• Memorisation & Music Learning

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    An important aspect of any musicianship, music literacy or music aural and music theory work we do is memorisation.

    This is where you memorise a specific concept or element (e.g. scales or chords etc.) or activity (e.g. a melody or rhythm etc).

    The obvious reason for doing this is so that the information is there, in your brain, when you need it in a class or an exam situation, without you having to find the page in the book or the video of someone (Deb!) performing it.

    However, memorising something also allows you to truly practice it using all the great ideas available to you.

    The act of memorising means you’re more likely to actually know the information, which frees up brain power to continue learning new material. Memorisation upgrades your memory capacity and duration.

    Learning benefits of memorisation

    • by memorising, you’re storing the information away for use later, but importantly, you’re also contextualising it
    • by memorising, you’re training your brain for the addition of future concepts and learning – that sort of exercise is key
    • memorisation is a really great progress tracker for your understanding – it’s not just about rote recall, it’s the fact that you’re popping this stuff in your long-term memory
    • aside from the brain boost you get from actively memorising generally, it’s also useful as a musician when applying it practically
    • memorisation is a natural form of extension when building your musicianship – this challenges you, hastens your progress and allows you to really practice something
    • memorisation is just another way for you to learn!

    Important note

    Our working memory capacity is limited to roughly seven pieces of information at a time – might feel even less when exams roll around! – so in order to gather, store, sort, manipulate and retrieve stuff when we need it, we have to repeat and repeat and repeat!

    Your music teachers might have mentioned to you before about “muscle memory” – as in, the more you play or sing your scales, the quicker and easier they begin to feel practically. The same is true of the musicianship muscles in your mind!

    How can DSMusic help you do this?

    The great news is that this need for repetition aligns pretty well with the regular, sequential practice that builds music literacy skills. We’re all about this at DSMusic so all of the resources and products on offer are designed to incrementally enhance what you’re able to do and what you really know.

    There are multiple opportunities throughout the existing DSMusic flagship Musicianship & Aural Training Series – and their accompanying tutorial and practice videos. Below are some examples of Clever Echo activities that help to build your aural and memorisation or recall skills.

    Still looking for more memorisation? Check out the Music Language Online Course – Musicianship Module. There are over 150 practice activities to help strengthen your skills and plenty of these incorporate memorisation, just like the example below where the last step involves singing the scale without a video/audio guide.

    Read on for more….

    Prior to the immediate access to information we have today, people had to memorise large amounts of detail, which they did successfully. This meant they were able to build on the knowledge they gathered in order to understand and apply in their contexts.

    Nowadays, despite the wealth of data at our fingertips (or scrolling thumbs!) we actually know even less than our ancient counterparts. We don’t do the memory work needed to properly store things we consume in our long-term memory. Just like anything, it’s a skill to be practiced.

    Andrew Ingkavet believes that learning a musical instrument builds skills vital to success in life. As a musician I’m sure you’d agree! He says:

    “We need to get to the very heart of emotion in the music, and the only way is to memorise, internalise, and interpret as our own. To know the music fully”.

    Happy memorising! – Deb

  • Why you should compose when practicing music literacy skills

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    Composition, just like performance, is a beneficial way to apply your music aural and music theory skills – what we call musicianship or music literacy – and to foster creativity.

    In the same way playing an instrument or singing gives you a chance to combine your practical technique, sound production and interpretation, composition is informed by your musical understanding.

    By manipulating and experimenting creatively with the concepts and elements of your own musicianship, you consolidate, contextualise and really KNOW.

    After all, if we can compose a melody that sounds great using the Mixolydian Mode it means we are at least starting to understand the Mixolydian Mode, and so on.

    Learning benefits of composition

    • if you can create, it means you truly understand the musical concepts you are composing with, beginning with the notes and rhythms and moving forward to including phrasing, form, harmony etc.
    • composition gives you a very good understanding of the types of things that make logical melodies, rhythms and chord progressions (and therefore learn to look for and expect them in your transcriptions and performance works)
    • composition builds skills – being able to create short logical melodies, rhythms etc. allow you to anticipate what you might hear (if you need to “fake it” in exams or tests)
    • composition cultivates your own creative and expressive voice – anyone can give it a go
    • composition can give you a way to hone in on a particular concept – if you’re struggling with a certain rhythmic grouping, try and make it the focus of your composition until you really understand it
    • composition is the best way to reinforce what you think you know!
    • composition brings together other musical skills – performance, performance analysis, musicianship etc.

