  Students will be lost in their search for comments or descriptions and when playfully pressed to guess at the meaning of the word on the board their response is usually highly imaginative or muted frustration.  There is no consensus regarding meaning.  The language is foreign and if the word is not translated to English, experience associated with the meaning of the word is negated because the student doesn’t know what memorable experiences to draw upon.  Any meaningful communication regarding the meaning of the foreign written word has been short-circuited.  The comments that do come forward are usually associated with the mechanics of writing the word or the appearances of the foreign language, e.g.  “…. That letter looks like a funny looking “b”…” 

  1. Using a five line staff with treble clef notate a C diminished seventh chord, i.e. C, Eb, Gb, Bbb (A)
  2. Ask every student to make a comment about what you wrote on the board
  3. Encourage each student to respond quickly
  4. The banter between teacher and student should be light and playful

The names of notes, rhythmic value, treble clef, staff, are usually cited quickly and confidently.  “It’s a chord”, state some students.  Those students with training, usually piano students with 5 – 10 years of private lessons, quite proudly state that it is a diminished chord.  Sometimes there is no recognition at all that the notes on the board represent a diminished seventh chord.  However, if we follow the same pattern of discussion as was undertaken with the word CAT, than it is important that we search for meaning in the notation on the board.  Ask the students what the notation on the board means.  It is customary for students to be confused at this point, however, point out to them that the written word CAT is nothing more than a bunch of connected lines and curves and yet they were able to ascribe meaning to the lines and curves and maintain a discussion.

  1. Ask the students what emotions the notation on the board might trigger?
  2. What emotions might the word CAT trigger in various students? 

At this point play the chord on the piano and once again ask individual students what the chord means to them.  Most students associate the chord with horror movies or suspenseful situations. Engage the students in a discussion about meaning in other forms of language/communication, such as the spoken word. 

  1. In a polite voice ask students to stand or sit upright.
  2. Now ask them to do the same once again using precisely the same words but make your tone harsh and threatening. 
  3. Discuss, why has the meaning changed?
  4. Examine the use of body language to communicate, e.g. fold your arms make a stern face and then quietly ask a student to come to the front of the room. 
  5. Repeat the exercise using a different body language and ask the students how the meaning was different from the previous demonstration. 

As human beings we are constantly discerning meaning either consciously or subconsciously in our daily experiences and communications.  Language and meaning are inseparable.  Language, both orally and written, is tool by which we build and create meaning. The written symbols of our various languages have been created for communicating meaning.  The spoken word, with its many shades of tonal subtlety has been created to communicate meaning.  A dialogue of meaning occurs when there is a common language among the participants.

Why engage students in this exercise in language and meaning?  It is important for them to understand that if they consider music a language than they must learn it as a language.  Most students study music as a set of theoretical rules very much like acquiring the rules of grammar.  To speak freely, acquire literacy, and achieve meaningful communication in music requires an entirely different approach to teaching music.  Additionally, when teaching for creativity, both written and spoken language need to be applied immediately to facilitate the growth of self-expression.   We master a language by simultaneous study and usage of the language.  Hence, learning theory first and then attempting to learn to create music – a linear/sequential approach – is illogical, akin to learning grammar and syntax for years before being allowed to self-express.    

The more senses we can incorporate in a learning experience, the greater the depth and understanding is the knowing.  If one could lick the page of music with their tongue and then declare that the song is written in the E Lydian mode so much the better.  However, such a scenario is not to be – at least not at the moment!  We can nonetheless use our eyes and ears to help us in the art of creating music, despite acknowledging that the ears are the final judge. Thus, the eyes capture what the ears have not heard and the ears capture what the eyes have not seen.

Consider the following questions as a point of departure for critical reflection by the students and teacher.

