After several great weeks of groups working together to come up with their own tunes, then sharing their works-in-progress with the rest of the band, we had our first day of co-teaching and co-learning. The first groupt to go was Auguste, Meredith, Sam, and Owen. They created a 12 bar blues that is in in 6/4 and has two measures of 3/2 on the V chord. Pretty damn hip if I do say so myself. And because they were NOT notating their music, I suspect this freedom allowed them to create something a bit more involved.
SO, they started teaching the band the melody the same way that I teach ear-tunes: note by note. They played a note (well, Owen did because he felt the most confident with the tune), and the band would noodle around until they got it. Then the next note, and so on and so forth. The students would get a few notes down and then Owen would play the melody in time and in rhythm, and the band responded. It took about 15 minutes for the band to *roughly* learn the tune, which really is no time at all. We asked Owen to play it by himself so the students could record it on their devices so they can listen to it and practice it at home. By the way, I also learned this tune WITH the students. It's important to be in that same vulnerable place that the students are in to show that we too can make mistakes and it is ok.
I shared with the students that this is a really messy, uncomfortable, and chaotic chaos, but that this is LEARNING and they are doing some pretty incredible work with this project. The rhythm section is already working on a pretty great intro for this tune to make it more interesting beyond the head chart. There are three other groups so there will be a total of four originals by the bands on our Jazz Central concert. I am not sure that I know of any other jazz band that has done something like this before.
I am still trying to figure how how we might go about notating this. When we I taught the band “Equinox” this past spring, it was all by ear, including the chord changes, and they performed it without music. I *think* we could do something similar-where they create their own lead sheets, but I am not sure yet. I will have to ask them what they think they might need. (Yes, I do ask the students their opinions and what they think might work best for them.)
I offer another look into the classroom in this video. Does it sound amazing? Well, as a proud teacher who watched this unfold in about 15 minutes, I would say so, but I am biased.
November 30th update: Wouldn't you know it-we played through the tune today and it sounded even better than this video. So what that tells me is that they either listened to the tune, listened and practiced, or it incubated over the past 24 hours and some lightbulbs went off :) Yay learning!
Guitar 2 really took a turn the past week and a half. Students really enjoyed working in SoundTrap while they mixed the most recent album. As they were working in SoundTrap, many of them asked if we could do a project where they could create their own music. Why not? Music is music and guitar is one vehicle through which we create music.
Here's the cool thing about SoundTrap: it's cloud based, which means it is accessible on any device. There is even a SoundTrap app, so the students could access their songs via their mobile devices. It works on Macs AND PCs. Super cool.
I thought it would be fun if the students created a South High Soundscape, where recorded sounds from our school found their way into their songs. We listened to to versions of Soundscapes: Steve Reich's "Different Trains" and "City of God's Son" While these might push the envelope of a "soundscape" I thought they might provide two contrasting styles.
What the students put together is uniquely them and intriguing. When I asked them what they enjoyed about the project they replied that they enjoyed creating their own music (even if using pre-established loops), that everyone's creation was different, and there was freedom. Although-that freedom was met with a bit of anxiety at the beginning of the project because there was just SO MUCH for available for the students to work with.
Below is the project description along with some of the songs (students gave me permission to use their work.) Some students, like Diego who wrote "Doors" were very thoughtful in their approach. Diego shared that each section starts with a door sound that he recorded. He indicated that doors open and close to different sections of a school and therefore each time you hear the door in his composition, there is a new and different sounding piece. Woah...that's deep, man. (Also, this is Diego's first time being in a music class).
Please enjoy and please feel free to use this assignment in your own classroom. I believe this kind of music experience can work with ANY grade in ANY setting!
Organized chaos occurs on a daily basis in the South High guitar rooms. If you were to come into my room, you might find students working in pairs, groups of 3-4, or by themselves. You might find me working with individuals, mediating groups, or just sitting back and observing the learning that is occurring. Once in a while I may need to re-direct students to the task, but the generally rule of thumb is 80-20. Meaning, 80% of the time the students are on task, focused, and engaging in learning. 80% is a solid number and I think most them achieve that.
