sing your life
 
I have a confession to make: this past week, I taught a poetry unit based on music and rap, and my class actually loved learning. I didn't dare supplant, but I decided that the texts I'm required to use were lacking, especially in the rhythm and music department. I know how important a real musical education is from personal experience: I would have missed out on a quality education if I had not been in choir and orchestra from elementary through high school. Now, as a non-music teacher, I have to make every effort to bring music back into the public education system, with little or no help from parents or the district.

As a few of my sixth graders get ready to start another year in band, I thought about the 25 out of 31 who are not getting the musical experience that comes with the pull-out program. My ability to teach with music is limited, since the school I teach at is in Full Implementation Program Improvement, which is just one step short of scripted lessons. I have been putting together resources for lessons that correspond and supplement what I already have to teach. Yet, I feel like I'm leaving a very important aspect out of the whole that comes with musical training-- the actual use of a musical instrument, whether it is a voice or a man-made piece.

The Internet is not enough to teach or learn music theory effectively. As I was watching PS22 Chorus for inspiration, I realized that music needs to be experienced through several senses.  One needs to not only hear music, but if one can move to, touch, see, or even smell instruments that make music, the brain can wrap around such an abstract thing. If I were to present music theory to students using a cello, I would not only show them a photo of a cello, or play a recording, but also try to have them experiment with a real instrument. Students need more than just one option when learning a new concept, so using only the Internet to teach music theory would not be recommended. With that said, I've decided to review two websites that could be used to incorporate music into the non-music class, two sites that have been part of my PLC for over a year now, but never given much thought to.

MusicTheory
leans more toward the behaviorist philosophy of teaching because it really only requires stimulus or imitation response, using vision and nothing else. According to Skinner’s behaviorist view, children acquire their first language by stimulus response connections, or imitation and reinforcement, which could show that music is as natural as a first language. The most obvious first language teachers of young children are mothers, who usually start singing and cooing to children during infancy. Children mimic sounds they hear, and try repeating them when a positive response is given. Any student of this site would not be able to hear the notes that are practiced through the interactive quizzes, which in my opinion, is necessary when learning notes. Unfortunately, because MusicTheory lacks sound, it is limited in teaching music theory thoroughly.

CreatingMusic
consists of more interactive options, where the user can not only see, but also hear the music that he creates. This constructivist site has games that allow the user to test and listen to what he makes using the tools provided. Because the user is constructing the meaning behind the music, the brain learns through different methodology. Unfortunately, this site isn’t a complete area in which to learn music theory, since most of the music that can be made does not have explanations for notes, key, meter, scales, or harmony. (Levitin, 17) The rhythm band game is one such area, where the user must know what pieces of percussion make what sound, and how to interweave them to make the piece sound “good.” Even though this site is less technical than MusicTheory, it is more motivating because the user can test out several sounds, rhythms, and instruments. Since I am not a music teacher, nor am I trying to teach my students music theory, I would prefer to use CreatingMusic for my students to experience music creation.

These two sites are incomplete when teaching theory individually. Together, they are more comprehensive, but do not necessarily complement each other. One seems to be written for older musicians who are studying the technical side of music, while the other is made for a younger audience, starting as young as five. Both could be used to lead to deeper understanding of music, but neither could alone teach music theory effectively. Mere exposure to music, written or heard, is not enough; interaction to trigger mind processes that mimic and comprehend deeper communication concepts are needed. On one hand, children need guidance and reinforcement to attain certain music skills. On the other, the human mind is pre-programmed to understand music and manipulate it to communicate. (Gardner, 103- 104) Both work together to lead to music attainment, and thus, require more than just Internet activities.

Music’s effects on the mind and body can be controlled in the classroom through conscious selections; using certain music for specific outcomes can elicit responses that may not otherwise occur. (Jensen, 74) Being able to understand how differing rhythms, beats, harmonies, and notes can affect my students benefits my teaching because I can stimulate creativity, sensitivity, and deeper thinking. (Jensen, 75) All in all, bringing music theory back to the non-music classroom isn't as easy as playing a song on the radio, but in today's arts-deprived public education system,  I have to start somewhere.

Resources:

Adams, R. (2000). Ricki Adams' musictheory.net. Retrieved May 13, 2009 from, http://musictheory.net

Gardner, H. (1999). Intelligence reframed. NY: Basic Books.
Jensen, E. (2008). Brain-based learning: The new paradigm of teaching. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Levitin, D. J. (2006). This is your brain on music. NY: Plume Printing
.
Skinner, B. F. (1957). Verbal behavior. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Subotnick, M. (1999). Creating Music. Retrieved May 13, 2009 from, http://creatingmusic.com/

 

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    cristina

    educator, student, yoga enthusiast, roller derby girl

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