  1. Why did students recognize CAT as a word and not as a collection of individual letters?
  2. Why did students recognize the diminished chord as a collection of individual notes and not a chord?
  3. Why were they able to ascribe meaning to the word CAT and not the diminished chord?
  4. If some students have studied piano for ten years why were they unable to recognize the diminished chord as a specific type of sound?
  5. Why were those same students able to imagine the sound of a CAT meowing and not imagine the sound of a diminished chord?
  6. How did we acquire the English language?
  7. How did we acquire the music language?
  8. Why is it common for young music students with several years of experience on their instrument to struggle with being creative on their instrument in terms of improvisation and free play?
  9. What if we taught children English or any other language using the same methods we use to teach children music, what might be the result?
  10. If most music students struggle with creative expression and improvisation, critical components of any language, then why do we continue to perpetuate our methods of teaching music?
  11. Is being creative and expressive a natural state for human beings?
  12. How important is it to read musical notation? Why?
  13. How important is it to play by “ear”?
  14. How do other music cultures reconcile musical notation vs. oral transmission as methods of teaching music?
  15. How might we balance both the written and oral aspects of learning music to better achieve expressive and creative command of the language of music?

When we learn to read English initially we start with the alphabet and with time become adapted to recognizing words, phrases and then sentences.   At some point in our journey in learning to read we no longer default to sounding individual letters in our attempts to sound words.  We recognize patterns of sound associated with letters of the alphabet and in doing so begin to read words as units of meaning and communication.  It is in this manner that students need to address the ability to read notated rhythms.  Initially individual note values are studied as students learn to count, as per time signature, the rhythms of a composition.  If students continue to count individual beats in a metrical numerical fashion, it is the elementary equivalent of reading English by sounding out the letters of the alphabet.  For students to become literate in their ability to read musical notation requires readers to recognize the words and sentences of music notation – the patterns of the language.  Of course the ability to sound the letters of the alphabet will never be lost as should be the ability to recognize the individual note values in music, but such a skill is foundational not conclusive.

The Wonder of Tertian (Thirds) Harmony
An Introduction to the Concept of Chord Substitution


Traditionally it has been the practice for students to undertake theory lessons to understand the inner workings of “western music” before they endeavour upon any creative music activity.  Although it is understandable to have students acquire the basics of music theory, the sequence of traditional teaching practices needs to be examined regarding the development of creative and critical thinking.  If a child was learning the English language, would we have the child engage in a relatively intense study of spelling, grammar and syntax before they were allowed to creatively expressive themselves by either the spoken or written word?  Essentially we learn language by using the language; even in its most rudimentary form.  Although the learning curve associated with the spoken word is vastly different than the learning curve associated with the written word, school children are urged to simultaneously learn to speak, read, and write the target language. So, why is music taught differently?  Why are music students of all ages not encouraged to play an instrument, read notation, and express themselves creatively through improvising or composing starting from the onset of instruction?  Most children are naturally curious and willing to explore the unknown. Such admirable qualities should be perpetuated throughout students’ K-12 experience and into maturity.  What prevents such an ideal from occurring is mostly an issue of methodology. This sample lesson will challenge the traditional music theory precepts of how we learn the language of music with the intention of developing knowledge for the sake of creative expression.  And, as a result of the methodology, students will be led to inquire more about the relationship between the written (theoretical) and spoken (performance) aspects of the language of music.  Hence, the eyes capture what the ears have not heard and the ears capture what the eyes have not seen.

This particular lesson would be the tenth in a sequence of eleven learning strategies designed to assist students in the practice of writing creatively and reflective thinking through the art of music composition/song-writing. The sequence is as follows:

  1. Fear, trust, and confidence – understanding human creative expression.
  2. What is music? the elements and thinking critically.
  3. Notation – pitch and rhythm. Why learn to notate?
  4. Melody – learning to write the tune? Simple, yet simply difficult!
  5. Computers and Music – fun, fun, fun, on the musicbahn.
  6. Major scale – a music family – more melodies!
  7. Tertian Harmony – chord progressions.  So that’s how most popular songs work!
  8. Bass lines – how to create a strong dynamic foundation.
  9. Creating major and minor chords – Oh, what a difference a flatted third can make!
  10. Simple harmonic substitution – look we’re cousins.
  11. Dominant sevenths – start to make things sound a bit “funkier”!
  12. Creative challenge – exploring big with something small.

The unique approach of this method positions a high school student to address harmonic substitution by lesson ten – a topic normally taught as an undergrad university course.