Today, I was inspired by the 6th hour class to start writing this blog. I am literally writing this entry while they are working in groups to put together a song. We have been working on "Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons. Yesterday they listened to the song, and, as individuals, came up with their own strumming patterns. Volunteers from each class shared their patterns and we learned them from the students. I came up with an easy bass line. Today, they are working in groups to put the patterns together so they make a cohesive whole. So, one person is playing a bass line and others are creating or re-creating the strumming patterns we learned. I am watching students take on leadership roles in their groups, and other contribute their ideas. I am watching two young men work together. One young man who has struggled to find his place in class mentor another young man who has missed so much class that I barely know him. The mentor is an excellent teacher!! I am watching four girls who speak four different languages work together to figure out the song. It is really incredible. I am just sitting back and observing and watching the learning take place.
What happens when we get out of the way and let students experiment? There are eighteen different students in this class, eighteen different musical backgrounds, and eighteen different learning styles. These students are sometimes much better teachers than we will ever be, and it is important to let them take on that role.
"Remember focus on the music. Listen to what you are playing."-WOW. That just came from a student who has never had any "formal" music training. That's amazing. That is beautiful and so encouraging. I am going to steal that from him.
We have all had those students that have, for whatever reason, cause immense amounts of stress, emotional heartache, the sweats, and quite possibly hives. These students often act out in class, are insubordinate, don't contribute to conversations in a positive manner, or attract negative attention. THOSE students. I remember having a class of 6th graders that caused me so much anxiety that I would almost get sick to my stomach 5 minutes before the bell would ring. THOSE students, that you silently think, "thank god, they are not here today...." THOSE students.
Look, I am not a perfect human being. I am not a perfect teacher by any means and I have made my fair share of mistakes, but I have done a lot of thinking about these students and their role in my growth as a teacher. It would be naive to think that these students don't have a lot of baggage when coming to school. Baggage that we think they should leave at the door so they can focus on learning. However, for these students, that is heavy baggage that they just can't drop off-some of these students are dealing with some serious issues that go well beyond my understanding and my experiences. These are the students that need the most love from us. These are the students that need a caring relationship with an adult. Please allow me to clarify here-we are not here to "SAVE THE CHILDREN." No, this is not our role as teachers and puts us in a position of power that can not be exchanged. Rather, our role is to meet the child where they are at, and not give up. We cannot give up on these young people.
I have a new set of students this semester and of course, every class has a unique dynamic. One young lady comes to my class late every.single.day. She is defiant, she puts on a attitude that she doesn't care, she rolls her eyes at me, and just tosses my words aside. She struggles with most of her teachers. The young lady is a freshman and I don't know enough about her to understand what has caused this child to have such a negative life view. I have been struggling with how to connect with her and I and shared this with her yesterday. She responded with "Why do you want to connect with me? I don't care about you." That stung and caused me to have a nightmare last night. Today, I sat right by her and worked with her on the song "De Colores". I sat with her for 15 minutes (with 20 other students in room-who were all just happy as clams strumming and playing their melodies). I sat with her and told her that what she was doing was good work. When we were done, I looked at her and firmly shared with her "I will not give up on you." I looked at her again and said, "I will not give up on you."
I think, in my mind, I was saying that to her, but I was also saying that to myself. So often, we work with these students. They are frustrating and we wonder what went wrong with the student. But if we dig deeper, can we ourselves work harder to build a connection, even if a fraction of a connection. If these students see us believing in them, they might start to believe in themselves as well.
The hardest students to reach can be some of our best teachers. They will test us to limits of emotional and mental stress, but I firmly believe that we can learn and grow so much as educators. While I would not wish for a class of students like the one I described, I do know that I have re-committed myself to showing and demonstrating compassion for all of my students, and not giving up on them, or myself.
