Don’t Forget About General Music!

“My son’s school no longer has a marching band.”

That’s the kind of dreary, depressing sentiment, oft-expressed on the news today. When we hear about music programs getting cut from schools, it’s always the instrumental ones, usually at the middle or high school level. [1][2][3] Maybe that’s no particular surprise; after all, high school band programs are typically paired with athletic programs (e.g. basketball pep bands; football marching bands), and are therefore the most visible. Then, a huge instrument corporation might come to “save” the day with instrument donations—but perhaps, all of a sudden, you have a “program” with lots of instruments but no educators or curriculum!

Even more distressing is the decline of programs at the elementary school level, which typically means the loss of general music classes that teach fundamental musical skills that all secondary school band, orchestra, and choir programs depend on.

To understand this, one has to look at college-level teaching artist preparation programs. Though 95% of music performance majors will eventually teach in some capacity, few actually take any classes in education, or do any kind of teaching, before graduation. Even fewer college students who teach while in school will teach general music, Solfege, or recorder. Many will seek the opportunity to teach private lessons on their primary instrument, followed by group lessons/sectionals/ensemble rehearsals in their instrument family, then perhaps general music or something interdisciplinary.

At NEC, we’re lucky—approximately 25% of the student body will take at least one Music-in-Education course during their degree, and dozens participate in one of NEC’s many education-minded opportunities, be it through MIE, the Community Performances and Partnerships Program, a Teaching Assistantship, the Prep/CE programs, or another opportunity. Also, many NEC MIE students seek general music and/or interdisciplinary teaching opportunities.

Because relatively fewer students have training/expertise in teaching general music, it stands to reason that fewer graduates seek opportunities to teach/create general music type programs. Of course, this is not to say that college graduates are solely to blame for the lack of general music programs; of course there are zillions of reasons (mostly from the hands of politicians, school boards, and funding cuts) that dictate which/where music programs are cut!

But that being said, the shortage of general music offerings makes it even more important for musicians to seek opportunities to teach general music and to improve their abilities to teach fundamental skills.

In fact, fundamental musical skills programs are some of the most desirable, attractive programs out there to funders and parents alike!

A good fundamental skills program will:

  • Allow access to children, regardless of previous musical background or experience. (In other words, no prior knowledge needed! No auditions, private lessons, or instruments necessary!)
  • Teach all children the same skills, on equal footing. (E.g. everyone in the program will get to play recorder and sing. Kids won’t be segregated into those that “can” or “can’t.”)
  • Be inclusive. Believe that all children can achieve in music, and equally stress the importance/development of traits like quality, work ethic, motivation, and focus. (The program should not discriminate against those with learning challenges or physical challenges, and should be aware of the different ways that children learn and develop.)
  • Provide equal opportunities for children to perform, create, be recognized for their efforts, and progress through some kind of continuum. (Again, that everyone performs/creates, not just the selection of a few.)

Most programs that follow these kinds of rules will also have some kind of funding that makes it possible for students of all financial backgrounds to participate. Usually that means that the program will be offered for a very low cost, and that the organization presenting it will subsidize, or completely cover, the cost of basic instruments, supplies, etc. (See El Sistema USA’s “Guiding Principles” for more great guidelines!)

Another feature many programs share is that they are housed in a community center, like a residential development, a Boys & Girls Club, a YMCA, or somewhere else that’s school-agnostic and allows a mix of kids from a variety of schools to participate. This inter-school element is a very special value, because it really drives children’s development through music’s inherent interpersonal and social-emotional qualities.

To a large degree, these kinds of general music programs are take on a fairly “new,” popular perspective—that music education can be a social equalizer or provide some kind of social change. That music making will make possible opportunities for students to learn and grow where other activities might not have the same kind of success. Programs like El Sistema USA, MusicLaunch Boston, and Hawaii Youth Symphony’s Music in the Clubhouse are all examples of these kinds of general music programs. (Disclaimer: I have helped to develop these programs, and similar ones.)

There’s a rigor that comes from high quality general music instruction. Why? Because it takes a lot to learn the very fundamentals of music. As a general music instructor, nothing can be taken for granted. You’ll teach concepts like reading, notation, proportion/ratio, pulse, pattern recognition, contour, and form—just to name a few—in the service of getting children ready to understand melody, harmony, rhythm, and music appreciation. And that’s not including all of the musical vocabulary words (yes, even things like “melody” and “rhythm”) that so many people take for granted.

