A portrait of Maria

Maria was a Grade 5 girl who chose to investigate “Solfege”. Table 4.22 contains the transcripts of Maria’s three videos.


Table 4.22

Maria’s video transcripts for “Solfege”

Prior knowledge video

I'm doing solfege, and I know nothing about it, umm, except it's a musical, umm, thingy and I think it includes the do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do.


Completed explanatory animation

The chromatic scale has every note which is all 12 notes.  Each note is the same distance apart just like the windows on this plane. 

Imagine that these windows are musical notes in the chromatic scale.

A semitone is from one note to the next.  A whole tone is two semitones.

The major scale has only 8 notes.

It has the combination of whole tone, whole tone, semitone, whole tone, whole tone, whole tone, semitone.

This grid shows the letter names of all 12 notes in all 12 keys.

As this plane flies up and down you can see which notes belong to the scale.

Many of the major scales seem complicated because of the sharps involved and yet they all sound the same.

Solfege makes this easier by using the sounds "Do re mi fa sol la ti do" in any key.  

Director's commentary

When I started my animation I had no idea what I was doing, like how I was going to get there or anything.

Brendan helped me a lot with that so that was good.

When I did the windows on the plane it made a lot more sense.  So yeah, I just thought they were really clever.

With the grid it made me understand a lot more ‘cause I didn’t realise there was alphabetical (order) at all.  So I learnt a lot during…um, making that grid.

The plane idea was really…great and how we linked to it with all the different notes and the do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do because of the plane flying up and down.


Introducing Maria and her topic

Maria was a very popular and confident child and she had also just landed one of the lead roles in our Circus show as the main Clown. This extraverted role suited Maria’s personality, as she was also very chatty, but never rude. Maria was also a talented singer so I thought that her choice of topic was a good match for her. She also played the piano with our school orchestra so each week I worked with Maria in her regular music class, the Storyboard project, orchestra rehearsals and the lead character production rehearsals.

I had assumed that Maria’s prior knowledge was deeper than what she stated in her prior knowledge video as she was a competent pianist and singer; “I'm doing solfege, and I know nothing about it, umm, except it's a musical, umm, thingy and I think it includes the do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do”. Out of all of the topics that the children chose, this is the one where I could claim to have some expertise due to my role as a music teacher. My comment after the first session was that “There are many complementary concepts that inform this topic such as intervals, the major scale, accidentals and key signatures” (Researcher reflection, 21st July 2011).


Creating the ZPD with Maria

Maria was ready to abandon this topic when she attended her first session during the second week of the project. This was partly because she had been absent during the first session and she thought that the other children were too far ahead. I suspected that this was because she couldn't visualise the imagery that she might need. “When I started my animation I had no idea what I was doing, like how I was going to get there or anything” (“Solfege” director’s commentary). I encouraged Maria to go and play on a keyboard for a while (with headphones on) as she was very restless and I wanted to maintain her interest. I had suggested that she could try playing the major scale in different keys and notice that the various key signatures required different numbers of black and white keys.

During the next few sessions we talked about having a grid with all 12 notes in all 12 keys. The idea was to have some sort of moveable window that could reveal the different notes as it moved up and down in front of a grid. Maria was still planning on leaving the project up until the breakthrough that occurred during Session 6. We talked about different shaped windows and referenced the long running Australian television show “Play school”, where various shaped windows provided a lead-in to a story. It was then that I had the idea of an aeroplane with window shutters in the main cabin. As Maria had recently been on a plane when she missed the first session, she was able to clearly picture what I was suggesting. Maria immediately agreed that this would be a good way to depict the open windows that reveal various notes.

The issue of musical pitch was represented using the height (altitude) of the plane. The main feature of the metaphor was the equidistant windows within the plane and their affordance of opening and closing to reveal whatever was behind the window shutters. The windows of the plane illustrated the spatial distribution of musical pitch. Rather than having eight windows for the notes of the major scale, we decided to have thirteen semitones (1) for the chromatic scale (including the octave) where every note is shown to be equidistant apart. The notes (i.e., windows) that weren’t part of the major scale could then remain closed. The open windows could then reveal both the intervallic structure of the major scale and the actual notes in each particular key signature.

It was this plane metaphor that created the ZPD for Maria. From this moment onwards, Maria was excited about her topic and ready to commence building her imagery. “The plane idea was really...great and how we linked to it with all the different notes and the do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do because of the plane flying up and down” (“Solfege” director’s commentary). Future discussions between Maria and myself were contextualised around the plane metaphor depicted in Figure 4.32.

Figure 4.32

Figure 4.32. Screen shot from the “Solfege” animation.


Maria’s conceptual journey

The value of the plane metaphor was most apparent in Maria’s grid imagery. Much of Maria’s difficulty in the early stages of creating her animation resulted from not knowing the correct order of the notes in the chromatic scale. Figure 4.33 is an early version of Maria’s grid that clearly shows that she didn’t understand the sequence of the 12 notes, which should have been A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#.