Rehearsals at 7:15 in the morning are rough....for anybody. However, I am grateful that I get to start my day playing jazz with a bunch of high school kids who enjoy playing enough to get to school an hour early (every day) to have some musical fun. We are getting ready for our next performance, which is Swing Night-a super fun experience that we share with Jazz I and the community jazz band. We are playing some standard charts, 'Woodchopper's Ball", "Darn that Dream", "It Don't Mean a Thing..."....you get the idea. Today I noticed that the students were playing pretty tentatively, even thought the rhythms and notes are familiar to them (I remind them that they have seen these notes and rhythms before, they are just in different configurations). The trumpets in particular are incredibly tentative in their playing and I have tried every trick in the book to encourage them to play with more volume, air, confidence....etc.
So, fast forward, I haul out my cornet and just sit in with kids. I haven't played cornet in forever---especially jazz. I mean...I don't play cornet/trumpet. I *taught* it for many years as a middle school band director and would regularly play along with my kids in lessons, band, and jazz band. But I don't actually play it. And I really only know how to play: loud (the only way, amiright fellow trumpet players??) Anyway, I got back there and started playing-missing notes, hitting the wrong partial-not on purpose, but mainly because I was just going for it (and not warmed up at all and likely playing on a mouthpiece that was way too small.) It was SO.MUCH.FUN!! And, the kids started to play a bit louder. After we got done, I exclaimed "WHO CARES IF YOU MAKE A MISTAKE?!! I mean, who really cares?? We are playing a chart at quarter note equals 160. How long does that note actually last? Nobody is going to stop you at the gates of wherever in your afterlife and say to you....'oh, no....you can't enter, because remember that one time in jazz band you played a wrong note...'' I went on to share with them that we should not fear making a mistake in place of playing with passion and energy. Mistakes WILL happen, and IT'S OK. They WILL happen in a performance, and IT IS OK. I countered this exclamation with the caveat that to purposely make mistakes is completely different than going for it and making a mistake. But that by focusing so much on playing the right notes, we are missing so much more of the experience.
Yes. Notes are important. They were intentionally put there by the composer and we as musicians have a responsibility to honor those notes and the meaning behind those notes. However, what kinds of disservice are we doing to the students with whom we work if that is the only thing we focus on? In what ways can we encourage students to make mistakes and reflect upon the experience and then in turn change how they approach the piece the second time around.
After my exclamation we started the tune over again, and by golly, it was a different band! The trumpets were playing with a newfound confidence, which encouraged the rest of the band to go for it. A few mistakes were heard, but it wasn't because the kids were purposely playing wrong notes, they were going for the notes. And I could not have been more proud.
Between classes I was going from my office to my classroom and one of the jazz band members (newer the past few weeks) stopped me and shared with me how much he enjoyed "today's lesson on making mistakes". He shared with me that he instantly became more confident because he was ok making mistakes and that only by trying and going for it, would he actually be able to learn anything. #daymade. So, while this post might ruffle a few feathers (and I welcome the conversation) I hope this offers a perspective of learning to gain understanding, versus learning out of fear-which actually does not really increase learning.
I hope to approach more things in life like this: embracing the wrong notes and all the mistakes because by doing so, we can only reflect and learn, try it again and hopefully do better.
Is it program numbers? Awards? Festival ratings? Awards you receive from various advocacy groups touting your program's numbers, awards, festival ratings? It seems that this is what we (the music education profession) deems to be "successful" in K-12 music education. I recently read an article that suggested what successful guitar programs teach their students. That sentence in itself seems problematic to me. Are the programs teaching? In all of this, where are the students? What role do the students play in all of this?
I have found that highly successful guitar classes and programs will cover similar fundamental performance techniques and employ a lot of notated music reading (solo & ensemble) to push and challenge students.
This begs the question, what does "successful" even mean? A quick search for the definition reveals the following definitions:
1)the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one's goals;
2) the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like;
3) a performance or achievement that is marked by success, as by the attainment of honors;
4) a person or thing that has had success, as measured by attainment of goals, wealth, etc.
It seems to me that in general that our profession tends to promote success as defined by a mash-up of these definitions. As educators, we have goals for our students and hopefully, we share these goals and involve the students in the goal-making. Ideally, the goals should come from the students first and we help them get there. But if this is what it means to see success, for the students to succeed, why are we not reading about their accomplishments? Why am I reading more about the teachers' accomplishments? This is not to dismiss the hard work that teachers do, we work our asses off, no doubt about that. But why? Do we work our butts off to receive awards, or do we work our butts off to watch the students struggle with a musical problem, only to work through the problem themselves and possibly others, and come out with a better understanding on the other side?
