The Beginning: Freelance Teaching in Boston

To make things clear off the bat – this internship was originally going to take place at the EKS Music School in Quincy where I am faculty.   Because I have yet to teach any brass students at the school, I will be focusing on the teaching adventures with my own private students and the strange way that I acquired them:

Strange, because I never thought I would be the kind of person to “buy into” this kind of thing.  It seemed too convenient, too easy, yet after only two months of making a (minimal) online account, I acquired my first piano student.  Fast forward three months and many MIE 501 readings later, and I have acquired some very interesting and life-changing perspectives regarding music and music-in-education.  But that’s for later – for now, we must set the scene of the beginning of true freelance teaching in the Boston area.

I had freelanced my first year in Boston as a horn player and a collaborative pianist specializing in the Suzuki Method, but never had I had any students.  Late summer going into my second year of my master’s, my friend told me that he had acquired a piano student via this website.  Intrigued, I began an account and filled in all the appropriate information.  I had never really written down or contemplated my own unique, logical teaching philosophy before, and when I saw this requirement on the website, I simply wrote what I had always thought:

Through all these experiences, I can safely say that my theory of teaching and learning music is that it’s all about connections. To learn music is to learn a completely new way of looking at the world. It is an inward journey of strength and discovery as much as it is an outwards one, learning to successfully and compassionately communicate with fellow musicians and anyone else who might cross your path. I have collaborated with individuals in both the instrumental and vocal realms – trumpet, trombone, tuba, (French) horn, clarinet, flute, violin, viola, bass, sopranos, mezzo-sopranos, baritones, and have taught piano, horn, and beginning/intermediate wind instruments in both private and group settings. I love music, and even more, I love teaching music!

For areas that I taught, I put (using their categories) Accompaniment, Accordion, Audition Prep, Classical Piano, Ear Training, French Horn, Music Performance, Music Theory, and Piano.  Fair enough, I thought.  I had played accordion all through high school and undergrad, busking on the streets of my beloved college town, but never had I thought that I would teach the instrument (little did I know).

The account sat there for awhile, being added to with various pictures and videos, when all of sudden, I received a notification from TakeLessons saying that someone from Milton has signed up for piano lessons.  TakeLessons in a way is more reliable than the old-fashioned show-up-and-pay-as-you-go method.  People must pre-pay for lessons, specifically five to start out with, and then can only withdraw from lessons if they seriously dislike their teacher.  The teacher is paid either way, whether or not the student shows up, by direct deposit.  The only catch is (and I know you’ve been waiting) is that for the first fifteen lessons, trust must be established, and that trust comes in the form of 25% of your lesson going to the website that so conveniently hooked you up.  You set your own rate of pay, however, and after fifteen lessons, you can earn 90% of what you charge.  It’s just a switch of convenience – either have the student, that either you or a friend has recommended to you, hopefully pay you after the lesson has taken place (and not give you a check that bounces or not show up and you’re out that time unless you have a no-show plan), or have the money from the student who chose you amongst a list of individuals on a conveniently accessible website go straight into your bank account with a slight cut for the middle man.  Personally, I’m enjoying the latter option very much as it is very convenient and everything you could ever need to access regarding the financial state of these lessons is stored in an online account.

So, I had my new student.  Awesome!  How did that happen?  Why did she choose me?  I’ve honestly thought quite a bit about this, comparing myself to the other profiles of piano teachers in my zip code.  One thing I am sure sticks out, and this is not in any way facetious:  I’m a friendly looking, 20-something female who doesn’t have any particular instrument in the picture with her to alienate those who aren’t looking for that particular kind of lesson.  I would look up people who were listed as horn teachers, and when they had a trumpet in the photo with them, I would be taken aback and shake my head.  What are these people thinking?  You can’t claim to teach violin and have a harp in the picture.  Silly, silly.  So, common sense aside, what else set me apart?  For the piano side of things, I teach all piano, not just classical piano.  Most people (and I used to be one of them) seemed to be in the classical rut.  I wanted to teach only classical because that’s the best rep and you can collaborate and blah blah blah. . . Look, some people just want to play an awesome song they heard once, and to me, that’s so much more genuine than sticking to a canon because of archaic constraints of “classical music” and the days when ladies were “bred well” because of their literal “parlor tricks.”  Nah.  Done with that.  If that’s your thing, though, of course I’ll teach you the parlor tricks.  Hell, I’ll teach you ALL the tricks.  But if you just happen to really like that Yann Tiersen song or that one song by that techno band that for some reason decided to compose a beautiful piano piece, that desire is so beautifully genuine, and I will more than help you learn it.

