So our district has really been getting into the strategy of close reading, where you take a text and examine it multiple times to get deeper meaning. And I’ll be honest, when I first heard of close reading, I thought “well, there’s something I won’t be doing in my class.” But that was before I found out that a text doesn’t have to be written words. A song is considered a text. So, I decided to give a close read a try. Here’s what we did:
Make sure to pick a good song. Something you can sink your teeth into with a decent amount of complexity. I recommend doing a classical work and shying away from simple folk songs as they might not have enough going on to warrant multiple close reads (typical close reads have at least 3 read throughs). Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that you can’t find ways to delve deep into a folk song, but you will need to really have that well planned in order for it to work.
Pick a benchmark that has a high depth of knowledge. By that I mean, something that is asking you to compare and contrast, or give evidence or create. Don’t pick one that is basic recall. That won’t be going far enough to warrant a close read.
Close Read #1
I had my students listen to Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven. I gave them each a blank paper and had them fold it into quarters. In the first box, they drew a picture of what they picture when they hear the song. About halfway through the song, we switch to filling out the second box. This was a long song. If it was shorter, you might have to replay for them to have time to answer the second box. The student have to write what tempo, dynamic and instrument family they heard during the song. Finally, students meet with a partner and share what they drew for their picture and what tempo, dynamic and instrument family they wrote down.
Close Read #2
I hand back out the papers, and now they use the info that they gathered the first time to answer this question. What was the mood of the song? How did the composer create the mood? Support your answer using evidence from the song. I also provide a sentence stem for them, to help guide them to how to correctly support their answer.
I thought the mood was ____________, because ________________.
We usually do an example as a class so they understand how to use things such as tempo, dynamic and instrument family as evidence.
Close Read #3
In this read through, I add a supplemental text. I want them to be able to compare and contrast, so we do the same steps that we did with the first song – collecting the tempo, dynamic and instrument family as well as the mood, but this time we do it to a contrasting song. I picked Trepak from the Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky. Once they have this done, I give the a Venn diagram and they have to compare and contrast the two songs. I give them a little of things to consider (composer, mood, tempo, dynamic and instrument family). I play through both songs one last time and they have until both songs are complete to fill out the bubbles with a partner.
The Take Aways
After doing my first ever close read, here are my take aways:
- Close reads totally can work in the music room.
- Make sure to use a song that is worth investing this amount of time on. Doing a full close read cycle takes a long time (2 class periods for me), so it had better focus on stuff that you think is important.
- You can pack SO MUCH into a close read! We discussed vocabulary, mood and composers. We compared and contrasted. I feel like the kids are really going to know their vocabulary and these songs really well after focusing in so closely.
All in all, I think they are totally doable. You just need to make sure if you are investing the time, that it is for something important (I think composers and vocab are areas where my students struggle so this activity really helped them).
Hope this activity helps you and maybe gives you some ideas of how you would use close reading in your own class.