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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.
Keywords: audiation, creativity, executive skills, internal musicianship, notation, rhythm, tonal

s a beginning middle school band

director, I conceived of my role as
basically twofold: to teach students
to play their instruments beautifully and to
teach them to correctly and independently
interpret music notation. Soon, it became
apparent that many of my students were
missing something perhaps more importantthe internal musicianship skills that
enable high-level music-making. I remember wondering why students could not keep
steady time or hear missed accidentals, getting looks of terror when asking students
to improvise, and questioning why students
understood the rhythm tree but still could
not accurately perform simple notated
rhythms. My students could read notation
and manipulate their instruments but had
difficulty discriminating pitch, keeping time,

and playing creatively. I had developed their

(external) mechanical skills but ignored
their (internal) musicianship skills.
Edwin Gordon makes a distinction
between executive skills and audiation
skills.1 Executive skills are the skills involved
in physically manipulating the instrument
(posture, hand position, range, facility,
breath support, embouchure, tone production, etc.), often referred to as technique.
As music teachers, we generally do a good
job developing these skills in our students,
probably because much of the time in our
college methods courses was devoted to
learning how to play and teach secondary
instruments. But sometimes, in an attempt
to equip students with the myriad executive
skills they need to successfully manipulate
their instruments, audiation skills (the ability

Chad West is an assistant professor of music education at Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York. He can be contacted at cwest@


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How can music

teachers best help
their students
internalize the music
they study? Here are
some suggestions.

Copyright 2015 National Association

for Music Education
DOI: 10.1177/0027432114565392


Teaching the Big 5

to hear and comprehend in ones mind

sounds that are not physically present)
can be overlooked.
Incorporating audiation skills development into what was previously a twofold understanding of my responsibility
as a band director (technique and notation), I now conceptualize music teaching in terms of developing five distinct
areas of musicianship. These areas,
which I call The Big 5, consist of rhythmic ability, tonal ability, executive skills,
notation-reading ability, and creativity
(see Figure 1). Often what seems to be
an inability in one area may really be a
symptom of an entirely different problem. For example, a student consistently
plays a B-flat when a B-natural is clearly
indicated. To address this, the teacher
directs the students attention to the key
signature and reminds the individual of
the fingering for B-natural. The student
nods, and the teacher proceeds thinking that the students misunderstanding

was corrected; after all, the student is

now playing the correct pitches. The
student may be well aware of how to
read notation and know the fingering
for the correct note; the problem may
be that the student was aurally unaware
that the note was incorrect in the first
place. If this were the case, the teachers
time would have been better spent on
developing the students tonal ability.
Another example where a problem
in one area of the Big 5 might masquerade as a problem in a completely
different area is when a student plays
an incorrect rhythm. The teacher might
presume that the incorrect rhythm is a
result of a poor understanding of notation. Or, the student might cognitively
understand the rhythm but because
of poor technique be unable to accurately execute the rhythm. But perhaps
the problem stems neither from poor
notation-reading ability nor from poor
technique but from an underdeveloped

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internal sense of steady time that prevents him or her from maintaining
the beat. In such a case, the teacher
should spend time developing the students rhythmic ability. When considering that many challenges that students
encounter could realistically stem from
any area of the Big 5, it is often difficult 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 instruments, but it is important that these
skills stem from audiation.3 When technique and notation are realized through
an aural sensitivity to sound, performance is transformed from an act of
mechanics to an expression of musicianship. 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 creativity. Many of the activities presented in
this article are associated with or drawn
from Music Learning Theory; however,
this article is neither sufficient as, nor
intended to be, an instructional guide
for implementing Music Learning Theory. For instruction in Music Learning
Theory, readers are strongly encouraged
to consult the writings of the original
authors and attend certification workshops through the Gordon Institute of
Music Learning.4

Developing Rhythmic Ability

I conceive of rhythmic ability as ones
skill at performing rhythms in the context of steady time. Ones rhythmic
ability is independent of ones notation ability. A student may have a welldeveloped internal sense of rhythm
without the ability to read rhythmic
notation, and vice versa. Just think of all
of the complex rhythm patterns in world
drumming traditions that are performed
Music Educators Journal March 2015

