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’:

What is intelligence, anyway?

Many of us can remember having to take the SAT. Since 1934 when James Conant, the president of Harvard at the time began administering the test to scholarship applicants, taking the test has become increasingly standard procedure for a person moving from high school to college. But what does the Scholastic Aptitude Test really measure?

We discussed this question in class and came up with the following: LANGUAGE AND NUMBERS.

Effective? Comprehensive? Fair? We didn’t think so either. All the test tells me is that if I score between a certain range I can balance my checkbook correctly and read a newspaper article really quickly. Lyle Davidson shared that it’s really nothing more than a test to see who will pass their first year of college. I sure wish it had been presented as such instead of a test to see “who’s smartest.” I would’ve spent a lot less time worrying.

Unfortunately, because the SAT is still the standard measuring tool we are led to believe that the educators who have the last word must believe that the wisdom of priests and rabbis, the intuition of psychologists and the sheer genius of Mozart are not examples of intelligence.

In the 1980s a man by the name of Howard Gardner came forward with some new ideas on what “intelligence” really is. He presented the concept of “Multiple Intelligences,” saying that different areas of the brain support different types of expression, cultural differences and necessary awareness. For example, different cultures require individual and acute behavioral skills to survive in a specific location and environment.

We brainstormed what these “multiple intelligences” might be.

Here is the list we came up with:

  • Language and Numbers (not only to be fair, but because they are important, too.)
  • Spatial intelligence (2D and 3D awareness)
  • Musical
  • Kinesthetic
  • Interpersonal/Intrapersonal
  • Naturalistic

We decided that the list could be titled “Spatial Intelligences”.

As can be expected when you have a group of future educators talking about education there were many unsatisfied voices. Their statements could be passed off as hopeless complaints, but I think that would be a huge mistake. In the simplest of terms, it’s important that more of the focus in education be placed on spatial intelligences. NEC has already made the change to not requiring applicants to submit an SAT score. In my opinion, that was a smart move.

I’ll leave you with this:

Because we are individuals whose intelligences are clearly made up of more than just languages and numbers, should we not be approached as such by our educators?

Theta and The Music We Experience Together

As an introduction to what we focused on in class this past week, here’s a project:

Take five stickie-notes and on the first write “beta.”  The second should read “alpha,” the third “theta” the fourth “delta1” and the last “delta2.”  Now, stick the first on your forehead; you’re alert, and your mind is working at “beta.”  Walk over to your pensive cat that spends hours every day staring out the window and stick “alpha” on her back.  “Theta” belongs on your son who is staring out of the same window, gathering his thoughts for another painting.  The sleeping dog on the floor gets “delta1” and your snoring husband should wear the “delta2.”


I’ll explain:

This week we learned that our brains functioning capacity has been categorized into cycles per second.  When we’re alert and actively engaged we’re in a state called beta, functioning between 15-40 cycles per second (cps).  Conversely, in deep sleep (Delta2) our neurons are transmitting information at the rate of only 1.5-3 cps.


Alert, Active


15-40 cps

Reflective, quiet


9-14 cps

Daydreaming, Creative


5-8 cps



3-4 cps

Deep Sleep


1.5-3 cps


Lyle Davidson said that “Theta is a good place to be,” and decided that we needed to be brought down to the 5-8 cps range right away.  We were asked to sit still and quietly with our eyes closed and allow ourselves to really lean into our chairs.  We were to relax all of our muscles and really let our minds be free.

After five or ten minutes we opened our eyes and shared our experiences.  Some class members shared that they were able to organize their thoughts, allowing distractions to come and go without ever focusing on them.  We were also able to focus on different things in our environment, an example of what attention really is.  Also, we could remove ourselves from the current environment address a bigger issue without the current “brain noise.”

The next time you find yourself in a stressful situation, try theta.  Let me know how it works.


