Our YMCA program now has a name… MusicLaunch

Hey MIE Blog readers! Got some great news for you. We have finally given a name to the music program we started last year in Chinatown. We’re calling it MusicLaunch, and it’s going to be an amazing opportunity for both our MIE interns and for community youth.

NEC’s MusicLaunch was founded in 2010 in partnership with the Wang YMCA of Chinatown (Boston). MusicLaunch is an innovative community-minded music education lab, where programs and curricula are driven by the dynamic, multi-faceted, and versatile faculty of NEC’s Continuing Ed Music-in-Education Certificate Program. It follows the YMCA’s commitment to “developing the potential of every child” with its open enrollment (no audition) policy and classes that encourage music literacy from the ground up, starting with parent/child music circles (ages 2-5). Small-group lessons in guitar, band instruments, and recorder are also offered.

Like the YMCA, 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. Youth are guided, mentored, and instructed by experienced teaching artists from NEC’s Continuing Ed faculty, as well as by adult intern volunteers from the MIE Certificate Program.

Here are some posts from Devin U, who started out the MusicLaunch guitar program last year.

Exploring “Talent” in Dr. Larry Scipp’s Teaching Seminar

In my final semester at New England Conservatory, I’m interning as a Teaching Assistant for Dr. Scripp’s Teaching Seminar, one of the core courses in the Music-In-Education curriculum. I took the course a full year ago and really enjoyed the exposure to new concepts and the multiple perspectives from which we viewed the art of teaching and learning. Of course, year-to-year this particular course can change significantly; the topics explored are, to a certain degree, based on the interests of current class members as well as the latest literature with implications on teaching and learning.

One of the pieces of literature we’ve been reading as a class is Matthew Syed’s new book Bounce. In the spirit of Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers, Syed explores the “science of success” by illuminating the hidden opportunities that have existed to create some of the most accomplished musicians, athletes and intellectuals on the planet. Syed challenges the notion of talent, a concept ingrained in the American psyche and romanticized by many, and points to concepts like the 10,000 hours theory of practice, domain expertise and what he calls a trajectory of development.

What helps to make Syed’s arguments so authentic is that he himself is a former elite athlete, an Olympian who became Britain’s no. 1 ranked table tennis player in 1995. Syed writes candidly about hidden opportunities that existed for him, such as the tournament-specification table tennis table that his parents bought and housed in their garage, on which Syed and his brother would duel for hours on end at a young age, creating for himself a trajectory of development that made it virtually impossible for thousands of other aspiring players to match. Another hidden opportunity existed in the fact that one of the nation’s top table tennis coaches taught at the primary school Syed attended, spotting Syed’s enhanced ability at the game and inviting him to join Omega, one of the elite table tennis clubs in the country. Syed states “… I had powerful advantages not available to hundreds of thousands of youngsters. I was, in effect, the best of a very small bunch. Or, to put it another way, I was the best of a very big bunch, only a tiny fraction of whom had my opportunities.”

Syed also explores the 10,ooo hours theory of practice, a recent theory of cognitive science that asserts it takes about 10,000 hours of purposeful practice for the human brain to assimilate all of the neural traces required for world-class expertise in anything. Syed cites a 1991 study by Florida State University psychologist Anders Ericsson, in which he and two colleagues conducted extensive interviews with violinists at the renowned Music Academy of Berlin. The violinists were categorized into three groups- the most outstanding performers, the very good performers, and the least able players who were studying to become music teachers.

Syed sums up, “By the age of twenty, the best violinists had practiced an average of ten thousand hours, more than two thousand hours more than the good violinists and more than six thousand hours more than the violinists hoping to become music teachers. These differences are not just statistically significant; they are extraordinary. Top performers had devoted thousands of additional hours to the task of becoming master perfomers. But that’s not all. Ericsson also found that there were no exceptions to this pattern: nobody who had reached the elite group without copious amounts of practice, and nobody who had worked their socks off but failed to excel. Purposeful practice was the only factor distinguishing the best from the rest.”

So what are the implications of all of this for music, education and music-in-education? There are several. One implication on music performance is that this knowledge can help to nurture humble top performers. The knowledge that world-class expertise on an instrument is not the result of some innate talent but rather a product of countless hours of purposeful practice, often working in tandem with an early exposure to music that created a trajectory of development, can help to instill pride in top performers rather than a feeling of uniqueness. One of the most inspiring things I experience every so often is being in the presence of truly expert performers who are totally humble and unassuming in their personalities- this has a powerful musical effect as well.

