Ragnar's Story

Click icon above to hear narration by Karl Davies

How does the Brass for Beginners story-driven approach inspire students to learn the basics of brass?

Ragnar's story provides context about the possible uses of lip-blown instruments in the prehistoric and ancient world, filling students' minds with ideas about the meaning and significance of lip-blown sounds, thereby inspiring the creative motivation to produce them. The idea of the interdisciplinary approach is to answer the "so what?" question: Why do we make sounds on a lip-blown instrument to begin with, and why is it important? The Brass for Beginners' methodology sparks students' curiosity, creating a desire to discover the origins of things, and to question why things are the way they are.

Each chapter of Ragnar's story addresses questions like these in an engaging way that captures the imagination. There are multiple learning moments in each unit introduction and chapter that cover a wide range of issues about our ancient ancestors' use of sound objets, including their utility, develolpment, and cultural/historical importance. What follows is a list of discussion points for Chapter 3: "Stumbling on H2" which you can hear by clicking the icon above. To follow Ragnar's adventure from beginning to end, click the "HearRagnar.com" link below.

  1. Most modern instruments have their origins in the hunt, and experts believe that objects that produced loud sounds, like lip-blown instruments and objects that are struck or scraped in a percussive manner, were likely used to startle prey in order to create confusion or manipulate behavior. Ragnar used his horn to startle a herd of bison, causing them to stampede. This left some of the weaker animals behind and vulnerable to the hunter's spears.
  2. After the successful hunt, Ragnar used his horn to keep the hunting party moving together, and to keep their spirits up as they carried their heavy load. This introduces the idea of marching or processional music.
  3. During the journey home, Ragnar stumbled on a small tree branch which he noticed had insects coming out from one end. Recognizing it as a hollow object, similar to the bear femur bone and bison horn, he picked it up and brought it home thinking that he might be able to make a trumpet from it. This idea of the transfer of knowledge runs throughout the narrative.  
  4. When Ragnar got home, he used his tools to make the end of the branch smooth for his lips, and blew a note on it. Success! A new trumpet! As he was testing how loud he could play it, suddenly a much higher note rang out. This stick trumpet could play two notes because it was longer. Longer trumpets play more notes- another important theme that runs through the book. Ragnar had stumbled on the second note of the harmonic series* (H2), and later that evening used it to play songlike music in celebration of the feast.

*Because of the lack of conicity and bell flare of the stick trumpet, the second harmonic note would have sounded far from harmonic. The stick trumpet in the narration of the story plays a minor 9th, and it's great fun to hear a classroom full of students singing along. Note: The term "harmonic note" is technically a misnomer because the word "harmonic" implies a relationship between two notes or a series of notes. In other words, a note cannot be harmonic by itself!