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Repertoire Level Labeling

Can anyone explain or point me to a resource that explains the way in which a piece of music is analyzed or evaluated in order to place it in the different levels of difficulty? In other words, how is a piece of music determined to be level 1 rather than level 2 or level 4 rather than 5? I am working on curriculum writing and would like to gain an understanding of the skills or musical competentancy a students needs to sing at each level. 
Replies (4): Threaded | Chronological
on January 6, 2014 8:14am
I don't know the direct answer to your question, but you might find helpful related information in:
   The Orff and Kodaly curriculums, which specify grade by grade competencies,
   The "Scope and Sequence" charts and other information in school music textbooks,
   The music curriculums of those school districts which actually have a detailed, grade by grade curriculum; some are available online,
   MENC and other professional organizations which publish standards and best practices,
   College music departments which might put curriculums and syllabi on line
   Choral music publishing houses must get many questions about this and may have details.
 
I for one would like to see concise specifications for the levels if you find them. 
 
One last thought: Sometimes there are simple rules (profoundly "simple") that sum up and clarify what all the analysis is trying to get at.  For me it was "Choose music that your students will sound great singing," which I came across during my first difficult year, thanks to Nick Page (workshop), Diane Rao and Jean Bartle (books).  Genre, style, level, unison or parts--all these are secondary at first, though of course we want to move students along and expand their abilities and awareness systematically.
 
 
on January 8, 2014 12:45am
For a broad generalization, see:  http://www.music44.com/X/product/GRADING
Granted, this is for instrumental music, but you get the idea.
 
In choral music grading, publishers will also consider factors such as:
• complexity of the voice leading or voice crossing
• how harmonically simple / complex / rich / angular the style or harmonic language is.  Music which is primarily triadic will be graded easier than say, Poulenc.
• how easily it can be sight-read.  
• how easily it can be memorized.
• independence of the voices.  parts which are memorable, easy, and highly independent (when not doubling of course) will be ranked easier than a piece with voice parts that are tricky and easily confused.  
• issues of prononciation and foreign language.  An English text will be ranked easier than Bulgarian.  
• breathing.  Are there any tricky passages regarding breath?
• Contemporary effects.  Is this piece pretty straight forward, or are there some extended techniques going on in it somewhere?.  (Throat singing, what have you.)
• Quality of the modulations.  Are the modulations well prepared and easy, or are they unconventional or likely to throw a chorus out of tune?
• Number of voices.  Is this for unison?  Two-part?  Three-part?  Four-part?  Four-part with many divisi sections?
 
That should give you a starting idea of how choral music will be analyzed and evaluated to give it an appropriate difficulty level ranking.
 
There is no hard-and-fast system.  Nor is there complete consistency.  That said, there doesn't always have to be.  A piece that one chorus finds easy, another finds difficult, and vice versa.  Customers rarely return music because the level ranking was off by a point.
 
As far as what skills or musical competency correlate to each level...  see again that link, http://www.music44.com/X/product/GRADING and imagine it for choral singers.  Remember skills ability education and competency are really a continuum, the grading "levels" are broad approximations IMHO.  
Applauded by an audience of 1
on January 9, 2014 3:04pm
That is a good list, Jack.  We might consider putting "number of voices' more near the top.  I imagine you are not trying to have them in a particilar order, which would be tricky and perhaps pointless.
I would add that vocal range is generally a factor.  Though young singers, old singers, etc., can sing a wide range of notes, they often don't have the training/experience for that, at first.  But give them some time, confidence, and some well-instructed technique is breathing, relaxation, etc., and they ... [we  !! ]  will surprise ourselves!
 
I agree that consistency of level-desingation is an elusive issue.  I conducted some singers recently that  had really good ears, but no background in theory/sight-singing.  They could recall and learn pieces that many would consider polytonal/too-advanced.   But their sight-singing level was far below others.   So the trick was to find the right piece  - on the right level.  (And then teach theory/SS. like mad!!)
on January 11, 2014 3:03pm
Yes yes Lucy.  Forgot those two:
• Range and of course also
• Tessitura. 
 
And yes, as you noticed, no particular order.  
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