Something that doesn’t get talked about nearly enough in music education is the challenge of relating to a constantly evolving cast of students. Even educators still young enough to be in their 20’s and 30’s are often decades removed from their students. This, of course, is just a part of teaching, but zoom in closer and you’ll begin to see some issues you might not expect. Ear training, and specifically relaying the vital information of musical intervals through familiar music examples, is something educators need to constantly re-examine in order to effectively teach their students. Using the old interval examples you learned with to teach your students is becoming less and less effective in today’s modern classroom.
The interval musical examples you learned with won’t work for your students
Everything about the modern, perpetually shifting world your students are growing up in is different from the one you did as a child. Yes, your kids won’t relate to old interval musical examples because they listen to new and different music, but the issue goes a lot deeper than that. Media in all its forms has become fractured and segmented over the past two decades. Whereas kids in the 80’s and 90’s were mainly on the same page about movies, music, and TV, today’s youth has access to an unfathomable amount of media accessible from the smartphones that reside in their pockets. The cultural references that one of your students is well-aware of could be completely lost on another.
This means that linking Perfect 5ths to the Star Wars theme or Tritones to The Simpsons won’t always work for your kids. Familiarity in teaching intervals is crucial, and you’re bound to get blank stares from your students if you use musical examples they can’t relate to.
How can busy music educators musically relate to a classroom of students with fractured tastes and familiarity with popular culture?
Tips for choosing interval musical examples your kids will recognize
Firstly, don’t just settle on one example per interval. For the best chance at relating to your students, you’ll need to play at least two examples per interval––offer more if you can. This way, you’ll be able to present old staple examples like the minor 2nd from Jaws and “When The Saints Go Marching In” for the Major 3rd as well as modern ones.
Do your research to learn what new examples to throw into the mix. This takes work, but with enough digging, you’ll find modern interval examples your kids will recognize. There are blogs and educational resources to look to online, but it’s also a good idea to try to find examples on your own. Your kids might not recognize the Star Wars theme, but maybe they’ll know “Lisztomania” from the band Phoenix, or “Chasing Cars” from Snow Patrol (these two songs feature the Perfect 5th interval in their instrumental intros). But even these examples are already a decade old. To stay current, ask your class what music, movies, and TV they like and do some investigating. When you hear clear examples of intervals, take note and highlight them for your students.
Interval training should happen throughout the school year
Having a solid grasp of what intervals are and the ability to identify them in music is a paramount skill for any musician to have. Rather than limiting interval training to a short period of time, you should be bringing up intervals at every opportunity with your students. Point them out when you hear clear instances of them in the music you cover, and incorporate them into your daily drills and exercises. The strong foundation you build with intervals now is a skill your kids will rely on for the rest of their lives in music, so this is hugely important.
By making an effort to present relevant musical examples to your kids and bringing up intervals often in your class, you’ll be giving your students one of the best music theory benefits they can get.