Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Death of the "Theme Song"...There's An Activity In There!

By Mark T. Burke

"Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip..."

If you're 40+ years old, this line from one of the most famous theme songs will certainly bring back childhood memories of the scatter-brained first mate, the unlucky tourists and their vacation voyage.  Theme songs played a key role in setting the stage for TV shows for many years.  However, fewer shows rely on their power now-a-days.  You can check out the clip that inspired my post today.  TV Shows Scale Back On Theme Songs.

I did a few online searches for "theme song class projects" and "theme song music projects" etc. but didn't really find much.  So how about we bring back theme song composition skills by turning our kids loose? Having students compose theme songs is certainly complex considering they could compose the music and lyrics. Using tools like GarageBand and MixCraft however, makes the process possible.  Now, students don't have to compose themes for TV shows. How about having them compose a theme song for a high school marching band "year in review" video. You could replace marching band with any sports team actually. How about composing a theme song for a charity event or school club?  This activity would be a great way to inspire the sharing of ideas and emotions through song.

What do you think?  Have you tried something similar? Can you share any student examples?

viaAcademies' Exploring Music course teaches basic music composition using two of the leading sequencing programs, GarageBand and MixCraft. Students apply their understanding of musical elements including melody, harmony, rhythm, form, timbre, volume and pitch to the creation of original music.  In addition, students learn to alter existing musical loops to create variations and music of various forms.  viaAcademies courses integrate with brick and mortar schools, virtual schools and hybrid learning environments.  All course content is available to students 24/7. Teacher support is available to students who enroll with viaAcademies or schools can use local teachers to work with their students. Contact viaAcademies for more information and school pricing by emailing mark.burke@viaacademies.com

Monday, August 30, 2010

Be "The Engine That Moves Us Forward."

By Mark T. Burke

This morning I heard an IBM advertisement, "The Engine That Moves Us Forward".  I was struck by the simplicity of the message and energized by the hope and inspiration conveyed. Three strong words, ENGINE, MOVE and FORWARD jumped out of my radio as I listened to the NPR host read the ad.  What can the world of music education learn from the slogan of a high tech company?  Much!

As we think about our music programs, let's consider how our programs fill the role of being ENGINES, how we MOVE ourselves and those around us and to what degree are we FORWARD organizations? Here are my ideas on each.

Being An Engine:  Engine (def):  "Something used to effect a purpose" or "something that produces a particular and usually desirable result."

We need to look no further than the mission and goals of our schools to determine how successfully our music programs fill the role of being an Engine. Does you program help students meet the mission and goals of your school or district? Have you clearly thought through and communicated just how your program does this?  It's easy to get blinded by the upcoming concert prep and the demands of the marching band season.  I believe we all know we are doing what we do for purposes beyond the obvious. Take a few moments to consider your program as an Engine.

What's the MOVE?: I am certain IBM chose this word carefully. To MOVE someone is to influence them, to enlighten them, to open them to new possibilities or emotions. It's easy to forget that musical experiences are supposed to be MOVING. How many concerts have you attended, or directed, where a group performs, the audience claps on instinct at the end, another tune starts and the cycle continues? As directors, we can benefit from considering the total impact of our musical performances.  For example, a beginner band performance can be really moving for moms and dads, grandparents and other family members, but we need to help it be so. I can't possibly highlight all the ways to do so here, but it is worth saying that we often have to consider the total concert experience if we want to really move people with music. The more we move others, the more valuable music becomes in our lives and in our schools.

Are we a FORWARD organization?   It's hard to say "forward" without saying "moving forward" or "forward thinking."  I talk to many music teachers who say little has changed in their program over the years. Yet, when we talk about struggles, those certainly have changed. All organizations have to be FORWARD organizations or they will simply fade out of usefulness.  When I talk with music teachers who say, "I have to justify my program more, I have to entertain kids more, I have to ..." etc., I ask them how their program has moved forward.  I often hear responses like this.  "We've dropped in-school lessons, I no longer grade each lesson, I've stopped...." Ouch!  This is an example of a program "moving AWAY" not "moving FORWARD." Moving forward means innovating, changing, learning, growing, focusing on what works and leaving behind what doesn't, instilling new values, leaving behind old ones, listening to what our students are telling us, adapting and ensuring our art continues.

Be the Engine That Moves Us Forward. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Being "Second" Chair: Learning to FOLLOW is a needed skill

By Mark T. Burke

Every musician's dream is to become the "first" player, be it "first chair" or playing the "first part." Being "first" means we play the hardest music and more often than not, are the leaders within our section.  Yes sir, being first is the only real musical dream to have.

