UWS MTeach lecture 1

I’m a casual lecturer at the University of Western Sydney, because I just can’t fit enough things in my life. At UWS I work in the Education school lecturing the Masters of Teaching method course which deals with integrating technology into the year 7 to 12 music curriculum. I also focus on integration of the “learning experiences” as the NSW syllabus calls them: Listening, Performing and Composing. You’ll get an idea of what I mean below.

Each year when I teach this course I create a new blog, usually on the rather fabulous Edublogs website, but I figured since I’m not really a regular blogger, I ought to put my lecture notes here, where they may be useful for everyone, not just my students. This also fits the spirit of sharing and self-publishing/producing I am trying to create in the course as we experiment with social networking, web 2.0 applications and much more, considering how they may or may not be relevant to music education as we go. But whether they are all relevant, I think there can be no doubt that the big change over the last few years has been the urge of generosity as an expression of deepest humanity on the internet in the form of sharing one’s own talents, thoughts, feelings, knowledge and understanding. I’ll give you an example:

Recently my wife successfully auditioned for the Soulfood choir here in Sydney. She has very much been enjoying learning their repertoire as someone who has a background more in classical or contemporary art choral repertoire. One of the arrangements she has been learning is of Sting’s song Shape of My Heart. The song is stuck in her head and she loves it. So come Saturday night, I say hey, why don’t we learn to play it on the guitar and sing the harmonies, which are nice and close (we get these ambitions, like wouldn’t it be cool to be able to sing every Simon and Garfunkel song in those two parts from memory, and we never manage them but have fun on the whim). First thing we find with a quick internet search is a gorgeous video of Sting singing it, and you can see some of the guitar patterns too…

But we need the chord patterns. Well, we can probably download TABs, but while we’re on YouTube, what’s there? Well, there’s this one, and the guy is sharing the TABs too…

And there are many, some with alternative fingering…

So what’s the point of mentioning all this? Well, OK, I know some of these people are also trying to sell their lessons, but the whole spirit of the thing is sharing what they know and helping others learn. I would imagine many of them are amateur and self taught, while others make a living tutoring at home, but by taking the time to make these videos and share them they are all teachers. They are all part of a teaching and learning community, a mostly anonymous one at that.

Think and share

So we’re going to be international sharers of information, of our knowledge and our skills. The benefit to us is that we will join this network, and we will learn, and it will make us more interesting and useful human beings. Not to mention establish a fantastic online portfolio of work for you to show-off. And I say “we”, because this blog and these lecture notes will be written directly to my students on this course, but anyone is welcome to follow them and join in along the way. But first, I’ll summarise what we did today.

Warm-ups

Research from America said there are two kinds of music teachers. They are not divided by pedagogical or philosophical approach. They are not divided by those who take band and those who take choir. They are not even divided by their preference for teaching classical, popular, world or other music. No, the first kind like to have their students sit quietly and listen to music and to them talk about music, with performance and improvisation the ultimate reward should they pass whatever the requisite test is. The other kind of music teacher is making music within minutes of the lesson starting. I would hope I’m most often in that camp, although it can be difficult as students get older and have more theoretical or musicological demands placed on them.

Stephen Leek

Anyway, despite a few last minute room changes today, we managed to get good and musical quickly. We started off with some vocal and rhythmic warm-ups. These I stole from wonderful Australian composer and friend, Stephen Leek. Chances are if you’ve taken youth choirs you’ve performed some of Stephen’s music at some point. I rather bastardised his warm-ups, though, which involve passing a sound around a circle as if it were an object, the aim being to see what sounds the singers can accurately imitate. At first you’re happy with pitch, then you go for tone, and expression. Later on we try out zany sounds, and rather than passing them nicely, we throw them around. You all got this idea pretty much straight away, so we played around with that sooner than I would have usually, and then I brought it back to pitch and tone later on, when I tried passing around one pitch after another, and even pitches going around the circle in different directions. You were extremely good at that for music students, and extremely poor at that for music teachers! But I’ll be nice – hey, it was the first thing we’d done. Warm-ups that seem more like a game than an exercise are always a good idea, as long as you can bring it back to your desired outcome if it seems it might get out of hand.