Teaching general music is about teaching the higher-order concepts, breaking down musical concepts without any jargon, and helping students develop skills that they could apply throughout their lives!



New MIE Guided Internship Application!

The MIE Guided Internship Program aims to provide equal access to high-quality music programs for youth throughout the greater Boston area, and instill in them the values of lifelong learning, skill development, and appreciation for music in a range of contexts and environments.

This year’s GUIDED INTERNSHIP APPLICATIONS will be online.
Please use this URL to access the application:

A sample application can be downloaded here, but please fill out the ONLINE application and not the PDF. The PDF is for your convenience (so you can see the questions, etc.)


  1. Submit a Permission Request on PowerCampus for ‘MIE INT/Department/01’
  2. Complete online application
  3. Send an email to [email protected] when you have completed the online application.
  4. Once your draft is approved, your PowerCampus permission request will be approved. You will then need to ADD the internship to your schedule prior to the end of Add/Drop. You will also be e-mailed a PDF of your application to confirm your internship is approved.

Students should contact MIE faculty member Randy Wong ([email protected]) with any questions. Applications due to Randy by email on THURSDAY September 10, 2015

MIE Internship Application 2015-2016

First Blog: Internship at MusicLaunch

It is a fun and a learning procedure. First of all, teaching kids about fundamental knowledges is a new experience for me. How to think in their position in terms of their ability of getting new things and make it interesting is what I have been thinking the most. Because we have been living with music so closely, the notes or the rhythms is so natural for us, how to put it into small parts and in simple ways to make kids understand is important. It is also important how to hold the pace and to get everyone participate in class.

New MIE Internships for 2014-15

Exciting news! The MIE Internship program is adding a couple of new opportunities for Fall 2014 and Spring 2015. The new application form (now a fillable-form PDF) can be downloaded here.

  • Early Childhood Experience w/ Rock & Roll Daycare 
  • Rock and Roll Daycare ( is a family-owned, non-profit center for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, ages 3 months through 6 years. Rock and Roll Day Care’s mission is to provide outstanding music-based Montessori childcare, strengthen families, and build self-sustaining communities. As an intern, you’ll have the opportunity to observe and participate in group music classes, eurhythmics, Suzuki, and performance opportunities under the guidance of Montessori-trained lead teachers and other conservatory-trained musicians. 2014-15 is the first year NEC is partnering with Rock & Roll Daycare for MIE Guided Internships, and we think it will be a very popular internship opportunity.
  • MusicLaunch will now be at the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center
    • Like BCNC, MusicLaunch is committed to promoting social responsibility, critical thinking, and socio-emotional development. While many arts organizations focus on free performances as their way of giving back, MusicLaunch instead puts experiential, hands-on learning and multi-level (sometimes, multi-generational) instruction at its core.As a MIE Intern, you will help each child document his or her MusicLaunch experience through the year (in the form of reflective journals, video vignettes, and performance recordings), as well as assist MusicLaunch faculty with small-group or individual instruction. Open to students of ALL majors. MusicLaunch prefers students who can commit to the interning the entire year.

    Year in Review – Glad it happened!

    When having a Skype meeting with Randy Wong, he thanked us for staying with the internship for the whole year and told us how much he appreciated it. In my head I was thinking, “Why leave? Is that even an option?” Even if it was one, I wouldn’t have. I saw no reason to. There were good kids and I personally felt it was a yearlong commitment, considering that MusicLaunch is a year long. We had an internship, a bunch of kids to teach, and experiences to encounter. Why not?

    This year was a great year. Many of my visual teaching examples that I’ve learned and that my brain did a “who’s line is it anyway?” on were made right at the Wang YMCA. Nothing was a one fix solution, correction had to continuously be made. Students were late, students weren’t practicing. Parental involvement wasn’t as high etc.  Sure there may have been frustrating times, but it’s useless to get frustrated and all worked up. Getting upset at yourself is normal, but at the same time it only makes it worse and you’re spending more energy making the problem worse than is rather than solving it. We can count the things that are going “wrong” till the cows come home, but sometimes we just got to learn to count our blessings.

    I’m really glad for all the experiences I’ve had with this internship. Essentially the YMCA was my lab and the kids there were my guinea pigs for many of my pedagogical tricks and ideas that I’ve developed over the past year. Going to college means you tend to see people from a certain age demographic and so it’s very refreshing realizing that there are people of different ages in existence. The best part is interacting with them and connecting to them. On my part it’s nice to see some Asian-American kids as it gives me a “big brother” feeling/responsibility which is fun and great. Maybe it’s just me? I’m glad to spread guitar to the greater community! Spreading music is always a good thing!