Essential Learning

Students will receive the opportunity to see and hear the inter-relatedness of chords and by extension develop insight into the internal harmonic structure of music.  There is a particular “musical DNA” to harmonic families much like human families.  For clarity, imagine parents and children sitting at the dinner table, each different yet undoubtedly related – the immediate family.  As various guests arrive and join the family at the dinner table the palette of relationships has expanded to include relatives and friends – some known to all and others known only to a selected few.  The strength or intimacy of the relationship between the various participants determines the direction and quality of the conversations.  Essentially, this is how chords relate to each other.  As concerning musical DNA, students learn which chords are family members, close friends or distant relatives, and in doing so expand their creative conversation. 

General Learning Outcome

Students will apply lesson nine on harmonic substitution to their compositions in progress thus acquiring and/or developing theoretical knowledge, creative application, critical reflection, and aesthetic assessment. To date these compositions have been harmonically constrained to the use of three chords regardless of major key – I, IV and V, in any sequence.  As a result of substituting chords for I, IV and V, students will need to reflect upon the effects of the changes on their compositions both sonically and emotionally. 

Specific Learning Outcome
  1. Students will demonstrate how to construct a “thirds stack” for I, IV, and V chords. 
  2. Students will demonstrate how to analyze the chord options in a thirds stack.
  3. Students will explore their own compositions for harmonic substitution opportunities – creative play.
  4. Students will demonstrate how to apply the chord options.
  5. Students will demonstrate how to modify bass lines to support chord changes.
  6. Students will demonstrate critical reflection – contextually analyze  and aesthetically assess the effect of the chord changes.
The Lesson
Acquiring Knowledge

To begin let’s quickly review intervals.


  1. Notate the following chords in root position: C major, F major, G major.
  2. Using notes only from the C major scale add a note the interval of a third (line to line, or, space to space) above the top note (fifth) of each chord and below the root note of each chord.

As a result of the added notes there will be a stack of thirds, five notes high, for each chord – see illustration below.

lesson23. Notate the C major scale and then notate the C major harmonized scale in triads

The harmonized scale is created by stacking thirds upon the each note of the C major scale. 

After notating the harmonized scale you will notice the chords are sequenced as follows:

I – C major, II – D minor, III – E minor, IV – F major, V – G major, VI – A minor, VII – B diminished.


4. Go back to step two and look at the five note stack of thirds that was built using the C major triad and do the following:

  • Notate the top three notes of the “C major stack”
  • Notate the middle three notes of the “C major stack”
  • Notate the bottom three notes of the “C major stack”

Using the C major harmonized scale notated in step three as reference, find the names of the three triads found in the “C major stack”.  Each of these triads is directly related to one another – they are family members sharing “musical DNA”!  Proceed to explore, find, notate, and name the triads found in the F major and G major stack of thirds. Each separate group of triads found in either the C major, F major or G major “stack of thirds” is its own immediate family of chords.   As a result of the close relationship between the triads in each “chord family”, it is possible to replace one family chord member with another family chord member – Harmonic Substitution.

Explore and Critique

It is absolutely critical to understand that there really is no “right or wrong” in this exercise!  Exploration with knowledge and curiosity is invaluable to developing a creative mindset. And, as a result of exploring, new knowledge is discovered and framed.  There are different times for acquiring essential knowledge, for applying and playing with the knowledge, and then critiquing/reflecting upon the results of creative play.  It is now time to explore and play.

  1. Select a composition that you have been working on or a familiar song that is harmonically simple – created with I, IV, V, chords.
  2. Analyze and name the chord changes in your chosen piece of music. 
  3. Once you have analyzed the music harmonically proceed to create a stacked thirds chart for the chords in the song.  See “Reharmonizing a Chord Progression” illustration below.
  4. Notate and name the chords (triads) found in each of the stacked thirds.
  5. Now the fun part – replace chords as you wish according to the substitution chart – do this a number of times. Do not analyze or reflect on the chord changes – just play with the knowledge!  See illustration below.
  6. Time to reflect and critique – ask what, how, why?
  7. Listen to the results of your various chord substitutions – what is the sonic effect? What is the emotional effect? Why do you prefer some changes more so than others?  How do the chords interact with each other regarding anticipation and motion?
  8. How do the chords change the perception of the melody?


