On March 29, 2021, the Alberta Government released their draft curriculum for Kindergarten through Grade 6 in all subject areas including music.
A Grade 7-12 student who would choose to sift through this curriculum would be confused. There are a number of contradictions in the curriculum to knowledge and understandings they will have learned in their own music education up to this point. And they would be right to be confused. They would also be right to be concerned that these would be foundational concepts for learning music in their own grades.
There are many points in the draft curriculum that are simply wrong. Not philosophically wrong, not politically-motivated wrong. Simply wrong. As an example at first glance, accidentals do not tell a musician what scale a piece of music is in. That's not a philosophical issue or a politically motivated issue. That is simply wrong.
As a teacher, I am required by law to teach the curriculum the government gives me. While currently the music education curriculum is over 30 years old, there are no factual inaccuracies in it. However, should this draft curriculum not see some significant changes, I will be required by law to teach whatever is in the final published curriculum. Some teachers will be asked to pilot this draft as it is in the coming fall.
So I've decided to compile, for students' reference, a list of all the factual inaccuracies in the draft curriculum while I am still required to teach a curriculum with correct information in it. Some of the items I have identified may seem "nitpicky", but if a curriculum document has anything that confuses the truth, it needs to be clarified, regardless of how mediocre or minute the issue seems. I also offer thanks to Verna Ahner, Sarah Drew, Tim Janz, Eila Peterson and Sam Shumka, three music education colleagues who helped me to curate this list.
Please note that I will avoid issues of philosophy, pedagogy, perceptions of ideology, methodolatry (a term coined by Dr. Thomas Regelski), what constitutes "great musical works" and other subjective or critical pedagogical issues, as those items run the risk of appearing politically motivated, and while may or may not be valid arguments, are not issues of accuracy. It is not my job to take any sides, or even have the appearance of such. It is my job, however, to teach students facts.
(The only topic of subjectivity I approach is that of the definition of the term forte. It is commonly understood to mean either loud or strong, but the proper translation, and the proper approach to the term, is strong, not loud. However the word "loud" may be more appropriate depending upon the students' developmental level. I've selected the appropriate age level for using the definition of strong based on Piaget's stages of development.)
I have organized this information in the same way the draft curriculum is organized to make it easier for a student to find inaccurate information and identify it. I also encourage all Albertans to fill out the Have Your Say feedback forms as soon as possible, and share your thoughts on the curriculum with your MLA and your school board trustees.
Organizing Idea: Foundational Elements
Music literacy is developed through knowledge and application of Foundational Elements.Grade 1 Guiding Question: How can musical sounds be interpreted?
Music symbols are used to indicate the volume of sound, including f for loud and p for soft.
In Western music, dynamics are described by using Italian terms, including forte for loud and piano for soft…
Forte does not mean loud, it means strong. However, the alignment of the term “loud” is generally accepted depending on the developmental level of the student. It should be reiterated in later grades that forte is in fact “strong” instead.
A whole piece of music can include a number of sections that may be alike or different and can include AB, ABA, ABAB (sectional form), as heard in Camille Saint-Saëns, Carnival of the Animals – Fossils, in which the xylophone part is A and the clarinet solo is B
The descriptor of how the xylophone part is the A section and the clarinet solo is the B section is very inaccurate. While the original introduction of the xylophone part is an A section that happens to be repeated, there is an ascending piano/orchestral section immediately after it that would be identified as the B section, then a staccato arpeggiated section that could be identified as a C section, then the A section returns, all of which happens before a D section that would be the clarinet solo which is followed by yet another return to the A section. This is a rondo form, and the draft curriculum heavily oversimplifies its structure.
Tone has dynamics and tempo.
This is unclear, as the term “tone” has multiple meanings in music. Tone can refer to timbre and quality of sound, it can refer to a specific interval (usually an interval of a major second), or it can refer to a musical sound described as a pitch. When tone is referred to as a general concept, it usually refers to timbre and quality of sound, and in that regard a dynamic can affect tone, but tone has no relationship to tempo. A more appropriate statement would be “Music can have dynamics and tempo.”
Music dynamics that suddenly change are called accents and are indicated using the > symbol.
This is an inaccurate definition of an accent, which is an articulation, not a dynamic. An accent is not a change in dynamic, but rather a momentary emphasis on a note indicated by how the note is attacked by the performer (pressure on the bow or pizzicato tool of a string instrument, tonguing on a wind instrument, etc.). Unlike the statement suggests, it can never be a change to a lower volume.
