Phishy inspiration? Real time formal analysis

<The attached video was shared with me weeks ago, yet I’m still stuck on it. This musician knows Phish’s style so well that he has mad virtuoso skillz when it comes to real-time analysis of form, pitch collections, and styles.  I especially love his clear delight in nuances, evident in font size, underscoring, and use of caps. I would love for my students to develop that kind of delight in the pitch, collection, rhythms, meters, timbres, and gestures of music that they invest in. Continue reading

“Mapping” Exercise: a first-hand account

Workshop 2-20-14At the workshop I attended a week ago on sharing responsibility for classroom environment and learning [with our students], we closed with what I found to be an effective and helpful mapping exercise.

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My Scoff-able Final Exam

So, I can tell I’m getting older.  I used to scoff at all sorts of ideas that I thought were simply way too lax (P/nP grading, redos, singing on neutral syllables, journals). As I accrue gray hairs, I’ve adopted many of these formerly uncomfortable ideas–with my own twists, of course–because I think (I know!) they effectively forward my course goals. So, this semester I tried another scoff-able idea. Co-writing the final exam with my students. I know this is hardly a new idea, but it’s the first time I’ve been brave (or stupid) enough to try.

the fears:

  1. the exam will be too easy;
  2. no one will need to study;
  3. some people will earn higher grades than they really should, especially unfortunate if it ends up impacting their course grade;
  4. class time could be better spent on review and answering questions; and
  5. a few voices will control the entire exam.

the reality:

  1. The exam was fine. It absolutely tested what I wanted it to test.
  2. The people who needed to study did.  And what studying happened was definitely directed toward what the exam was testing.
  3. A few people earned grades that were pleasantly surprising to me.  A few people earned grades that were unpleasantly surprising to me.  This situation strikes me as no different from any other semester. The pleasant surprises often were directly related to someone trying really hard for a stretch (but possible) grade.
  4. I was extremely happy with how we used that class time (described below)
  5. And the way we handled class time guaranteed that all voices took the opportunity to contribute to the exam.

Here’s how it all got set up:

In the last week of classes, we put together the review sheet in about 15 minutes on Monday.  We divided the sheet into two lists: Content and Skills. Students took the lead on the Content part; I took the lead on the Skills part. Here’s our review sheet.

On Tuesday, I gave them the typed up version.

On Wednesday, I saved a few minutes for questions, but there weren’t many.  And we did course evaluations.

On Thursday, our final day, we were supposed to have our normal Thursday quiz.  I forgot to write it (DOH). I had them put themselves into small groups and come up with exam questions based on the SKILLS page of the review sheet.  After 7 minutes, we reconvened and started to write the exam together (yay Elmo projector).  After an individual contributed, I gave them the final handout for the class (a reminder of redo policies, 3 final sessions of office hours, and yet another reminder of the exam time and place). To pass the I-forgot-to-write-it quiz, they had to earn a handout.  Essentially, once they made a meaningful contribution, I handed them the handout. When I had zero handouts left, I knew everyone had contributed.  And, I was stingy about what it took to earn a handout.

After class, I typed up their suggestions and posted it to blackboard.  You can see it here.

I finished grading the exams today. In the official version of the exam I ended up expanding the voice leading portion to three very short progressions because I couldn’t test enough of the content I wanted to test with their suggestion. And, the writing about a favorite spot in the musical excerpt (the opening parallel period to the Clock movement of Haydn’s “Clock” Symphony) wasn’t optional. But the rest paralleled their very good suggestions.

The class averaged a B+ on the exam, which strikes me as too high, but I wouldn’t change a thing.  No one bombed the exam, no one got everything perfect.  (63.5 to 99 were the scores).

My biggest takeaway?  I think my process worked because I had students emphasize skills, not content, as they thought about the exam. They understood how to review the content because they were preparing to demonstrate the skills…

Semester Wrap-Up with Myself

Sounds kind of silly, but I have a little ritual for closing up my semester. I clean out my course binder of extra photocopies, remove stuff from previous semesters that I didn’t use this semester and can’t imagine using in future semester, write a course reflection, insert reflection into the front of the binder, and put away the binder.

Even though I’m exhausted, I think it’s important to do the course reflection NOW while the semester’s experience is still fresh. Here’s how I go about it: Continue reading

Assessment with “The Shire”

We made it to the end! Yesterday was the Module 1 written exam. It’s a small 30-minute exam worth 5% of their semester’s grade. I use it to assess the processing of music they hear into some kind of notation. Since we have spent a good deal of in-class time on harmonic function, I made sure to assess this skill. I found a pretty good example that used ^6 in the bass, a Cadential six-four, and a strong T-P-D progression: “The Shire” theme (Howard Shore) from the Lord of the Rings. The students’ work in this area revealed a lot about how this aspect of the class went.

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Barbara Allen (Joan Baez): Hearing and articulating differences

As we near the end of the semester and a written exam, I always find myself focusing harder on error detection. Error detection is a hugely practical skill for musicians. Working on it and testing it in the classroom presents all sorts of opportunities for dialogue and written work. What it boils down to, though, is being able to hear and articulate differences between what you think is supposed to happen and what is actually happening. Those skills are transferable to many settings, draw on vocabulary essential for a musician, and build on the course’s work on rhythm, pitch, meter, details and nuance. Today’s work on error detection concludes with something that has no mistakes but plenty of differences: Joan Baez’s rendition of Barbara Allen. Continue reading

Barbara Allen: Harmonic function dictation

This 15-20 minute activity will set the stage for more nuanced harmonic analysis that includes predominants. We will use the King’s Noyse recording of the English ballad “Barbara Allen” (here’s the handout). The class goal is to work with vi, IV6 and IV. This handout is a middle step towards that end.   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

“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:

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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