More On Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy

Version 2In order to work effectively with Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy, we must understand two dimensions of learning: cognitive process, and knowledge. Cognitive process describes what thought task a learner is performing on a given text or focus. These include, in order of complexity from simple to complex,  remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. Of these, understanding is the most broad and most easily misused.

Understanding answers the question, “what does it mean?” It can involve interpreting, explaining, predicting, or comparing. Understanding is essentially knowing what an author, composer, songwriter, or visual artist intended to convey through their work, and being sufficiently familiar with a creator’s genre to predict what might come next in a musical or literary work, or what a visual artist’s next work might look like based on trends and characteristics found in recent works. Students also demonstrate understanding through comparing when they select a work they prefer from two or more, and then are able to explain why they prefer that one work over the others. Understanding is essentially thinking about artistic work, and making connections with other idioms, cultures, and other artistic works. As such, understanding is an intellectual endeavor.

Applying puts what has been learned through intellectual exercise to practical use. If through interpreting a musical work a student has learned how a composer typically uses specific musical elements and to what expressive purpose, than the student can use that knowledge in using those musical elements in the same way when preparing a performance of that or another of the same composer’s work, or in determining the expressive intent of the same composer in another, perhaps unfamiliar work. Another example might be if, at the remembering level, a student has learned the definitions of several musical terms, that knowledge can be applied when those words are knowledgeably used in the course of writing about a composer’s musical work to which the student has just listened, or which the student is preparing for a performance. It is at the applying level that authentic assessments are found. These are assessment that require students to be evaluated on doing something that musicians actually do in the “real world,” rather than something that only students are asked to do and then do not do once they become working musicians or practicing amateur musicians.

These first three, remembering, understanding, and applying, make a convenient and for many teachers a comfortable learning sequence. Breaking out of these three domains anticipatecan be challenging for teachers and students alike, but it is at the next three domains that the most rigorous instruction and learning take place. Analyzing answers the question “how does it work?”  Many people go through life enjoying music, able to understand what they are hearing, and apply what they know to everything from singing “Happy Birthday” to their children, to reflecting with a friend or spouse on a concert they both just attended together. But to get to the “next level,” a person unpacks the sequences of musical events they heard and looks into learning “how did he do that?” We might learn that we became suddenly tense and uneasy because the chords started on a progression that brought them further and further away from the tonic, or because the pedal tone became more and more dissonant over the chords above. Whereas through remembering, students might identify what a composer did, (he used a crescendo), through analysis, students can explain how a composer used a crescendo, or for what purpose.

Evaluating is more complex. Evaluation is assigning worth or value to an artistic work, or to a performance of an artistic work. To do so requires that the student first have some criteria for judging the quality of artistic work that can be used objectively on any artistic work at least within a given genre if not universally. In other words, the student must be able to know concretely what bad art looks or sounds like, and what good art looks and sounds like, and then must be able to identify what in the artist’s execution of the elements of his or her art was done well and what was done poorly. Often, the most difficult part of evaluating is agreeing on what criteria are to be used.

Many music teachers I talk to are surprised to find creating at the highest, most complex location on the taxonomy. It is also the most advanced step in Feierabend’s twelve step learning sequence for Conversational Solfege. The original Bloom’s taxonomy had synthesis at this location. Creating requires one to pull together everything one knows and can do, and pour it into something new and original. A person simply cannot create an artistic work if they cannot understand, apply what is understood, and evaluate artistic works of others. Students need to acquire command of the elements of their art, of how artists used them to convey an expressive intent, and what particular uses of them create the very best result. Lacking this foundation, students will not have the materials they need to work with, nor will they know what to do with them, or even if they have succeeded once they have, in some way, perhaps randomly, put them together to form a work which lacks expression or quality.

Even an improvisor must have experiences with hearing, generating, selecting, and sequencing sounds and combinations of sounds before he or she can successfully improvise a melody that makes rhythmic and tonal sense. Improvising a melody on an Off instrument with all but the pentatonic scale tones removed is not an act of creating, because no understanding, applying, analyzing or evaluating is needed. The child merely needs to remember to strike any tone bar to a pulse and rhythm pattern. They may be improvising the rhythm, as if they were playing a drum, but they are not improvising a melody, though one incidentally results from their remembering domain activity.