So, back to the quote that I posted. The program that was highlighted in this article is VERY different than the 'program' at South High. The program highlighted comes from a performance driven program, which is 100% ok and has lots of benefits for students. However, as someone who facilitates guitar experiences in my class, I wonder what the consequences are with a statement that suggests that if one does not employ these techniques for teaching guitar, is that program "less successful"? I doubt that is what the author intended, but it caused me some panic as to how I facilitate guitar experiences at South. We don't do anything that the article suggests, but I feel that the experiences that the students have with guitar are just as important and can encourage music making beyond the classroom. But we don't focus on traditional notation. While we do spend about a week with basic theory, the majority of what we do in class is what I would like to consider "functional guitar". I consider the class to be a successful experience if, by the end of the semester, the students have a better understanding of guitar through multiple experiences that include creative projects such as song writing and cover projects. Through those experiences they will learn the beauty of music making with others, but also develop some sort of vocabulary that will allow them to communicate musically through playing guitar.
If I may be so bold as to share a very cool experience that the Guitar 2 students had last week. We went to a recording studio at McNally Smith College of Music and the students spent all day recording covers and originals that will eventually be uploaded to Bandcamp where they will be available for a sliding scale donation. All proceeds will be going to a relief fund for victims of recent natural disasters. The students did ALL the work. I just sat back for 8 hours and watched them collaborate, work together, problem solve, and make music. It was incredible. Not once did they ask me for help. Today we got the tracks from the studio and the students started mixing their tracks in Garageband. The only thing I really needed to do was show them how to open a zip file. From there they just started experimenting with the program to learn how it works. I had thought about creating a tutorial, but there are enough students in the class that have worked with Garageband that I was confident they could work with each other. And they did. Again. Without me. Is that success? I don't know. I *think* it is. The album itself is not the success. It is what the students have experienced in the past month to put that album together that makes it a "success".
This is an excerpt from my written comprehensive exams that I completed in the Spring of 2016.
Creativity in music education has been a hotly contested issue. Those who teach performance based classes such as band, choir, and orchestra often argue that within those ensembles, students are creating. They are creating music with their peers in a collaborative manner that produces a final product. Some educators and researchers may disagree and suggest that students and teachers in these ensembles are not creating, but rather, re-creating music. Musical decisions have been already been created by the original composer and it is the ensemble’s duty, often at the discretion of the ensemble director, to ‘realize’ those musical directions that are on the page. So, based on this generalized description, it is hard to argue that large ensembles are truly embodying the process of “creating”.
It might be wise to consider the words “creating” and “creativity” and if there is a difference between the two. “Creating” may be best defined as the act of doing, whereas “creativity” may be best understood as the thought process that initiates “creating.” So there may be “creativity” in place but perhaps the act of “creating” has not occurred. Within this debate comes in “composing”, another word that creates angst among music educators for a myriad of reasons. (Dr. Sandra Stauffer has greatly influenced my thinking on this term and rather than use "compose" in my own classrooms, I use "create" and will refer to this term versus composition.) With a push from the National Standards for educators to embrace "composing" in their ensemble classes to further students creative and creating potential, it is no wonder our profession is having the sometimes heated conversations that we are having. To some educators, playing in ensemble, as described above, is a perfectly acceptable form of creating. However, we must look deeper to the student’s individual needs to perhaps have a better understanding as to why encouraging students to compose, actively engaging the creativity process to participate in the act of creating, might be incredibly beneficial to the student as a musical being.
Research related to creating in the classroom is mostly regulated to experiences of elementary students. Something happens when students enter a large group experience and no longer have the opportunity to create. The little research on creating in secondary ensembles attempts to understand how students create in quantifiable terms (Menard, 2015). While this is useful, especially measuring comfort levels of students attitudes towards composing via a pre-test and post-test and their ability levels, I believe this potentially undermines the greater affect of the process.