Something I’ve noticed outside of NEC

A close friend of mine, a double bassist, is one of the many artists you may find down in the bowels of the city, better known as Boston’s subway system.  If you go to Downtown Crossing on a Friday night you’ll probably see him with this bass plugged into a loop pedal and an amplifier.  He layers loops one on top of the other and then improvises on them, some of the tunes being mellow, others joyful, and he often delves into the realm of raga, which is the genre in which the following experiences occurred.  He moves between arco and pizzacato, and people absolutely love it.

It’s very common for a crowd to build around him, many people staying to watch as two or three of their trains come and go.  Last week I observed a man very interested in the music and exhibiting many of the characteristics and behaviors of a person with mild autism.  He would be silent and introspective, and then would start clapping furiously at some points in the middle of an improvisation.  During the music, after he’d really gotten into it, he was alive in a new way.  It was fascinating; I’d never seen anyone respond that way. 

Last Friday I was sitting on the same bench a few yards from the show and a man sat beside me.  He clearly hadn’t showered in a while and was mumbling to himself in a frustrated voice.  My friend had taken a break and when he started again the man was silent, lowered his head, and began clapping the beat the way a small child would.  When the music reached a place that became really repetitive and, I think, a little boring, the man got up, started mumbling again, and staggered away. 

These people who behave in a way that’s less than socially acceptable have unequivocally positive reactions to the music.  Their behavior moves from one of silence and frustration to a peace and a joy.  I’m sure I’ll have another opportunity to experience someone’s ecstatic happiness inside beautiful music and I’ll be sure to share it. 

I’d love to hear about a similar experience you’ve had, whether it’s a snoring husband or someone being awakened by peaceful tunes.

The First of Many: My Work as a Documentation Specialist for ‘Music, Brain Dev., & Learning’

NewsBlog Editor’s Note: We are pleased to introduce to you Jenny Giardina, a new CMIE Guided Intern working as Documentation Specialist for Lyle Davidson’s Music, Brain Development, and Learning course this Fall. For more blog entries regarding this semester’s run of the course, and previous years’ runs, please click here. 

My generation has been part of the blog explosion, as I like to say.  After being a part of the common social networking sites (names I’m sure I don’t need to list) I am very pleased to now be a part of New England Conservatory’s MIE NewsBlog.  I recently entered into an MIE Guided Internship as a Documentation Specialist and will be providing updates and peeks into the learning going on in Lyle Davidson’s Music, Brain Development, and Learning course.

So far we’ve done a great deal of studying the brain from a biologists viewpoint: the anatomy, neuronal activity, and the physicality of a learning brain.  With the aid of our current text, A User’s Guide to the Brain: Perception, Attention, and the Four Theaters of the Brain by John J. Ratey, M.D, we are being encouraged to delve into our personal questions and curiosities regarding the learning process as relates to the brain, as well as the effects of music on the brain.

Along with this focus we’ve been given the question “what was my best learning experience and why?”  The more we work with this question and our personal answers the more I’m sure that all teachers need to think about personal experiences and be aware of all the possible approaches that could help a person learn in a more complete way.  We’ve all heard the old adage, “Some people learn best by reading, others by listening, and still others by seeing someone do it.”  We’re finding through our experiences in class, our reading and classmate comments that these standard approaches are only addressing the tip of the iceberg. 

My BEST Learning Experience

I spent a semester teaching in a private school last year.  I was the first music teacher they had and the teachers, parents, and most importantly students loved me.  I taught music once a week to all the students one grade at a time.  Not only was this the most rewarding experience of my life, but the most difficult. Throughout the semester I learned more than I ever thought I would from the preschoolers alone.  The challenge was working with such a wide range of age groups—Pre-K through 6th grade.  The most exciting moment was when I had the Kindergartners clapping rhythms from the board.  I first used circles to indicate a clap, and vertical lines for silence.  After a few times through I replaced the symbols with quarter notes and rests.  They couldn’t wait for it to be their turn to come up and put the notes and rests in the order of their choice.  Through this process I found that not only can the youngest students follow what I teach the oldest, but they are more involved, active, excited, and quick to learn the skill.  Looking back now and thinking about what I learned in music at that age I’m almost sure that the music curriculums are nowhere close to the level they can and should be.  These 5 year olds need more.  Much more.

