Last semester, I used podcasts for the first time. I tried it out in my Theory 4 class, which felt like a natural place to try it out. Many of the theoretical concepts in theory 4 are simple, requiring little nuance for a basic understanding of them. It’s the application of those concepts that is key.
More than any 100- or 200-level class, I teach theory 4 as a piece-by-piece class. I know why I pick the pieces (modes, set classes, serialism, etc.), and I make sure the student has one take-away point that highlights why we got to study the piece even though most of the class is spent on a complete analysis of the piece (form, pitch, motive, broader context, etc.). When class time starts, I want to hit the ground running in a musical space, which means that I want to dig into analysis immediately. In other words, I don’t want to lecture about the modes and then dig into Debussy’s “Sunken Cathedral.”
In previous semesters, I achieved this goal by lecturing and woodsheding the necessary theoretical topics on Monday, then teaching one or two pieces over the week’s remaining two classes. I thought this format worked pretty well. But the idea of podcasting really opened up new realms of possibilities. Here’s what I did:
The previous Friday, I would make a podcast that contained the essence of my lecture for a former Monday class. For Monday, the students completed and turned in a nuts-and-bolts assignment that drew on the examples I would normally do with the class on a Monday. These assignments were graded P/F (P if it looks like they had a good-to-solid grasp of the concept, F if they had no grasp, or a spotty grasp of the concept). In class, we immediately dug into an easy piece with the initial goal of exploring the theoretical concept. After quickly accomplishing some basic labeling, we then delved into students’ favorite moments and/or a form diagram. Class usually proceeded naturally and musically through exploring the piece with whatever time we had left.
Wednesday and Friday’s assignments were to either (1) prep a piece for class (do the initial identification and labeling of the theoretical concept for the week), (2) summarize an aspect of the piece we just discussed in a tightly-written paragraph (or two), or (3) send me some questions to explore about the next piece. Friday’s class always ended with a short (5-7 minute) quiz on the nuts and bolts of the theoretical topic.
This format was great for the class. It felt musical and was intellectually rigorous. I was confident that my students were getting the content they needed and that they were working on skills I had deemed important (asking questions and being able to explore the “why” of their favorite spots in music).
I learned some interesting things about myself and the topics over the course of the semester:
- I can fit all the most important information about a topic into a 5-minute podcast. It takes multiple attempts.
- I like to share a lot of cool, beautiful, and rare wrinkles of theory with my students during a “lecture.” This information is not essential, but it definitely makes me “tick.” I still think it’s important for students to see the beauty of theory (and to see me excited about what I do), but it is far more effective when revealed in a piece they’ve invested in. In other words, these cool wrinkles don’t belong in the podcast.
- The act of making a podcast reveals to me what the most essential information for a topic is. In turn, the students better prioritize their energy and knowledge when trying to master a topic.
- The right segment of students listen to the podcast multiple times. The right segment of students listen to it just once. A lot of peer teaching was going on as students digested the podcasts late at night.
- It was often right to include a simple annotated hand out with the podcast.
- I wish for a video podcast or a whiteboard podcast–I know there’s free programs for the iPad that will do this for me. I look forward to exploring this possibility next time!
Part 2: current podcasting… exploring transferring it to the aural skills classroom