Many middle school music teachers feel the need to “talk” about music history or “teach” how to read notes. In doing these things, the non-musicians view us as obsolete or irrelevant. The math teacher doesn’t teach the history of math, even the language arts teacher doesn’t teach the history of literature. Then, why do music teachers feel the need to teach history and note reading? My guess is that they don’t know WHAT to teach. They are uncomfortable teaching composition and teaching creative projects. Their schooling was doing what the “director” wanted, not creating and performing what “they” want. Music is all about expressing yourself. It is about creating and composing. Many non-traditional music students know this very well. They want to create and compose, not do what the director wants them to do. I feel this is the reason for the drop in musical group attendance. We are in the age of “American Idol,” where students all want to be stars and create their own “brand.”
The thirty years of composer project my students have been learning the history of a specific composer. Five years ago, instead of learning facts, I moved the students to CREATE. They created a thirty-second multi-media projects using the music of a specific composer. To my amazement, the students learned more about the composer than just learning facts. They learned about ALL the music EVERYONE else was using for their individual projects. Because the music was the focus of the project, they were driven to learn more about the composer.
Students create and compose more in music today because the technology has taken us there. Having Sibelius or Finale in the lab, or with looping software such as GarageBand, pushes the teacher to create instead of learning facts. The creative side takes over. Anyone can google the facts of the composer, not everyone can create a meaningful project using the composer’s music.
The fifth graders at Sunset Ridge have just finished the first part of their composer videos. Now comes the commenting and the validation of their projects they created. Some chose to learn facts, others saw it as an opportunity to create amazing projects with with music by using video, iStop Motion, Flash, and Keynote/Powerpoint. They chose the tools to create their project, they chose the thirty-seconds to create, and some even chose to learn the music of their composer. Because the music was the driving force, students were inspired to learn how to play the music of their composer, to learn more about other works the composer composed. The depth of knowledge amazed me as well as how much retention they will have over the years, by making the music central in the project.
So, to new music educators out there, or to those who have taught a long time, remember it is about the creative process, not the facts you know. For anyone can learn facts, not everyone can create and compose. If you put creativity and composition as a central part of your curriculum, the students will feel like many of my students feel “It’s the best place in the school, I can create and express myself.”
Click here for the Composer Project 2011 at Sunset Ridge School.