Friday, April 30, 2010

Misuse of "Band"

By Mark T. Burke

Good morning Mrs. Gibson, I would like to introduce you to Ms. Rinard, our "Band Director" here at Sonestown Elementary."

REWIND....our "Band Director" ???

Ok, so maybe Ms. Rinard should be flattered.  Historically, being a Band Director brought with it a certain level of prestige.  Fast forward to 2010 and I'm not convinced that labeling school music teachers as "Band Directors" is a good thing.

Here's another example of how the term "Band" can be misused.

"The 5th period bell rings.  Rebecca enters the classroom.  Rebecca's teacher says,  

"Hi Rebecca, here's an overview of what we'll be working on during class since I know you have Band Lessons this period."

Every time I hear this phrase, I picture Rebecca going to the Band Room to learn how to be a Band member.  I envision her learning how to sit up straight, placing both feet flat on the floor and learning how to raise her instrument when the Band Director raises their baton.  I picture her trying on her Band uniform just to make sure it fits properly with her pants hemmed to JUST the right length.  Maybe I've read to many Harry L. Dinkle strips.

The use of the term "Band" is out of control.  We need to reign it in immediate to avoid loosing all credibility.  So let's clear up some misconceptions.

First, I did not go to college to major in "Band."
I did not graduate with a degree in "Band."
When I was in high school, I did not go home and practice "Band."
I was called a Band Geek in school -- wait, that's a fact not a misconception..and it still hurts!
My mother did not yelled down the stairs -- "Stop Playing BAND and come to dinner."

Band is an ensemble...yes...hold your ears.  A BAND, is a group of people, BANNED together to perform music.

I think we all know that "Band" means something much more than Band.  Confused must not be a Band member.  I'll go a bit slower.  See "Band" can be considered as a spiritual thing whereas Band is a label used to describe a certain type of musical ensemble.  I think this is where some have become accepting, comfortable even, with the 20th century use of Band.  Now that I think about it, maybe "Band" is a good thing, a higher level of existence even.  Focus Mark...

Here are a few ways to rethink the use of "Band." 
  • Students do not go to Band Lessons.  They participate in "Instrumental Music" lessons.
  • Students are not taught by Band Directors.  Band directing is an activity that some music teachers are skilled at.  When participating in the activity of Band, the person at the front of the room, normally holding a baton can be called, the "Band Director."  When this person is not in front of the Band, they are more appropriately called an Instrumental Music Instructor, or Teacher of Instrumental Music, or Director of Instrumental Music.
  • Oh, here's a biggy.  There is no such thing as "Band Class."  I shiver when I hear that one.
I think that totally clears up this issue.  I now expect a worldwide shift to the proper use of the term Band.
Do you have examples of how the term "Band" is misused.  Let us know...and have some fun too!  :-)   

Visit viaAcademies today to learn how we can help you improve your Band with online Band lessons and Band curriculum.  We can even show you how to create a flexible and affordable Summer Band program.  Band is fun!  Take it online with viaAcademies and help your students, Make Music Click! (Darn, I forgot the rules....)     

Thursday, April 29, 2010

I Just Needed A Credit...So I Took Music!

By Mark T. Burke

Ouch -- that hurts.  I've heard this statement frequently unfortunately.  During my tenure as a public school teacher, I would hear high school students bragging about their "easy" schedules filled with blow off classes that included some music class.  The conversations I overheard took place between peers and almost always included one asking the other, "So what do you do in that class?".  The answer was normally, "NOTHING."  We just sit around and listen to boring music (or something equality engaging from their point of view). 

During my 12 years working in virtual schools , I saw way too many students, faced with a need to earn enough credits to graduate from high school, choose music as the "quick and easy option." Far too often, music courses are viewed as nothing more than filler classes.  But, for sure, they don't have to be. 