Sharing and Listening

Without having the experience of listening to the creative work of other writers we deny ourselves an opportunity to grow comprehensively.  Listening to the thoughts and ideas found in other works broadens, informs, and possibly inspires the listener to pursue their art or craft with increased vigor and passion. Take the time to share your work with fellow students and teachers through performance, display, and discussion – you most certainly will learn something from the experience, be it musical, emotional, or social.  After a critical sharing experience it is not unusual for writers to re-examine their work and refine their ideas.

As an example for sharing consider the following examples of re-harmonizing Jingle Bells using the method learned in this lesson.  Play or input (notation software) the examples to hear the effect of the chord changes and ask the relevant what, how, and why questions about the impact of the changed harmony. 


Conclusion and a Beginning

Changing or developing the harmony of songs by substituting chords for the original chord progressions is standard practice for composers and arrangers.  This lesson was an introduction in how to skilfully manipulate harmony to create a broader palette of colour with which to compose or arrange.  It is important to note that harmony is one elemental aspect of music and that this lesson is designed to encourage you to walk further in your journey of musical discovery – conclusions are opportunities for new beginnings.  Please take a moment to listen to the suggested list of recordings.  Each track is a unique arrangement of Jingle Bells clearly demonstrating how a talented and skilled writer or performer plays with the various elements of music to create a holistic musical experience – putting it together, note by note.  In addition to changes in melody, rhythm, and timbre take time to carefully listen to how the arrangers changed the traditional harmony associated with Jingle Bells.  Challenge yourself to identify some of the different chord changes.  You most likely will find it difficult initially but as with everything, time, practice, and further study will significantly increase your skill, and hopefully, deepen your appreciation and joy of music.

Suggested Listening:

Pierpont, J., L., (1857).  Jingle Bells. [Recorded by Bing Crosby]. On Merry Christmas [CD]. MCA Records, Inc. (1961)

Pierpont, J., L., (1857).  Jingle Bells. [Recorded by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass]. On Ultimate Christmas [CD]. New York, NY:  Arista. (1998)

Pierpont, J., L., (1857).  Jingle Bells. [Recorded by Barenaked Ladies]. On Barenaked for the Holidays [CD].  Fresh Baked Woods, Toronto, Ont: Desperation Records. (2004)

Pierpont, J., L., (1857).  Jingle Bells. [Recorded by Diana Krall]. On Christmas Songs [CD].  Hollywood, CA: Verve. (2005)    

Pierpont, J., L., (1857).  Jingle Bells. [Recorded by James Taylor]. On James Taylor at Christmas [CD]. Hollywood, CA: Columbia. (2006)

Pierpont, J., L., (1857).  Jingle Bells. [Recorded by Michael Buble]. On Michael Buble Christmas [CD].  Hollywood, CA: Reprise Records. (2011)

I Have A Name: movement eight from i believe
A Teaching, Learning & Performance Accompaniment


In 2009 the world premiere of i believe (composer / lyricist – Zane Zalis) – a modern oratorio – unfolded at the Centennial Concert Hall in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. On stage the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, adult chorus, children’s chorus, narrator, and three guest soloists (contemporary voices), conducted by Alexander Mickelthwate, performed before a sold out audience. Pending one’s point of view it was both a moment of culmination and the beginning of an idea.  That idea had six fundamental components that continue to drive thei believe project:

  1. The complex of human rights, cultural/historical context, psychology, and social elements that affect human behaviour are inextricably linked with regards to sustainable peace and human dignity.
  2. Such an amalgam of conditions challenges the present methods of teaching and learning as framed by our curriculum and schools with regards to global issues.
  3. The most impacting collision of learning occurs at the intersection of emotion and intellect. When emotion and intellect collide the potential for reflection increases which may lead to changes in perception.
  4. Music is the currency of today’s youth. As an art form music is highly personal, abstract, and emotive, and when combined with lyrics, a potent channel to initiate perceptual transformation. Singing is the most intimate and personal musical instrument humans possess and singing in groups addresses both the individual and social elements of our communities.
  5. Composingi believe had to embrace the philosophy of simple – complex – simple. A distillation of musical and lyrical thought that was at once all three components: a) simple in accessibility and vulnerable, b) complex in musical underpinning and narrative of the human condition, c) a knowing simplicity, not innocent but keenly aware of the complex journey. The Holocaust is a defining and seminal event in human history that has impacted our world – the progenitor of the United Nations 1948 Declaration of Human Rights. It is through the lens of the Holocaust thati believe shares a narrative of a human journey – both reprehensible and sublime.

