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Flippin' Sonata Form...

December 23, 2017

Of all the GCSE set works that my current year 11s struggle with, Beethoven's Pathetique is at the top of the list. So upon reflection, I decided to be intensely intentional in how I taught it to my current year 10s. Here's a brief summary of what I've done...

 

1.  Flipped Learning

A central tenent of flipped learning is that the students interact with simpler and more straightforward ideas in their own time and then to come to class in order to deal with some higher-level thinking about the same topic. The Pathetique fits quite nicely into this flipped learning structure as it's a sonata form (simple idea) that Beethoven has played around with (higher-level thinking required).

 

Homework was then set involving 2 tasks which required learners to interact with sonata form:

The first was simply to watch a selection of three videos which highlighted sonata form in three different ways, connecting with different types of learners:

The second task builds on the first, getting thestudents to pick out the sonata form in the first movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5:

The third task was set for those learners who might have struggled with the sonata form concept and simply gets them to point out some musical moments in the Symphony. I still wanted these students to interact with a this piece of music as we'd be revising sonata form in class using this.

 

The learners rose to the challenge of these tasks and returned the following week with a secure working knowledge of the sonata form. I wanted to compound this aural interaction with sonata form with a visual interaction too. We carried out a very simple (yet fun) task in class - to create sonata form using biscuits by listening to Beethoven's Symphony No.5 again. The idea was taken from this well-known photo which is shared every-so-often online. This then allowed us to go further into how Beethoven alters and plays with sonata form in his Pathetique sonata. However, that's after I introduced the concept of Romanticism...

 

2.  Introducing Romanticism

Romanticism was introduced through this fun starter activity where the students had to match these dating profiles (very Romantic!) to the correct musical excerpts:

 

The individualism, virtuosity and general over-the-top ideas of the Romantic composers comes to light through these videos which provides an effective introduction to Romanticism. This allows the learners to contextualize the individualistic way in which Beethoven changes sonata form in the first movement of the Pathetique.

 

3.  Sonata Form

The learners already had a secure working understanding of sonata form as evidenced through the flipped learning task and the biscuit task. They were now ready to tackle Beethoven's Romantic take on sonata form.

 

In order to effectively show how Beethoven manipulated the form I created a template of sonata form and stapled a piece of tracing on top. As we listened to the Pathetique the learners sketched onto the tracing paper how Beethoven altered traditional sonata form.

 

This provides an useful and practical overview of what is quite a complex piece of music. It also allows the learners to immediately see Beethoven's Romantic imprint on the form which should hopefully help them construct some well-reasoned answers in their exams!

 

 

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