    Deb’s tips for getting started with composing

    Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself with composition. It may not feel entirely comfortable at first, particularly if you’ve never really tried to create music before, but in this way having the structure of a certain concept might help.

    For example, rather than just staring at a blank staff having no idea what to write, you can draw inspiration from the concepts you’re working on. Learning about Ab Major Scale? Try to compose a short melody in that key. Getting your head around triplets? Pop them in your piece.  

    Notating what you create is important. Though there are several ways to do this, putting pencil to manuscript paper is best for consolidating all the skills you’re building. There’s nothing wrong with using programs like GarageBand to experiment with sounds and loops and musical motifs but the only way to really use composition as a means to strengthen your music aural, music theory and musicianship is by writing using the language of music.

    How can DSMusic help you do this?

    Recognising the benefits of this approach for strengthening musicianship, as we’ve already discussed, opportunities to incorporate composition have been woven into the existing DSMusic flagship Musicianship & Aural Training Series – check out the examples below.

    Example from page 97 of the Musicianship & Aural Training for the Secondary School Level 1 books:

    Composition activity with blank staff from page 97 of the Musicianship & Aural Training for the Secondary School Level 1

    Example from page 18 of the Musicianship & Aural Training for the Secondary School Level 3 books:

    Composition activity with blank staff from page 18 of the Musicianship & Aural Training for the Secondary School Level 3

    Feel ready to make a start? Great! Use these resources to help you!

    Taken from our Music Language Online Course – Musicianship Module (or MLOCM), these composition sheets give you the space, prompting and support to get your ideas down on paper.

    Try your hand at composing in 9/8 or 12/8 metre, or on the bass and treble staff and then – have a go at performing back what you’ve created.

    Read on for more….

    Although composition, and therefore composers, generally study what’s come before – the practices and approaches of Western classical music – it really has a broader meaning. It’s essentially the creation of any new musical work and can also include instances of spontaneous improvisation. Composition is basically an ordering of musical sounds, which can be notated conventionally or preserved digitally.

    Happy composing! – Deb

  • Beethoven & Bingo

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    Check out some resources and content you might have missed around the DSMusic space recently.

    Resource Round-Up

    DSMusic Rhythm Bingo

    Looking for some ready-made Rhythm Bingo sheets? Deb’s got it sorted for you.

    This free resource is part of the Level 2 DSMusic curriculum and focuses on basic rhythmic values – it’s a great way to get your students clapping back and recognising rhythms.

    You’ll find the instructions as well as the rhythm bingo cards themselves – though Deb recommends laminating these after you’ve printed them off. There are also some handy suggestions for other variations of bingo with a music theme.

    Anyone got Bingo? Be sure to call out when you do!

    Level 1: Lara’s Train

    Using only the notes of the pentatonic scale and simple 2/4 time, this Deb Smith original composition chugs along on the track and is a great one to use when teaching and practicing semiquavers.

    Level 3 Video: Transposition

    Here, Deb takes students through the basics of transposition, giving them a solid theoretical foundation in this concept.

    Students are introduced to transposition using interval patterns with C, G and F Major Scales.

    Level 1: Research Assignment

    This Research Assignment can be set at any time for Level 1 students. While they’re busy digging into the details of a famous composer, you’re helping them build important investigative, interpretive and music history skills.

    This assignment includes everything you need – task, questions, format and a rubric.

    Curated Content

    Sightreading Meme

    Anybody else like this?

    Here at DSMusic we’re big on building the music language skills and step-by-step strategies for sightreading like a superstar but that doesn’t mean we don’t have our off-days, right?

    Beethoven Bites

    Performance anxiety and nerves are an ongoing part of our students’ journey as young musicians.

    Access this combination of orchestration and timbre via Beethoven, a terrific free resource provided by the MSO. Students can also watch a 30min video that talks about the great composer’s timbral toolbox.

    Keen for more from this series? Check out the rest.

  • Practice, Performance Anxiety & Lifting Literacy

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    Check out some resources and content you might have missed around the DSMusic space recently.

    Resource Round-Up

    Lifting Literacy Article – The Conversation

    Here at DSMusic we’re big on all things music language – this article talks about the ways that and music learning in general can foster literacy for students. There’s also some vital advocacy in here about where Australia is sitting right now in this regard.

    Written by Rachael Dwyer and Anita Collins for The Conversation, this article provides a useful state-by-state comparison on how music education is delivered, refers to the recent Music Education: A Sound Investment report and advocates for the inclusion of music:

    We now have evidence that we should be concerned about music education not just for the sake of music itself, but also because of its impacts on language learning and literacy. Research about how participating in music affects the brain – a field known as neuromusical research – has taught us a lot about how the brain processes language. Significantly, it processes language in the same way as music.