Now it may be easy to say, "Mark, you just need to get out more."  I'm not a globetrotter, but I do speak to many school officials, teachers, educational leaders and the like.  There is a common philosophy among many of them and that is that arts credits, including music are just needed for graduation.  No discussion on the value of the experience, no value found in the application of the creative process or no vision that students may actually be able to enjoy music courses exists in many people I've talked to in the past.   

This is all sounding a bit too depressing, so here's a challenge.  How about we identify the top 20 things that ensure music classes will be nothing more than credit fillers?  Sounds like a great place to start and it will get us all talking rather than you just listening to me.  I'll get the ball rolling by adding 5 of my own thoughts then, you can help by adding your own items.  Deal?  My thinking is that once we develop this list, we can all take an introspective look at the music courses we provide, regardless of format, delivery or level, to ensure they don't align to the items on our list.  This list will become ours, a community dedicated to ensuring music's place in our lives and education grows.  Here we go.

The Top 20 Worst Traits of Music Courses.
  1. The course focuses on the birthdays (and death dates) of composers.
  2. Activities revolve around "dropping the needle" asking student to identify the composers of a composition in 5 bars or less.
  3. The teacher says, no less than 5 times per class, "These are the CLASSICS.  Appreciate them like your great grandparents did."   
  4. Trochee, Trochee, Iamb.  (I had to add this.  Eurythmics was a frightening experience for me).
  5. The course is a "hands-off" course where students sit at their desks for 40 minutes, unengaged!  
  6. add
  7. add
  8. add
  9. add
  10. add
  11. add
  12. add
  13. add
  14. add
  15. add
  16. add
  17. add
  18. add
  19. add
  20. add
It's your turn. Let's identify the top 20 most horrifying aspects of music classes.  Our goal is to eliminate students choosing music just because "they needed a credit."



Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Standards for Online Teaching: Do they really tell us what a great teacher is?

By Mark T. Burke

I want everyone to try a little experiment.  Grab a coloring book.  Yes, a coloring book. Borrow one of your kid's or go out and buy one.  Remember to get crayons or markers too.  Now grab some type of timing device, a stop watch, clock, etc.  Pick one of the pages and make a copy (we'll use the copy later), start the timer and begin coloring.  Oh, and make sure you can't see the timer while you're coloring....and make sure it doesn't make a tic-toc sound, we aren't in the final round on Jeopardy.

When you're satisfied with your work, stop the timer, record your time and admire the results.  Place your creation in a location where no one else can see it. Now, recruit a friend, give them the copy of the same picture and have them complete the same process.  After they finish, tell them to stop the timer, record their time and bring their creation to you. Now compare the times for both.  Compare the pictures.  Are they exactly the same?  Most likely not.  Is one picture more vibrant than the other?  Maybe.  What about the times?  Did one of you take considerably longer than the other?  Why?  It's the same picture.  Why would it take one person longer than the other?  Did you both stay within the lines? Come on, be honest here!

This little experiment demonstrates how I think about the standards for online teaching.  The standards are represented by the black and white lines on the coloring book page.  The standards provide the guidelines to "stay within."  Like the coloring book, if we stay within the guidelines of the online teaching standards, the end result will resemble what the expected outcome should be. For our coloring book page, we should have a creation that's more pleasing to look at with added color and details. For online teaching, following the standards should result in successfully helping kids.

Just like our experiment though, the guidelines leave a ton of room for interpretation.  Look back at the two pictures created by you and your friend.  They are most likely very different.  The nuances are different, the use of color is different.  In fact, one of your pictures may be beautiful while the other one could even be...ugly!

Now I am not saying we don't need standards.  Having standards for everything now-a-days has become...well...standard.  I actually think standards do help us.  They aren't intended to set "minimum requirements." Standards give us the "buckets" we should be filling across areas of our profession.  Before we go further, what are the standards for online teaching?

One group has surfaced as the true leader in online teaching standards.  

SREB:  Standards for Quality Online Teaching

The SREB standards have also been adopted as the iNACOL standards as well, found here in their own guide and scoring document.