A dynamic that changes suddenly is likely to be marked subito or sf or sp, or some variant thereof. Following such a symbol or musical direction, while the change may be sudden, it remains at that dynamic following the symbol or musical direction. Another alternative is sfz which, although is a temporary change in dynamic, is characterized by changing the volume of the entire note, not just how it is attacked. Following a sfz, the dynamic returns to the original dynamic.
The duration of a rhythm or musical sound can be extended by placing a dot next to a rhythm, such as a half note, to extend the duration of the note by one beat.
This is inaccurate. A dot next to a rhythm does not change the duration of that note by one beat. It changes the duration of that individual note it is next to by half of its original value. So a dotted half-note would match the curricular description, making the note 3 beats long (in a time signature where the quarter note gets the beat), but a dotted eighth-note is only ¾ of a beat long, not 1 ½ beats long as is suggested by the draft curriculum statement.
Dynamics direct how music should be played, and can be notated using a music symbol on the musical score, including mf to indicate mezzo-forte, which means moderately loud … ff to indicate fortissimo, which means very loud.
This is an inaccurate translation. Forte in all its forms does not mean loud, it means strong. It is developmentally appropriate at this grade level to use the term “strong” for this age group.
In Western music, Italian terms are used to label tempo, including allegro, meaning fast.
Allegro does not mean fast. It means quickly and lively. It is not only a speed marking, but also a style marking.
Music symbols (articulation markings) can indicate the duration of music notes, including; staccato and legato, phrase marks to indicate length of phrases, accents to indicate emphasis of a sound.
Articulations do not indicate the duration of music notes alone. Rather, they indicate the manner in which a note is to be played, which may include duration, but may also include emphasis and technique as well. For example, while a staccato is detached, an accent does nothing to the length of note but rather deals with emphasis.
Staccato and legato are not opposites, as is suggested by the statement in the draft curriculum. As a matter of fact, legato is not an articulation, but a style of play usually indicated by a slur. The articulation that is the best opposite to staccato is tenuto.
The treble clef indicates pitches on the staff that begin at middle C and move higher.
The pitches on the staff indicated with a treble clef are not constructed from middle C. The treble clef, also known as the "G" clef, is called this because it identifies the location of G by the line the treble clef symbol encircles. One can determine where "middle C" is based on that information, but to suggest the locations of pitches are constructed from the middle C is inaccurate.
Pitches belonging on the lines of the treble clef are labelled EGBDF.
Pitches belonging in the spaces of the treble clef are labelled FACE.
These are not rules, but are rather mnemonics to help with quick identification, much like BEDMAS is not the rule, but rather the Order of Operations is the rule that BEDMAS helps out with. The actual rule is that the musical alphabet ascends and descends from each space to each line, and line to each space, starting from the pitch identified by the clef indicated. EGBDF is the resultant letter names for the lines on a treble clef, but this should not be the manner in which students identify notes on the staff, or it sets them up for failure when having to identify notes on ledger lines.
Two or more melodies can be combined or layered to create harmony in the form of a descant, partner song, or canon, as heard in; (descant) Johann Sebastian Bach, Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, (round) French folk songs Frère Jacques and Alouette, gentille alouette
Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring is not a descant. A better example of a descant would be the one that appears in Sir David Willcocks' arrangement of O Come, All Ye Faithful.
While Frère Jacques is oftentimes sung as a round, Alouette, gentile alouette is not a round, and therefore is a poor example for this concept. Instead, Alouette, gentile alouette is a cumulative call and response song.
Some pitched instruments can play chords, including keyboards, barred instruments, tone chimes, ukuleles, and hand bells.
Tone chimes and hand bells are not capable of playing chords on their own. This fact is even stated properly elsewhere in the draft curriculum. Tone chimes and hand bells are capable of only playing a single note, and therefore cannot play chords, but can layer with other singular notes to create chords. While this statement here is false, this fact is mentioned correctly elsewhere in the draft curriculum.
Instrument families in Western music include the strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion.
This is no different than the 30-year-old curriculum that currently exists, which was appropriate for its time, but is no longer so. The missing instrument grouping from this list is the electrophone, or instruments that produce sound by electronic means.
Components that contribute to rhythmic structures include … double bar lines, repeat signs …
Double bar lines and repeat signs do not impact rhythmic structures as presented in the draft curriculum. The draft curriculum presents "rhythmic structures" as organized by the duration of beats within measures and measures within a phrase. Double bar lines and repeats have no influence on these structures.
The structure of the pentatonic scale omits the fourth and seventh degrees of the scale.
While this is true about the relationship between a pentatonic scale and a major scale, it is not in fact how pentatonic scales are constructed. Pentatonic scales are constructed using a series of five consecutive tones in a Circle of Fifths, and then condensing them into a single octave.