These 6 cognitive tasks, remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating, are performed on knowledge. This knowledge also has domains. There are four domains of knowledge: factual, conceptual, procedural, and metacognitive. Factual knowledge matches up nicely with remembering, conceptual and procedural knowledge goes well with understanding and applying, and metacognitive knowledge is useful with analyzing and evaluating, because understanding how one things, how one’s cognitive process is used helps a student select and use an analytical or evaluative strategy. It should not be surprising that higher level knowledge requires higher level thinking. If we want our students to engage in the higher domains of the cognitive taxonomy, then we can help them by giving them knowledge to work with that demands higher level thinking. For example, when assigning students to analyze a musical work, first have them plan out how they will go about doing their analysis. This requires them to have or develop criteria for determining when to use appropriate procedures. Of course, this also requires that you have taught them appropriate procedures from which they are now qualified to choose the best ones for the task at hand. Then, once they have determined what procedures they will use, they must apply that procedural knowledge, along with perhaps factual and conceptual knowledge,  to actually completing the assignment. Because this is a taxonomy of knowledge domains, students must be proficient with the lower levels of knowledge before being asked to work with a higher level of knowledge. For example, if students are struggling with  conceptual knowledge, teach at that level to raise their proficiency before asking them to use procedural knowledge.

Effective use of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy is an effective way to control the level of challenge and rigor teachers present to their students. The taxonomy should not be seen as a description of learning styles, because one cannot say that, for example, one student is very analytic and so should always be given analysis tasks. No, that student will fare no better on analysis if remembering and/or understanding is deficient. Whereas some students will struggle to reach the most complex domain, none can afford to skip a domain to get to a higher one.

That Elusive Groove

2011Symposium_1_2Some years ago, when I was leading a music rehearsal for our church worship team, often tried to stop the band from rushing tempos, while they for their part tried to stop me from dragging those same songs. I remember trying to teach them the groove I was feeling, but without consistent success. They naturally were comfortable in a driven rock feel whereas I was after more of a more laid back gospel or funk groove. The interesting thing was that their tendency to accelerate ended when they reached the tempo of their groove. In other words, it wasn’t the open-ended sort of rushing that just keeps getting faster until the whole thing falls apart because the tempo has out paced the musicians ability to play that fast. Our musical inner selves were set differently.

Why do people have different inner musical selves that cause them to approach the same music differently? Where differences like this exist, psychologists will tell us that there is a mixture of biological and environmental factors at work. We may play a piece of music differently because of differences in our biological cores, or because some were trained classically in a conservatory of music while others were trained under the mentoring of a popular or jazz musician. Some of us play music the way we do because we depend on music notation, while others play music the way we do because we are improvisers and skilled at playing by ear, but not music readers. A musician whose background is gospel, rhythm and blues, and funk will naturally approach music differently than a musician whose background is alternative rock. We bring the character and sound of what is familiar and what forms the foundation of our musicianship. This is why classical musicians rarely sound the same playing jazz as jazz musicians, opera singers seldom sound the same singing pop songs as pop singers, and why successful crossover musicians are so rare. These differences in biological make-up and musical experience also exist between students and their music teacher. Music teachers must consider the musical backgrounds of their students in order to understand why they interpret music they way they do, and to determine what training and experience is needed in order to appropriately interpret different musical styles.

There is, to be sure, a fundamental core of knowledge that every musician must start birdsongwith and build upon. For example, in Western music, the closest two pitches can be is one half step, there are diatonic scales, each divided into seven parts, and a chromatic scale divided into twelve parts. There is a rhythmic structure that includes meter and grouping arranged in a hierarchy, and there are pitch tendencies and attractions that define tonality and set a standard for intonation within the context of Western tonal music. I could perhaps continue the list of core fundamentals, but the point is that there is this body of knowledge that must be common to all Western musicians, regardless of in which genre individuals choose to perform. Other cultures could have quarter steps as the smallest interval, other tonalities, and other divisions of the octave, but there are, nonetheless, still core fundamentals for all musicians regardless of genre within a given culture, and if we generalize to fundamentals such as meter or scale, across all cultures.

