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Here is a lesson for teaching the whole tone scale
9, 10, 11, 12
Title – Teaching the Whole Tone Scale
By – Keith
Subject – Music
Grade Level – 9 – 12
OBJECTIVE: To be able to create a whole tone scale starting on any given pitch.
Materials: Recordings of Debussy “Prelude to ‘Afternoon of a Faun'” and “The Cage” by Ives. Also photocopied handouts of “The Cage” by Charles Ives.
First define what a whole tone scale is, a scale that is comprised completely of whole tones. Now create a whole tone scale on the board starting on middle C with the students input. Find out by working collaboratively on the board how many unique whole tone scales there are (2). Note the differences between the whole tone scale and the more typical major and minor scales. Put a list on the board of the differences between the scales, such as the fact that this scale has one less note than either a major or minor scale. Also it is easy to tell if you are in C major or C minor by the leading tone B in the scales. The whole tone scale has no half steps, so how do you know what is the tonic of a piece that is written in the whole tone scale? Now is a great time, after going over all of these basics to let them hear what this sounds like when implemented by a composer. Play for them a couple of short excerpts of pieces that utilize the whole tone scale. I would recommend the whole tone section in Claude Debussy’s “Prelude to ‘The Afternoon of a Faun'” because of the ease of finding recordings and also “The Cage” by Charles Ives. I would make handouts of “The Cage” because it is such a “cut and dry” usage of the whole tone scale. It will be very easy for your students understand and identify how Ives is using the scale. Once you have played and discussed the recordings with the class you can use “The Cage” handout as a quick quiz to find out how well they have grasped the subject matter. The quiz could be as simple as having them label on “The Cage” handout which whole tone scale is being used and where (call the two whole tone scales C whole tone and C# whole tone to avoid any confusion) and also write out the two forms of the whole tone scale on the back of the handout. Hopefully this idea of the whole tone scale can help them understand some of the 20th century that you might be working on in class.
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