i believe is structured in twelve movements, each movement independent yet when performed in its entirety the work shares a singular narrative about the journey of two young people and their Holocaust experience.  The soloists are supported by an adult and children’s chorus in addition to a full symphonic score.  However, the work has been created to be very effectively performed with a choir, soloists and piano. The intention of the symphonic score reduction to solo piano accompaniment was to provide an opportunity for secondary school choirs, university choirs, church choirs, and other community music organizations to authentically embrace the work with minimal concern regarding resources, financial and otherwise.  The twelve movements are:

  1. The Beginning – peaceful yet ominous – portent of things to come
  2. Why? – the questioning of the actions of Kristallnacht
  3. Not Wanted – expelled from their homes and countries, but no place to go
  4. The Children – the incomprehensible death of 1.5 million children – told by children
  5. He Said – Hitler’s scathing and hateful words that tore talon-like at humanity
  6. The Directive – The Final Solution
  7. Numbers – the dehumanizing of a people
  8. I Have A Name – the dignity and power of a name
  9. Death March – no lyrics, only broken souls marching and humming
  10. Freedom – the crisis of freedom, the suddenness and confusion of liberation
  11. What Now? – After all has been taken, or destroyed – what now? What to live for?
  12. Finale –  the strength and beauty of hope – simple, but on the far side of complexity

This document focuses on the teaching and learning opportunities associated with performing movement eight – I Have A Name.


I Have a Name was first performed in 2006 in tandem with movement seven entitled Numbers. It was part of an outreach concert with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra performed with a high school chorus, members of the community and two contemporary voiced soloists.  Approximately 1400 people filled a school gymnasium to witness the performance.  The chorus performed with intensity and took compassionate ownership of the movements.  The community, rehearsals, guest speakers, and performance became their classroom.  Content was not solely the musical work but included the dialogue with Holocaust survivors, guest speakers and students’ own reflexive thinking.  Essentially students began to take off their own perceptual “shoes” and slip on the shoes of others.  Music, lyrics, and reflexive thinking provided a transformative bridge for those performers and audience members willing to cross a gulf of misunderstanding and unawareness. The backgrounds of those people who embraced the experience of the two musical movements were comprehensive both socially and economically. The generative effect of using words and music – emotion and intellect – to spur new thinking is cross-generational and many times indelible.  This was and continues to be the experience of using words and music in a performance setting to address social issues within the frame of teaching and learning – specifically this is the i believe experience. Additionally, students engage in another form and style of music making, most commonly removed from their daily listening experience.

I Have A Name – Movement eight from the modern oratorio i believe

To understand the genesis of I Have A Name it is best to first visit movement seven – Numbers. The following are excerpted lyrics from Numbers:

We are numbers on a page just a thing that should be caged

We are nothing, numbers

Nothing, numbers

We are columns we are rows in the wind our ashes blow

We are nothing, numbers

Nothing, numbers

Count ev’ry woman ev’ry child ev’ry man

They count ev’ry thing and all the people they have damned

Ev’ry life ev’ry soul just a number in their plan

A number in their plan

and they count on the world not to ever take a stand

The plan is well in place to eradicate our race

We are numbers, nothing

Numbers, nothing

Smash our hope, erase our name, squash a bug it’s just the same

We are numbers, nothing

Numbers, nothing

Erasing a person’s name from their identity diminishes their humanity – becoming a number means becoming a “thing”, the counted are less than those doing the counting. The most egregious and heinous practice of numbering humans was found during the Holocaust. By removing someone’s name and replacing it with a number the march towards the Final Solution of extermination became quicker.

Managing people with the express intent of forced labour or direct extermination by first removing their names and then numbering them magnifies the de-humanizing nature of number identification and its extreme evil practice by the Nazis. 

The teacher, director, conductor, or group leader must exercise caution and sensitivity when engaging in discussion about the Holocaust and genocide. Issues of dignity, race, ethnicity, and culture, must be framed in historical context and practice when conversing with present day students and/or general community.  Nurturing a burden of guilt through successive generations is not the aim of remembering and reflection.