Differences such as I experienced with my worship band, follow differences in styles and genre, but not in the fundamental way music is made. The more specific the issue is, the more defined the differences can be. For example, everyone in that rehearsal recognized the importance of establishing a steady beat, but did not agree on the more subtle differences of how notes are finessed in relation to the beat. Some wanted to play ahead of the beat, driving the music, while others wanted to play behind the beat, creating a more relaxed feel. I needed more experience performing music with a driving beat without rushing, and they needed more experience playing laid-back music without slowing down. As we fulfill our responsibility to give our students a diverse repertoire of quality music to listen to, practice, analyze, evaluate, interpret and perform, we must be sure that the fundamental core is solid, and that attention is given to stylistic differences so that they develop an ear for those differences, and a sense of how those differences affect interpretation and performance practices. Without a lot of listening, interpreting, and improvising in a less familiar genre or sub-genre, students brought up on rock will always rush jazz, and students brought up on hip-hop will always drag rock. It is the “inner workings” of each genre of music that give each genre a characteristic sound, groove and feel. Without an awareness of these, a diverse repertoire will sound strangely monolithic.

Using New Learning to Focus and Structure Music Lessons

2011Symposium_1_2One of the risks of begin an arts teacher is that my lessons will be perceived as unplanned and lacking in structure. While I always have both plans and structure to every lesson I teach, the highly interactive nature of a music class sometimes gives the illusion that we are only responding to the moment without an overarching goal. For this reason, I try to build new learning into every lesson or rehearsal. By new learning, I don’t mean just improving performance through practice, evaluation and refining, though this is critical also, but I mean also that students will learn something new that they will immediately begin to use. New learning keeps long-term projects interesting, and helps me avoid just teaching skills without expecting students to use high level thinking and problem solving strategies.

In addition to writing the objective for each class on the board, I also write a list of new learning for each class. This list, which typically has two or three items, tells the students what they will need to know in order to be able to do that day’s class work that I haven’t taught to that class this year. It may be that some students know what is on the list from a previous year of music classes, or from music lessons they take outside of school. These students enjoy teaching their peers something from the list, and are encouraged by the opportunity to do so. I have found that starting a class with the new learning list gets the students’ attention, and putting the information up front at the beginning of class seems to cause more students to retain the learning, perhaps because they go through the steps of learning first and then applying what they have just learned, rather than trying to remember and apply something they learned a week or more ago, or learn as they go when they have become confused. The list also gives me a few concrete things to reinforce with students as I support their learning in small groups during the class. Reinforcing instead of introducing in small groups also helps increase retention of the material.

The new learning list also makes the structure of the lesson highly visible. The new learning items are amusic_words_large common thread that runs through the entire lesson. Activities the students are doing can be seen as opportunities to practice what they have just learned. The new learning is added in to what they were already doing, and so helps to improve the quality of the performance they are practicing, evaluating and refining. It is also helpful if new learning is easily connected to previous learning, either through application or similarities. For example, if the students learned last week that when a note has a sharp applied, the pitch is raised one-half step, and the note played is the black key to the right of the white key of the same letter or solfege name, then they will easily understand this week that when a flat is applied, the pitch is lowered one-half step, and the note played is the black key to the left of the white key of the same letter or solfege name. The half step displacement and proximity of the black key to the white key are similarities that tie the new learning about flats to the previous learning about sharps.

Once students have learned the new material, they are given something musical to do in small groups. The something musical is chosen from one of the artistic processes in the core arts standards: create, perform, respond, or connect. In the example above about sharps and flats, students were given the bass line to the song “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” in three different keys, each with a different key signature. The rhythm of dotted quarter, eighth, and two quarter notes is pervasive. The new learning list was key signature, flats on the keyboard, and dotted notes. Reinforcement occurred as I reminded students that a note was B-flat and not B natural because of the key signature, and when evaluation of performed dotted quarter and eighth note pointed out that they were played as if they were two quarter notes. Because the dotted quarter and eighth were followed by two quarter notes, students could compare the two aurally and visually, and learn to accurately. New learning can be any material related to what students are already doing with which students can create, perform, respond or connect.

Using Core Arts Standards To Teach Students How To Analyze Repertoire

2011Symposium_1_2Once a musical work has been selected (see my post for yesterday on selecting repertoire) the next step in the process of preparing it for performance is to analyze. The focus of the analysis should be constrained to what will be useful to the student, and to what interests the student in the work. Students should be aware of all the musical qualities the composer used, that they can be properly interpreted and performed. Included should be use of dynamics, tempo, articulation, phrasing, rhythm, and melodic contour.

