Making Lemonade: Teaching On The Day Before Thanksgiving

While I understand lemonade is not a traditional Thanksgiving quaffing substance, it sums up my approach to tomorrow. The day before Thanksgiving is a frustrating teaching day because everyone wants to be somewhere else (self included). And it gets better… the public schools are closed. So, those of us with kids have to figure out childcare while we keep our professional commitments. I’ve always dug deep into my reserves of patience and taught a “real” class on this day, even in my 2:30p.m. class. After all, if more people cancel their Wednesday classes, more students leave early, and more Wednesday classes are less attended, and, and, and… I’m super sensitive about canceling classes because college is expensive, their classes are a big part of the college experience, and I already cancel two classes in the Fall (one for Rosh Hashanah, which I observe, and one to attend my professional conference).

So, here’s how I’ve chosen to juggle having my six-year-old in tow with teaching a “real” class.  She’s going to help me teach. Seriously. Continue reading

Edelweiss: feeling the Cadential six-four

This 3-5 minute activity is the final one in a class whose subtext was “feeling the cadential six-four.” It also had a really nice connection with my students’ prepared singing (Purcell, “Dido’s Lament”). I didn’t get this post written before class, so here’s an overview of how it went and aspects I could tweak for next time. Continue reading

Keeping it fresh: four weeks to go

I’m exhausted.  We’re at that point in the semester where it seems like it will never end.  And, owing to a quirk of the solar calendar, there are THREE weeks of teaching after Thanksgiving instead of the traditional two.  I find myself worried about keeping an appropriate level of energy and excitement in my classes.

One of the weirdest things about earning tenure is that, suddenly, your teaching isn’t critically observed any more. It’s been three years since someone has visited my classroom with the intent to help me evaluate my own teaching (I have had many guests there to observe my so-called “good” teaching, but–for obvious reasons to do with experience and power structures–they rarely offer feedback on what they saw). I invited my long-time mentor and friend to come in last week to give me his outsider’s perspective on two things: (1) how high or low I am setting the bar in my class, and (2) strategies for raising it. Here’s what he thought and what we talked about over lunch after class. Continue reading

Genres over time: Learning in the Museum

This week, my upper division class had our second session in the museum. I wrote about the planning and my hopes here. I’m not surprised to report that we learned, but not necessarily what I thought we would learn.

The class time went as planned, and the students had done a great job engaging with the digital image of their assigned self-portrait.  We didn’t have time to wrap up at the museum, but used about half of today’s class to talk about the effectiveness of the exercise, what we actually took from it, ways to tweak it next time, and ideas for our final visit. Continue reading

“Samoan Moon”: Harmonic dictation in real time

Recently, I have been setting students up to harmonize melodies with simple I, IV, and V harmonies. I usually have them sing the tune a few times to get a sense of how quickly the harmonies change, and then to make best guesses on the harmony that fits.  They try out their guess (the famous guess-and-test method from junior high math!), and revise if necessary. It’s my hope that the emphasis on “feel,” will benefit their real-time harmonic dictation.

The goal of this 10-15 minute activity is for students to write down the harmonic functions they hear in real time, which requires them to react to how things feel.  We will use “Samoan Moon” performed by the Tao Moe family (pictured) I have asked them to write T for tonic, P for predominant, and D for dominant on a blank score sheet that I will hand out. I really feel this should be a quick 5-10 minute activity, but know that every time I do something like this, it takes longer than I expect.  Here’s how I think I’ll do it:

Continue reading

“House of the Rising Sun”: review and reinforce

There are three points to this 5-10 minute activity (in decreasing order of important): (1) review and reinforce use of accidentals in the minor mode, (2) model processing music by ear, and (3) locate by feel the use of the V chord. Here’s my plan:


Continue reading

Exploring the Middle Ground: Visit #2

One idea that appealed to me about teaching classes in our wonderful museum was the notion of a middleground–a space/place where none of us were experts and thus we learned differently because the power structure was new.  This week, I’m taking my upper-division theory class to the museum for our second co-taught class. Unlike the first visit/class, I feel like more of an expert this time. I suspect two factors contribute to this feeling: (1) it’s our second visit [and, I assume we’ll all feel more like experts this time], and (2) we’re going to be exploring the concept of genre, something I have spent a lot of time thinking about in my own research [I’m not as sure that my students will feel like experts on musical genres or with the general topic of genre]. Since I feel more comfortable heading into this meeting, I also think I have better prepared students to learn from the experience. Continue reading

Radiohead, “Bones”: Hearing and notating syncopation

many thanks to my colleague, David Heetderks, for introducing me to this excerpt last year.

Syncopation is always a tricky thing for me to teach. I want students to perform it well, I want them to read it well, and I want them to be able to notate it. Notation always take the longest because syncopation looks so much more complex than it feels. This semester, I am going to attempt a new exercise for introducing notation of syncopation: a guided rhythmic transcription of Radiohead’s “Bones.” Continue reading

Open-ended aural analysis: Ringo Oiwake “Apple Blossoms” (Enka Song)

About a month ago, I tried an experiment.  I let students form their own small groups and asked them to describe (without score) as much as they could on an excerpt from the opening of Beethoven’s violin concerto.  At that point, we had worked on the major mode, step-wise motions, I and V, and identifying meter. As I walked around the room, I heard a lot of peer teaching going on. I liked the format of the exercise, although I felt they needed a few broad questions to help them direct their listening (help them connect back to what the class is doing now).  So, I’m going to try this again tomorrow with a beautiful Enka song: Ringo Oiwake (“Apple Blossoms”) sung by the famous Misora Hibari.  I’ll be using the track off of disc three of Soundscapes (2nd edition), but here is a YouTube track that’s pretty close to my track. Here’s what I plan: Continue reading

Peter Tosh performs “Get Up, Stand Up”: IDing which version of ^6 and ^7 occurs

On this second day of exploring the minor mode, the skill I want to tackle is being able to identify which version of scale degrees 6 and 7 a composer uses. This song, an example of early reggae written by Bob Marley, has limited pitch material. It’s also highly repetitive. These two factors combine to make it a good teaching example.  Here’s my plan: Continue reading