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Published: January 14th 2010
This post will again focus on my music teacher workshop, and will again be taken from my notes. I realize the account may not have wide appeal, but for my Fulbright project here in Kathmandu this workshop is incredibly exciting; now I’m directly working to help Nepali music teachers, giving them skills and ideas from my experience that they will be able to use—hopefully to great effect—in their own classrooms. Not only that, I’m starting dialogue among a group of music teachers (who are spread out all around the city) with potential to expand into a full, dynamic, productive music educator’s society. It’s thrilling, really, and you can read all about it right here. In other news, it’s very cold here in Kathmandu, and temperatures dip below freezing at night. Two days ago on my way to the workshop I passed an elephant on the road. It was walking along, a load of cut branches and a guy on its back, at a pace that was a little bit slower than the average flow of traffic. I laughed out loud, realizing that I had never passed an elephant while riding my bike in the middle of a big city before (or anywhere, for that matter), and took a picture. The power cuts are getting worse. The standard euphemism here for scheduled power cuts is ‘load-shedding’ (there isn’t enough electricity on the grid to support everybody all of the time), and it has reached 8-9 hours a day. Next week it’s supposed to increase to 12 hours a day. Today I got a professional shave by candlelight. I went to the barber at about 7 pm, so it was already dark, and since it was load-shedding time he had his assistant hold a candle through the whole process. Three weeks ago I witnessed a chicken cross the road. It took the road at a slight diagonal, and it had a look of confidence, keeping its eye on the destination. It neither rushed nor dawdled, and I could sense purpose in its stride. Despite being called upon many times in my life to hypothesize about just such an occurrence, the chicken’s initial motivation still eludes me. Here’s the workshop:
Workshop Day 7
The workshop today went amazingly well. Eleven teachers showed up—the normal ones from schools 1-5, some teachers from Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory (KJC), and one of my music teacher friends from before the workshop came in for the second half of the class. We still focused on rhythmic notation, looking at things like spacing and clarity, and the difference between writing in 6/8 and 4/4 time signatures. There’s a little discrepancy between the way the KJC director and I teach rhythmic reading, but we both arrive at the same rhythms in the end. We did some rhythmic reading at the end, and I can see that it’s still something that we should hit on in future classes. However, for beginners at this written language they’re really doing a fantastic job. Next we have to make their reading skills solid, add pitch, and then transition to having them use written notation in school. The KJC director conducted most of this class, and it was a good transition for me to get back into the workshop flow (I missed the past two workshop days while I was in Pokhara). Tomorrow we’ll hit on rhythmic reading, and then I’ll introduce pitch. Pitch will be the difficult one, and we’ll spend the rest of the week on it. The teachers were engaged the whole time, and were very eager to learn this stuff. They participated, made mistakes, corrected their mistakes, spoke up, asked questions, and above all made the class a success. I’m looking forward to future successes in the days to come. My teacher friend knows some of the guys who have been participating regularly in the workshop, and they urged him to stay and participate for the rest of the week. Unfortunately he has university classes, so it looks like he won’t be able to. The KJC director had them do exercises at home where they take mistakenly written notes and write them correctly—correct spacing, barring, beaming, etc. They are catching on to that, and it’s important that they know so that when they write their own they can do it correctly. What I think needs to be the most solid, however, is reading the written page, and writing conceived music correctly. It takes a lot of time, and it takes focus on many more subjects than I originally thought, and it will take these guys a lot of practice, but we’re all eager to do it.