As an example, one version of an E-flat Pentatonic scale includes the E-flat, B-flat, F, C and G, all the next tones in the Circle of Fifths, then reorganized into a single octave as E-flat, F, G, B-flat and C.
It should be noted that not all pentatonic scales are constructed using an ascending Circle of Fifths, and there are many other options available as well.
There are numerous ways to structure a melody using intervals that move by steps, skips, and repeats.
Repeats are not intervals, but rather formal indicators of sections of music that are to be played multiple times. In the context of this topic, the word that should be used is "unison", not repeat.
Music symbols can be visually represented to direct how a piece of music should be performed, including: dynamic (articulation) markings, including phrase, accent, legato, and staccato; dynamic range of soft sounds, including pp, mp, and p to indicate pianissimo, mezzo-piano, and piano; dynamic range of loud sounds, including ff, mf, and f to indicate fortissimo, mezzo-forte, and forte
As stated previously, legato is not an articulation but rather is a style of performance.
As stated previously, any iteration of the term forte means "strong" as opposed to "loud". Although "loud" may have been developmentally appropriate for Grade 1, that is no longer the case in Grade 4.
The bass clef indicates pitches on the staff that begin at middle C and move lower.
The pitches on the staff indicated with a bass clef are not constructed from middle C. The bass clef, also known as the "F" clef, is called this because it identifies the location of F by the line that the dots of the bass clef surrounds. One can determine where "middle C" is based on that information, but to suggest the locations of pitches are constructed from the middle C is inaccurate.
Pitches on the lines of the bass clef are labelled GBDFA.
Pitches on the spaces of the bass clef are labelled ACEG.
These are not rules, but are rather mnemonics to help with quick identification, much like BEDMAS is not the rule, but rather the Order of Operations is the rule that BEDMAS helps out with. The actual rule is that the musical alphabet ascends and descends from each space to each line, and line to each space, starting from the pitch identified by the clef indicated. ACEG is the resultant letter names for the spaces on a bass clef, but this should not be the manner in which students identify notes on the staff, or it sets them up for failure when having to identify notes on ledger lines.
Music symbols and abbreviations of terms can be illustrated on a musical score and direct how to play music, including; articulation markings, including phrase, accent, legato, staccato, and fermata, … dynamic range of loud sounds, including ff, mf, and f to indicate fortissimo, mezzo-forte, and forte, … (dim) to indicate diminuendo or decrescendo
The term diminuendo may indeed be indicated by the dim. marking, but decrescendo does not share the same abbreviation. Instead, decrescendo's abbreviation is descresc., and to ignore the potential for its use is inappropriate.
As stated previously, legato is not an articulation but rather is a style of performance.
As stated previously, any iteration of the term forte means "strong" as opposed to "loud". Although "loud" may have been developmentally appropriate for Grade 1, that is no longer the case in Grade 5.
Structures for organizing rhythms can include; … double bar lines, repeat signs, … codas, introductions, first and second endings.
None of these tools organize rhythms. Double bar lines, repeats, codas, and first and second endings simply indicate where the completion of significant sections of music are and/or which sections need to be performed multiple times, but they cannot impact how you read the rhythms on the page.
Introductions are not rhythmic structures, but are instead formal structures that may include harmonic, melodic, and/or rhythmic structures.
The duration of a rhythmic pattern can become more complex by adding dots, ties, or combinations of rhythms, including ... syncopation, which combines eighth notes with a quarter note
This definition of a syncopation is erroneous. A syncopation is any rhythm where the strong notes are played, in whole or in part, on weak beats or "off-beats". The exemplar this draft curriculum provides for a syncopation in the subsequent statement to this one is George Frideric Handel, Water Music: Suite No. 2 in D Major, HWV 349, II. Alla Hornpipe, which doesn't use eighth notes or quarter notes at all, but is rather a series of half notes that are off the standard compound metre beats in 3/2 time, demonstrating how not all syncopations combine eighth notes with a quarter note.
Further, a rhythm such as a quarter note followed by 6 eighth notes would fit the definition provided here, but is most certainly not a syncopation.
Duple metre, or 2/4 time, is a grouping of two beats per measure and alternates one strong beat with one weaker beat. Triple metre, or 3/4 time, is a grouping of three beats per measure and starts with one strong beat followed by two weaker beats. Quadruple metre, or 4/4 time, is a grouping of four beats per measure with an accent falling on beats one and three. Compound metre includes 6/8 time, where the six beats are divided into groups of three and an accent falls on beats one and four.