Numbers – movement seven – thus, is the catalyst for movement eight – I Have A Name. Let us begin with an excerpt of the simple and direct lyrics of I Have a Name:

I have a name

I have a name

And it lives in me, quietly,

Saying, I Am, I Am, I believe

I have a name

I have a name

You can wear me down, take my life

But you will never, no never

Take away

My Name

It is very important to take note of the simplicity of the lyrics for they are simple on the far side of complexity, laden with meaning for all people. The act of naming an individual is a joyous and celebratory occasion but it should also be an act of great thought and solemnity.  Regardless of the variances in cultural traditions that inform and guide the selection and act of naming a newborn child, a child’s name becomes an integral part of their human identity. In spite of the possible permutations of the name as the years unfold – for example nick names etc. – the journey of human identity begins with the naming of a child at birth. Additionally, it is interesting to note that it is common practice to name unidentified people or corpses in Canada as John or Jane Doe – further entrenching the importance of naming and human identity.

Rehearsal Suggestions for I Have A Name – Lyrics

In contrast with movement seven – Numbers – what is readily apparent in I Have a Name, is the declarative nature of the opening lyric – “I have a name”.  This lyric is not deferring by any measure and unequivocally states two aspects of human existence –“being and becoming”. To better understand the crime against humanity as witnessed in the Holocaust and the nature of the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights the following questions are suggested for sharing with students or community members.

  • Why is the word “I” so important?
  • Why is a name so important?
  • What does it mean “to be”?
  • What does it mean “to become”?
  • What beliefs, values, practices and laws must be in place for communities to support the notion of “to be”?
  • What beliefs, values, practices and laws must be in place for communities to support the notion of “to become”?
  • What is social identity?
  • How does it affect individual identity?

“And it lives in me, quietly……..saying I Am , I Am , I believe” – this excerpted lyric suggests questions about existence, integrity, and faith:  How did a person survive the experience of a death camp? Moreover, what form does the survival assume, especially psychologically and spiritually?

Consider the following questions as points of departure that may precipitate further inquiry into the human condition.

  • Why does “I have a name”, live quietly inside a person? Specifically, what does quietly mean in this context?
  • What does “I AM” mean? Historically, where does the term originate?
  • What is faith? What is belief? Is there a difference?
  • “I believe” – in what? Why?
  • What is religion? What is its role in society? Historically? Present day?
  • What is the relationship between faith and religion?
  • What does your name mean? Why did you receive your name?
  • Imagine if we were identified by numbers or colours, etc., how might human behaviour change?

Acknowledging that “I Have A Name” is a direct response to “Numbers”, how might we examine the relationship between human identity and faith?  If we have an identity then by extension we must identify with “something”.  Within the act of identifying we presuppose a framework that incorporates belief and association.  Thus, our name associates us with humanity and humanity is associated with a name. Of course, not every participating singer or community member may wish to explore the lyrics to such depth, which is clearly understood, but the opportunity to do so is readily possible.

It is critically important to view the power of a name from a different perspective, namely that of denigration.  The experience of an unwanted nick name or slanderous name calling is not an uncommon event in schools and communities. Despite the best efforts of teachers and community members such negative behaviours still exist.  With the advent and growth of social media and the anonymity that it affords to all, slanderous and disparaging name calling and bullying has escalated.  In this particular case removing the name of the perpetrator – anonymity – provides a sense of empowerment to the individual who in turns names their victim.  Our names our resolutely braided together with our identity, how we address each other’s identity defines our own humanity.

Rehearsal Suggestions for I Have A Name – Music

N.B. – see glossary for underscored terms.