It turns out that this student was one of the “Classical Piano” students, which is great, because that’s my forte (pun completely intended).  And, because she’s fourteen years old and her mother enrolled her in piano lessons, she is one of those modern incarnations of the well-bred individual.  In modern society, girls of the middle class are still taking music lessons not to be married off as acceptable stock, but ALL children are as a part of this new over-satiated-with-activities generation.  I am so incredibly grateful that I was able to be the multi-faceted artistic individual that I was throughout my childhood and young adulthood in a specialized sense.  I loved creative writing, I loved language, and I loved music.  Done.  Sports, nah.  Acting, not so much.  Visual arts, yeah maybe.  I took ballet.  I took vocal lessons.  I took violin lessons then switched over to viola because duh C-strings are awesome.  But these things were all eventually sloughed off of my extracurricular epidermis.  I wasn’t shoved into French club, Greek school, baseball practice, basketball practice, CCD class (aka “Catholic Church Detention” because we were clever) – my mother rode that line of respecting me and my right to choose as an individual while guiding me because I was not yet an adult, but when I decided on something, boy, did she crack down.  (We could open the whole can of worms on parenting and discipline, but the energy required into writing that would manifest in the form of an entire article – not now, but perhaps stay tuned!)

To elucidate, I am not one to belittle the act of taking music lessons, much less exploring the world around you; but exactly that, exploring the world around you, doesn’t always come in the structured form of a lesson.  Exploration and curiosity are things to be bred, for sure, but to satiate our kids so that they have no room to breathe, no room to feel like they can explore, no opportunities for them to discover how they learn, how they can explore, is more of a disservice than a leg-up on life.  Trying to reschedule with this particular student is a nightmare.  This time, inconveniently placed for the traveling music teacher at the peak of rush hour, is the only time she can receive lessons.  And to what end?  To show that she practices?  That there is that spark of intrinsic, volitional learning?  Why take music lessons at all if you’re not one to take time to develop a craft and through this craft realize these subtle truths?  of your nature?  of life internal and external?  of these connections that hang, suspended in this vast network of life, just out of reach until some sort of realization hoists you up, and at last you realize the awe-some depth of existence, and that everything connects to everything else, and at this same moment you paradoxically admit to knowing nothing?  (That escalated quickly. . .)  But in all seriousness, why continue skimming all these surfaces hoping to find hidden treasure just bobbing at the top?

One can probably tell by now that I am a teacher who lives in the fractal paradox (don’t worry, I don’t usually tell people that).  By that I mean the lesson is a constant ebbing and flowing of specialization, via technique, music theory, and broad application, playing through a piece to see where we are, discussing general musical ideas.  This in addition to personalized Socratic methodology, in which I guide the students to the answer based off what they know and their way of learning and discovering.  This has been a heavy-hitter for a first of three articles, so I shall divulge more information regarding my teaching methodology throughout the next couple of articles.

Videos from MIE Pi Day!

Download the MIE Pi Day 3-14-2013 Poster and put it on your wall!

For those of you who were unable to attend our 2nd annual Music-in-Education Department Concert (this year held on Pi Day — March 14, 2013), please enjoy the following videos!

This year’s inquiry question:

How do numbers empower musical understanding? Celebrating the Role of Mathematics and Music in Education

And our Program Notes (PDF): MIE Pi Day Concert 3-14-13 Program Notes
Larry’s piece, ‘Phone Number Myelination Music’:
Devin’s piece, ‘Oobleck Serial’:
Nick Kitchen’s piece ’36, 45, 378 and 64: Bach’s St. Anne Fugue and the Ciaconna for Solo Violin’:
Henrique’s piece, ‘Madruga’:
Katarina’s piece, ‘Sierpinski Triangle in 43 steps’:
Rob’s piece, ‘Wondrous Numbers’:
Warren’s piece, ‘Thought Experiment’:

Return to Club Passim

Editor’s Note: We welcome back Lauren Flaherty for her 2nd MIE Guided Internship! Lauren is a Master’s student in voice and also works in NEC’s Financial Aid office.

I returned to my voice lessons at Club Passim around the start of NEC’s fall semester. I am in the process of teaching two back-to-back six week sessions to accommodate the upcoming holidays and possible snow cancellations. (Not what anyone wants to think about while we’ve been enjoying an Indian Summer!)

This semester I will be teaching four students, including three brand new students and one returning student. Most of my students sing and play and about half of them enjoy performing in the area. One suffers from a lack of confidence. Another is extremely new to music and requires more ear training than vocal coaching. It is difficult to control my expectations when their abilities differ so wildly, but I remind myself that I am there to teach, not to act as a judge.

