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TeachNet USA

From Magpies to Messiaen: Birds in Music

Project URL: www.teachersnetwork.org/teachnetusa/etobias/birds.htm 

How it works:
From Magpies to Messiaen: Birds In Music is a program in which middle school students study the influence that birds have had in music and create their own original music based on imitations and actual electronic samples of birdsong. They learn how composers make use of the everyday material around them and they gain a unique perspective on music. They learn various compositional techniques as well as fundamental music concepts.

Interval relationships and music notation are important components of this program, and one of the most important aspects of musicianship, aural skills, is stressed as students listen to detailed music excerpts as well as actual bird calls. Students also practice transcribing (writing out in music) actual recordings of birdsong that they choose from the Internet. The students use music theory software programs as well as electronic keyboards to develop their skills, and the Internet becomes a important resource when they research relevant composers. As students begin to compose their own music, they also use computers, MIDI controllers, and sound-editing and compositional software.

Standards addressed:  
Students actively engage in the composition and performance of music; become knowledgeable about and make use of current materials and resources such as MIDI controllers and music software; and respond critically to various pieces of music.

Materials used:
In addition to computers with Internet access, students use MIDI controllers (hardware used to perform music electronically that can take the form of anything from electronic keyboards to percussion pads) and software such as Finalenotepad (a free notation program) and Goldwave (a shareware sound-editing program). The Internet provides many resources for students to use throughout the program. Musiced.net is an organization on the Internet that allows students to store any electronic files in online portfolios.

The students:
The seventh grade students who participate in this program
have a prior basic knowledge of music and are of widely varying ability levels. They work collaboratively in groups, which allows for peer assistance. The program can easily be adapted for students of any grade from sixth to twelfth grade by adjusting the level of detail and complexity.

Overall value:
The students  learn a variety of compositional techniques and use material from their surroundings to create expressive works of music. Using current technology in music such as software programs, the Internet, and MIDI controllers, they gain a sense of what it is like to compose in the 21st century and broaden their horizons by hearing a wide variety of music that they otherwise would not have known about. This program can easily be expanded into a large-scale interdisciplinary program by including the math and physics behind the sound as well as the science behind the birdsong.

Spend time researching different composers that have used birdsong in their compositions and the recordings currently available. The Internet is an excellent resource! Encourage the students to make use of the free and shareware versions of software at home if they have access to a computer and the Internet.


About the teacher:
Evan Tobias has been teaching music in Willow Grove Middle School for three years. He is a recipient of two Impact II Developer grants, has been a participant in several presentations at MENC national conferences,  and was a panelist in the presentation "Using On-Line Tools for Teaching and Reflection in Music Classes" at the 2002 MENC National Biennial In-Service Conference. Evan is currently working on his master's degree in Music Education during summers at Northwestern University.


Subject Areas: 

Grade Levels: 



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