Browsing Tag music

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What the U.S. Presidents Taught Us About Project-Based Learning

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Right now I’m grading papers that my elementary students wrote about what they learned in music class. I used to give a multiple choice test, but these one-page essays tell me a lot about what these students have learned (which is helpful when giving grades). One student wrote,

We made a song in GarageBand. It’s called U.S. Presidents. We learned about what websites we should use and if we have to give credit and learned rhythm and tempo.

Awesome, right!? The 4th/5th music standards in California are pretty dry. Actually, most content standards are pretty dry. Our textbook does not sweeten them up much. So this year, I composed songs with my music students as a way to teach them about rhythm, tempo, melody, song form, etc. In past years, I composed short pieces of music with my students, but limited the lesson to one 40-minute class period. This year, we spent four class periods working on a song, from writing lyrics and melodies to adding instrumentation and choosing a song form (chorus/verse).

After reading through what my students wrote, it’s apparent that project-based learning helped students actually learn the material. Not only did they take ownership of this song, but the content stuck. They really do understand all that stuff–eighth notes, half rests, repeats, phrasing. And it wasn’t just a more effective way to teach, it was also more enjoyable (for them and for me!).

There’s a bigger lesson that I learned, though. By working on a project, there are so many other important things that I am able to teach. We decided to create a music video to accompany each song, so I (as the music teacher) explained creative commons, giving credit, and being respectful online. This seems like an eduawesome way to teach digital citizenship. As we created the video, I could talk with them about pacing, types of shots, and telling a story visually. Suddenly, all these artistic concepts melded into one project. I’m hoping that the Common Core is going to push us in this direction. Projects seem to be a perfect fit–narrower (less content) and deeper (projects). In this one project, each music class learned about composition, digital citizenship, video editing, and their own content area, which ranged from adding fractions to human body systems. This will definitely be a project that I will be repeating next year!

Christopher Cross & The Metronome

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Christopher Cross & The Metronome

Back when I worked at a recording studio full-time, I had an unexpected opportunity to work on recordings for Christopher Cross‘ live show. I was expecting to meet a washed-up 80s pop star with a falsetto timbre and a lack of musical ability. Instead, I met the best guitar player I’ve ever heard. (To be fair, he does have a higher voice.) I was used to spending about three hours per song per guitar track when recording. Christopher Cross played it perfectly in one take. Unreal talent. Unreal.

At some point in the day, everyone happened to be out of the control room (the place where you click record) except for me and Christopher Cross. So I meekly began, “Um, you’re the best guitar player I’ve ever heard. How do you do it?” Keep in mind two things: 1) I was a guitar major in college and I’m pretty good at it; 2) I never, ever talk to famous people about how/why they’re famous. He’s graciously and quietly replied,

I love the metronome.

THAT’S IT?? That’s the key to playing guitar better than anyone on the planet? After thinking about this for years, and now having taught music to elementary students for three years, I think  he’s right. Here’s why.

The most important part of playing music is rhythm (when you actually play the note). If the rhythm is off, everything is off. Playing along with something that has a steady tempo (a recording, keyboard, drum machine, or  metronome) is the best way to play your own instrument with a steady tempo.

A metronome simply clicks at a consistent beat. Beginning musicians can usually play along with the cd that came with their book, and emerging musicians often play along with cds to practice. There’s a huge problem with this–it only has one tempo. If that’s too fast, and it will be when you’re learning a song, you never play it correctly. Use a metronome to practice at a slower tempo, and you can slowly and steadily increase the tempo.

There are several options for buying a metronome: use Web Metronome if you’re near a computer, or buy Metronome+ for $2. It is flexible with tons of customization, portable, and well worth the money. I use Metronome+ with my band students, and they can actually play together. It may be completely out of tune, but the rhythm is accurate. As they progress, they will have a solid foundation. In a sense, I’m helping foster a new generation of little Christopher Crosses.