Figure 4.33

Figure 4.33. “Solfege” grid imagery 1st September 2011.

Maria’s director's commentary confirms the importance of her early attempts at building this grid. “With the grid it made me understand a lot more ‘cause I didn’t realise there was alphabetical [order] at all. So I learnt a lot during...um, making that grid” (“Solfege” director’s commentary).

Once the grid had been fixed, we had many other fruitful discussions as part of defining the scope of the animation. One such issue was whether the plane should ascend and descend on an angle or if it should have a horizontal orientation. It seemed logical to use angles to make the plane look more realistic and also to reflect the fact that musical notation uses height to depict pitch. We eventually decided that the animation would be easier to understand if we kept the grid (and therefore the plane) on a horizontal orientation much like a plane that has reached its chosen altitude where minor deviations in altitude are less noticeable.

Figure 4.34 is a screen shot of the abandoned, angled grid idea.

Figure 4.34

Figure 4.34. “Solfege” screen shot 17th November 2011.

Other imagery we considered in relation to how we could simulate flight included the idea of looping background imagery such as clouds (Lesson plans, 3rd November 2011). This idea came from the 2004 film The Aviator where some planes didn’t look like they were flying due to a uniformly blue sky. In that film, they opted to reshoot the flying sequence when it was cloudy as the clouds provided the necessary frame of reference. I liked the idea of reusing or looping the animation background, as this was a common animation technique. We also discussed having the grid displayed as a banner from another plane but this idea was also discarded as Maria eventually pointed out that the clouds weren’t necessary, as they would only raise the issue of “Why does the grid stay in view anyway? [when it looks like the plane is moving]” In the final version of the animation, the grid only appeared momentarily to provide the explanatory context for the metaphor by showing what was behind the open windows.

Maria had noticed during the weeks after adopting the plane metaphor that the pattern of open windows doesn’t change as the main idea behind the windows was that the intervals of the major scale are the same in every key. Focusing on identifying relevant variables also drew attention to what doesn't change or what was constant (i.e., the musical intervals).

The reflexive nature of working with Maria on this animation also enhanced my own conceptual consolidation:

I thought I already understood this topic being a music teacher but I asked my wife her opinion about it, as she is a highly trained opera singer. She doesn't see it [i.e., the sol feige convention] as just helping with the major scale as it can be used for any scale including minor key signatures. I sort of knew this but I always focused on the major scale and diatonic harmony (Researcher’s reflexive journal, 20th November 2011).

I summarised this discussion when I next met with Maria and it led to the following text from her voice-over script being deleted, although many of the concepts remained:

These four statements had been recorded as part of Maria’s final voice-over script. Because these deleted statements were at the very beginning of her narration, they were easily edited out without the need to re-record anything. Although this information was originally considered to be important, we eventually decided that it was a tangent. “Shortening the voice-over script by starting with the chromatic scale shows that Maria now sees Sol Feige as a naming convention and not a recipe for the major scale” (Researcher reflection, 1st December 2011). It should also be noted that Maria understood these four deleted statements or she wouldn’t have been able to decide whether they were essential or peripheral to her explanation of Solfege.

A final element that was discarded from Maria’s animation was the reference to black and white keys on the piano. This was so the animation could have wider musical relevance without being limited to how key signatures apply to the piano. “I’m just taking out, from my voice-over and everything, all the bits about, umm, black keys and piano and stuff so that this animation can apply to all music” (Student reflection, 20th October 2011).

We also realised towards the end of the project that it would have been quite an oversight to make an animation about solfege without the viewer having the opportunity to hear the major scale. Figure 4.35 was used to conclude the animation with Maria’s voice singing the major scale as each note appeared.

Figure 4.35

Figure 4.35. Concluding screen shot from the “Solfege” animation.


Table 4.23 is Maria’s final conceptual consolidation rubric.


Table 4.23

Maria’s final conceptual consolidation rubric

Uses correct terminology With assistance Simplified terminology Some correct terminology Actual terminology

Identifies relevant variables

Not apparent With assistance Basic understanding

Deep understanding

Identifies relationships between variables Not apparent With assistance Basic understanding Deep understanding

Self-assessment scale (1-10). Does the student think that they understand their topic?


Of retrospective interest was a parent-teacher interview that I had with Maria’s father. His primary reason for seeing me was about Performing Arts and Maria’s role in our circus show that was being staged the following week. The evidence that I was able to show him such as the misconception about the order of the notes as seen in Maria’s grid was very clear and specific. As he was also an educator, he could fully appreciate the breakthrough that Maria was having through her participation in this project. This was the only time I had the opportunity to discuss the Storyboard project with one of the parents.

A summary of Maria’s conceptual journey is presented in Table 4.24.


Table 4.24

Summary of Maria’s conceptual journey

Table 4.24


(1) As stated in the voice-over script, “A semitone is from one note to the next”. The diatonic [major] scale is always the same regardless of the key signature.


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