Hot Cross Buns (Minor/Triple)

without written notation; these performers have highly developed rhythmic

The use of movement is essential to
the development of rhythmic ability. 5
Many ensemble directors teach their students to tap their toes to the beat; however, starting with toe tapping may be
challenging for students who are unable
to keep a steady beat with their bodies. In
these instances, music teachers can draw
from Laban-based movements to help
students develop a kinesthetic response
to music.6 For example, moving the body
in a continuous, fluid manner, or flow,
helps students to experience the space
between beats. By varying heavy and
light body movements, students experience meter and accents. By moving their
bodies using both sudden and sustained
movements, students can experience
time. Instrumental ensemble directors
should also draw heavily from the myriad movement activities used in instruction based on Dalcroze, Orff, Kodly, and
Music Learning Theory to continue the
rhythmic development that was begun in
elementary general music classes.7
Beginning band students want to
learn tunes immediately, and teachers
can incorporate rhythmic development
activities when teaching students to play
rote tunes. 8 Using simple three-note
melodies such as Hot Cross Buns and
Mary Had a Little Lamb, the teacher
could model the tune while students
keep the macrobeat (pulse) in their
heels and the microbeat (division of
the pulse) in their fingertips, allowing
students to experience the tune in the
context of steady time. 9 The teacher
could then chant the rhythmic patterns
of the melody and have students echo
while maintaining the macrobeats and

microbeats. To make sure that students

are keeping time independently and not
simply chanting a fraction of a second
behind the students around them, provide students with a metronome beat,
and then turn off the metronome and
have students silently audiate the rhythm
of the tune inside their heads and raise
their hands when they get to the final
note of the piece. Teachers might begin
by having students audiate only the first
few beats and increase the duration as
students progress. Once the teacher
has taught students the fingerings/
slide positions/sticking patterns by rote,
students can chant the rhythm patterns
while executing the corresponding fingerings/slide positions/sticking patterns
in time with a recorded tune, GarageBand loop, or metronome click. By
limiting the executive skills demands,
teachers can focus on developing students rhythmic abilities.
After students learn a simple threenote tune such as Hot Cross Buns, the
next step might be to teach the same
tune in triple meter where students keep
the macrobeats in their heels and a triple
division of the beat in their fingertips (for
an example of how a duple tune might
be converted to triple, see Figure 2).
Kodly and other approaches, including
many of those for band, often use one
set of tunes to teach duple meter and
a different set of tunes to teach triple
meter. While this approach has merit, I
also find value in applying both types
of beat division to the same tune so that
students attention is directed toward
only one variablein this case, meter.
This also helps students feel the kinesthetic difference between duple and triple beat division before they are asked
to understand the notational difference.

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Developing Tonal Ability

Think of tonal ability as the ability to differentiate pitch in the context of a tonality. As with rhythmic ability, a students
tonal ability is independent of the cognitive function of understanding notation.
A student may have a well-developed
sense of pitch without any cognitive
ability to read tonal notation, and vice
versa. Many pop and folk artists sing
and play beautifully without using (or
even knowing how to read) notation.
When a student has a well-developed
tonal ability, correct notes become the
fruit of audiation rather than the fluke of
technique. We want our students to play
the correct pitches because they hear
that they are correct, not simply because
they know the corresponding fingering
for each notated symbol. Essential to the
development of tonal ability is the ability to match pitch by manipulating the
voice.10 The teacher could ask students
to manipulate their voices high and low
like a siren until they arrive on a given
pitch. Another activity that can help students begin to differentiate pitch is to
play three notes that move diatonically
such as concert B-flat, C, and D and
teach students to associate the pitches
with low, middle, and high, respectively. The teacher could then play these
pitches in different sequences and ask
students to label them as low, middle,
or high corresponding to the order in
which they were given.
As with rhythmic development,
teachers could also use tonal development activities when teaching students
to play rote tunes. Teaching simple
three-note melodies such as Hot Cross
Buns and Mary Had a Little Lamb by
rote, the teacher could first establish