Another implication is that we, as educators, should be able to teach complex skills (such as the learning of an instrument) more effectively now that we’re armed with the knowledge that it takes the brain about 10,000 hours to assimilate all of the necessary neural traces for expertise. It may be effective to explain to students the nature of how their brains create memory traces for the fine motor skills required to play an instrument, and that, with practice these traces become stronger and stronger, essentially becoming “wired” in them. Also, to be able to explain to students that expertise doesn’t happen overnight, and to reference the latest cognitive research on expertise, may help young students to gain a good perspective on things and avoid frustration when they expect to develop expertise more quickly than humanly possible.

Finally, an important implication for education in general is, in the words of Dr. Larry Scripp, “Teach every kid as if they’re talented.” In other words, don’t adjust expectations based on a preconceived notion of what students are and aren’t “talented,” because the latest science of expertise suggests that “talent” has far less to do with expertise than the aforementioned factors. Teach all students with the assumption that they will “get it,” because with enough determination, study and practice, chances are they will.

-Art Felluca

Vocab and Transforms in Improvisation in Music Education

Hi blog readers! The video below documents some activities and conversations in the 2/3/10 meeting ‘Improvisation in Music Education,” and a clip from a lesson I taught on 2/4/10.  I’ve had a lot of fun applying these ideas to my teaching and my music this past week! Enjoy the video by clicking on the link below.

Transforming Musical Objects

Teaching Seminar: Exploring Persona

Hi! My name is Justin Stanley, and while I am not new to the MIE at NEC News Blog, I am beginning a new role. As a documentation specialist, I plan to inquire into my own persona as an artist-teacher-scholar and what role documentation has in developing persona.

I want to see how documentation can affect me as artist (by carefully examining my practice and my lessons for French horn), a teacher (through examination of my work at Josiah Quincy Upper School), and as a scholar (through documentation of the Teaching Seminar and Warren Sender’s Improvisation in Music Education) as I build my portfolio.

The Music-in-Education Teaching Seminar at NEC, taught by Dr. Larry Scripp, met for the first time last Tuesday. The class is a little smaller this year than the first time I took the class in the spring of 09. Last year, the class seemed like a continuation of Intro to Music-in-Education, a class offered in the Fall by Professor Scripp. This time around, however, only two of the members of the Teaching Seminar – myself included – were members of the Intro class. Therefore, I feel like I saw the differences in the curriculum more clearly right from the start.

We spent most of the class talking, in one way or another, about ourselves as artists. Larry posed this simple question to all of us: “What is your persona as an artist?” Responses were surprisingly varied, ranging from being a vessel for a composer or character in performance to breaking down barriers in various cultural settings. One student found that his role as an artist changes from performing to composing to teaching. Later, a student that assists Professor Scripp in teaching his graduate solfége class explained his role and the responsibilities that come with that role as a teaching assistant. The following video presents parts of these discussions.

Exploring Persona

I predict that we’ll be diving into the artist-teacher-scholar framework very soon in this class, discussing our readings, teaching, and plans for teaching. This class brought up some interesting ideas for me. As a documentation specialist, I try to keep a very analytical eye toward what’s going on. As a horn player, I look for simplicity. As an artist, I try to constantly expand my horizons. As a teacher, I look to help others expand their horizons or develop their own personas. I wonder how valuable it is to be able to separate and put together one’s own roles in life. This is a topic I look forward to exploring as the semester continues.

“Listen up!” Update: The Shapes Game

I used the following lesson with Josiah Quincy Upper School’s 8th grade band on Friday, November 20th.