I have been writing lately about the methods of Jaques-Dalcroze, and so I shall draw upon his writings again here. Jaques-Dalcroze wrote thirteen rules of nuance and phrasing. In as much as we are considering dynamics, tempo, articulation, phrasing, rhythm, pitch and melodic contour, they will serve our purpose well here, and provide a clear framework for students to follow for their analyses. The students should look for the condition described in each rule, and then apply the method of nuance or phrasing prescribed.

  1. All ascending melodies (with exceptions) must be sung with a crescendo and all descending melodies (with exceptions) must be sung with a diminuendo.
  2. Not all melodies are nuanced with the same intensity. When a passage contains very accented rhythms, the nuances of crescendo and decrescendo should be weaker than if the rhythm were less accented.
  3. If a note in an ascending line is prolonged, it should be part of the overall crescendo.
  4. When a note is repeated several times in a row, it must be accompanied by a crescendo.
  5. When a note is repeated several times in a row, preceding the original melody, the crescendo should be accompanied by a rallentando.
  6. Whenever a rhythmic and melodic group is repeated two times in a row, you must breathe between the two and perform the repetition with a different nuance than the first was performed.
  7. Any melodic reprise which is prepared must be accompanied by a rallentatndo.
  8. When a melody ends by a series of stepwise notes of the same duration, thse last notes should be slightly staccato. If these preceded the return of the melody, they should be accompanied by a rallentando.
  9. Whenever a link (“a link is a series of notes of the same duration”) leads to the reprise of a melody, where the first notes are twice as long, the rallentando of the last notes of the link must be large enough that these notes become twice their original length. Whenever a theme is reprised by a link made up of shorter notes than the theme itself, do not breathe until after the first or second notes of the theme.
  10. Whenever a ascending series of equal-duration notes is encountered amid notes of unequal values, these ascending notes must be strongly accented. Whenever a link leads to the reprise of a powerful theme, sing the link with a crescendo, even if the link is descending! (Exception to first rule of nuance.)
  11. Whenever a link leads to the reprise of a gentle theme, sing the link with a descrescendo, even if the link is ascending! (Exception to first rule of nuance.)
  12. Any series of notes isolated in measures containing silences that end a piece must be interpreted with a rallentando of the silences.
  13. When two notes of the same duration but different scale degrees are tied together, the notes are always performed STRONG-weak, even if the second note falls on a strong (or stronger) beat than the first. (This rule derives from the second rule of phrasing: that the last note of a phrase should be performed more softly.) When the second note falls on a stronger beat (a), it should be performed more softly. When the second note falls on a weaker beat (b), the first note should instead be performed louder with a natural relaxation into the second note.

 

Jaques-Dalcroze (1906). Les Gammes et Les Tonalites, Le Phrase et Les Nuances, volume 1, translated by Gregory Ristow.

 

 

A Better Way To Teach Rhythm

2011Symposium_1_2I have noticed that there is a great deal of interest in how best to teach rhythm. Perhaps this reveals challenges that music teachers find in teaching rhythm, made manifest in students’ difficulty in performing rhythms accurately. While I cannot know what transpires in every music classroom, I can at least address problems I have observed in my own students, and how I have addressed them.

The first notion that must be developed is a definition of rhythm. This is not an academic exercise, but a necessary step in arriving at an effective way to teach rhythm. We must agree on what rhythm is, how it works, and how our students perceive it before we can effectively teach them how to perform it. This is because every musical utterance must be preceded by a mental representation of what is to be uttered, just as every utterance made with words must be preceded by a thought couched in language. My students frequently confuse rhythm with beat. They are clearly not the same thing, and the relationship that exists between the two is critical. A rhythm is a pattern of durations; a beat is a steady pulse to which the listener organizes the rhythm. Meter is also important to rhythmic understanding, and is a pattern of strong and weak beats. Because none of this involves pitch, rhythm is best taught separate from pitch, before it is combined with pitch in a complete musical performance. Gordon and Feierabend have both written that rhythm should be taught with chanted rhythm patterns. In Conversational Solfege, Feierabend describes using a learning sequence of rote on neutral syllables, rote with rhythm syllables, decoding familiar patterns from neutral syllables to rhythm syllables, decode unfamiliar patterns, and create aurally with familiar patterns using syllables. All of this is done before notation is introduced. When it is, rote learning begins again, this time while the students read what is being rote taught, then decoding familiar then unfamiliar patterns from notation. All of this is done apart from pitch and apart from singing or playing repertoire or exercises, and the result is that students are able to audiate rhythms, meters and beats; that is, they are able to hear rhythms, meters and beats in their minds for which there is no physically present sound (Gordon). Pitches are taught separately but in the same manner, using tonal patterns that are characteristic from the repertoire of music the students will be performing. When students can also audiate pitches and tonalities, then they are ready to combine pitch and rhythm elements in performance.

