Podcasting in Music Theory 1

This semester, I’m teaching a four-day-a-week music theory 1 class that serves as a “catch up” class for students who had less music theory preparation upon entering Oberlin. So far, this experience has been incredibly rewarding. The students have a great attitude, are not afraid to be wrong, are happy to ask “stupid” questions, are willing to be put on the spot, are open to peer teaching, and are interested in pretty much whatever I ask them to do (or at least they’re really good at faking it…).

This course starts out with a lot of very basic rudiments: key signatures, flavors of minor scales, flavors of triads, flavors of seventh chords, and inversions of those chordal flavors (Baskin Robbins 31, anyone?).  Building fluency with core skills is a perfect opportunity to use podcasts.  So far, the class has met eight times and there are already five podcasts.

I’ve used podcasts in two ways: a summation of a topic after presenting it in person and an introduction of a topic that is quizzed the next day. Assessments of topics (we have two 5-minute quizzes a week) show that the learning has been even across all topics, despite differences in style of introduction.  I have not asked our course management system to track use of the podcasts, although I should perhaps do that to get a better sense of how heavily the summation ones are used!  I fully expect them all to get more use when student prepare for the midterm.

After five podcasts, I feel comfortable stating a beginning list of strategies for making podcasts effective this semester:

  1. I still think brevity is essential for this type of podcasting use.  The longest podcast this semester has been 5 minutes and 20 seconds.  I believe that if I can’t fit it in to 5 minutes, it’s too complex to be done with out video-ing me as I write on a piece of staff paper. (that extra 20 seconds contained things like “good luck,” “thank you,” and “see you tomorrow!”)
  2. Hold students accountable for the information.  Five-minute quizzes at the beginning of class over the most basic of information (add accidentals to these triads, label that seventh chord) encourage students to actively listen to and attempt to learn from the podcasts.
  3. Remind students that listening is passive. If they are struggling with the material, they need to take notes while they listen.
  4. When possible, connecting their listening to images (whether websites or a scanned handout) helps facilitate learning.