I confess.  When I read the standards and look at the documents, I cringe a bit.  These documents make teaching online sound cold and calculated.  The "score" column in the iNacol document could be talked about for hours by itself.  But those are different topics for different days.

I cringe because I believe if we take these documents literally, teaching becomes mechanical.  Our experiment proves that even with guidelines, the end results of two different people can be dramatically different.  These documents leave out the ART added through the skills of the professional online educator.

So what's missing and how can we fill that gap?  There are a few areas that I think really need to be brought out more and emphasized.

First:  A great online teacher will LIVE the life of an online teacher.  The true art of online teaching is how well teachers integrate their skills, outlined well in the standards but not tied together all so clearly.  How do they exemplify this skill.  It boils down to their openness in all communications, keeping communications flowing naturally through various means (email, electronic publishing, telephone, chat, social media etc).  Yes, I believe great online teachers embrace and live the life of a professional, online, openly sharing and communicating WITHOUT prompting.  They do so to and with their students, fellow teachers, school administrators and colleagues at large.  Great online teachers are "out and about" on the web, not hidden behind their computers just treating online teaching as a second job, or a checklist of things to be done.

Second:  A great online teacher needs only advice, not constant pushing to learn new things.  A colleague of mine says it well.  "Teachers should be able to teach themselves."  I agree.  Being a great online teacher means being a self motivated learner who willingly and eagerly learns new things. An online teacher should never have to be told twice to learn a new piece of software, or how to establish communications with students and staff.  In fact, as an administrator, I expect to be pushed BY the online teachers on our team.  I want them sending me things every day regarding how new applications are helping the education of kids or links to blogs that provide great professional development opportunities.  The desire to learn and the desire to teach should be so strong that they form a cycle where no start and stop point can be detected.

Third:  A great online teacher should replace the need for a marketing team.  I know this will be controversial and maybe I am being a bit too blue sky here.  My point is that great online teachers should take the opportunity to help kids everywhere, any time.  To do so, they will go out and recruit and seek opportunities to help students.  Online teachers have significant differences from brick and mortar teachers, and this area demonstrates a BIG difference.  The bell doesn't ring in an online school, automatically releasing students from their previous class and sending them off to another.  The mentality of "the bell will ring and the kids will come" is NOT present in great online teachers.  Successful online teachers think about DRAWING students to their class.  Bells push kids toward classrooms.  Great online teachers act like magnets, attracting students to their classes.  For sure, all great online academies can only be successful if the teachers are part of the draw to bring students in, to form the learning community and to help students reach their dreams.

Do standards really tell us what a great online teacher is?  They give us the foundation, the "buckets" as I mentioned above, to fill.  What I've outlined here will help fill the gaps between just "meeting the standards" and creating an incredibly dynamic instructional team.

What traits should online teachers demonstrate?  Are you an online teacher?  How have you used the standards to help you in your efforts?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Music Ed Needs eLearning...NOW! -- Part 3

By Mark T. Burke

Over the last few posts, I've covered several educational trends that demonstrate our immediate need for eLearning in music education.  These trends are not "on the horizon", they are here, now!

Post 1 covered:
Trend #1 -- K-12 Online Course and Program Enrollments Rising.
Trend #2 -- Year-Round School

Post 2 covered:
Trend #3 -- The Social Revolution and 21st Century Skills

This 3rd and final post in this series will cover Trend #4 -- Niche Program Elimination and Music Program Cuts.

We all know schools have to make difficult decisions regarding balancing their budgets.  When administrators and boards are faced with a declining pool of money, change is inevitable.  To understand how tough decisions are made, it's important to ask yourself how you would make tough decisions for your school.  If you have $10,000 to spend at your school and 2 programs would cost $15,000 to run, what would you do?  Would you limit the abilities of both programs to ensure both could continue in some way shape or form. Or, would you cut one program to ensure the other could flourish? Certainly another option, keep both programs and raise the $5000 on your own.

How would you make this decision? What would you base your decision ON?