Duple, Triple and Quadruple metres are separate concepts from Compound metres (and their counterparts, Simple metres) in the same way that the number of legs a creature has is a separate concept from whether or not those creatures are mammal or bird. To speak about these concepts properly, we must group Duple, Triple and Quadruple metres into one concept, and Simple (never defined in the curriculum document) and Compound into a separate concept.
Duple metres are groupings of two beats, however this is not limited to 2/4 time; 6/8 time is also often played as a duple metre. Triple metres are groupings of three beats, but can also include 3/2 time or 9/8 time in addition to 3/4 time. Quadruple metres are groupings of four beats, but can also include 12/8 time in addition to 4/4 time.
The terms Simple and Compound metre clarify these differences. Simple metres are beat groupings that can be further subdivided by duplets, allowing each beat to include the equivalent of 2 sub-beats (two eighth-notes per beat in 4/4 time as an example). Compound metres are beat groupings that can be further subdivided by triplets, allowing each beat to include the equivalent of 3 sub-beats (three eighth-notes per beat in 6/8 time).
So 2/4 time is in fact Simple Duple metre. 3/4 time is in fact Simple Triple metre. 4/4 time is in fact Simple Quadruple metre. 6/8 time is in fact Compound Duple metre.
Melodies based on pentatonic scales omit the fourth and seventh notes of the scale when played, including: C major pentatonic scales, which omit the notes F and B; F major pentatonic scales, which omit the notes B and E; and G major pentatonic scales, which omit the notes C and F
This belies how pentatonic scales are constructed. Pentatonic scales are not constructed from major scales. Pentatonic scales are constructed using a series of five consecutive tones in a Circle of Fifths, and then condensing them into a single octave. As an example, a G Pentatonic scale includes the G, D, A, E and B, all the next tones in the Circle of Fifths, then reorganized into a single octave as G, A, B, D and E.
Melodies constructed on a pentatonic scale are not first constructed on a major scale, and then adjusted to omit certain pitches. It may be fair to compare major and some pentatonic scales this way, but to characterize pentatonic melodies as adjustments to major melodies is inaccurate. It should be noted that not all pentatonic scales are constructed using an ascending Circle of Fifths, and there are many other options available as well.
Pentatonic scales used in musical works can include Claude Debussy’s La fille aux cheveux de lin (The Girl with the Flaxen Hair).
This piece is a horrendous choice for a piece exemplifying a pentatonic scale. Within the first four measures there is the use of diatonic pitches characteristic of a major scale, and then the next four measures include a variety of accidentals indicating borrowed chords of major scales. Teachers should never use this piece to exemplify pentatonic scales.
A better selection would be the traditional Korean folk song Arirang, or Richard Johnston, Chippewa Lullaby from Folk Songs North America Sings which is a great example of a pentatonic scale that cannot be compared to a major scale in the way the previous statement in the Draft K-6 Music Curriculum indicates.
A music symbol called an accidental is placed at the beginning of a musical score to define the scale name, including; B flat to indicate an F major scale, F sharp to indicate a G major scale, no accidental to indicate a C major scale
This is wholly inaccurate. What is being described here is in fact Key Signatures, not accidentals. While this is described accurately in the Grade 6 draft curriculum, here it is falsely defining accidentals. An accidental need not appear at the beginning of a musical score. It can appear at any point in music, and indicates a change in pitch from the key signature for that measure only. Accidentals do not define scale names.
Accidentals are visually represented as the black notes on a keyboard.
This is also not true. The black notes on a keyboard are only used as accidentals in pieces of music where the black notes are not already included in the key signature. The black notes are more accurately identified as semi-tones between the absolute pitches of ABCDEFG. For that matter, it should also be noted that there is no black note between BC and EF, and that accidentals can be used to identify white notes on the keyboard as well. This is part of the concept known as “enharmonics”, where a pitch may have multiple names (D-sharp is also known as E-flat), and that those do not always indicate a black note (E-sharp is also known as F-natural).
Improvisation is a way to structure music.
Improvisation is in actual fact the absence or avoidance of adhering to a structure of music, be it temporal, harmonic, melodic or otherwise, or any combination thereof. Improvisation can be based on already introduced structures in a piece of music, but even in such situations it is an intentional departure from any number of the original structures provided.
The structure of a melody changes when the rhythm changes.
This is not always accurate, particularly when being considerate of songs with lyrics. Strophic songs are the best exmaple of why this is not always accurate, as the melody is repeated, but the rhythm is adjusted to reflect the syllabic structure of the new lyrics. The basic structure of a melody is still the same, and the rhythm adjusts to lyrical syllables.