Research suggests that secondary educators are resistant to creating for a variety of reason that include: time, attitude towards composing, fear of quality and lack of preparation to teach composition (Hickey 2010, Menard, 2015). Many educators fear that devoting time to creating in the performance-based classroom will take time away from performances. With this time element is an attitude that creating does not belong in the large group ensemble experience. In a past conversation with a previous colleague, I recall sharing a great experience that I had with my bands as we negotiated a creating project within the confines of the space that was afforded to us, and the colleague responded with “band should be band, if kids want to compose, they should take music theory or a composition class..” While anecdotal in nature, this opinion is not entirely uncommon and raises a whole host of issues regarding the ways in which we teach creating and who has access to those experiences. Because performance-based classes are grounded in the "traditional' expectation of high quality performances, there is a fear among educators that a lack of quality in the student compositions may be reflective in the teacher’s inability or lack of training in composition. This raises another issue in regards to teacher preparation and how colleges and universities are including creating in their studies (Stringham, 2016).
While these issues and challenges are very real and cause for concern, perhaps we can take a look at what our elementary counterparts are doing to include creating in their classrooms as a way to reinforce musical concepts. Hickey (2010) suggests that every new concept that is being taught can be reinforced through creating. This is where the word “composing” starts to raise fear in music educators. There is a mis-guided belief that in order to teach "composition" we must start with theory and our students should be creating four part chorales. In reality, creating a short rhythmic motif is a form of creation. Stringham (2016) suggests that for more advanced students, using the current repertoire in their folders as a basis for creating will foster additional understanding of musical ideas but also encourage student’s to create their own understanding of music.
The concern of time is a huge issue for music educators, especially in high school ensembles where it seems, especially in the band world, there are performances that occur monthly, if not weekly, depending on how the basketball team is doing. However, how might music educators incorporate students’ compositions into a performance? Taking the lead of colleagues at a local high school in Spring Lake Park, Minnesota, I would encourage music educators to think about how they might create a unit on composition that reinforces a particular theme for the concert. For example, this particular music team (Nora Tycast and Brian Lukkasson) chooses a theme each spring; one year it was poetry, another year it was film music. Using this theme, students picked a silent film, or a piece of poetry and wrote music to accompany the film or represent the poetry. These were collaborative groups that students worked together in for two months. All of the creations were a part of the concert. The unit was embedded within the rehearsal structure so that ample time was given on music prep but also creating. When asked how this unit affected the overall performance of the ensemble, the directors both agreed that it only enhanced the experience because students became more aware of compositional decisions made by composers of the music they were playing, but it also encouraged the students to take musical risks. The directors prepared one or two fewer ensemble pieces so that the students would not feel overwhelmed by the whole process.
Allowing for these experiences encourages students to become more independent musicians. Through creating their own music, students think critically about musicial decisions and have specific reasons for the decisions they made rather than “that’s what’s on the paper”. Additionally for students who are in the large ensemble, but are more ‘section’ players versus ‘lead’ players, this allows opportunities for these students to perhaps develop a more personal musical identity. Finally, through creating music, rather than re-creating, students have the opportunity for a different musicking experience that may potentially carry with them when their large ensemble experience ends.
So, what am I doing?
We at the midpoint for the quarter and beginning band is well on our way into making musical decisions. Like I mentioned with the Hickey (2012), I use creating as a way to reinforce any sort of new concept. This entry from last year describes a bit more about what we do at the beginning of year. We are now into reading "traditional" notation. The students are doing really well and I think we are enjoying ourselves. Every couple of weeks we have "playchecks" that help inform the student and myself of how they have progressed and what they need to work on in the upcoming week. These are nice little check-ins that allow a little one on one time with the students, something that is often lost in a "large" group setting.