    We know music matters! ? -Read more here.

    Quaver Rest Video

    In this video, Deb provides an overview about the quaver rest including the rhythm name ‘si’ which can be used while students build their audiation or inner hearing skills.

    This is an important step in fostering strong sightreading ability.

    VCAA Tip: Reading Time

    Make the most of reading time – remember, inner hearing is silent and requires no pencils at all.

    Just one of the VCAA Quick Tips from Deb to make this VCE Music Performance Aural & Written Exam journey a little easier for students.

    Mini-Analysis: Brahms & Dynamics

    Have you noticed what dynamics does to character or mood in music?

    Whether it’s consistent throughout, shifts gently and gradually or changes suddenly, the loud, soft and everything in between plays a huge part in unlocking an emotional reaction. Check out this Brahms example to see what we mean.

    Curated Content

    Practice Decathlon

    Learning music should always be fun for our students (yes even theory and aural training) but sometimes it’s hard to keep the ideas flowing.

    Read on for some fun ideas to try out with your classes.

    Performance Anxiety

    Performance anxiety and nerves are an ongoing part of our students’ journey as young musicians.

    Check out this article from everyone’s favourite Bulletproof Musician to learn more about what performance anxiety actually is and how to practice dealing with it head on!

    Itzhak Perlman Quote

    This is very true!

    What have you learned through your teaching of others? Get in touch and let us know!

  • Melody, Models & a bit of Bill Bailey

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    Check out some resources and content you might have missed around the DSMusic space recently.

    Resource Round-Up

    Level One Online Lessons

    Are you looking for some online lessons that are ready-made, fully interactive and are great for self-directed learning? Searching for some handy resources if students are stuck isolating away from your classroom?

    Lessons 1 to 16 of the Musicianship & Aural Training Level One Student Book are now accessible online for FREE to all those who already own, and have activated the digital resources for, a Level 1 teacher or student product, so if you’re one of those people, take a look here.

    If you don’t have a Level One product, you can access these 16 online lessons – that come complete with interactive PDFs that link to videos, audio, answers and more – for the introductory price of only $5! You can take a look at a FREE sample lesson here or just head over to the Level One page and select “Student Online Lessons” to get these ready-made resources.

    Level Two Creative Assignment 6

    This can be set after students have completed Level 2 Lesson 33 of Musicianship & Aural Training for the Secondary School Level Two or with any students who are ready to try their hand at being creative with what they’ve learned.

    Get your students composing!

    The Major Scale in Solfa

    Why just go forwards all the time?

    Have a go at the Major Scale – backwards! – with Deb in this video as we strengthen those scale skills.

    For more of these sorts of practice activities – perfect for remote learning, revision or self-directed study, take a look at MLOCM.

    Melody Clever Echo Video

    In this terrific practice resource, students are shown a variety of Melody Clever Echo activities designed to foster their ongoing aural and melodic recognition skills.

    Taken from Section 1 of Musicianship & Aural Training for the Secondary School, Level Three.

    Curated Content

    Can you even imagine Fur Elise in a Major Key?

    When you begin learning a new piece do you ever consider its tonality and what the composers choice of this might do to the character? The hilarious Bill Bailey has!

    The PIMS Model

    This is a great article by two Australians – Professor Lea Waters and Dr. Tim Patston that matches elements of positive psychology with instrumental music tuition.

    Positive Education helps foster resilience, promotes wellbeing and offers tips for creating thriving connection and meaning in life.

    Stevie Wonder Quote

    Stevie is speaking our language! At DSMusic we are strong believers in teaching music literacy — what ways do you do this? Get in touch and let us know!

  • Major Scales, NAPLAN & Elgar

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    Check out some resources and content you might have missed around the DSMusic space recently.

    Resource Round-Up

    Writing Major Scales

    Let’s set the right tone for learning major scales! For students at any level, practicing writing scales is essential. This can be great preparation for senior students but also provide a strong foundation for the year levels below, too.

    This worksheet gives students opportunities to write scales in bass and treble clefs, with accidentals and key signatures and using a variety of rhythmic values. For an added bonus, some questions extend them a little further to identify tones and semitones.

    There’s heaps of great Major Scale content like this and much, much more available in Musicianship & Aural Training for the Secondary School Level Three.