A triplet rhythm structured with eighth notes is played in the space of one beat.
The grammar issues in this sentence make it impossible to say with certainty that it is accurate, especially in the context that it follows the statement about 6/8 time immediately before it. A more appropriate statement may be "Triplet eighth notes are a rhythm where three notes are played in the space of one beat."
A basic 12-bar blues chord progression is structured using a pattern of I, IV, and V chords of any scale, as heard in B. B. King’s The Thrill is Gone.
This piece is not a strict example of a 12-Bar Blues chord progression, as it is a minor blues with a borrowed chord from its relative major in place of the V chord. The Thrill is Gone in fact uses i, iv, VI and v chords, making it a poor example. Better examples include John Coltrane’s Blue Trane, or Duke Ellington’s C-Jam Blues.
Accidentals can be used to change an interval or to indicate pitches that do not belong to the key signature in which the music is written, including; sharps that indicate the specific pitch to be raised, flats that indicate the pitch to be lowered, natural signs which return the pitch that was changed back to a natural state
This error is likely grammatical only, but by saying accidentals indicate pitches that do not belong to the key signature, a natural sign does not simply return a pitch back to the natural state within that key signature. A natural sign indicates the pitch is to be played as an absolute pitch, neither sharp nor flat. Interestingly, that means a natural sign can indicate a pitch is to be raised or lowered depending on the key signature that it is in.
As an example, in the key of G-flat major, an A-natural would be a raised pitch from the A-flat that normally appears in that key signature. In the key of F-sharp major, an A-natural would be a lowered pitch from the A-sharp that normally appears in that key signature.
Therefore, the only appropriate definition of a natural is an accidental that indicates a pitch is to be played at its absolute pitch value.
A simple harmony consists of chords built with a few tones and chord changes.
This statement is confusing on its own, and perhaps could be solved simply by including an Oxford comma. Alternatively, perhaps the intent of this statement was closer to “a simple harmony consists of chords built with a few specific tones that change to accompany a melody.”
Western music choirs are structured according to group members’ vocal ranges, including bass, tenor, alto, and soprano, as heard in Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 8 in E-Flat Major (Symphony of a Thousand) Pt. 1
Mahler's symphony, although it includes voices, is an orchestral work, not a choral work. There are thousands of far better exemplars of choral literature, but one such example would be Ralph Vaughan Williams, Mass in G minor (1921).
Big band ensembles give jazz music a larger sound, as heard in; … Mart Kenney, When I Get Back to Calgary
Many people are concerned about the relevance of Mart Kenney as a reference for Big band music, simply due to the fact that our current Premier is Mart Kenney’s grandson, however an accident of genealogy does not preclude Mart Kenney’s music from being relevant. What precludes this particular example from being relevant is that it is not a full example of giving jazz a larger sound. A better example of such a thing would be Duke Ellington, It Don’t Mean A Thing.
Organizing Idea: Creating and Presenting
Ideas can be represented musically through artworks that draw upon foundational knowledge.Grade 2 Guiding Question: How can a message be represented musically?
The circle is a symbol that can communicate a message in music, including connection.
This concept is disambiguated from any context. A circle is a geometric shape that, without any context, bears no relevance to musical messages. Unless this concept is talking about First Nations circles or the Circle of Fifths, this statement provides no useful information for teaching music as a medium for sharing messages.
Organizing Idea: Appreciation
Recognizing beauty, goodness, and truth in music can be developed by understanding the complexity and richness of great works of music, the artists who create and perform them, and the historical and cultural contexts from which they originate.Grade 2 Guiding Question: How might cultures from the past and present contribute to an appreciate of music?
The strings for stringed instruments were made from the muscles of various animals.
While this statement is true, it is not commonly true. The most common material used for stringed instruments was not muscle from various animals, but rather the intestines of animals, preferably sheep and lamb. This is why such strings are called “gut strings”. To characterize animal muscle as the preferred material is inappropriate.
Religious music common during this time (the Renaissance) included the mass, motet, and laude.
Motets were not exclusively sacred, and in actual fact the Renaissance tradition of motets grew out of the secular traditions of motets in the Medieval era. The draft curriculum has separated religious from secular music explicitly, so it therefore implies the motet was strictly a religious musical form, when in fact it was not.
The Harlem Renaissance (1917–1930s) was a period in time where Black musicians felt free to express Black lives and identity through their music.
People of African American descent in the United States of America have never felt free to express Black lives and identity in any way, including through their music; this is a verifiable fact. Their music may have become more mainstream, but expression of their own lives and identity has never been the result of a sense of freedom.