This study examined ways the playground singing games known to the students at an inner-city school in Minneapolis, Minnesota could be used as a source of song material (melodic and rhythmic patterns) for notation activities in the music curriculum. The students’ ability to listen to and analyze the songs they were singing was explored, as well as their ability to write down a description of what they were doing. The study sought to determine whether students would be able to notate whole singing games, or whether portions of those games would be more practical for use in the curriculum. A search of the literature showed that children’s invented notation is a valid means of assessing musical understanding, so that students would be able to notate the rhythmic and melodic patterns found in the songs and charts without a high degree of prior knowledge.
A pilot project attempted an initial assessment of the students’ ability to use notation to record portions of their own singing game repertoire. Students were encouraged to write down playground singing games they knew, notating them to the best of their ability. Games selected by the students were videotaped, transcribed, and analyzed for rhythmic and melodic content appropriate for curriculum use. From this information, a two-part project was developed. In the first part, students attempted to record entire singing games. In the second part, portions of games with content appropriate for curriculum use were selected for notation exercises. The project involved students at Lucy Craft Laney School, in grades one through five.
Student work from the project showed a higher degree of accurate notation in the exercises using portions of songs relating to the concepts being taught in the curriculum. Evidence of invented and traditional notation was found in the attempts to notate whole songs, but with a lesser degree of accuracy. The students readily accepted small pieces of songs for notation, but large tasks of transcribing were overwhelming for them. Separating the physical action of clapping or jumping from the visual activity of notation seemed to enable the students to concentrate on hearing and analyzing the rhythm or melody itself. Notation activities using portions of singing games done in the context of curricular learning were the most successful in terms of student enthusiasm and musical understanding.
Particular problems were encountered with the transcription of the singing games, especially those in the African-American tradition. Rhythms and melodic tones did not always fit easily into traditional western notation. Care must be taken not to force tonality patterns into the mold of traditional European music.
Playground singing games constitute a folk genre that belongs uniquely to the children. With care in selection, these games can become a part of the repertoire used by Kodály and Orff teachers in the music curriculum.