While you're thinking about how you would make this decision, think about the information you would use to HELP you make that decision.  Would you need statistics, public polls, school performance reports, industry surveys, college entrance exam data etc.?  Those pieces sound like a great place to start.

Music programs often fall into a category of niche programs considered "icing", "fluff", "electives."  In most cases, few if any of the data sets above will connect to a music program UNLESS the program has spent time making the connection.  This is where music needs eLearning. 

Through the process of building a strong eLearning Music program, music education is lifted to a higher level of importance, relevance and quality.  Why is this needed?  Because the more music professionals continue the "we can't cut music, because music is important" speech without data, without really making the case for music education, the more we are viewed as over-passionate artists with little more than emotion behind our claims.  Above all, we must show that music education IS education, with standards, that can be assessed, with real benefits, benefits that help students grow into productive, contributing citizens.

At viaAcademies, we spent countless hours thinking through how to teach kids - period, not just teach them music.  Focusing on quality pedagogy is the key to developing a program that has real value.  Once you've done that, it becomes easier to connect music programs to the real world.  I can think of many educational benefits of music including,
  • Setting personal goals, dedicating time, energy and resources to reach those goals.
  • Establishing the ability to be introspective, to analyze self and to compare a clear personal view with real world expectations. (Am I doing what I am supposed to be doing at the level expected of me).
  • Mixing intellectual skills with creative abilities to form solutions, answers, and opportunities.
  • Performing as an individual in an effort to build a team.
  • etc.
But how can we as professionals really demonstrate these skills?  By highlighting them, bringing them to the attention of the community, and not just through student performances.  Imagine having all of your instrumental students demonstrate their performance level 30+ times per year through individual, recorded pieces WITH your comments and suggestions for improvement.  Imagine having documented proof that your students meet over 200+ benchmarks.  Imagine demonstrating when students go home, they are working and connecting with educational content and communicating regarding their educational experiences (ie - their not just spending hours Googling). Would this increase the value of your program?  YES it would.

To wrap up, I think music often gets cut because we as music professionals don't think like other subject areas. By ensuring our programs are in clear vision all year, by ensuring our students are making progress in and out of the classroom, by communicating, by sharing in every way possible, we bring positive attention to our programs.  eLearning is a piece to that puzzle.  You don't have to be creative to figure out how to integrate eLearning anymore, just knock on our door.

Thanks for reading this series.  I look forward to your continued support and comments.  

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Music Ed Needs eLearning...NOW! - Part 2

By Mark T. Burke

If you haven't read Part 1, point your mouse here to review the first in this series of articles on the impact and opportunities created by several current educational trends. Article 1 covered the following:

Trend #1 -- K-12 Online Course and Program Enrollments Rising.
Trend #2 -- Year-Round School

In this article, I'll focus on Trend #3 -- The Social Revolution and 21st Century Skills.

21st Century Skills and the Social Media Revolution go hand in hand.  After all, a bulk of the technology and communication skills we all use today revolve around communicating in some form or another.  The largest shift in the way we communicate is certainly the infusion of Social Media. Therefore, 21st Century Skills = Social Media Skills.  What are 21st Century Skills?  Check out the following.

iNACOL's National Design Standards for Online Courses (See last Section on 21st Skills)
The Partnership for 21st Century Skills

The most important takeaways are:
  • Students will use information to make decisions
  • Students will have access to global information, to be informed citizens
  • Students will be self directed learners, choosing their learning path
  • Students will be communicative individuals, reaching out, sharing, successfully conveying their message
  • Students will manage their time to ensure learning and life mix
Looking at each of these, it is easy to see just how much we can learn by applying Social Media's impact.

