Posts Tagged 'Music'

The Power of Personal Experience

musicBy Sabrina Bong — At the middle school last week, one of my students came to me and said that she had just failed a quiz in music theory.
She explained that she was confused when her teacher tried to explain the different notes on a scale and where they fell on a staff. After drawing out examples, my student asked if we could go into the music room and have me explain everything using the piano. Once we received permission, we went into the music room and we talked about the different piano keys, where all of them were on a staff, and how many beats each note counted as.
After a few minutes of this, my student said, “Miss Bong, do you know how to play the piano?”
I responded that I did take piano lessons for a long time when I was in elementary and high school, and that I had struggled with music theory as well. My student smiled and said, “Play something.” So I played “Let It Be” on the piano.
After that, two things happened: one, my student said she had no idea who the Beatles were (doesn’t that make me feel old!) and two, she said, “Wow, Miss Bong, you’re kinda cool. I didn’t know you could do that! Maybe I’ll learn how to do that too. And you said you didn’t like music theory.”
Whenever I work with my students, I do my best to keep my personal life out of my counseling life. There are times when it overlaps, like when a student goes out to dinner with their family and sees me three tables over. Or maybe they run into me when I’m at the mall. But for the most part, I try not to do a lot of revealing about my family, friends, and personal relationships.
However, I’ve seen how much revealing can do, when used in moderation. Simply telling my student that I too struggled with music theory allowed her to open up to me about her situation. She knew that I wouldn’t judge her, or laugh at her, or make her feel silly. And then having her see me play the piano seemed to reassure her that she was okay. She may not have done well on her one quiz, but this did not mean that she would be completely unable to do well in music. Despite my struggles, I still learned how to play the piano. It seemed like I was giving her hope.
I am still leery at times to reveal personal things about myself, but now I’ve realized that it can really help build a counseling relationship when it’s used appropriately. I see now that it’s okay for me to tell students that I struggled with math when I was in elementary school, or that I sometimes fought with my middle school friends. All it does is help the students realize that once upon a time, I really was in their shoes. I’d walked that road before. But now, it’s my turn to help navigate.

I Wish I Were My Son’s Guitar Teacher

By Claudia Felske

I wish I were my son’s guitar teacher. 

Not just because that would mean I would be really good at guitar (musicality being something I’m sorely lacking).

Not just because it would be a major ego stroke, knowing that a year and a half ago, my son couldn’t play a note and now he sounds like this.

Not just because I would be teaching him something I know will deeply enrich his learning, his appreciation of beauty, creation, and (dare I suggest) life itself.

The real reason I wish I were my son’s guitar teacher is that it would mean I have arrived as a master educator; it would mean I have achieved what I’ve been trying to achieve in the classroom for 19 years; it might even mean we as educators may be close to bottling the elixir we have been trying to concoct for the past two centuries, namely effective, creative, authentic, self-directed learning.

Allow me to explain.
Performance and recording opportunities are part of his instruction
Backtrack to my son’s first guitar lesson. When Eliot came home that first day, I was a bit surprised he hadn’t been taught what a scale was, or the parts of a guitar; instead, he had learned how to play “Smoke on the Water” on one string.  We heard a lot of “Smoke on the Water” that week; it sounded to Eliot and it sounded to us like we had a 9-year-old rock star living in our house. Instead of learning a basic scale, he had been given the belief that he can create music, that he is a musician. That was lesson one.
Fast forward a year and a half to Christmas Morning this year when Eliot gave me the best gift a mother (who also happens to be a teacher) could receive. In the past, he’d given me a myriad of gifts: painted vases, home-made cards, crocheted bookmarks. I’d always looked forwarded to unwrapping his original creations. This time, though, there was nothing to unwrap.
“Mom, are you ready?” he asked, running into the room with my iPad in hand. I watched as he plugged it into the stereo and started playing my favorite song. Okay, cool, but where’s my present, right? What I quickly discovered was that he had uploaded my favorite dance song into Garage Band, and then added original guitar parts that he’d created, recorded, and remixed into the song.

“So you’re playing the guitar parts?” my husband asked (I was smiling too big to talk). “Well, kind of…there are no guitar parts.  I made them up  and put them where I thought they’d sound good.’

Eliot at play

Eliot at play

He wasn’t watching me for my reaction (as ordinarily is the case when I open his presents). He was tapping, concentrating, the gears were moving, “I’m a tad off here,” he’d add…or “wait, wait here it is.”The next day, he called me upstairs as he was practicing, and I was taken behind the scenes. He asked me to pick a song. I chose the most over-played song of 2012: “Gangnam Style” (sorry, that’s how I roll). Then, he listened, listened some more, struck a few notes over and over and then a scale, and then, spent the rest of the song improvising over the melody.