A couple of weeks ago I was having a conversation with a friend that got me thinking about melodic contour.  He’d come from an improvisation class where he’d had to come up with a melodic shape, or contour, that would be repeated throughout his improvisation.  This meant that the notes could be different, but that each “grouping” of notes had to create a similar shape through the rise and fall of pitches and dynamics.  I thought this would be a great way to reinforce the concept of melodic contour and articulation, and I came up with a game to make it a little more interesting:

I began by presenting the idea of a melodic “shape” by singing a four note ascending and descending line and drew it on the board.  It looked something like this:

Picture 1

I then altered my “shape” by singing it again and adding some basic articulation: I shortened the first note to make it a staccato note, and slurred the others together for a smooth legato line.  I then asked a student to come forward and alter the original shape on the board to something that looked more like what I’d just sang; after a few tries, he came up with this:

Picture 2

We were now ready for the fun part.  Instruments in hand, we sat in a circle and played The Shapes Game.  I started it off by calling out “Four notes!” and I sang a four note pattern with basic articulation.  The student to my left had to match my shape and articulation, but not my exact pitches, and so on around the circle.  I was also watching the clock and, after five or six students played the shape, I called out another number of notes, sang a different shape with articulation, and the student we stopped on had to pick up the new shape and pass it around the circle.  All of the students who participated seemed to grasp the concepts of shape and articulation (especially staccato, legato, and accents) and were actively engaged in the learning process!  I learned that I need to exaggerate my legato, staccato, and accents, and be mindful of the ways that instrumentalists conceptualize articulation on their instruments, something that will make future rounds of The Shapes Game even more successful.  All in all, I was thrilled and can’t wait to bring the lesson to the other levels.

“Listen up!” Update: JQU School gets the “silent treatment”

Norman leads the class in the cups exercise

When it came time to visit Josiah Quincy Upper School this past week, I was forced to be extra creative; I was still recovering from laryngitis and, as a singer, I couldn’t risk using my swollen vocal folds for three solid hours.  I racked my brain (and my notes) and decided I’d follow a lesson plan that allowed me to not speak for the duration of the class.

In the Intro to MIE course I took a couple of years ago, Larry Scripp demonstrated a really cool rhythmic exercise that required the leader to be silent.  We assigned three different colored cups three separate rhythmic patters.  In the case of JQU’s bands, the yellow cup was a quarter note, the blue two eighths, and the red was four sixteenth notes.



After establishing these values, the students would clap out the rhythms as they progressed through the order the cups were in.  This reinforced the concept of keeping a steady beat as they had to fit the cups’ different note values into the same amount of time.  I eventually added a second set of cups and began switching their order, changing the rhythmic pattern.  They had to be on their toes to keep up with the different patterns coming their way.  Once they had the hang of it I asked some of the more confident students to stand and clap the rhythm themselves; this got everyone excited and we went around the room taking turns.  They also got a chance to come up and arrange the order of the cups themselves, which made the activity more exciting and kept everyone engaged.  It was a hit!

The second half of the lesson was composing by scale degree, and we reinforced the musical concepts of consonance and dissonance.  I began by playing a three note, stepwise passage on the keyboard and directed the class to imitate it.  The first time was a smattering of notes; I didn’t give them a starting pitch or a reference point, so I knew it would be messy.  It only took three or four tries though for each class to locate the key, and the rest was easy.  I split the high schoolers into two groups and we experimented with short progressions, still only using the numbers 1-8 to denote scale degree.  I began by writing two progressions that I knew would result in a lot of dissonance and that didn’t resolve until the final cadence.  After playing through it once, the class returned my unsatisfied expression and we altered scale degrees until we built more consonant intervals and, ultimately, a satisfying progression.

Adding rhythms to compositions
We added rhythms to our numeric progression.

I went into this part of the lesson completely unprepared to deal with the percussionists.  The one percussionist who didn’t naturally migrate to the xylophones but stayed on the drum set was left with little to latch onto, so I had him come to the board and compose a rhythmic pattern that would correlate with our progression.  He simply wrote this underneath the numbers and it caught on.  I had a clarinetist from the other side come forward to compose a rhythm for his group, and soon we had a composition all our own.  I recorded them and we listened; they were great!

With ten minutes of class time to spare, I asked the classes to do some reflecting.  I realize the importance of time for written reflection and intend on making this part of the routine for the remainder of my internship at JQU.  One of the questions they could answer was: “What was your favorite part about a class that didn’t involve speaking?”  Many of the students really liked it, saying that the class was “more focused” and that they enjoyed how “quiet” it was.  I’ve noticed that students do most of their chatting while the teacher is talking; it provides noise for them to talk underneath.  I was amazed at how few “off-task” conversations were held during the class.

Other students were really uncomfortable with this new approach to band class; they were “confused” and “it felt awkward.”  I can imagine that it would be confusing for some students to be launched into activities without any explanation to begin with.  However, I think they had some fun and learned a lot last Friday, and I can’t wait for next time!

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