  • Students will use information to make decisions -- where do we all get much of our information today?
    • Social Media
  • Students will have access to global information, to be informed citizens -- where do we sort through, choose and absorb global information?
    • Social Media
  • Students will be self directed learners, choosing their learning path -- where do we make choices about who we connect with, what resources we choose to interact with each and every day, and what news feeds are important to us?
    • Social Media
  • Students will be communicative individuals, reaching out, sharing, successfully conveying their message -- where do we spend the bulk of our online time including personal communication efforts?
    • Social Media
  • Students will manage their time to ensure learning and life mix -- where has life and information mixed more than any other technology resource available?
    • Social Media
So what can we learn from the Social Media revolution?  I've learned that kids can choose media wisely, they do know how to find what they want, they will share what is valuable to them, they want to consume other's media if it is good, they share A LOT, they want to be creative, they want to offer feedback, they are not media mode centric - ie - limit themselves to one type of media, they learn from others, are generally open to the view of others, and on and on....    

Enter Music.  The web has given music a new "tag."  Music, certainly is an art, but is also,  now more than ever -- media, to be absorbed, shared, and talked about.  There's no better time than now to embrace the impact music is having on our lives, and the lives of our youth and HARNESS that impact to build new and exciting music educational opportunities.  How?  Through eLearning.

How can we, as educators, harness the points made in the blue paragraph above?  Here's a quick view of how eLearning combines aspects of Social Media and 21st Century Skills for music education.

The days of students being isolated in music class, learning the birth dates of composers needs to end.  Students can and should be given hands-on opportunities to apply historically significant and elemental studies of music to their own creations.  They should have the ability to share those creations, and freely gain feedback from their teachers, their peers, their families and their community. They should experience the ease with which music can be personally created using readily available software and inexpensive digital instruments.  Most importantly, they should have access to musical content and information when and where they need it.  

We do need eLearning -- NOW!  

For additional information on how viaAcademies can help you, your students or your school deliver quality eLearning programs, send an email to

Monday, April 12, 2010

Band, Bullies and....Bosses?

By Mark T. Burke

As a rather backward kid growing up, Band was my refuge. I could count on the time I spent in Band being free from the torments and name calling of school bullies. Back then, I always thought the security came from all the Band members being "alike", kindred spirits even.  I guess as kids, it's easy to have utopian thoughts.  The reality is, Bands are made up of incredibly diverse individuals, just as diverse as a school's general  population.  In fact, even Bands have bullies among the members. But there IS a difference. What makes Band a safe haven for those who are normally ridiculed, a place where even the spirited bully steps back in line? And what can adults, those who are leaders (Bosses) learn from Bands? Let's take a look.

Band members are committed to the TEAM, the collective effort.  Within the ranks, they recognize, appreciate and EMBRACE the fact that Band members can be both strong and weak, timid and bold, confident and shy, older and younger, creative and analytical. Band members by nature step past a concern regarding all the differences between members and immediate chip away at how they, as a group, will achieve success.  They enter into their challenge to be the best GROUP they can be by assuming the difference will add to their collective abilities rather than distract from them.  Band members coach each other, support each other, lift those that struggle more often than succeed and count on those who excel. Those who have to work hard, learn to work hard. Those who jump to the front as leaders, learn to lead, give others confidence and push them toward a new standard.

Take that entire paragraph and add the words "Bullies don't" to the beginning of each sentence. This new paragraph explains why bullying is a behavior and NOT just a person. In Band, bullying is not rewarded. Why, because the behavior goes against everything I said in the paragraph above.

As we get older though, our "Band" changes into the workplace.  At the workplace, the rules would seem to be different.  It's sad to think that as we grow, we forget about the really valuable lessons we've learned from our youthful experiences.  In many offices today, right now in fact, people are being bullied.  How?