I believe that it is common practice among music teachers to try to teach rhythm “on the fly” while teaching exercises Feed Your Brain Musicand repertoire. This requires the student to attempt to succeed at the most advanced stage of music learning without having had the opportunity to develop readiness skills. Music teachers are wont to establish a beat and then have students perform to that beat. Besides being very difficult to do, this is the opposite of what people do when they listen to music. When people listen to music, they hear the music first, and then determine the beat. In other words, the beat is made evident in the music, and specifically in the rhythm. We deduce a beat from the patterns of durations we hear. Instead of sounding a beat for our students before and while they perform, we should establish the meter, which includes the beat, and then have the student continue the beat through audiation before beginning to sing or play. If the student looses the beat, it will be because s/he has stopped audiating the meter. In this case, more training is needed with rhythm patterns and tapping the beat while the teacher performs, until the student gains proficiency at audiating the beat from music s/he hears. This proficiency is then transferred to music s/he hears while performing.

When performing, if the performer has audiated what s/he is about to perform, then the beat can be perceived from the music more quickly than from hearing another performer, because the performer knows what the meter and tactus level is and knows what is going to happen next. For example, if I play the beginning of the slow movement of Beethoven’s “Moonlight” sonata, I know before I start to play that there are three durations per tactus beat, and from audiating a pattern of six micro beats, I can establish for myself the beat the music will have when I begin to play. On the other hand, if a teacher were to tell me to play the beginning of the “Moonlight” sonata to this beat, and clapped a beat for me, that beat has no musical meaning until I start to play, and I must now make calculations in order to fit the music to the beat.

MusicEarThe two situations are quite different. In the first instance, the beat is perceived from the music, whereas in the second instance, the music is fitted to an artificially generated beat. The latter is much more difficult to do, but this is exactly what we ask music students to attempt, and all the more if they are having trouble. We think that by providing them with an audible beat through hand clapping or a metronome, we will guide them to play the rhythm accurately. But this simply is not so. The student will not play the rhythm accurately until s/he is audiating the music and perceiving the beat from the music, not our noise making. As a result, our well-intentioned time keeping, instead of being helpful, can be a distraction and a hindrance.

Interventions such as clapping for the student and using a metronome are unnecessary if the learning sequence described above is followed. If enough time is spent on pre-notation learning, students will reliably be able to accurately read and perform rhythms in music. Where remediation is still needed, the music teacher should revisit an earlier step the sequence, and once again work down; but if enough time has been spent at each step, this should not be necessary.

In addition, students can be helped in combining rhythm and pitch with a similar sequence I have developed off of Conversational Solfege. First, perform the music for the student while tapping the beat and have him or her repeat the performance, also while tapping the beat. Because we are performing both rhythm and pitch, use neutral syllables. Second, perform the music for the student without tapping the beat, and to have the student repeat the performance while tapping the beat. Third, perform the music for the student without tapping the beat and have the student perform the music without tapping, maintaining the same beat. This learning sequence of three steps keeps the process in the right order, gradually teaching the student to audiate the beat while performing. One final caution is that rhythm cannot be audiated without a metric context; therefore, never rely on rhythm syllables to generate the rhythm without an established beat and meter. I have written elsewhere in this blog on rhythm syllables and rhythm counting systems. If you are not familiar with either of these, it would be helpful for you to read those posts.

What Can L.A. and Math Teachers Learn from Music Teachers About Practice?

2011Symposium_1_2It is always good to read that researchers have found ways in which music benefits brain development, spatial reasoning, language acquisition, and other areas of learning. Such studies have often been sited by music education advocates in defense of maintaining or even expanding music programs in schools. Work has also been done on integrating common core standards into music instruction by fashioning language arts and math objectives into music objectives, making it possible to claim that music teachers are supporting common core. While neither brain research nor utilizing common core in music instruction should be ignored, one area that has not been given much attention but which music educators are perhaps pre-eminent experts is practice.