This day I had the workshop to myself to teach—KJC director was away in meetings. We had the usual crowd show up, except for the Eulens school teacher, which was a little bit disappointing. My friend from the day before also didn’t show up. Up until now the class had only gotten bigger and bigger, and it feels great to be a teacher for such a class, and it’s somewhat of a letdown to teach a class that’s smaller than it was previously. That said, we’re still up to 9 from a start of 3, so attendance has tripled from the beginning. We started the class by doing rhythms from their rhythm sheet—they have a worksheet with a set of rhythm duets that are moderately hard, and we practiced interpreting and reading those rhythms in realtime. When there was confusion about a rhythm, we put it on the board and analyzed it. I want to stress the analysis part of interpreting a rhythm—it’s a process that they need to learn to do to read more difficult rhythms, and it’s a process that they need to teach to their students. We did some of those, and split into duet parts and read them, and got fairly comfortable with the rhythms on that sheet. We had a small discussion about the pros and cons of using the 1e+a system vs. the ta ta ta ta system, and we agreed that the 1e+a system is good for introducing, interpreting, and teaching rhythms, while the ta ta ta ta system is good for performing rhythms in time. After quite a bit of this, we changed gears and did some rhythmic dictation. We started again by taking the melody of ‘resham firiri’ and dictating its rhythm on the board. This was done first by singing the tune, second by clapping the rhythm while singing the tune, third by clapping only, fourth by turning the claps into 1e+a, and finally by notating the 1e+a with rhythmic symbols. We did this for the whole tune, one participant at the board at a time doing 1 measure sections. It’s a simple tune, so it didn’t take very long. After this we started on a different tune—Fulko Akhama—but it has many variations and embellishments that are up for interpretation, so it wasn’t good as an exercise. We then moved to dictating madal rhythms. I played a rhythm on the drum, and had a participant notate it on the board. This was easy enough for the easy rhythms, but I threw in some more difficult rhythms to see how they would go over. There was some general confusion, but then I showed the step by step way to figure out how any complex rhythm can be conceived and notated. I had wanted to introduce pitch notation this day, but we ultimately ran out of time.
One of the things that I’ve been really impressed with at this workshop is that as the workshop continues, participants are arriving more and more on time every day. At the beginning it took 15 minutes for people to arrive and get in place, and now we start right on time, with the final straggler coming in no later than 5-7 minutes late. Today started a little bit slowly—there were only 3 students on time—but then 7 minutes later everybody else showed up. As a result it took a little bit more time than I would have liked to get warmed up and to get people in the mood to work and learn. We started again with rhythms on the sheet, reading them singly and in duets, and clarifying problem spots. Previously I assigned them to work on one particular rhythm which we hadn’t done yet, and I was pleased to see that we read it very well. It’s an example, I told them, about how they can use notation to teach students music as they practice at home—giving them the tools to teach themselves. We did this for a while longer, coming up with games that they can play with their students as they teach rhythm, and noticing rhythmic patterns just by looking at the notation. The KJC director was at this class, and he took this opportunity to introduce style and expression markings: accents, crescendos, dynamic marks, etc. This added another element to the reading, and it gave the teachers more tools to make music teaching fun for their students. We emphasized metronomes and their absolute importance for keeping time and for teaching pulse to their students. I kept bringing the conversation back to our priorities as music teachers that we drew on the board during the first week, and showing how these exercises fulfill those priorities. We then launched into a lecture/discussion about how important it is to make the classes fun for the students. When it’s fun, they like to participate, and when they participate, they learn, and the teacher has a much better and easier time. We talked about the difficulties we have as teachers to make sure that what we teach isn’t too easy or too hard, and about different ways to keep the students engaged so that they don’t misbehave. Music lends itself so much to these activities, and we talked about how lucky these guys are to be teaching a fun subject. We also stressed the need to make it fun and to keep it fun—in the wrong teacher’s hands music can be boring, frustrating, and painful. These guys were totally engaged, and it was great for the KJC director and I to have such good instruction time and discussion time with them. After this discussion we transitioned again to rhythmic dictation. First I had one of the teachers write a rhythm on the board and then perform his rhythm. He did it admirably—he wrote the rhythm, clapped the rhythm, and at the same time sang the song on top of his claps. It was an easy rhythm, but he did it perfectly, and he used the new dictation skill to create something useful for himself and for his students. Next I had one of the teachers play some rhythms on madal, and I had a few other teachers come to the board and dictate them. This went very well for the easy rhythms, but then the teacher did a 12/8 rhythm that confused the board participant. It was great teaching time for me—I broke it down and demonstrated how to do it even with difficult rhythms. We then (unfortunately) ran out of time, and we had to end class there. Next time we’ll start with rhythmic dictation, and we’ll move on to pitch notation.