As the Documentation Specialist for my current MIE class I’ve outlined some questions to focus on:

Goals for the Class

  • To spark an interest in the class to uncover and experience as much as they possibly can to be part of the final product.
  •  To carefully document accurately and thoroughly so that no one is cheated of the priceless opinions and comments of the teacher, students, and authors.
  •  To collect and interpret these findings by the end of each week in a way that is easily transferable both in format and language to the CMIE NewsBlog.
  •  To encourage my classmates to read and blog on the NewsBlog, both to experience what is being said about their class and to comment themselves.

Personal Goals for the Future

I’ve recently begun research into Music Therapy and find that every page I read convinces me more that I should pursue this field as a career.  My personal goal through this internship is to uncover more information regarding the techniques of this field.  I also hope to answer a few more specific questions:

  • What are the proven methods for using music to positively influence the brain with learning disabilities, dementia, or other abnormalities?
  • In this relatively new field, what are some of the methods still in the research stage not yet commonly practiced?
  • What are the physical attributes of a brain that functions differently than my own?  
  • How do these characteristics change during/after musical experiences (taking note of specifics)?
  • With the help of my classmates’ individual curiosities, what discoveries will prove to be the most useful to my own inquiries and how can I apply them immediately?

I will be posting weekly with updates of class activities, discoveries and even pictures and hope you will check back to follow our progress. 

Your comments are encouraged, especially those about your favorite learning experience as they can only help us in our learning process.

Just some light reading… if you are interested in the brain.


MIE Prof. Lyle DavidsonLast week in the Brain class, Professor Davidson did some ‘show and tell’ about what he had discovered about the brain through reading. He brought in almost 30 books that discussed different elements of the brain. We are currently working on developing our own projects that will be completed by the end of the semester. So, Professor Davidson wanted to give us the opportunity to see all the different topics we could explore further. And that many people are just as fascinated by the brain as we are. Here is the list of the books:

  • Transforming Stress – Doc Childre, Deborah Rozman
  • A Celebration of Neurons – Robert Sylwester
  • The Scientific American Book of the Brain – Antonio Damasio
  • Introduction to the Musical Brain – Don G. Campbell
  • Change Your Brain Change Your Life – Daniel G. Amen
  • Music and Memory – Bob Snyder
  • The Feeling of What Happens – Antonio Damasio
  • Descartes’ Error – Antonio Damasio
  • The Emotional Brain – Joseph LeDoux
  • Searching for Memory – Daniel L. Schacter
  • Magic Trees of the Mind – Marian Diamond, Janet Hobson
  • A Mind at a Time – Mel Levine
  • Memory Slips – Linda Katherine Cutting
  • The 3-Pound Universe – Judith Hooper, Dick Teresi
  • The Biology of Transcendence – Joseph Chilton Pearce
  • Minds, Brains, and Learning – James Byrnes
  • Teaching with the Brain in Mind – Eric Jensen
  • The Right Mind – Robert Ornstein
  • Inside the Brain – Ronald Kotulak
  • Brain-Based Strategies to Reach Every Learner – Diane Connell
  • Learning and Memory: The Brain in Action – Marilee Sprenger
  • The Mind and the Brain – Schwartz, Begley
  • Brain Lock – Schwartz, Beyette
  • Music, Mind, & Brain – Clynes
  • Neuroscience: Fundamentals for Rehabilitation – Laurie Lundy-Ekman
  • Left Brain Right Brain – Springer, Deutsch
  • The High-Performance Mind – Wise
  • The Seven Sins of Memory – Daniel L. Schacter


Brynn Rector is a first year graduate student studying trumpet performance. She is currently the Teaching Assistant for Larry Scripp’s “Graduate Seminar for Music-in-Education,” and is conducting a Guided Internship in the MIE Research Center on music and brain development.

