The Music Of Titi-Ta

March 3, 2017 by Staff


As a parent of two Oaks graduates, one of whom started in kindergarten, my first thought was, "it's nice that Miss Allegra Miller is leading the class in some calisthenics (clip, below), but even first graders in a music class should be learning ... music?"

My second and third thoughts were, "after sixteen years of life with _The Oaks_, I should have known better!"

True, I have not seen Mr. Young's secondary music students singing, clapping and tumbling at the same time, in class or even until now, out-of-class. I could have missed it. In any case, younger children thrive on a diet of embodied education, literally. Joining (their) body to (their) mind helps them absorb surprisingly complex information, perhaps even over a lifetime.

I visited with the first-graders twice within two weeks during early January, while Miss Miller took them through three carefully constructed stages of preparation, presentation and practice for mapping sound-to-symbol. These, in turn, may be applied to teach different musical concepts. Here, the class was learning about melody and rhythm.


During this aural phase of instruction, students sing simple melodies to one another. The teacher trains their ear to listen and distinguish different sounds. High. Low. Long. Short. Clapping supports an intuitive grasp of rhythm as students learn to discern intervals between two sounds. We employ the Solfege method to give students competence with the 'movable do' scale. Later, they will recognize this as the foundation for all scales.

The first clip at the top of this post, as well as the one below, illustrate two 'moments' of preparation for mastering melody.

Above, the students are asked to identify high-and-low sounds.


Those of us who read music may have forgotten the enormous abstraction we bridged to translate from ear to page and back again. Indeed, some, including a son of mine who composes music, have never made that leap, despite Mr. Young's repeated encouragement. Musical symbol-making can be avoided. Then again, we may also skip mastery of the written alphabet, though most unwisely.


As shown above, "Ta" and "ti-ti" are rhythm syllables, used in place of traditional counting (1 & 2 and 3 & ...). The "rest" symbol marks a pause.

Simple popsicle sticks support student practice in the video above. First-graders, by steady practice, develop accuracy and speed by tactile manipulation of these symbols. Beyond reproducing what is asked by the teacher, students soon create their own short, original melodies of notes-and-intervals, composing their own 'popsical notation' music.

Ti-ti ta isn't just for our tiny ones. Students, through sixth grade, work with twelve different symbols. By then, they can not only recognize and respond, correctly, to complex, subtle rhythms but employ those rhythms to create surprisingly complex melodies. Below, Kent Young employs the method with somewhat older students.


Miss Miller explained why we carry the method across multiple grades. "Think of it as riding a bicycle. The movements involved in pedaling, steering and choosing a correct speed work best when they become automatic, but they can never be automatic when first learned. When Oaks students advance to traditional music notation-reading, their grounding in interval and rhythm will allow them to sight-read across multiple scales with a fraction of the effort they would have expended otherwise."

Method, Not Madness

Oaks staff across all subjects and grades employ (flexible) methods, intentionally, to instruct students consistent with their varied ages and maturities. Under Kent Young's leadership, Allegra Miller and Jennifer O'Bannon contribute their own passions and insights to improve the music curriculum.

Miss Miller wrote her senior thesis at New Saint Andrews college on the connections between the so-called Kodaly method and the Paideia approach to classical education.

Zoltan Kodaly  was an acclaimed 20th century Hungarian educator who integrated folk music into a curriculum designed to create a lifelong love and growing mastery of all forms of music within the nation's youth. Though different in approach, the Kodaly method, like the famous Suzuki method, enable young children to 'get' music directly, without infantilizing them.

While The Oaks does not follow the  Paideia model explicitly, we appreciate its contribution to the defense of classical education. In recent times, educators like Mortimer Adler have called for its recovery.

We encourage parents of these first-grade children (and any children) at our school to sit-in on the music classes led by Mr Young, Mrs O'Bannon and Ms Miller at any time. Just give the office a heads-up. It's great fun and you just might learn some Ti-Ti and Ta along the way.