This day didn’t go incredibly well—I think it was the least well organized and executed class so far. I didn’t have a solid plan going into it; my thoughts were to introduce staff notation and to follow up on rhythmic dictation. I started by drawing the staff on the board and labeling the notes, then drawing the keyboard and labeling the keys. It was a difficult start because I didn’t know how much of pitch notation my students already knew. I started with the assumption that they were familiar with the staff and the notes on the keyboard, and structured the intro part as a series of tips about how to start their students on staff notation. The problem was that I hadn’t broken it up into steps, so I was just giving all of these tips in an unorganized way. Staff notation encompasses musical notes, pitches, scale degrees, instrumental technique, harmonic theory with key signatures, intervals, accidentals, etc., and all of these are present and significant at the same time. Not only did I need to introduce it to the teachers who didn’t know it yet, I had to do show them how to teach it, and in a way that would make sense to their own students, and in a way that would lead to the ability to perform from the page. I was a little overwhelmed, so it went a little bit haphazardly. I did give some good information, though, and I think it helped prime the class for the breakthrough lesson on day 11. Something that came up during this class that helped me organize my thoughts was that I was using ‘sa re ga ma’ as translated to the C scale only, and that led the class to think that ‘sa re ga’ was good only for vocalists, and that it would only work on the C scale. That isn’t true, so I had to come up with a better way to teach those ideas. After the haphazard introduction I did an exercise whereby we dictated the song ‘Resham Firiri’ on the board using ‘sa re ga ma’ in the key of C. This went fine, but there were some conflicts as to the way the song actually sounds. I also wasn’t clear about the use of the keyboard in dictation. I first said that they shouldn’t use the keyboard, but then in the same exercise I said they could, and they said it would be easy with the keyboard, and that they may not have keyboards, so I had to recover and backtrack a little bit. I had each participant do something for this dictation—first I had one come up and write the rhythm of the first bar, then I had one come and label the pitches of those notes. Again, they did it after some confusion, but it wasn’t ideal. That said, it was a great moment when we finished and I played their creation on the keyboard. After this I transitioned back to rhythmic dictation, had one of the teachers play rhythms on the madal, and then had the class translate those rhythms into claps, and then from claps into 1e+a, and then from 1e+a into written notes. This went very well—they had been given lots of instruction into rhythmic dictation, and this was only a practice exercise for them. The madal player did a splendid job as well—he varied up his rhythms and threw in some difficult ones (one of them was in 14/8 time). This marked the end of the class, and the beginning of the planning phase for the next class for me.
Reflecting on the successes and failures of day 10, I decided to make a written lesson plan for day 11. I realized the problems in organization for my pitch introduction, and fixed them so as to present the information step by step. I then realized the absolute necessity of having a printed sheet of music to instruct from, so I spent most of the day looking online for simple songs that I could use to teach melodic reading. I then scoured my music collection for good songs to transcribe as a class, this being a necessary skill for them to practice. To introduce key signatures I decided that I would just have to give them a simple music theory lesson that outlined the half/whole step formula for the major scale, and then show how that could dictate the necessity of key signatures in order to establish a major scale on a note other than C. This is a little bit foreign to the eastern system in which all the scales start on the same note and are modified modally. Here’s what my lesson plan looked like:
Review teaching pitch
Step by step
Step 1: Teach staff and note names
Step 2: Teach pitch on instrument
Step 3: Practice
games for recognition
improvisation on few notes
Notation reading practice
4-part harmony handout
Notation writing practice
From CD recordings
Discussion- how to apply in classroom
It didn’t end up going exactly like the plan, and we didn’t get to the NMES discussion, but the class ended up going extremely well and was much better-organized. Here it is:
The workshop class this morning was fantastic. My plan was to teach pitch notation and how to introduce pitch notation to a class, and then do some practice reading music and transcribing music. I started by outlining three steps for introducing pitch to a new class. The first step is to draw the staff and clef and label the names of all the lines and spaces. The students first must be able to recognize the name of a note by where it falls on the staff. This can be done through drilling, repetition, playing games, flashcards, etc. The second step is to recognize the names of notes on their instruments. The teacher can draw a piano keyboard on the board and label the keys, or the teacher can teach fingering positions on a flute or sitar or other melodic instrument one note at a time, or the teacher can teach ‘sa re ga ma’ in the key of C. This is critically important—the students must know how to perform the information on the staff. Once the students can recognize notes on their instruments, they can start interpreting and performing music from the staff. This can be introduced by having one student draw a note on a staff and having another student point to the key on the keyboard, or play the note on whatever instrument they have, or sing the ‘sa re ga ma’ for it. These are the main three steps. Once students can do that, they are ready to practice reading music first with the teacher’s guidance, and then on their own. The next step then becomes to introduce basic music theory to the students, and show that the Major scale they all know and have been hearing for their whole lives is made up of a pattern of musical half-steps and whole-steps. They should understand that on the keyboard the difference between E and F is the same as the difference between C and C#--that the lack of certain black keys doesn’t mean that certain notes are missing. When they understand the pattern of half and whole steps, they can be shown that the scale can start on any note—not just C—as long as the pattern is preserved. This is why we have key signatures. Just as we write a key signature to show that the scale starts on a different note (‘sa’ is a different note), we can look at a key signature to find out which note the scale starts on (which note is ‘sa’). This is especially important for singers.