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tonality and then vocally model the

tune for students and ask them to sing it
back. Sometimes students are hesitant to
sing but will readily play on kazoo what
you ask them to echo, which accomplishes the same thing (tonal development) in a way that students sometimes
perceive to be less threatening. To help
ensure that students are audiating the
tune, the teacher could give the starting
pitch and ask students to silently sing
the tune inside their heads and then
sing the last note aloud on the correct
pitch. This activity could even be valuable for middle school and high school
students who struggle to retain the correct pitches of a phrase from start to finish without the aid of their instruments
and/or without the aid of hearing those
around them.
Another helpful activity is to sing the
tune for students, stop at various places
in the tune, and ask them to sing the
resting tone (tonic pitch). This activity
is aimed at helping students audiate
the tonality and key in relation to the
melody, leading to improved intonation
when performing. This ability will also
pay dividends in the future when students are more aurally aware of how

their parts function within the ensemble, leading to better balance and blend.
When students are singing and audiating
the correct pitches of the tune, it is a
good time to transfer this understanding
to the instrument. After teaching the fingerings by rote, the teacher could then
have students sing the tune while pressing the corresponding fingerings. Of
course, the end goal is that students play
the tune on their instruments, but devoting a little time to preparatory exercises
such as these will help ensure that their
playing is guided by audiation.
When students can accurately perform a simple three-note tune such as
Hot Cross Buns, the teacher could then
have students learn the same tune by
rote in the parallel minor mode. This will
help them hear the difference between
major and minor in the context of the
same tune and in the context of sound
rather than sight. As students become
comfortable playing three-note tunes,
the teacher could pick a new tune that
is aurally familiar to them, give them the
starting pitch, and ask them to figure out
the pitches on their instruments by ear,
further solidifying the ear-to-hand connection. This activity could also be used

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when teaching middle school and high

school ensembles by selecting more
complex melodies and having students
learn them in different keys and modes.
Advanced ensembles might still have to
start by using only a few notes if this
approach is new but will likely advance
much faster than beginners will.

Developing Creativity
There are many writings on and definitions of creativity in music,11 but I find
it helpful to think of musical creativity
simply as the students ability to generate musical ideas apart from that which
is externally dictated. Even when our
students are proficient at reading notation, manipulating their instruments,
differentiating pitch across a range of
tonalities, and internalizing complex
rhythms in the context of steady time,
they are missing a crucial component
of musicianship if they have not developed some sense of independent musical thought. Think of all of the garage
band members, living room guitar players, and self-taught pianists who create
their own music; regardless of their ability to read or write notation, they are
functioning as creative musicians.
As music teachers concerned with
the ever-looming performance, we
often find it easy to spend time teaching notation skills and executive skills
at the exclusion of developing students
musical creativity. However, music educator and improvisation specialist Chris
Azzara found that students who receive
music instruction that includes opportunities for improvisation performed
notated music more accurately than did
students whose musical instruction did
not include improvisation opportunities.12 Often, as students gain proficiency
reading notation and manipulating their
instruments, they become less willing to
improvise; therefore, it is usually best
to get students improvising as early as
possible. Incorporating improvisation
exercises into early instruction also signals to students that musical creativity
is a tenet of basic musicianship rather
than an advanced skill to be developed
Music Educators Journal March 2015

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]
Audiation exercises with a melody (singing in head and raising hand when done) [T, R]
Resting tone exercises with a melody (sing tonic at various places throughout the tune) [T]
Learn to play a melody by ear [T, R, E]
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]

R = Rhythmic
T = Tonal
C = Creative
N = Notation
E = Executive

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 distinction between discrimination learning where students are taught by rote
and inference learning where students
are asked to make decisions by drawing
from information previously learned by
rote. Rote learning, or echoing, provides
students with the necessary vocabulary
to begin making their own musical decisions. Once students have echoed tonal
and rhythmic patterns, a sequential next
step might be to then have them creatively apply those patterns in ways that
make musical sense. Sometimes referred
to as call-and-response, this can be as
simple as the teacher playing the notes
B-flat, C, and D using a combination
of quarter notes and eighth notes and
students providing musical responses
using the same parameters. To help
ensure that students are making deliberate sounds and not just picking random pitches, the teacher might ask the
students to sing their responses before
playing them. To help students design
their responses in ways that make musical sense according to Western European syntax, the teacher could imply a
quasihalf-cadence by ending the first
half of a phrase on a dominant pitch
(such as C in this instance), with the students task being to then complete the

phrase and end on the tonic pitch (B-flat

in this instance). Creative development
can be easier for students when they are
given parameters. Students can sometimes be intimidated with improvisation
because there are too many choices.
When we limit the possibilities, students
are often much more comfortable with
and successful in making creative music
Another activity to help students
develop creativity is to use previously
learned tunes as platforms for improvisation. This could be as simple as playing the first half of Hot Cross Buns
and having students create the second
half by improvising a musically appropriate ending. When students are comfortable creating alternate endings to
familiar three-note tunes, the teacher
could have students create countermelodies to the same tunes. It is usually
best to first model this for students by
having them play the familiar melody
while the teacher creates the countermelody. This does not need to be,
nor should it be, complex; by simply
choosing one or two notes and aligning them harmonically, students are
making deliberate creative decisions. 13
Finally, the teacher could have students
create their own tunes by rearranging