    French Folk Song using Straws!

    Usually we don’t put anything in the violin, but there was an exception last week at MusicLaunch. All 4 violin students and I opened straws up together and I demonstrated on my violin where to put the straws. I asked one high school student, “Why are we putting straws in our violins?” and she thought for a while, and then said, “To keep the bow here?” and pointed between the bridge and the straw goal posts. She was right on the dot.

    As we began playing our “Twinkle, Twinkle” variations warm-up, they maintained a much straighter bow direction with the straws guiding their bow. We also practiced using different amounts of bow. For instance, I might say, “Let’s play ‘alligator alligator’ using only an inch of bow” or “Now let’s try ‘zoo zoo’ and use the whole bow.” Then each student made their own rhythm we would follow. In this lesson we also had a 3-minute practice time where I went around helping each student  individually on our new tune, French Folk Song. I think when a student is a beginner, it can be helpful to have them hold the bow but assist by moving it by the wooden stick. They get the feeling of how it should sound and more importantly, how it feels before they have all the “technique” to get that sound on their own. If a student is having trouble using more bow, moving the bow faster with them can help them realize the violin won’t squeak if more bow is used. After practicing moving the bow with her for a minute, I then move to work with another student. Another student may not have any hesitation to use more bow, but needs help with having a straighter bow when the hand moves further away from her. The straws already help with this but since this student is 9, I told her to look at the shapes her right arm makes when she is at a different place in the bow. We have a square at the middle, tiny triangle at the frog, and a trapezoid (it looks like a strange rectangle and triangle put together) at the point of the bow.

    Over this spring break I observed many classes at the Conservatory Lab Charter School (CLCS), and was very inspired by their school philosophy and everything! They formulated similar vocabulary every teacher uses from K-1 to middle school! Also I found it fascinating that the same warm-ups the students do in elementary school are still used 7 years later to warm the orchestra up. I am thinking of implementing their warm-ups into my teaching as well. After play open strings in a simple rhythm, they play tetrachords on every string to learn the beginnings of major/minor and whole tone scales. They also learn songs in a really great way. The teacher used a white board to write out the songs’ rhythm and note names. First he clapped, and asked the students what was special about the rhythm of the whole song. (the answer: it is the same rhythm 3 times.) If they didn’t hear it, they could visually see this. Then they spoke the note names in rhythm. Some even sang it. Then he had one brave student volunteer themselves to play it. After that he had each section of the orchestra play it and the other sections sing and do the fingerings on their instruments. When they all joined together the sound was incredible. Observing the school that day made me so excited to teach. The students at MusicLaunch have all the potential and joy in the world, and I am looking forward to sharing their development!

    First Week Back at MusicLaunch-The Little Star

    In the fall semester the beginning violin class learned, in the spirit of the holidays: “Jingle Bells”. We wrote the letter names and fingerings in the music together (below and above each note) before playing. We were able to pizz. together and bowed (arco) the melody, when playing it solo. They were challenged when they played it together arco, because string crossings delayed the pulse. Tricky!  But all in all, it was really great to see they were able to use both pizzicato and the bow.  However I had some anxiety about how much they would retain over the long MusicLaunch break.

    For the first week back to MusicLaunch, we first played long tones with the bow for tone quality and reviewed what the strings were called. I prepared the duet tune, “The Little Star” a.k.a, “Twinkle, Twinkle”, and much to my surprise, one 9-year old violin student had looked through her brother’s music book, and learned “Twinkle, Twinkle” over the break by herself. By reading her accumulated sheet music with the note names, fingerings, and by using her ear she was able to figure out how to play and read this piece. She was able to do this because she is a really bright, motivated student. But she also has a lot of supporting resources: her sibling who also plays music at MusicLaunch. A resource ever so valuable, and one I didn’t realized to be so helpful for me too. Those times I wanted to throw my viola to the ground and quit happened sometimes, but it didn’t occur to me playing duets with my brother kept me playing (even if it was from a competitive spirit at first).

    I broke the lesson plan up into 2 main parts to help steer the 2nd semester towards the learning mountain. I wrote in my renewed application, 3 goals for this semester:

    1. Develop a good tone + individual improvement

    2. Master 2 group songs by end of semester

    3. Each student have a repertoire book.

    So far the students are well on their way to developing a personal repertoire book currently comprising of “Jingle Bells”, “The Little Star”, and “Lightly Row”.