Their bosses :
  • Have forgotten their responsibility to commit to the TEAM and the collective effort.  
  • Do not recognize, appreciate and EMBRACE the fact that Staff members can be both strong and weak, timid and bold, confident and shy, older and younger, creative and analytical. 
  • Have not fostered an environment where Staff members step past a concern regarding all the differences between members and immediate chip away at how they, as a group, will achieve success.  
  • Have not created a culture where Staff enter into their challenge to be the best GROUP they can be by assuming the difference will add to their collective abilities rather than distract from them.  
  • Have not fostered the self management of the Staff to ensure they coach each other, support each other, lift those that struggle more often than succeed and count on those who excel. 
  • Have not supported initiative in those who have to work hard to learn to work hard. 
  • Have not allowed those who can jump to the front as leaders, to learn to lead, to give others confidence and push them toward a new standard.
Band, Bullies and...Bosses?  We can learn so much from being in Band.

To learn how viaAcademies can help you build a stronger music program, contact us today for a demo of our innovative, online instrumental music courses and our upcoming general music course.  Email us today at   

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Music Ed Needs eLearning...NOW!

By Mark T. Burke

It's time to get us all talking about feasible, educationally sound, economically sensible approaches to ensuring the survival of music education during these times of change.  If you've been heads down, focused on concert prep and the school musical season, you may not be aware of several "initiatives" or trends that are affecting our art TODAY.  As a collective, we can't spend time wondering IF these trends will impact music programs, they are and will continue to do so.  We also need to think less about combating these trends and spend more time mapping out the opportunities they provide for our students.  As a result, I am convinced, when we think about how we can continue to evolve as music educators, we will develop incredible programs for students, leaving little time to worry about the self-created negative impacts some believe these trends have on music education.

One last thought before we look at the trends is as the title of this posts suggests, more than ever, music education needs eLearning, NOW! For this first in a series of posts, I'll look at the first two trends listed.  My next post will cover the others. Stay tuned and keep reading this week.  I look forward to your feedback.  

Trend #1 -- K-12 Online Course and Program Enrollments Rising.
Trend #2 -- Year-Round School
Trend #3 -- The Social Revolution and 21st Century Skills
Trend #4 -- Niche Program Elimination and Music Program Cuts

Trend #1 -- K-12 Online Course and Program Enrollments Rising.

For the past 15+ years, K-12 eLearning has been devoted to providing students with core subjects.  In the early days of eLearning, students on the fringe, those who really excelled and those who struggled, enrolled in online courses. Today, the demographics of K-12 online students are as diverse as the students who attend brick and mortar schools.

Virtual schools are witnessing a growth rate in enrollments of 30% annually.  Take a look at the iNacol Fast Facts for more statistics.  How long until that 30% increase year-over-year removes students from our music programs and places them into online schools?  It's happening now.  Band and chorus programs may feel they are safe, but are they?  As students move to online schools, general music classes are absolutely impacted.  Online course catalogs have few if any music offerings.  Often, the offerings are weak representations of what is needed in regards to music education.  Remember, music has not been the focus of online programs.  Online music courses for K-12 students are more than often limited survey courses, filled with composer birth dates, providing little hands on musical opportunities for students. As students have less background in music, all types of music programs are affected.  (Certainly, providing online instrumental or vocal lessons to virtual students is not the norm.  Thus the creation of viaAcadmies.) 

Will a 30% increase year of year impact your music department?  I say the impact has started, let's not wait for the negative side effects.  Is it time for QUALITY online music programs?  Absolutely.        

Trend #2 -- Year-Round School

In PA, we're hearing more and more about year-round school.  The old model of "summers off" has been the topic of school board discussions and of course, finding it's way into the local headlines.  The discussions on this subject started to spread from the national level with President Obama's message of "longer days ensures our students can compete." 

When I first started teaching, in the early 90's, school-based, summer music lessons seemed to be the norm.  Maybe it was just my little circle I traveled in, but, overall, I knew few programs that were not providing summer band lessons at the school for little or no cost to the families.  For sure, the teachers where being under paid, but the time was spent to ensure students could continue growing over the summer.  I see less programs like that today.  Logistics, such as busy families, mandated teacher training, limited budgets etc. have created nightmares for summer programs.  My point is, as music educators, we already know the value of a longer, more continuous school year.  We've been managing year round programs for years.  Based on our own past, we should not be resistant to longer school years.  Where we need help is to solve the logistics of year round programs.