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the notes and rhythms to familiar melodies. All of these activities could also be
used in middle school and high school
band settings with the use of more
complex literature and a more sophisticated treatment of harmony.

Putting It All Together

Devote time in each class, if even in
the warm-up, to developing each area
of the Big 5 (see Figure 3 for sample
activities that can be used to help students develop in each area). Certainly,
the bulk of class time should usually
be devoted to rehearsing the ensemble
(sound, balance, blend, intonation, etc.),
but by beginning every rehearsal with 5
to 7 minutes of audiation-building activities, we help students develop elements
of musicianship that can lead to more
sensitive and autonomous ensemble
playing. I want my students to push the
correct buttons at the right time and to
do so with a characteristic sound and
have found that the quickest and most
musically authentic way of accomplishing this is to develop their tonal, rhythmic, and creative abilities. 14 When my
students perform from notation, I want
them to do so not simply because they
have visually interpreted their written

instructions but because they have

aurally internalized that which makes
musical sense. When students aurally
recognize that they have missed a note,
we no longer have to remind them of
their fingerings and key signatures.
When students feel the pulse and its
division, the cognitive task of recognizing notation becomes that much easier.
When students create melodies in their
heads and realize them on their instruments, they become independently
functioning artists. As students develop
their abilities in each area of the Big 5,
they get that much closer to becoming
comprehensive musicians.

1. Edwin E. Gordon, Learning Sequences in
Music: A Contemporary Music Learning
Theory (Chicago, IL: GIA, 2007).
2. Edwin E. Gordon, Introduction to
Research and the Psychology of Music
(Chicago: GIA, 1998).
3. Bruce Dalby, Teaching Audiation
in Instrumental Classes, Music

Educators Journal 85, no. 6 (May 1999):


7. Campbell and Scott-Kassner, Music in


4. Many of the activities presented in this

article are drawn from, or adaptations
of, those suggested in the following:
Gordon, Learning Sequences in Music;
Eric Bluestine, Ways Children Learn
Music: An Introduction and Practical
Guide to Music Learning Theory, 2nd
ed. (Chicago: GIA Publications, 2000);
Richard E. Grunow, Edwin E. Gordon,
and Christopher A. Azzara, Jump Right
In: The Instrumental Series Teachers
Guide, 2 ed. (Chicago: GIA, 2001);
S. L. Schleuter, A Sound Approach
to Teaching Instrumentalists: An
Application of Content and Learning
Sequences, 2nd ed. (New York:
Schirmer Books, 1996); and C. Azzara
and Richard E. Grunow, Developing
Musicianship through Improvisation
(Chicago, IL: GIA, 2006).

8. K. A. Liperote, Audiation for Beginning

Instrumentalists: Listen, Speak, Read,
Write, Music Educators Journal 93,
no. 1 (September 2006): 4652.

5. Patricia Shehan Campbell and Carol

Scott-Kassner, Music in Childhood: From
Preschool through the Elementary Grades
(Boston, MA: Schirmer, 2010).

13. See Azzara and Grunow,

Developing Musicianship through

6. Rudolf Laban, Mastery of Movement

(London: MacDonald and Evans,

9. Schleuter, A Sound Approach to Teaching

10. Campbell and Scott-Kassner, Music in
11. See Donald J. Running, Creativity
Research in Music Education: A Review
(19802005), Update: Applications of
Research in Music Education 27, no. 1
(November 2008): 4148.
12. C. Azzara, Audiation-Based
Improvisation Techniques and
Elementary Instrumental Students
Music Achievement, Journal of
Research in Music Education 41, no. 4
(December 1993): 32842.

14. C. M. Conway, Good Rhythm and

Intonation from Day One in Beginning
Instrumental Music, Music Educators
Journal 89, no. 5 (May 2003): 2631.


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Music Educators Journal March 2015