Although the first sixteen bars of I Have A Name are plaintive, primarily elegiac in character, they essentially establish a tone of reflection upon oneself. Within the context of the entire 12 movements of i believe, I Have A Name is a moment of spiritual repose. The shattering and excoriating experience of the Holocaust upon one’s beliefs, faith and existence and the debilitating and life depleting hopelessness that envelops the future bookend the remarkable and indefatigable faith expressed in movement eight – I Have A Name. Musically, this is expressed in the direct and simple nature of the melody.  The opening of the movement should be delivered in a manner that is gentle, undisturbed in character, resolved to live with dignity and faith in spite of the evil that is omnipresent. Furthermore, the opening is contrapuntal and melismatic, each line woven smoothly and seamlessly.  Bar 17 introduces the first soloists after a brief moment of rest from the chorus intro.  At this point either female or male lead may begin the section.  The lyric “I have a name” should be sung in a quiet, stately, reserved manner, yet firm in its delivery.  Bars 17 -26 are intended to be performed in a rubato manner.  The score indicates where brief moments of repose should be considered – this is critical to the declarative nature of the section.  From bars 26 onward there is a gradual growth in intensity with the chorus and soloist both affirming the lyrics “never, never”, in bars 33 and 34.  At bar 36 a series of “key” changes begin the ascent of the declarative message of the movement which continue to bar 49.  Hallelujah infuses bars 41-48 inclusively with an intensity that reflects the interior nature and strength of humanity where faith resides, especially when our exterior nature is assailed relentlessly in a destructive and torturous manner.  By bar 54 the chorus and soloists are proclaiming boldly, “I Have A Name”, both in tone and volume.  Suddenly, after the fermata at the end of bar 54, all becomes quiet and inward once more.  The movement has returned to the soloists, in an unadorned manner simply stating that their names can be never taken away.  The journey is complete, we enter the world as individuals and we exit the world as individuals, our faith and belief though moulded by many is singularly ours.


I Have A Name, reflects the sublime nature of our individuality and existence within the community of humanity.  Our individual identity – our name – finds its greatest meaning when framed within the context of our social life. We can only possess individuality if there is a complimentary social existence.  This inherent duality defines our human nature and our life journey in this world.  Our name, which is an attribute of our identity, in part informs and guides our journey.   When we care to respect the name and individuality of others we in turn respect the gift of our own unique existence. In so doing we build caring communities. 


Contrapuntal – is in the style of counterpoint, a compositional technique and style strongly associated with Bach.  In contrast with modern day practices such as strumming a guitar and singing, counterpoint stresses the strength and character of each individual line or part and their relationship with each other. Imagine four singers performing four different melodies that are independent yet musically supportive and cohesive – together, greater than the sum of their respective lines.

Elegiac – pertains to an Elegy, which is a musical work of a mournful, somber nature.

Fermata – a sign placed on or under a note indicating that the note should be held longer than its written value. How long the note should be held is at the discrimination of the performer or conductor.

Melismatic – is the compositional technique of singing and maintaining a single syllable while moving through successive multiple notes.

Oratorio – An oratorio is a large scale musical composition for orchestra, choir, and soloists. It is a concert stage work dramatic in nature but not theatrical in production, commonly associated with sacred topics but also embraces secular themes. 

Rubato – literally means “robbed time”, which is the practice of not playing in a strict measured manner but relatively increasing or decreasing the time value of notes according to the artistic interpretation of the performer or conductor.

Suggested Reading and Listening

The listed material is a very small sample of extensive research and writing that exists regarding the Holocaust and genocide.  Scholars, writers and artists continue to contribute to the important and growing body of knowledge and insight that most tellingly informs human existence.

Fleming, G. (1984). Hitler and the Final Solution. London, England: University of California Press, Ltd.

Friedlander, S. (2007). The Years of Extermination. New York, New York: Harper Collins.

Levi, P. (1996).  Survival in Auschwitz. New York, New York: Touchstone, Simon & Schuster Inc.

Mazower, M. (2008). Hitler’s Empire, How the Nazis Ruled Europe.  New York, New York: The Penguin Press.

Power, S. (2002).  “A Problem From Hell” America and the Age of Genocide. New York, New York: Harper Perennial.

Princle, H. (2006). The Master Plan, Himmler’s Scholars and the Holocaust. New York, New York: Hyperion.

Steinbacher, S. (2004/2006). Auschwitz, A History. New York, New York: Harper Perennial.

Weiss, P. (2007).  Humanity in Doubt, Reflections and Essays. Winnipeg, Canada. Philip Weiss

Wiesel, Elie., Wiesel, Marion. (2006).  Night. New YorkNew York: Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Fazal, R. (2003). Oratorio Terezin (CD). Toronto, Canada. Tributary Music.

Zalis, Z. (2009). i believe: A Holocaust Oratorio for Today (CD). Winnipeg, Canada. Mesa Music Co.