The broader school systems are no different. As we debate year-round school, thinking about the issue from an "infrastructure" perspective gives year-round school opponents a good case against it.  Having a physical location open year-round causes great strain on our tight tax-based budgets. I am certain as we wisely think about how to provide year-round school, we will see an even larger growth in online K-12 enrollments due to smart school decisions to integrate online solutions.  Smart schools will quickly realize extending the school day and year can be done virtually, creating opportunities rather than significantly greater burdens on the community to keep school buildings, buses and cafeterias open 52 weeks a year.

As music educators, embracing year-round school through online offerings carves a niche for us as leaders in year-round education best practices.  We need to be leaders in areas like this, to help ensure schools recognize the value of music education, the expertise of the teachers and to ensure music can continue to impact all our lives.  

In my next post, we will look at Trend #3 and #4.  As you consider the impacts of these trends, think about how your program can be positively enriched.  Your reaction to these trends can either be resistance or acceptance through recognized opportunity.

Have you witnessed an impact on your program as the result of these trends or others?  How do you think eLearning will help address the opportunities your program may have as a result of these trends?

For more information on viaAcademies Instrumental and General Music eLearning solutions, write to us today at 

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Out-Of-Tune Rule the World...A Rant.

By Mark T. Burke

I've noticed a phenomenon, if a player plays out of tune, they never experiencing the PAIN and AGONY of playing with someone who is...out of tune.  In fact, they seem a bit clueless.  I've tried wincing, putting the tuner on my stand 100 times per hour to check my own intonation, confused looking glances directed toward the other player etc, all too subtle obviously.  More than a handful of good musicians have had to endure the frustration of being teamed up with another musician who can't play in tune.  Inevitably, the good musician is the one who suffers.  The one who plays out of tune, leaves the gig happy, in fact pleased about their performance.  Meanwhile, the "tuned up" member leaves 100% frustrated, exhausted due to the constant adjustments needed to "attempt" to play in tune with the other person.

Life as a musician is not always fair...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Musical Exploration Teaches More than Overly Structured Lessons

By Mark T. Burke

Give a student a computer with GarageBand or MixCraft running and just step back. That's right, step back and witness the true power of "Exploratory Learning."  Don't be tempted to tell them about all the bells and whistles, just let them explore and learn.  Treat the application like the digital canvas that it is. Now, if the student is intimidated, jump in, get them rolling, but know WHEN to stop talking and leave them go. You'll know when it's time to close your mouth by the student's eyes. When their eyes start looking around the screen and their ears turn off to whatever you are saying, let momentum take them the rest of the way.

Both programs provide a ton of exploratory learning lessons. If a student simply uses the loops library to listen to a variety of examples, they will be learning how music of various genres have similar characteristics. Imagine trying to teach a student the differences between acoustic or electronic instruments through a variety of examples?  Both programs can provide that resource with well organized libraries of sounds and loops in various styles, instrument types and even moods.

We know students need structure though.  Our upcoming courses called "Exploring Music with GarageBand" and "Exploring Music with MixCraft" will provide supporting content and course structure yet we've worked very hard to keep the learning open and exploratory.  The evaluation of the student work will remain objective and non-judgemental. In fact, we're starting a new trend -- this course will be 100% accessed with projects, no written multiple choice tests.  Rest assured, we will be providing rubrics for our teachers or school teachers to use for assessing the student work.  School teachers can also be trained on how to develop their own project files, as examples, as a way to explore and learn more about the programs for themselves.

Students can use these amazing programs to explore voicing, dynamics, rhythm combinations and more.  Imagine a rock band with bagpipes! Who are we as educators to say that would be bad.  Throughout the learning process, exploration and experimentation should be fostered.

If you're looking for a hands on, easily accessible course for general music, or to teach your American History students how to make use of tools like GarageBand and MixCraft, setup a demo with us today.  Email me, Mark at