This upcoming week students are creating their own playchecks. Doing this allows for several observations: what is the student's understanding of what we are actually "learning". Do they really understand rhythm, or are they just using their ears? By creating their own melodies, they are demonstrating their understanding of rhythm and structure. By writing their own notes, they are demonstrating that they have an awareness of what notes their instrument can play. Then, they play their creation for me. Sometimes, not always, what they have written doesn't always translate to their instrument and that is OK! We talk, as a class, how sometimes the visual and the physical don't quite line up-that it might take our muscles (facial) to catch up to our visual. Again, it is OK! I try to not stress to much about their abilities to read music right away. I want them to have fun (what a concept, right) and encouraging them to write something that they can show off for me, encourages that. After all, isn't the whole point of participating in a communal activity such as music to have fun?
I LOVE making research posters. For some reason I find that this is one of the few ways I can create something visually appealing and I find satisfaction in creating posters. Call me crazy, but sometimes it is a nice change of pace.
I also love research poster sessions. I love chatting with researchers, hearing what they are working on and having meaningful conversations about research. So, why not create a research poster session for the Music In America crew? However, I felt the need to amp it up a bit and create an interactive poster session. Obviously the students (or researchers) would be interacting with other students, but why just stop at a poster? Why not have the poster linked to a website they also created?! WHHAAAA?! So that is exactly what we did.
The posters and websites varied in terms of completeness and "tidiness". However, I can say with authority that all the QR codes and tinyurls DID work (whew....). But just to be on the safe side, we had computers with the websites up and ready to go in case the sound files and videos did not work on the variety of phones that student have (or don't have). For many of these students, creating a website is an entirely new venture for them. In fact, many of them are just learning how to use computers altogether.
I coordinated with the media center and a couple classes came up and chatted with the researchers, explored the websites and asked some really great questions. They thought it was cool that they created websites as well as the codes to link the posters to the websites.
Today I asked the students about what, if anything, should I change about it (they are pretty honest with me). All of them said they enjoyed the project, the ability to go further on a topic that interested them, but what they can work on as students is time management. So, I figure that is success.
Here are links to some of the websites. We used Google sites which, for the most part, are pretty user-friendly. But, like most things technological, there are always glitches.
Social Effects on Music
Transgender Figures in Music
It's been a while. I started this post on March 2nd. Something must have happened that day or week to cause me to pause and consider my role as an educator. What is the role of music education in students' lives? What is the role of music education in MY life? Recently it has been so much bigger than the content that we are often so concerned with "passing on" to the students with whom we work. These students have taught me A LOT this year. I have grown more in the past two years as an educator as a result of the experiences that the students have brought into the classroom. It has been a humbling, and truly rewarding experience.
There is a student who is a selective mute who was in guitar last year and last spring, but needs to fulfill credits in other classes. He regularly checks in with me to show me some of he music that he is writing and it is inspiring. This is all music he has created, without any help from me. I suppose the one thing that I did do was create a space for him to feel comfortable, without the need to talk. It causes me to pause what it means to choose to not speak, for whatever reason, and find communication only through written word, music, and visual arts.
A student came to me at the beginning of second semester to thank me for teaching her guitar. She came to class very reserved, careful to speak in front of her peers. However, she performed solo guitar and singing at the school talent show. She share with me had it not been for my class, the encouragement, I provided, as well as a space to create and be ok with mistakes, that she never would have tried out for the talent show. That was amazing to me.
What is the role of music in our lives? How are we encouraging students to bring their music in the classrooms and share with us their culture? How are we embracing this to the fullest, by putting away our preconceived notions of what music education *should* be versus what it *could* be.
In my hip hop/rock/whatever class we are working through a unit on Grunge music. OF COURSE we are going to be learning about Nirvana. Guitar is a super important part of music, so why not try it out for a few days?? I suck at bar chords, but I have students who are great at it, so why not pass over the role of 'teacher" or facilitator to the students? That's the plan and they are looking forward to sharing their understanding of guitar with students who may have never played an instrument before. I think it will be fun. Twenty-five acoustic guitars rocking out to "Smells Like Teen Spirit"? Why not?!
And why not? Really, What is the worse thing that could happen? We sound crappy? Well, that is ok. We learn from the experience? Even better? Perhaps some kiddos think, "hey, this is neat, I want to learn more guitar". #whatifmusiced