Making Connections (more thoughts from Davidson’s “Brain” course)

It became apparent to me the first day of class here at NEC that everything I have learned up until now is directly linked to what lies ahead in my career. I was sitting in Lyle Davidson’s class on the brain, and I realized that my life path is completely up to me. I came to understand that the only boundaries are the ones I set, myself. Therefore, anything is possible! Now that I have been in the brain class for a number of weeks, I really see the connection between what I strive to accomplish everyday, and what parts of my brain are helping me to do so. There is a very real correlation between mind, body, and spirit that I feel has become a bit cliche in the media. When one looks deep within themselves, they can honestly realize that it is essential to keep these three elements of life healthy.

As a performer and music maker, I feel that certain parts of my brain are working harder than they might in an accountant, or a lawyer. This got me thinking about what makes people happy. I know that a large part of my mental power goes to the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain, since making music is a very emotional experience for me. But my question is, does the lawyer also receive emotional stimulation through his work? Does the accountant? It is hard for me to see the same emotional pleasure in these fields. So, then the question becomes, what do the accountant and the lawyer have in their lives to stimulate their emotional centers?


Brynn Rector is a first year graduate student studying trumpet performance. She is currently the Teaching Assistant for Larry Scripp’s “Graduate Seminar for Music-in-Education,” and is conducting a Guided Internship in the MIE Research Center on music and brain development.

Innovative course structuring

Lyle Davidson has done something really remarkable this semester in structuring his “Music, Learning and the Brain” class (informally referred to around here as “the brain class”). For the first part of our class, we’ve been studying John Ratey’s lucid book “A User’s Guide to the Brain” (2001).

We took the first five class meetings to engage with this text in an in-depth way. Our class discussions focused on outlining and clairifying our understanding of this material, everything from flow charts about brain functions to creating clay models of the brain to build fluency with its contituant parts. The text is a terrific and engaging book which communicates the new picture we’re developing about the brain and how it works in non-jargon terms and with very approachable stories and metaphors. The most profound thing that I can state simply from our study is that viewing the brain in the old way, like a machine that simply works correctly or doesn’t, is very outdated and we would be more effective to look at the brain like a colony of organisms (neurons) that is growing, evolving, and reshaping itself in response to stimulus every single day of our lives, from conception to death. Therefore, in a very physical way, education is “changing our brains” and there are much fewer limits on what we can do with our brain than we usually imagine.

However, unlike most science-based course which I’ve participated in, we’re not going to continue in this detailed text-based course of study, and the semester’s learning will not be assessed by either in-line or end-of-semester examinations on the material. Instead, both the remainder of the class and the methods by which we are assessed will be something very different. We spent yesterday’s class brainstorming how we could create a new direction or new modality for the class. In this new mode we break off as individuals and small groups to do our own research, readings, projects, documentation, and learning in “applied topics” which connect what we have been studying to areas that we are excited about. These applied topics — which range from how the brain reacts to our diet to how to use a new understanding of our brains to re-think pedagogical topics to how we can understand the brain’s role in the social aspects of music — are chosen based on the direct personal interest and connection that each classmember has with them.

In structuring the course in this way — 1) An initial burst of intensive study and more traditional academic study with a common text and fast assimilation of new material, 2) a pivot node where the established learning strands come together in a brainstorming session, 3) and explosion of new, individualized veins of application and discussion which are based on our common reference of the text we’ve studied, and 4) a final culmination of our explorations in which our research, work, and portfolios are presented — Mr. Davidson has created at way to present a science-based topic in an engaging manner through it’s direct personal application.

I am thoroughly enjoying the course and I find the topic to be of immense interest. I’m excited to see how our brainstorming session results in a multi-threaded discussion in which topics that we are passionate about related to the material are explored and discussed.

This experience begs a natural inquiry question: We are familiar with some of the most standard academic classroom study/assessment arcs from having experienced them over and over. If this is an innovative model for structuring a class, what other innovative structures are there out there?


Fred Sienkiewicz
(fred at