Aside from helping my students grow at their own pace, I am focused on trying to create more of a formula for my teaching, specifically geared around our six week semesters. I have begun creating my own exercises that I think will help them warm-up and drill correct techniques into muscle memory. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for awhile that will hopefully reflect everything I’ve learned since I began teaching several years ago and during my past internship at Passim.

Internship Proposal: Voice Class for Non-Majors (TA)

Editor’s Note: We are pleased to introduce you to Shannon Kelly, a master’s voice student working towards a MIE Concentration. This is her internship proposal for the Fall 2011 semester; you can view follow-up posts to this one here


I am writing to propose as my guided internship for the Fall 2012 semester my Teaching Assistantship for the NEC undergraduate course titled Voice Class for Non-Majors. For this class, I will teach a section of approximately 9 students each week in lecture format; in addition, I will provide one-on-one voice lessons to each student in the class for either 30 minutes or one hour each week.

My goals for the internship are as follows:

  • Gain experience and comfort teaching in a classroom setting, including preparing lessons, setting expectations, measuring student progress, and setting appropriate benchmarks for evaluating and grading student performance.
  • Evaluate and refine my classroom teaching style as observed through documentation and data collection.
  • Acquire a greater level of comfort and competence as a studio instructor.
  • Improve student engagement and learning as a result of techniques studied through MIE coursework.

My previous vocal teaching experience consists of one-on-one studio voice lessons and this individual experience is limited to a handful of private students. This will be my first real experience teaching regularly in a classroom setting. Therefore this internship is an important component of my development as an Artist-Teacher-Scholar.

I am enrolled in two MIE core courses in the Fall 2011 semester (Models for Teaching and Learning for MIE and Introduction to MIE) and also took the MIE Seminar in Spring 2011. I hope to use the internship as a testing ground for several techniques I studied during that course, including specific classroom teaching strategies and approaches to vocal technique and training gleaned from readings about developing talent.

This internship is relevant to my future plans as an Artist-Teacher-Scholar in that I hope to teach both individually and in a classroom/group setting, but have limited experience in either setting. Further, I find that teaching helps me develop as artist by solidifying my own technique and improving creative interpretation and expression in my own performances.

Concerning my best personal traits as a learner, I believe my two greatest assets are my curiosity and my willingness to learn. I subscribe wholeheartedly to the “growth mindset” in learning and I am eager to apply this concept as a teacher. I also feel that my willingness to learn is important in creating an enthusiasm for subject matter among the students I teach. I am eager to apply this concept and to refine techniques for keeping students engaged and enthusiastic about the learning process.

Internship Inquiry Questions

  • How do I need to adapt my teaching techniques (in group and private settings) to create active learning and growth for the students in this class?
  • How will teaching this course contribute to my development as an artist and a scholar as well as a teacher?

Documentation Strategy

  • Video recordings: I will record at least three classes and at least three private lessons with two different students over the course of the semester to try and track my learning process.
  • Student work: I have included several writing assignments that require students to reflect and comment on singing and the classical vocal repertoire as an art form. I feel that students’ reactions to performances, while varied, may reflect my effectiveness in creating an enthusiasm (or at least appreciation) for the art form.
  • Student Tests: Students’ performance on tests will also be a helpful feedback tool. Students’ improvement over the course of the semester will be the most important measure of teaching effectiveness.
  • Student performances: Students will also perform live for a jury as their final exam. I hope to use these performances as a marker of my effectiveness as a studio teacher, not simply in terms of students’ vocal technique but their confidence, engagement, and interpretation of the songs.
  • Student Evaluations: Student evaluations will be a critical tool for comparing student’s perceptions of the value of this course with my own perceptions about student engagement and learning. I will use these evaluations to refine both content and technique in the classroom and studio setting.

Triple Entry Journals in “Intro to Music in Education

On October 13th, Michael Glicksman presented a video of a composition lesson with his 2nd grade students at the Atrium school in Watertown, MA to the Music-In-Education Introduction class at NEC. In the lesson, students listened to a poem written by a fellow student earlier that year and, with Michael’s guidance, were able to analyze the repetition of words or phrases within the poem. The students then composed a piece of music using various percussive and pitched instruments based on the poem. The video shown in MIE class documented the process of creating and performing music, from talking about the poem, picking instruments, deciding where an how to use instruments, all the way to the actual performance.