Now hold on a minute. What about all the other players that AREN'T "firsts?" Aren't they important? Well certainly they are.  I thought it high time to praise the "seconds" of the world and compare the lessons learned from being a second player to real life situations (for all you K-12 students and teachers out there).

Today, I re-read an Article titled "Do Something: Let's Hear It for the Little Guy", Fast Company, April 2010.  The article highlights how over-obsessed we are with becoming "leaders" and that unless we are "leaders" we often find ourselves placed into a heap of "also-rans" called "followers." WOW...this corporate themed article reflects the musical world so well that I thought it created a great concept for a post.

I had a really great experience throughout high school and college as a second trumpet player.  In fact, I played first within my own school, but at band festivals, I always played second Cornet and LOVED it. In fact, I attended the PA State Band festival for 2 years after placing 1st chair on 2nd cornet at all the preceding festivals during that time.  In college, I had a similar experience playing 2nd Cornet in most groups I played in.  I learned (or was taught) early on that my responsibility as a second player was to support the lead players. By listening and responding to the first players, I could create many great musical moments. Being second meant I had to balance the first player, play in tune with the first player, match phrasing with the first player, articulate like the first player and overall, ensure the musical moments between first and second where harmonious.  As a follower, my responsibility was to always be on guard, ready to respond when called on. If the first player was flat in the upper register and we were playing in octaves, I had to make the adjustments, that was my role.  In the end, the first player may have taken all the bows, but I knew much hard work rested on my shoulders and I was proud of my contribution.

I didn't know it at the time, but playing second was teaching me life lessons that would prove extremely important. As the article states, leading is not for everyone.  Now, my goal is not to turn this into a discussion about leadership vs. followship. No, in fact, I feel both skill sets are critically important to develop in youth and adults. As Nancy Lubin points out, where would the world be if it was filled with only leaders? Ideas would be aimlessly floating about with no one taking any action toward developing those ideas.  She didn't say that exactly, but read the article and you'll see why I make this point.

What students can learn about following is that being a supporting follower often means you are someone counted on to "execute" tasks, get things done, make things a reality. Leaders can bring focus, change and direction, but often times do not execute well. The real bonus for young musicians is that they can learn the true JOYS of being second (or a follower or someone responsible for execution).  I feel fortunate to be in the position at viaAcademies I am in. I've had the pleasure of learning how to execute a thought out plan through my years as a musician.  When it's time for us to execute an initiative, I like to roll up my sleeves and jump right in.  When leading the team toward our goals, I have always counted my blessing that as a young musician, I learned to follow my leaders and get things done. I often transfer that skill into my leadership role and hopefully, I make those who really do much hard work around our shop feel the effort is rewarding (maybe they should chime in.)

As we look for ways to advocate for our art, I've read how musical activities help students develop leadership skills.  One truly powerful skill is the ability to follow, using creative abilities to help focused leaders accomplish great things.  Consider the power of teaching your students the real pluses and responsibilities of being a follower.  Teams around the world will benefit from their future team members.


Monday, August 16, 2010

The "Creative" Workforce...How music students are prepared. Are you?

By Mark T. Burke

To be a creative person means I sleep until noon, often skip bathing for days on end, ride a banana seat bike everywhere I go and convey my ideas through hand motions, right?  I believe that's what many company leaders think of when they hear someone described as "creative."  By the way, I would love to have my old banana seat bike from my childhood back. Sadly, that won't happen.

Over the last few months, I don't think a day has gone by without hearing someone say America needs "creative" people in the workforce.  Last night I listened to Andrew Moore, Google Pittsburgh PA, talk about how more and more creative people are starting to come on board within organizations to help them map the future, but that organizations need more creative folks.  So I started thinking about what it means to be a creative person, in relation to the workforce and how the study of music helps prepare us all for entry into the workforce.

I've drafted this document to chart key characteristics of creative people, how those characteristics are made evident (or developed) through the study of music and how those characteristics relate to the needs of the workforce. I say draft because I believe this is a work in progress and would love to have input.  I also believe this document can serve music program advocacy and organizations alike.  As we think about how to advocate for music inclusion, I believe making a direct connection between musical skills and non-musical performance expectations in the workforce is an under developed area. For organizations, as they think about the type of workers they need, this type of document can help hiring managers and leaders guide their selection. 

This draft includes my high level view that creativity can be examined in 3 key areas, Expression, Ideas and Synergy.  Check out the chart to see how I've broken each down into sub-skills/areas, how each is witnessed in music students and what organizations need for employees in each area.  I welcome your feedback.