I went through all of that with the class, and they caught on very quickly. That was the intro to the class, after which I handed out a written copy of ‘Adeste Fideles’ in SATB harmonization on the treble and bass grand staff. This was the first time that they had been given a piece of music and asked to interpret it into sound, so we did it together. First I wrote the first measure (with pick-up) on the board, and we analyzed the top part for ‘sa re ga ma’ pitch. The key signature showed that ‘sa’ is G, and the first note is G, so we start on ‘sa.’ The next note was also G, also ‘sa’, followed by D, ‘pa’, followed by G, ‘sa.’ Knowing the ‘sa re ga ma,’ we figured out the pitch through intervals without the help of the piano. I only used the piano to establish G. They got the pitches, so we rehearsed the first line first measure all together. Fine. Next we did the alto line, a ‘sa’ ‘pa’ ‘pa’ ‘pa.’ Easy enough—they got the pitches in their head and we sang it. The next step was the exciting part: we split into two groups and sang the harmony. They had never done this before. We did it for only one measure, and it worked splendidly. I rehearsed it a couple of times, asking the parts that change notes to sing out and for the bottom parts to establish a good steady bass volume. After this we moved on to the next measures, and by the end of that particular lesson we could sing the whole first phrase of ‘Adeste Fideles’ in harmony, only by looking at the notated page. This was a huge breakthrough for the teachers, and it was very exciting to witness and to lead. For homework I asked them to look at the next phrase and work out the soprano and alto parts to sing together during class on Monday.
At this point we had about 30 minutes left in class, so I switched gears and did an exercise whereby the teachers listened to a piece of music on a CD I made the night before, and then dictated the melody line on the board as a class. Again, this is the first time that they would be doing melodic dictation, so we went through it step by step. The tune I selected was a fairly simple chorale that repeats the same 8-bar phrase over and over again, but is melodic enough to challenge a first-time transcriber. The first thing we did was transcribe the rhythm, using the steps they learned in previous classes. We did this on one rhythmic staff line. The next step was to find out which pitch was ‘sa’, and I told them that a good bet is to listen to the last note. We established ‘sa’ (G in this case), then worked from there labeling the notes we had written out for rhythm with ‘sa re ga ma’ syllables. We didn’t use the piano at all. After many repetitions we were able to confidently label all of the notes, and with the labeled rhythmic notes we could easily convert them to staff notation—‘sa’ G, ‘re’ A, and so on. When the tune was converted, I played it on the piano for us to see how successful we were, and it turned out to be exactly right. This, again, was very exciting. Without the help of any instrument they listened to a song and converted it to written notation. My homework assignment for them was to write me an 8-bar song in staff notation over the weekend, and we would look at them in class on Monday. When these teachers can perform these skills, they can use notated songs in their classrooms, and they can compose songs and transcribe songs for their students to study and learn. They can also use songs from year to year and be more organized about their lesson sequences. They can also demonstrate patterns to their students regarding rhythm and melody in a way that’s separated from the aural experience of the whole song’s performance.