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One of the clapping exercises

Then we moved onto some rhythmic body percussion exercises which were really the introduction to the piece that we learned in the lecture. I won’t go into what we did exactly because I’ve already done that on my website here as a complete unit of work that I share (see, I lead by example). To summarise, the piece uses alternating 6/8 and 3/4 metres. So we moved from body percussion to learning the pitched parts too. What we did would represent 5 weeks of lessons with a year 7 or 8 class, and this repertoire is actually usable by younger and older children – you just scaffold it differently.

I pointed to you how I had taught it. Everyone learns every part, by copying what I do, and once we have more than one part we play them at the same time, usually by starting each pattern one at a time and layering them in. In this way every student has something to do all the time, which they wouldn’t if you just taught small groups one part each. It’s also a great quick way to develop their brains at remembering short patterns (ie ostinati) quickly. This is an approach used by many composers and educators, the most well-known of whom was Carl Orff.

I also showed you mirroring. This is where you reverse what you do so the class, facing you, acts as if you were them in a mirror. So in movement, when you want them to step to the left, you step to your right. In our case, I taught you the marimba ostinati with mine turned the wrong way around. No wonder it took me a while to get started! Once we knew the piece we gave it structure. We introduced the idea of improvisation and I explained to you that improvisation was the stepping stone to composition, which is essentially just improvisation written down. Some of you improvised but most of you didn’t want to.

I pointed out that teenagers (especially boys) would be much more inhibited than you, and so here was our first example of where technology could come into its own. Imagine that we had a copy of this piece in a sequencer, and they could try that improvisation with headphones on. Imagine that they could do it 100 times and no-one would hear their ‘mistakes’. Imagine that eventually they had a performance they had refined and practiced and were happy with, and so kept the recording. And in so keeping it in that permanent state had just completed their first composition. Well, technology would be damned useful, then.

The plan was that at that point we would go to the lab and you’d have a go at doing this improv to composition in GarageBand, but by the time we got to the lab, all 35, it was obvious we weren’t going to fit. I’ve since spoken to Anne and we’ll break the lab sessions (tutes) into two, so you can all have your own iMac to work on. At the moment I hear only 10 of you have gone for the 7:30pm session, but I do suggest if 5 more of you could do it, even if in rotation, the whole thing will be better for everyone.

When we did get into the lab, then, I used the time we had in there instead to show you how and why I’d like you to begin your own blog, which was part 1 of homework for this week. I said I didn’t mind which site you used to establish your blog, as there are many, and mentioned these three:

If you’re not sure which one to go with, choose Edublogs, because it’s well supported and you’ll get plenty of help there as well as ideas for things you can do with your own blog. I took you through what you needed to do to open an Edublog. Luckily for me, the nice chaps at Edublogs have made some videos to step you through those stages, so rather than write them up here, I’ll simply point you to their help page which has all the information you need. That said, if you do get stuck, please let me know via email.

http://help.edublogs.org/getting-started-with-edublogs/

I then outlined what you need to write in your blogs… it should include:

  1. All the hands-on tasks that we create in class as resources or samples of work
  2. Assignment stuff (you’ll deliver your assignments to me electronically via the web)
  3. Lecture notes from all relevant lectures – that means all of my lectures, but also anything that seems to relate or be interesting in your life as an inspired new teacher
  4. Examples of as many new media/Web2.0 etc technologies as you can find and examples of how they may be useful in the music classroom

Finally I gave you a second piece of homework, which was to watch the following talk, if you haven’t already, and blog about it. I don’t mind what you blog, but I’d like it to be your opinion, and I hope some of you will begin to get a sense of how important and wonderful your new career is going to be. I look forward to seeing you all again on Monday and getting to know you. And do check back here every now and then, because sometimes I’ll share other useful information here between lectures.

3 thoughts on “UWS MTeach lecture 1”

  1. I definatly agree that using a sequencer (for example in composition/improvisation) to come up with melodies etc is a great idea. Not only do boys get shy about trying new things, but any student does not want to flaunt mistakes. They’d rather set the standard high and practice first to perfect their presention.

    Just visiting!

    Thanx!

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