Click here to access PDF ---->>>> Music Student Preparedness for applying Creativity in the Workforce.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Pull Out Lessons - No longer the lone solution for instrumental music instruction

By Mark T. Burke

The bell rings, 3rd period begins and Jenn meets the teacher at the front of the class as she enters the room.  Jenn's not going to the teacher to discuss last night's assignment, she's about to leave class and head to the band room.  The teacher informs her the class will be taking a quiz today followed by a critical discussion on last nights reading assignment so Jenn will need to stay.  Jenn heads back to her seat and the class starts.

Jenn's felt prepared for this week's clarinet lesson and was looking forward to getting feedback from her music teacher.  Since the school is on a 6 day cycle, Jenn will have to wait more than week util she can attend another lesson  For now, she must stay in class and finish the assignment.  

This story highlights just one aspect of the challenges pull out music lessons present to students, core subject teachers and music programs.  Pull out lessons are a standard practice in schools now-a-days.  How many schools actually provide a free period for instrumental music lessons? I would estimate few if any.  The majority of instrumental music lessons are provided through pull out lessons when students leave a class, or study hall or lunch to attend their lesson.

During my years of public school teaching, all of my lessons (at various schools) where scheduled through pull outs.  I worked within the periods (or times) given to me throughout the week to arrange for small groups of students to come to the band room for lessons.  I was responsible for ensuring students didn't miss the same classes too often and encouraged to take advantage of "free" periods such as study halls and lunch times.  Needless to say, this effort almost always proved that my college degree left me totally unprepared for the real tasks I would encounter in the field.  (I should have paid more attention in calculus so I could have learned to apply a thousand variables to one challenge).

My efforts to arrange pull out lessons left me feeling like my career was based on the luck of the draw, randomness and unrealized expectations.  There was nothing worse than expecting a full class of flutes only to have 1 show up 20 minutes into the class after failing a pop-quiz.  But none-the-less, the rotating pull out lesson is a necessity in most schools that want to provide small group or individualized instruction.  There are ways to increase the participating rate and innovation is certainly one of those ways.

Not being a believer in creating a solution for an unidentified problem, it's important to know what we are trying to solve.  I believe our target goals should be:
"Ensure instrumental music instructional time is maximized through a combination of flexible services that support complex school curriculum requirements and expectations on students, limit the negative impacts of scheduling conflicts, ensure consistent opportunities for teacher-student interaction, eliminate teacher "down time," and foster a positive attitude in students and the school community in regards to student participation in instrumental music."
Pull out lessons create challenges in ALL of these areas.  While I do believe they are still a viable and necessary element of instrumental music instruction, dealing with the issues can be overwhelming.  When I was teaching, if I would have had a way to provide other options for my students (and school), I would jumped on the effort with my full energy.

We've built our online instrumental music program to be a turn key supplement to pull out lessons.  The power of virtual learning tools combined with proven face-to-face instruction provided through in-school lessons can provide what we feel is the ULTIMATE instrumental music experience for kids (and schools).  Let's revisit our story above and change the scenario a bit.

After speaking to her teacher, Jenn joined the class and participated in the quiz and the class discussion on the reading assignment.  The night before, Jenn had been practiced her clarinet exercises, reviewed the musical content to ensure she understood the concepts, taken a practice quiz online and received the feedback, made a recording of herself playing the assignment and submitted it for review and feedback from her in-school music teacher.  Throughout the day, her music teacher would review Jenn's submission and send her comments.  In addition, Jenn had access to all of the musical content and explanations of the new symbols and playing techniques online.  Her music teacher sent her feedback on her recording, asked her to work on a few areas and resubmit and told her to move on to the next section of her online course.  When Jenn returned to her face-to-face lesson the following week, she was prepared and had progressed.  

This story demonstrates that Jenn had grown musically during a time that could have been, well, less than productive. Virtual music instructional tools help students deal with the challenges that are NOT always so obvious.  I remember the days of participating in pull out lessons as a young student.  Facing my teachers and reminding them that I would be leaving class was not always so easy to do.  I also remember having to go in front of the class after it started and ask to leave.  Other students were not always so kind when I approached the front of the room to leave for band lessons.  While I'm certainly not suggesting kids hide their musical interest, I know if I could have learned what I needed to learn musically, received feedback from my teacher and avoided often uncomfortable social situations, I would have benefited from virtual learning.  As an educator, I know I have taught other students who would have benefited as well.

As you head back to school this year, think about your instrumental music goals.  How could your students and program benefit from supplementing your pull out lesson program with quality online instructional tools?  Would your beginners progress more quickly so that retention would increase and drop outs decrease?  Would your 1st and 2nd year performers develop better at home practice routines? What would increased teacher-student interactions mean for your program?  Visit us online at www.MakeMusicClick.com.