    Q&A Concept

    It’s not always all about that bass… but this time it is. Click the video to watch a brief theory and aural Q&A concept with Deb.

    These Q&A Concept videos were taken from the 2020 Webinar Series – but if you want to organise a virtual session to chat about musicianship with Deb, get in touch.

    Down the River

    In this Traditional Folksong – with actions by Deb – students get clapping and moving while singing a two-part canon in compound time.

    A great activity for working on metre and expanding time signatures. Viva la 6/8!

    Practice Video

    Here, Deb sings through the interval patterns of the major scale ascending and descending in solfa with handsigns.

    This Level 3 Video 11 resource is a great way for students to foster vital aural skills and build better musicianship.

    Curated Content

    What makes the Elgar Cello Concerto so powerful?

    Check out this great video resource from ABC Classic – a great tool for demonstrating all the things we talk about when we’re decoding sound!

    NAPLAN needs ditching, not a redesign

    “Ultimately, education systems are designed to serve students, yet student needs and experiences are not often part of ‘the logic’ of educational systems and their designs.”

    Maya Angelou Quote

    Some inspiring words to remember courtesy of Maya Angelou – music offers us all so much comfort. 

  • Never miss out on DSMusic Updates!

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    News Feed Preferences on Facebook

    How to make sure you never miss out on any DS Music updates!

    I love what I do! Creating resources and content built upon sequential and rigorous music literacy and then, getting to share it with all of you. Sometimes  I will churn out a bunch of exciting  worksheets, videos and exercises, and am then keen to get the word out and some feedback in return.

    Facebook is a great place for this because I can instantly share my content with you and see your reactions and suggestions and requests in real time. This is the interactive part of social media I really enjoy, though, to be honest, there are other sides to the platform I am not such a fan of. Algorithms, for instance.

    So Facebook crunches the numbers based on what you click on and decides what then to show you, which can mean that over time, the DS Music Classroom Music Teacher Support Page might disappear off your news feed. When that happens, you might very well miss out on one of my content shares or a thrilling happy snap of Brodie the office dog.

    To prevent this, please follow these quick steps:

    1. On the Facebook homepage, click the drop-down arrow on the top right and select “News Feed Preferences”.
    2. Then select “Prioritise who to see first”. Make sure you choose “Pages only” in the view options and then click on the DS page!

    In addition, selecting “See First” lets you receive posts from my page in your News Feed as soon as a fun and fundamental (see what I did there?) resource arrives. If you haven’t already, be sure to click the “following button” on my page.

    Remember too, that the more you like, comment and share the posts on my page, the happier you make the Facebook algorithm, plus it is great for me to see everyone interact.

    Thanks for your support! Keep making wonderful music! – Deb


  • Universal Music Education

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    Universal Music Education

    Welcome to 2020 and our first post for the year. This article has been kindly shared by Walter Bitner: a multi-instrumentalist, singer, conductor, and teacher, and serves as Director of Education & Community Engagement for the Richmond Symphony in Richmond, Virginia, USA. He writes about music and education on his website Off The Podium at, and his column Off The Podium is featured in Choral Director magazine and as a weekly blog on the American Choral Directors Association‘s global networking community website ChoralNet. Thanks Walter! 

    As we enter the third decade of the twenty-first century, the time has come for music educators to stop pussyfooting around and advocate for Universal Music Education. Indeed, it is long past time. We should stop wasting valuable time – time that belongs to us and to the children in our care – we should stop seeking compromise solutions that merely seek to preserve music education’s place in school curriculum, a place that is in most cases completely upside-down, a place that has fallen into neglect and disrepute over that last decades, a place that was rarely or never ideal in the first place. It is time to advocate for what is truly needed by our children and our society: a comprehensive music education for every child in every school.

    Music Education belongs in the life of every child, and this means: every child who graduates from high school should have received a music education that provided her with the skills to: sing fluently, play an instrument fluently, and read and write music notation with enough skill to participate in musical ensembles with satisfying results; have a working knowledge of music history and music theory that provides them with an appreciation of the art form and its place in human culture; and experienced the profound moments of social harmony and personal fulfillment that can arise from the rehearsal and performance process.

    Two little children – cute curly toddler girl and a funny baby boy, brother and sister playing music, having fun with colorful xylophone at a window; kids early development class

    Universal Music Education is music education for every child.

    Even in most schools that boast of robust music programs, participation is by a minority of students. In the cities I have lived and worked in, some with vaunted music education programs, only about one fourth of high school students enroll in any music class during their high school years.