The very nature of performing arts education demands practice and rehearsal to achieve excellence in performing specific musical works. From the outset, repertoire is selected, and students rehearse in full ensembles, practice in small group lessons, and practice individually outside the classroom setting. Students proceed through each type of rehearsal or practice with clear goals in mind, which may be to improve a specific aspect of performance, such as tone, rhythmic precision, or expressivity, and with specific strategies to achieve those goals, such as to keep the pulse steady throughout, or to infuse the sound with more air to improve tone. Such strategies are measurable and well suited for learning and improvement.

The strength in all of this is that there is ample opportunity, indeed requirement, for practice, and that is directed at things that are clearly stated, easily observable, measureable, and a manageable portion of the overall process of performing music. This last point is key. One of the values of practice is that component skills of a process can be isolated and worked on in a way that they cannot in a performance. When musicians perform, they bring technique, tone, interpretation, and contextual knowledge to bear on the performance, but they do not have the opportunity to improve on these individually. Every student in every discipline needs to practice every skill and process in order to learn every thing that might be taught in school, or for that matter anywhere else. The key is to have students practice the right thing the right way. The two things that matter are what is practiced and how it is practiced.

This is the great lesson teachers in other subjects can learn from music teachers. They can first learn to ask the question, “what skills go into a student Practice makes permanentbeing able to do what I’m asking him or her to do? How can I design practice activities so that one or more of these skills is easily observable and measureable? Once a student has succeeded in doing what I’ve asked him or her to do, do I give the student opportunities to continue to practice so that he or she becomes better at the things he or she is already good at?” To this last point, it is important to remember that if we stop practicing once we “get it,” then we never develop past a novice level of proficiency, and discourage attaining excellence. It is better to do a few things excellently than to do many things adequately. Music teachers know how to isolate skills, practice areas of weakness, and practice beyond initial proficiency and on to excellence.

There are not many things in life that can be stated so emphatically as the necessity of practice. The fact is we are constantly practicing things, whether we mean to or not. Every time we do anything, we are practicing it and all of the skills that go into doing it. That is both the power and the danger in practicing. If we are not intentional and focused about what we are practicing, then It is just as likely that we are practicing the wrong thing as the right thing. A person who misuses a word in a sentence fifty times has practiced using that word, but only learned through practice to use it wrongly. Those who practice two or more digit addition but forget to carry to the next column have practiced addition, but only learned through practice to add incorrectly. Without practice carrying to the next column or using the word correctly, a person will continue to improve at making those errors, and will not improve in writing or adding, no matter how long they practice. The way music educators teach students to practice needs to come out of the practice rooms and rehearsal halls and into the academic classrooms. Music teachers for their part need to be sure attention is paid to designing practice that is focused and measureable, and to use feedback obtained from assessments to drive student improvement.

Music Teacher Talk

Blog April 21 2014

 

2011Symposium_1_2

You can listen and subscribe to the podcast of this blog at Mr A Music Place: The Blog.

At times I have to remind students, particularly the older ones, to stop talking to each other in class. Students are highly social people, and they have to practice resisting the urge to to use their words to socialize. But it is also true that there are times when I talk too much to them. They want to get right down to making music, and I want to prepare them for the day’s lesson with teaching and instructions. What I am doing is sound teaching methodology, but sometimes less is better. If I am not introducing new material, I really don’t need to talk as much as I often do. Today I will offer some tips that will help you (and me) talk less in order to free up more time for students to do more.

First, have routines for getting the class under way. Good lessons begin by getting the students’ attention, and lecturing is not the best way to accomplish this. When students know what is going to be expected before they arrive at your class, they can begin meeting that expectation as soon as they arrive, without a word from you. Many teachers use a “do now” activity. It can be duplicated on a handout that students pick up from a table near the door, or it can be written on the board in the front of the room. The activity relates and prepares students for the main activity of the lesson, but does not require any teaching or assistance from you. I like to set a timer for completing the “do now” and I always give students the same amount of time: five minutes. This makes transitioning to the lesson smooth because everyone knows when the “do now” is over and the next activity will begin.