Before the video began, Michael and professor Larry Scripp asked a question of the class: “To what extent does studying music increase understanding of poetics, and vice versa, to what extend does studying music increase understanding of music?” Professor Scripp also reminded students to use Triple Entry Journals while they viewed the video. These three column journals are tools for learning and note-taking: the first column is reserved for objective information in the form of quotations, observations, etc. The second column is reserved for a subjective or personal response, and the third column is used to draw meaningful implications to Music-in-Education.

As the current documentation specialist for this class, I am most interested in researching how class participants are encouraged and inspired to use the key topics in class in their own learning and exploration of MIE. I feel that this presentation by Michael Glicksman was designed, at least partly to encourage students to inquire and to use the five learning processes (Listen, Question, Create, Perform, Reflect) of Music plus Music Integration. Inquiry, the question presented before the video, created a context for an educational activity. The use of triple entry journals provided structure for engagement in that inquiry.

An example of my own use of triple entry journals for Lyle Davidson’s Music, Brain Development, and Learning. I went through a process of finding a good way to organize my thoughts and research. The first column is objective information from a reading, the second contains connections to other readings and personal experience, and the third is my reflection on implications for a research paper and MIE in general.
An example of my own use of triple entry journals for Lyle Davidson’s Music, Brain Development, and Learning. I went through a process of finding a good way to organize my thoughts and research. The first column is objective information from a reading, the second contains connections to other readings and personal experience, and the third is my reflection on implications for a research paper and MIE in general.

It took me a while to look at triple entry notes critically. The idea was first presented to me a year ago, when I took Intro to MIE solely as a student. Since then, I’ve been involved in MIE in a number of ways, and triple entry journals have become vital to my learning. I find that, especially when I get overwhelmed with concepts, ideas, or just too much information, creating an inquiry question (setting context) and setting that MIE context in the third column of a triple entry journal focuses my attention completely on the task at hand. Suddenly, I’m able efficiently engage myself in a learning experience in which I’m always setting goals (converting objective experience in the other two columns) and getting feedback about my work.

I think Michael’s presentation, while a great opportunity for Michael to explore his own teaching and get feedback, became, at least for me, an opportunity to explore key MIE ideas about learning.

Please use the following links to view a clip of Michael’s inquiry question and part of a class discussion after Michael’s presentation:

Michael’s Inquiry

Class Discussion

Music-Math Matrices as a Model of Shared Fundamental Concepts

NewsBlog Editor’s Note: We are pleased to introduce to you Justin Stanley, a new CMIE Guided Intern working as Documentation Specialist for Larry Scripp’s Introduction to Music-In-Education course this Fall.

Professor Larry Scripp introduced a number of concepts this week in his class, “Introduction to Music-in-Education.” He began the lesson by drawing a matrix (as shown below) on the class blackboard and playing a recording of a piece by Bobby McFerrin. Professor Scripp, through nonverbal suggestion, portrayed the function of the matrix in the rhythm of the song, and added x’s in single cells to notate clapping or emphasis. Soon, the class was engaged in an activity in which we clapped along rhythmically to the piece in a unified perception of the function of the chart drawn on the board. Professor Scripp gradually added complexity to the exercise by using symbols to imply rhythmic groupings, words to apply to rhythms (antelope for a group of three, salamander for a group of four), and rhythmic solfege for the same.

The basic form of the matrix used in class to show the basic form and rhythm of the song.
The basic form of the matrix used in class to show the basic form and rhythm of the song.

After the exercise and a discussion of what we did, students were asked to compile a list of mental processes that had to be integrated to take part in the exercise. Among many conclusions, students realized that processes of permutation, symbol association, cycle recognition, and grouping and parsing were needed to actively participate. We found that these concepts and brain processes that we used can be applied to a number of different subject areas. This led Professor Scripp to make the following comment: “If music is a fundamental medium and model for teaching and learning, from the point of view of integration, you could say that it is a fundamental medium and model for integrating.” Because of the subtle complexity involved in the activity, Prof. Scripp was able to keep the entire class (perhaps completely subconsciously had we not been conservatory music students) in a state of Flow (as shown in the chart below) during which we were all listening, questioning, creating, performing, and reflecting. Through this lesson, we as students were able to experience some of the cornerstones of the MIE program first hand: shared teaching and learning concepts, and teaching and learning processes. the flow st The integration of all of the learning processes exhibited during this exercise can help students create and strengthen connections necessary for all kinds of education. The subtle complexity of this exercise and any number of exercises like it that integrate music and other curriculum can create and strengthen connections in the minds of any student. Complexity in learning and comprehension can lead to any number of paths for a learner of any age. This lesson pushed me to do two things: 1.    I worked on a new unit plan for my internship teaching brass players at a local upper school that incorporated the use of a matrix to teach solfege. The initial lesson went incredibly well, with students learning how to create their own symbols to notate rhythm and melody. I hope to incorporate the following aspects into the unit curriculum for integration: a.    MATH: unit, sequence, fractions, special learning b.    LANGUAGE ARTS: symbols, syntax/structure c.    SCIENCE: measurement, documentation, inquiry d.    HISTORY: timelines, maps, contextual history e.    ARTS: creation, spatial learning 2.    I decided to focus on flow theory and brain processes/anatomy for a research paper for another MIE class at NEC, “Learning, Brain Development, and Music,” taught by Lyle Davidson.

