MusicLaunch Fall 2012

Hello all,

I’m a little late to get to the blog this semester, but I have a lot of news!

I am in my second semester of teaching at MusicLaunch and I am learning quite a lot. This year, between an improvement in the behavior of my group, and a better understanding of the program, things go a lot more efficiently and I can really focus on my pedagogy and the students’ musical growth.

This year Devin, Jacquie, and I have focused on implementing some M+MI ideas into the MusicLaunch curriculum and, so far, it seems to be going really well. These ideas, along with a generous donation of percussion instruments and whiteboards by Randy Wong, have allowed us to greatly expand what we’re able to do. You will find out what I’m talking about in more detail in future posts as well as in the semester’s MusicLaunch portfolio, but for now, I will leave you with a short rundown of what I have been thinking about:

1. Positive energy, even if it’s subtle, is contagious and leads to better productivity.
2. It is not always easy to get a feel for how students feel about the material, what they’re having trouble with, etc. It is important to keep working to ask, state, and do the right things in order to get an idea of what they need.
3. It is hard (but very important) to find the balance between focusing on fixing a musical problem a student has, and moving on to something else to prevent stress and keep the momentum going. We want to persevere through difficult tasks, but not get frustrated.

That’s all I have for now. I’ll expand on a few of these announcements and thoughts in my next two posts. Thanks for reading!

Breakthroughs at MusicLaunch

We are nearing the end of the year at MusicLaunch. There are many things I could mention here and I will give a more all-encompassing report after the final class.

Today I would like to talk about something very positive! In the past few class meetings, I have finally begun to come closer to my original goals of getting students to use their ears and not rely on the page. Although this has come about in some ways that I didn’t expect, I’m so excited that I can finally report this. When I first began at MusicLaunch, my plan to help students develop their ears had to be shelved for a little bit so that I could help them develop more fundamental skills on their instruments and on playing in time.

About half way through the semester, I periodically asked them to do a simple 4/4 call and response with clapping (while stomping out the 4/4 with their feet). This originally served the purpose of helping their time, but I realize that it helps their ears as well! Also around this time, I was given the opportunity to create a melody with Solfege blocks in our large ensemble and I introduced the students to the song “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers. Finally, last week while I was in charge of running the large groups, I gave students some rhythms to clap that were a little more challenging. This lead to me writing some of these rhythms out on the board, but from there, something else happened: I had them create their own 4/4 rhythms on the board. While this is not directly ear-related, it is still a chance for them to create their own little piece of music, which is a huge win in my book!

I wasn’t immediately able to categorize this stuff as creative success or ear-training success right away, but after thinking about it for a little bit, I definitely see it that way now. Besides giving me some encouragement, this definitely gives me some great ideas for the future.

Stay tuned for a complete report about my MusicLaunch experience in the next few days! It will cover tackling music fundamentals, maximizing productivity, dealing with behavior problems, and keeping students engaged, to name a few topics. Thanks for reading!


Introduction to My Experience at MusicLaunch!

Hi Everyone! My apologies for the very late introduction to my internship this semester.

For Spring 2012 I am doing my MIE guided internship with NEC’s MusicLaunch Program at the Wang YMCA in Chinatown. MusicLaunch is a program with 13 students between the ages of 4 and 15 who meet every Saturday morning to learn music for an hour and a half. With these students, we use both traditional and innovative teaching techniques to work on basic fundamental music skills (rhythms, pitch, solfege) as well as learning instruments. Coordinating the program is Devin from NEC. The other instructors include fellow intern Salinla and middle school music teacher Johnny.

We spend a lot of time splitting the students up in small groups determined by age and instrument. In my small group I have four students from ages 10 to 13. Two of them play clarinet, one plays alto saxophone, and one plays trombone. When I first started I noticed that the students already had a decent amount of experience reading music and understanding notation. However, the students had very little experience playing their band instruments. I immediately saw the challenge in meeting in instrument groups for such a short time once a week: the students would not get reinforcement as often as most people get when learning these instruments. With band instruments, it takes such a long time and a lot of practice to develop the muscles for the proper embouchure, to reinforce good position/posture habits, and to get comfortable using so much air.