He explained to me that Craig (his guitar teacher) taught him to listen a  song and locate its “root note.” “Play it like the worst bass player in the world,” Eliot quoted Craig, emphasizing the need to test out the root note over and over to make sure it’s right. Then, match it to a major or minor pentatonic scale and “it’ll all sound good cause it’s based on the root note.” It made sense to Eliot, and it made sense to me. “Then, you can have fun with it, adding cool stuff, riffs, frets, bending notes, trilling,” Eliot explained while demonstrating each.
After years of declaring to Eliot that “this is the best present anyone ever made for me” and meaning it every time, this year when I said it, I meant it with an authenticity that transcended my role as a parent and entered that as an educator. What Eliot had done in addition to customizing a Christmas gift he knew I’d love was demonstrate ALL levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, the gold standard for higher level learning.
Benjamin Bloom’s (Revised) Taxonomy of Learning

He was remembering notes and scales, understanding how they work together to create a melody, but then he was operating at a much higher level: applying a concept his teacher had taught him: analyzing the song, listening for the root note; evaluating which it was and which pentatonic scale should be applied; and then, creating and performing improvisational solo parts.  What’s more, there was no teacher in the room; he had internalized the process, all levels of it, becoming his own teacher in a new situation, with a new song. And then evaluating his own performance afterwards. Basically, an educator’s dream come true.

And right now, as I write this, he’s upstairs doing the same to ACDC’s “T.N.T.” – not my favorite song, not my favorite genre, but his process is music to my ears.  He’s beginning to read the world as music. When we’re eating dinner and he hears a “cool riff” in a song, he runs upstairs to try to replicate it. Clearly the much larger gift here was the one Eliot received from his phenomenal guitar teacher.

And so, aside from my best Christmas gift to date, I’m left with a slew of questions as an educator: How can we do this on a larger scale? How can we get our students to run upstairs (not because of the homework we assigned, but out of sheer excitement) to apply what we’ve taught them? Is this just a moment in time orchestrated by a gifted teacher with a motivated student in a small group setting, or are there generalizable truths here we can extract and sprinkle into classrooms across the country?
Should the Gates Foundation be visiting Wisconsin Guitar Academy in Mukwonago, Wisconsin? Should Craig Friemoth be giving a TED Talk on the power of improvisational music and learning?
Whatever the case, this gift has me feeling grateful and has me thinking…

My Very Own Schools of Rock

By Bill Henk – No one will ever accuse me of being a connoisseur of fine films.  Let’s just say that too many of my favorites have Will Ferrell and Jim Carrey cast in them.  Another “actor” who cracks me up is Jack Black, and the star-turn he took in “School of Rock” ranks as a classic in my book.

Look, I realize that the film is not exactly a triumph of cinematography, acting prowess, and screen writing, but it’s a cute, funny story set in a school.  And I’m pretty much a sucker for movies  that somehow connect with education regardless of the age level of the students or the type of film  — everything from Kindergarten Cop through Dead Poets Society.

Briefly, for the uninitiated, School of Rock is the story of a rock musician, Dewey Finn, who gets kicked out of his band for being too over the top.   Desperate for money to pay his rent, he pretends to be his roommate Ned who’s a substitute teacher, so he can take a short-term job in a prestigious prep school.  When he gets there, he realizes that rock music is the only topic  he knows well enough to teach the kids.

Although the kids are stiff, some have genuine musical talent, and Dewey sets up an entire rock and roll curriculum where every student takes on a role for a touring band.  Of course, much of the fun is in Dewey trying to hide the unorthodox things he’s doing from the school mistress, Ms. Mullins, and the rest of the teachers. The transformation of the kids into gifted mini-rockers that win a battle of the bands becomes the plot of the story.

But let’s move on to MY Schools of Rock.  I promise to return to the movie at the end, and pull together why it’s a nice fit with our education blog.

Continue reading ‘My Very Own Schools of Rock’

Will the Band Play On? The Future of Music Education

By Jennifer Maney — I play the guitar and have been doing so since I was 9 years old. I also write and record music. I firmly believe that music holds the power to generate passion and connections not just to the past but to each other.

I also currently have a 13-year old who attends school in a relatively affluent suburb of Milwaukee. She had to choose which alternative she wanted for her musical exploration. Those choices were choir, orchestra, or band. After much discernment about the possibility of leaving the cello behind (her instrument of choice during her grade school years) she opted for choir, which now means that five days a week she has a 50-minute class on how to harmonize with a group, learn about musical history, understand how to follow a conductor, and meet expectations of performance behavior that goes way beyond the classroom.

I recently began to talk with her intentionally about how lucky she is that she has this opportunity, given the current climate in many schools that, if they haven’t already, are discussing eliminating music, dance, and theater programs due to budget cuts.

This brings me to the opportunity I had last week. I witnessed, first-hand, the work of Pius XI Performing Arts Academy. This program offers outreach programs to as many as 26 area grade schools in general music, orchestra, choir, and dance. It is a four-year, sequenced curriculum and its aim is to, among many other things, help students find their artistic potential and utilize the arts as a way to learn about history and other cultures. Continue reading ‘Will the Band Play On? The Future of Music Education’


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