That ended the day’s lesson—in two hours these teachers learned how to introduce staff notation to their students, learned how to interpret and perform written music, and learned how to listen to music and write it down. Now they need practice.
Today went well for the workshop—the teachers demonstrated their songs on the board, they looked great, we sang a little bit, they asked questions, and we stayed engaged during the whole class. It didn’t have quite the momentum that day 11 did, partly because we weren’t breaking new ground any more. Now we’re practicing. Important as it is, it doesn’t have the same excitement as doing something for the first time. One of the teachers took down a popular tune, one of them wrote down one of his own tunes, and another wrote a little tune that some of the other teachers knew but I didn’t. Tomorrow we’ll look at three more of these. I’m having them write the tunes on the board, and we’re all checking them to see if what they wrote is nice and correctly written, but they’re doing so well that it seems boring and matter of course that what they write will be correct. I have to emphasize to them that they weren’t doing these things at all before the workshop, and that this represents a big chunk of learning and skills for them. After we wrote tunes on the board and played them for accuracy and aesthetic, we took a look at Bruckner’s ‘Tantum Ergo,’ a simple SATB choral piece that I copied and gave to them to interpret over the weekend. It went fairly well, but the range of the soprano voice turned out to be a problem for some of the singers. We only looked at the Soprano and Alto voices today, and tomorrow I want to look at the Tenor and Bass voices. After a few tries we were able to sing the pitches correctly and harmonize. I was content to leave it at that, but one of the teachers made the point that we still didn’t complete the exercise—the final step is to sing the words of the song on the correct pitches. He’s absolutely correct—tomorrow we’ll do that with Tantum Ergo. After this I transitioned to a short lecture about how to use notation in their classrooms to fulfill the goals that they told me were important at the beginning of the workshop, and then they asked me about part-writing and harmony. I made a short, basic, music theory lesson about harmony, and drove home the point that the KJC director teaches a music theory class that they may be able to benefit from. At this point we ran out of time, so I told them that the next day we would take another look at the Texas standards for music teaching, and discuss how they could be of use in Nepal. We’ll also look at how to translate the standards into day-to-day teaching.
This day started slowly—the teachers trickled in just a little bit late, and it took some time for the first couple of teachers to write their homework songs on the board. They both were very well done; the first teacher dictated the Nepal National Anthem, and the second teacher dictated ‘Amazing Grace’ (he works at a Christian school). Of the two dictations, there was only one wrong note (toward the end of the Nepal Anthem). That shows me that the teachers understand notation, dictation, and are now able to practice on their own. By the time we finished checking dictations all of the teachers had showed up, so I handed out copies of the TEKS—standards for music teaching for Texas public schools. I decided to focus on one year in particular—grade 5—and write all of the standards for that grade on the board. We went over them and discussed how they could apply in Nepal. Unfortunately, the four strands of teaching as stated in the TEKS—perception, creative expression/performance, historical and cultural heritage, and critical evaluation—are a little bit ambiguous as to the practical components of curriculum that should be included in each. Perception, for example, refers to being exposed to any musical concept for the first time and internalizing it for practical use in the other strands. Any kind of musical knowledge first falls into the perception category. These workshop teachers and I preferred to classify our strands of music teaching into more concrete divisions. When the TEKS strands and standards didn’t go over completely successfully, I thought that maybe having the TEKS right in front of us was acting as a handicap for creativity and precluding thoughts of unique Nepali music teaching, so I decided to take a new tack: make a list of all the things the teachers already teach to their 5th grade classes. This got a little bit more participation going, but it was still a little bit awkward because each teacher taught different things and used different courses of study. After we had a list of things taught in Nepal, we went through the TEKS standards and applied standard labels to each of the teaching activities. This was long and boring, and wasn’t really helpful at the end. I realized that fitting an ill-defined set of varied teaching practices to an ambiguously defined set of standards from another country would be much more difficult than I originally conceived. At this point one of the teachers spoke up and asked me a question that really cleared the whole process up for me: he asked, “when we start a school year or term, how do we know what to plan for the first day of class?” From this question I had a flash of inspiration: we would go back to the original divisions of music teaching that we used in the first week—‘music theory’ (how music works), and ‘music performance’ (making music)—add ‘music history/culture’ and ‘creativity’ as new categories, and brainstorm what to teach during one year according to those categories. The teachers responded very well to this, and before long we had a really great, active brainstorm going. The big difference between this brainstorm and the original one based on the TEKS is that the teachers understood these categories/strands so much better. Unfortunately, though, this sudden burst of excitement and active participation came when we had little time left in the class, so we didn’t have time to transfer these points into lesson plans. I finished with the assurance that we would do so the next day, and that the teacher’s question would be answered within the context of a year-long plan, and the class ended on a high point. Strangely enough, if I look back on this class and judge it in terms of time spent in active, productive, participatory instruction, it wasn’t a very successful class. However, that flash of excitement at the end and finishing on a high note left me and all of the teacher participants feeling good about the class for the rest of the day. This means that if any class isn’t going very well, even past the halfway point, it’s still salvageable. All that needs to happen is to have a really good final ten minutes. I say that the class wasn’t successful in terms of time spent productively instructing, but in terms of my own personal learning it was a very useful class. I got a much better idea of how difficult it can be to conceive of a whole year of instruction, and what a delicate balance it is to make standards that are broad enough to be widely applied, yet specific enough to be useful. I’ll continue to reflect on these ideas for a long time to come.