The other main challenge I noticed coming in was negative behavior in the class. Fortunately two of my small group students showed me right away that they were very polite and cooperative, but unfortunately, the other two showed me the opposite. One of the uncooperative students is the disruptive, antagonistic type. He constantly complains, talks back, and is not shy about saying that he doesn’t enjoy being there. His younger sister barely speaks, doesn’t want to participate, and has been known to cry in previous semesters in order to get out of participating. Neither of these students had shown any evidence of ever having practiced the material between classes.

I noticed immediately that my personal goals for this semester would need to be modified. As you all may have seen in my proposal, my main interest was getting the students to be comfortable using their ears in addition to what was on the page. Because of their lack of experience on their instruments, and because of the importance of reinforcing practice and study on these instruments in order to make progress, I had to put that main goal on the back burner. I am hoping that, in time, I will be able to reintroduce ear training of sorts into my lesson plans.

Thank you all for reading and please stay tuned for more posts!


Guided Internship Proposal: Developing Youths’ Ears

During my guided internship in spring of 2012, I am interested in accomplishing the following goals:

  1. I want to explore and test my interest in working with middle and/or high school aged musicians.
  2. I want to gain a better understanding of how to teach student musicians how to use their ears for various purposes (improvisation, learning music and musical properties, composition, etc.)
  3. I want to gain more experience in conducting a lesson or rehearsal in an efficient and focused, yet lighthearted and enjoyable manner.

I believe that in my efforts to meet these objectives, I will be putting past and concurrent courses to practical use. I have taken Educational Psychology as an undergraduate at the University of Miami and I am currently taking Models for Teaching and Learning here at NEC. Along with my internship next semester I will be taking Improvisation in Music Education, which will provide me with great insight in how to work with my students.

In my own experience, I’ve found that it is very important to have a solid foundation in both reading music and in using one’s ears. Although there are exceptions, I’ve found that students are generally more likely to rely more heavily on written music and less likely to be able to use and trust their ears to learn music, improvise, or compose. I believe that this is due to several possible factors, the most noticeable being:

  • Students can feel bashful or vulnerable performing music in this way.
  • Students don’t really know what to listen for because they haven’t immersed themselves enough in the music they are studying. These observations are based on my own private teaching of high school jazz students in my hometown of Gainesville, Florida, as well as my experience with other students while playing in middle and high school ensembles.

My goal as a teacher would be to help my students grow into musicians who play their instrument(s) with good fundamentals, have solid reading and written-music skills, and can use their ears for improvisation and learning music aurally.

Some of the most important questions I would like to explore during this coming semester are:

  • How do beginning improvisers first get comfortable with playing what is not on the page?
  • How can an improviser transition from “plugging in licks” to playing in a more spontaneous way?
  • How to students learn material by ear rather than with written music?

All of these questions are inspired by my desire to understand more about how students can learn to train their ears. In my experience, I know that being able to hear intervals and also doing extensive listening to the type of music that one wants to play are two crucial aspects of developing the ears, but I would like to develop more specific answers and more specific techniques in this matter. Based on past experiences, my concern for the ability to transfer this information gives me question, “How do I use effective language and communication to better explain musical concepts, and how does this change from student to student?”

To record the contents of my internship, I will update on the MIE blog as well as add to my portfolio. My specific ideas for recording these experiences include at least 5 video recordings of my teaching practice as well as a written account of each time I go to my internship. This will include the events of the day, what techniques were used, and an evaluation of what went well, what didn’t go well, and why.The Artist-Teacher-Scholar model very accurately represents my long-term goals as a professional musician. As an artist, I plan to continue to play and write music my whole career, and continue to grow and evolve from my musical experiences. While I consider myself a jazz musician, I have no intentions of limiting myself to a specific genre and I want to have the most fulfilling musical experience as possible, regardless of genre. As a teacher, I want to pass on my knowledge and my musically diverse spirit to young students, helping them develop into inspired, eclectic, multi-faceted musicians. My specific interests would be more in small group and private studio interaction. I would be interested in teaching primarily in the late middle school and high school levels, but eventually, I would be interested in teaching at the college level as well. As a scholar, I am interested in continuing to research, listen to music, and try to elevate human understanding of music as much as possible, which would help me as both an artist and a teacher. It is my hope that this internship proves to be a valuable learning experience, giving me a promising launching point into the life of being a teaching artist.