Of Transcribing and Analyzing: Methods for Evaluating One’s Own Teaching

A few weeks ago, I completed the second major assignment for MHST 537 (Teaching Music History): Substitute teach (or “guest lecture”) for another professor at NEC; videotape your teaching and analyze it. I had the good fortune to substitute for Larry Scripp; he had to travel out of town for the latter half of his MIE 501 (Intro to MIE), so I stepped in.

The agenda I set forth for my teaching was based on an assignment Larry wanted me to give to the class: to get his students familiarized with the CMIE NewsBlog, as readers and potential writers. I worked backwards from his assignment to plan what basic learning outcomes I hoped my students would achieve—an understanding for what makes NewsBlog writers’ postings different from the “rants” that are commonly associated with blogging; a rationale for organizing the kinds of ideas and documentation that get shared on the NewsBlog; and a sense of direction—where, beyond the NewsBlog or MIE program, does this kind of documentation and writing have use and purpose?

Where’s the Video Documentation?

Although I am not able to post my video of teaching here, due to length and filesize, any readers of the NewsBlog who are interested should read the transcription file (posted as a PDF here). In fact, anyone who reads the transcription file will notice that parts of it are highlighted and color-coded; this is a technique for analysis that we encourage MIE students to undertake.

Transcribing, Coding, and Analysis

The process I have engaged myself in—of videotaping my teaching, watching it, transcribing it, coding it for objectivity, and finally analyzing and reflecting on it is one that I have observed as being useful for emerging and experienced teachers alike. It is a method that we showcased and published in the Journal for Music-In-Education (Scripp, Keppel, Wong, eds.), and that we encourage throughout the MIE department. Its value lies in the fact that words do not lie, and it is often easier to quickly see the ‘big picture’ when scanning transcripts than from sitting and watching a videotape. The benefits of watching the videotape, and doing one’s own transcription from that tape, are obvious: Body language, tone of voice, eye contact, movement, and other physicalities of teaching are easily recognizable. From watching my own tape, I was surprised to learn that my teaching voice was not as loud or enunciable as I thought it had been. I suppose that is something to continue to work on. I didn’t do an ‘exact word’ transcript here, but what I learned from the tape is that there were multiple times that I had to re-phrase questions, transitions, and other verbiage. I already knew from past experiences that off-the-cuff presentation is not my strong suit; the introductory Ten-Minute Presentation we did at the beginning of Teaching Music History is testament to that (I scripted that presentation and practically read it). Because of the limited amount of time I had to prepare this teaching session, scripting nor rehearsing were barely possible, but I did have to time to make a short Powerpoint presentation that I used as an outline of sorts.

Connection to MHST 537 course

Although the class session I taught is not a Music History course, I believe that many of the same principles that we have been studying in Anne Hallmark’s MHST 537 Teaching Music History course still apply. The past several weeks have seen discussions in class based on readings that articulate how college classrooms are run; the pitfalls and mistakes of ‘wet behind the ears’ teachers; ways to engage students in discussion; and organizational tips for lecturers, among other things. These readings are balanced with seminar-style class sessions moderated by Hallmark, which in and of themselves serve as models for successful teaching in a graduate setting.

As is evident in my coded transcription, I tried to incorporate some of the techniques that Hallmark and others are suggesting as worthwhile ways to engage students in discussion and classroom learning. Granted, there was less discussion than I would have liked, and the majority of communication was responsorial, but I think a good effort was made.

The teaching session was also an opportunity for me to go into a situation not as well rehearsed or prepared as I usually would be. There is, as Warren Senders or Larry might say, a certain amount of improvisation that that is a part of any teaching experience, and that a seasoned teacher would need to be comfortable with; things hardly ever go ‘as planned.’

Finally, I did make it to the end-point Larry projected for me: A MIE NewsBlog blogging assignment that students would need to complete, and connect, to the knowledge they’ve so far acquired on documentation, for inclusion in their process portfolios.

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