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I'm in the process of revising the theory curriculum at my school (who isn't these days!). One big change I'm instituting is placing much greater emphasis on timbre and color, right off the bat in "Music Theory 101." I piloted this unit last year, with around two weeks dedicated to a simplified physics of sound, extremely basic synthesis, and some lessons on analyzing evelope and spectrum -- including teaching how to use visualization software like Sonic Visualizer. I'm pleased with how this went, and I plan to expand the unit next Fall. Inevitably, that'll mean less time given to harmony, but it strikes me as a fair trade-off.
One thing I haven't yet figured out is how to incorporate timbre into the Musicianship/Aural Skills component of the curriculum. We do have a lab, taught by another instructor, that currently covers the classics: dictation, sight-singing, and piano skills. Has anyone had any experience developing activities or assignements relevant to timbre in the context of a musicianship class? And have you found ways to integrate them with activities related to the other musical skills that we tend to cover in freshman aural skills?
I did a quick perusal of JMTP and couldn't find any articles specifically on teaching musical color; apologies if I have indeed missed anyone's prior work in this arena!
One idea that comes to mind immediately is some sort of game involving the recognition of different orchestral instruments and instrumental blendings. This is a talent that has (perhaps not surprisingly) atrophied for incoming freshmen. However, as we move away from a strict Western Art emphasis in our program at large, I don't feel as though precious time in aural skills lab needs to be spent helping students make fine differentiations between, say, oboe, English Horn, and bassoon in comparable ranges (as fun as that would be!). More valuable, I'd think, are activities that get students to hear and recall timbre generally, and articulate its quality systematically in many different contexts. A related goal is to be able to specify the subtle differences in performance (esp. vocal technique) that make the sound of specific musicians unique.
[For those that know me well: I confess my interest in identifying and recording birdsong may be influencing my curricular goals here! I'm almost thinking of adopting parts of the wonderful recent Peterson's Guide to Bird Sounds as a "textbook" of sorts. Certainly, if you can teach a freshman to distinguish between a Chipping Sparrow and Worm-Eating Warbler by vocalization alone, identifying an C4 on an oboe vs. English Horn will be a piece of cake!)]