TeacherTalkThe main part of the lesson can also be structured with procedural routines. Procedures for performing, creating, and responding can also be established. By simply writing “performing,” “creating,” or “responding” on the board, students will know which procedure they will be using that day. For example, when my students are beginning a new performance project, they know that they must first select a piece based on their interest, knowledge of the piece, their own ability, and the context for which the performance will be given. They know that next they will analyze the structure and context of the work, and explain the implications of their analysis on their performance. They must then interpret the work to discover the composer’s intent and how it can be expressed in their performance. Then, they begin to practice, evaluate and refine. Finally, they present their selected work in a performance. Similar processes exist for creating and responding.

As students work through the performance procedure (or any of the others) the teacher rarely needs to speak to the class. Instead s/he circulates through the class offering support where needed, looking at students work in an ongoing assessment mode, and initiating transitions from one step to the next. For example, most classes will need to be told that everyone needs to complete selection and begin analysis. Again, as with “do now” setting a time goal is a good idea. Selection can often be completed in 10 minutes, whereas analysis will typically take longer. By circulating around the room and viewing every student’s ongoing work, (not just those who need support,) you will have a good idea of when the class is ready to move on, and when the class needs more time. As long as everyone is working on-task, times can be flexible. For example, you might find that the time you set for analysis is up, but that most students are still working on it. You could say, “I’m pleased how well all of you are working on your analysis. I have observed good progress in your work. I see that if we take a little more time on this step you will all be able to complete excellent analyses, so please keep working. You are working so well, I don’t mind giving you the extra time.” This accomplishes two things. First, you are encouraging and complimenting their effort. Second, you are connecting their good effort to the results they have achieved: they are getting good results because of the hard work they are doing. This in itself is valuable. You always want your students to work hard and achieve much.

In most situations, less teacher talk is better. When you talk less, students have the opportunity to do more. This puts them in the position of having to assume more responsibility for their learning, and that is the best approach.

What is Musicianship?

2011Symposium_1_2Musicianship is one of those words that is used frequently but thought about rarely. As music teachers, we want our students to acquire musicianship, but we don’t necessarily spend much time specifically teaching it. Much of the time we are teaching skills, and then assuming musicianship will automatically follow. But it is often the case in education that the transfers of knowledge we think students will make on their own go unnoticed. Often, it is necessary for us to guide students through the transfer of knowledge from one application to another, or from one level of proficiency to the next. So it is with transferring skills to the practice of musicianship.

When I was an undergraduate at a major music conservatory, there was one weekly class I had to attend every semester for all four years. The name of the class was “musicianship.” Students signed up to play for a master class taught by a distinguished professor with the whole school watching. Several students would perform each week, and through it all we saw and heard how to shape musical phrases into performances that were pleasing, expressive and even passionate. What we did not learn in that class were fingerings, bowings, and what notes to play. That was not part of learning musicianship. Learning to play musically was the purpose of the class called “musicianship.”.

Implicit in this view is that musicianship is the highest level of musical thinking and performing—it is what elite players domusic_words_large to cause their performances to be outstanding above the rest. Musicianship cannot be thought of as only what a musician does, because some of what a musician does cannot be considered practicing musicianship. Knowing how to play, and practicing fingerings, notes, and other things must precede practicing musicianship, but technical matters of playing an instrument do not come up to the bar of what musicianship is. Knowing what to play is not included in musicianship, but knowing how to play and playing that way, does demonstrate musicianship.

So far I have defined musicianship in the realm of musical performance only, but musicianship can also be demonstrated by any act of music making. These include composing, improvising, and listening. In our Western art music tradition, composers create the master plan that the performers will follow during rehearsals and concerts. Because the composer imagines what the work will sound like when performed, all of the benefits of musicianship must come into play during the composing process. Phrasings and expressive details must be planned and executed in the writing of the music, and so requires musicianship. The composer builds a musical structure that the performers will animate with physical sound. Listeners then receive that sound, and must apprehend the structure and all that the composer and performers have expressed, and come to a hearing of the piece that includes the composer’s intent, the performers’ intent, and through the listeners’ own experience and musicianship, understandings of both. Listeners’ musicianship is apparent from the way they recognize musical patterns, respond emotionally to music, and remember motifs, themes, phrases and melodies. Musicianship is practiced wherever knowledge, skill, and artistic sensitivity, to borrow from the Random House Dictionary, are brought to bear on an act of music making.