    Our Music Education System Is Upside Down

    Despite the fact that we know that the developmental “window” during which children have the greatest aptitude for learning all of the musical skills described above – the “golden age” of the elementary school years between the “age of reason” attained around age seven and the onset of puberty – most elementary school music programs do not provide children with the significant achievement of any of these skills before they reach middle school. This is by design: most elementary school music programs are not set up to provide children with the frequency, repetition, or intensity required to develop these skills.

    Most middle school music programs therefore begin with a severe handicap: students are introduced to the experience of ensemble music when the time has already passed at which they would most readily embrace it and develop the skills to be successful at it. For most children, by the time they are offered the opportunity for any real musical training, it is too late. Because of this situation, in their middle school years the majority of children are discouraged from pursuing musical activity in school, even if they are introduced to music classes during an “arts rotation” or some other introductory survey, and by high school most students elect not to participate in music classes at all.

    This design for music education in our schools produces the current atmosphere of competition that dominates the entire music education culture, and perpetuates the myth that musical talent is a kind of giftedness reserved for a lucky minority of the population. The competition design is maintained, supported, and promoted by our professional music education organizations, whose primary activities are organizing competitions. (see Is Music a Sport?)

    The exact opposite is in fact the truth. Musical talent is dirt cheap: everybody has it. The activity, solace, and joy of music is the birthright of every human being, and does not belong only to a select, “talented” few. Music is too important to be left only to the professionals – it belongs to everyone, and always has, in every culture, in every time and place. (see Is Music a Commodity?)

    A Very Old Idea

    The emphasis on music as a “core” subject which every student must study in school is not a new idea – it has been around for about three thousand years. The ancient Greeks included music as one of the seven essential components of a liberal arts education: grammar, logic, and rhetoric (the trivium) and arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy (the quadrivium). The founders of western civilization considered these skills – including music – necessary preparation for citizens to participate in a free society, with all of its attendant responsibilities. (see What the ‘liberal’ in ‘liberal arts’ actually means by Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post)

    “The man that hath no music in himself,
    Nor is not moved
    with concord of sweet sounds,
    Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils”

    ~ William Shakespeare
    The Merchant of Venice, 5.1.83-85

    This famous quote from the author generally regarded as the greatest ever to write in English (which I chose as the motto for Off The Podium when I began to write in 2015) describes the general attitude about music education of the European Renaissance: those who have not received an education in music cannot be trusted.

    The Purpose of Music Education

    Opponents of Universal Music Education will protest that including music as a core subject is too expensive. But the costs to our society of not including music education as a core subject are much greater. Some 2.3 million Americans are incarcerated in the United States, more than in any other nation. Although I am not aware that a survey of the music education backgrounds of U.S. convicts has ever been attempted, it is a safe bet that only a small minority of those behind bars were given a comprehensive music education, and as children did not experience the positive social and emotional benefits that are central to music education. (see What Your Students Will Remember)

    As I described in Wholehearted Attention, “students who sing in choir or play in band or orchestra must simultaneously perform a complex set of operations that call on more aspects of the human being than any other activity they face in school”. This wholehearted attention demanded by musical activity from every participant – complete absorption in the moment in which all other thoughts and concerns disappear – provides the rare opportunity for the child to experience the harmonious engagement of all parts of herself at once: physical, intellectual, and emotional engagement within a collaborative social context.

    “We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.”

    ~ John Dewey

    Musical activity demands wholehearted attention and this state presents the child with opportunity and means to integrate experience, thought, feelings, and sensations in a complete and challenging way that no other school activity can provide. When the music education environment is carefully cultivated, the child is presented with material that assists her in reflecting on experience in an emotionally safe social setting, and she returns to the state of wholehearted attention on a daily basis. In this way a fertile ground is prepared for the development of consciousness, which in turn makes it possible for the child to become acquainted with conscience in a manner that is free, intimate, and sustained. (see Walter’s Working Model)

    The development of this relationship with the inner voice of the psyche – this practice of return to ourselves – this is the purpose of music education.

    Universal Music Education is a call to conscience.

  • Semiquaver Games & Movement Activities

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  • Semiquaver Songs, Canons and Exercises

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    Dinah – Sheet music and game instructions

    Dinah – Video of actions (this one is just here for show)

    Winter’s Coming – Sheet Music

    Lara’s Train


    Semiquaver Canon


    Level 1

    Level 2

    Level 3

    Art Music Connections:

    Dance of the Mirlitons from the Nutcracker Suite – Tchaikovsky

    Rondo alla Turca – Mozart

    Can Can – Offenbach