This was a very useful and productive class. It started late—it was a very cold morning, and the teachers didn’t arrive until about 9:10, but when it did start it moved along rapidly. The first thing I did was rewrite our brainstorm on the board from the day before. I added a couple of points to it, asked the teachers if they had any points to add, then analyzed it for points that could be taught concurrently and points that necessarily must be separated. For example, it’s possible to concurrently teach distinct concepts of rhythm and melody at the same time as teaching a song from the Nepali folk tradition, but it’s not possible to concurrently teach Nepali folk tradition and Eastern classical tradition. Those two points must necessarily encompass two sets of instruction. In looking at the points that need to be taught separately, we mapped a potential sequence of instruction on the board to span the three terms of a class year. We also took into account the need for the students to perform concerts. With the distinct concepts spread throughout the terms, I had them focus in on the first term and split it up into weeks of instruction. In this exercise I said that after 12 weeks the students would perform a concert of four Nepali folk tunes. We picked out which tunes they would be, and we spread them out over the 12 weeks. At this point I distinguished between music rehearsing, music concept teaching, music history/culture teaching, and creativity exercises. I told them that one class period could encompass all four, and that an average class should probably include at least two. After deciding on the 4 folk tunes and spreading them out across the 12 weeks, we discussed which musical concepts we should teach along with the songs. We decided we should teach ideas of rhythm and melody as distinct musical building blocks, and that during the first half of the term we should rehearse two tunes and teach distinct rhythmic patterns and introduce rhythmic notation, and that during the second half of the term we should focus on pitch notation and distinct melodic ideas using pitch syllables. With this in mind, I focused the teachers further on the first day of class. Here’s where they learned how to make a lesson plan. I mapped out the components of a good lesson plan, and together we created a sample lesson plan for the first class of the term. I urged them to be as specific as possible, and to include more than they would reasonably have time to teach—it’s much better to have material left in the plan when the time runs out than to run out of plan with time left in the class. I drove home the importance of the initial year-long, term-long, and week-long plans in informing the daily lesson plans, showing that with an overall organizational structure the plans become much easier and much more focused on achieving year-end goals. After finishing this first sample lesson plan I assigned the teachers to do one or two lesson plans on their own as homework, following the same term sequence we decided on previously. After this we had an informal discussion about planning, and I told them about the culture of music teaching in Texas. I then previewed what we’d be doing the next day—looking at one point of the year-end goals and plotting student expectations for that point from class one through class 10—and we finished the class. This particular class was especially appreciated; they told me afterward that they had never been exposed to this kind of lesson planning before. This whole workshop has turned the teachers into a productive workgroup, and we’re all a little bit sad that it will end soon. I told them today about my plan to keep it going on an informal once-a-week basis, and they liked the idea. Hopefully this will kick-start some real change and improvement for the whole music education climate in the city. It’s a small group, but it’s a start. Once something has been started it has the potential to grow, and these teachers seem capable of making it happen.
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