When we are teaching students solfege, ear training, instrumental technique, sight-singing or any other musical skill, we are not teaching them musicianship, but instead preparing them to make music with musicianship. There is nothing particularly musical in an artistic sense of the singing that is done in an ear training class, or the music that is played in an early level instrument lesson. Though music is being made, it is not necessarily musical. This is because musicianship has not yet been applied to the skill of producing pitches and rhythms. Musicianship is a synthesis of music skills, accomplished in a single act of music making. We teach someone musicianship when we teach them to bring all the necessary music skills together into a performance of artistic excellence.

All In A Day

ImageHaving written lately about how things are meant to be when we follow the new music standards, I though it was time to write about how these standards look in my own classroom. I teach general music to 6 classes per day of children from three years old in the pre-kindergarten program to 13 years old who are in 8th grade. These classes also double as performing ensembles that perform in November, December, March, and April. About forty of my students participate in an after school drama program I co-teach with two colleagues where we prepare a performance of a musical comedy given in May.

As I sat at my desk today between classes, I noticed a full white board from the morning classes, and took inventory of all that was written. For 7th grade there were directions to generate and select musical ideas, write a plan for organizing those ideas into a musical work, make a musical work using the plan, evaluate the musical work, revise and refine it, and present. A list of ways to use ideas, including repetition, parallelism, variety, and tension/release was also there. For first grade there were the first 4 notes of the beginning of  Brahms’ 4th symphony which the children continued with original ideas by solo singing what they thought the next pitch should be. In the middle were tonal patterns for reading audition, and down the right side was the objective for each class. While every student had not performed perfectly, it was gratifying to see all that they had attempted, and to reflect on how most had succeeded. Not written on the board were the pitches and rhythms that the 5th graders had sight sung, and the new song we had analyzed together and that I had helped them begin to learn how to sing.

After taking note of all of this, I erased the center of the board and put a list of five songs and pieces up, along with three questions: What in this song interests you? What do you know about this song? What do you think the composer was trying to express with this music? The students had to select one of the songs or pieces before they heard any of them, just based on my description. They then wrote answers to the three questions in response to their selection, and then shared their answers with the class. Students had the chance to question the presenter about the selection or their experience of it.

Over the course of the day, my students were working on many of the new standards. The fifth graders worked on the perform standard when they analyzed the music they were learning, rehearsed, evaluated and refined their performance, and practiced sight singing. The seventh graders  worked on the create standards when they generated musical ideas, interpreted their own ideas, selected musical ideas from those they generated to include in a musical work, and wrote a plan of how they would use those ideas. Some of the students also wrote down their ideas in traditional notation, organized according to the plan they had made. The first graders worked on the create standard as they found pitches that would be a good continuance of a motif I provided. They then read their ideas notated on the board, and at their request, took home a photocopy of the finished melody, which they were very proud of. The sixth graders worked on the respond standard, working on the select portion by identifying their interest in, knowledge of, and interpretation of music to which they listened. If they were going to perform the music, they also would have determined if the selection was within or close to their ability.

Because assessment is so important in education today, and because I often hear music teachers say that music is subjective and cannot be measured, I would like to point out that everything my students did today was assessable. Sight reading and singing can be assessed on rubrics. Musical ideas can be assessed on a checklist—how many were generated, and did they express what the composer intended. The plans can also be assessed on a rubric for clarity and detail. Plans that were scored highest specified details such as what order ideas would be placed in, which ideas would be combined, and what instruments would play them. Plans that scored lowest were vague, or provided irrelevant information. The first graders were assessed on participation, and evaluation comments made after decisions were made. “Do you like that choice of notes?” First graders often can’t explain why some notes sound better than others, but they can recognize the differences and it was good for the young composers to do so. For example, at one point they made a tritone and disliked it, but then liked it when a child in the class remembered that do comes after ti and so formed a resolution. The questions the 6th grade students answered can be assessed on content.

I have all of the new music standards posted at the front of my classroom. I do this for me, so that I always have them there to remind me of where my focus needs to be. The students know they are there and are welcome to read them, but they are there mainly for me. With selecting, analyzing, interpreting, practicing, refining, and presenting for performing, creating, and responding as the skeleton of all my teaching, I am not apt to become careless and lapse into just singing songs. There’s always more to teaching music than that.