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.

Here we go again!

I’m getting super excited about re-entering the classroom after a semester away.  This fall, I get to teach an old class in new ways: Music Theory 1.  I last taught this class a lifetime ago: 2003(!!!!).  I surely won’t teach it the same way in 2013.  I’m extra excited about this class because it is the “intensive” class.  Essentially, we identify the 18 students with the least amount of music theory preparation and put them in this four-day-a-week class.  Historic tracking shows that they do marvelously in the next three semesters (when they are “mainstreamed” into a standard three-day-a-week schedule).  The class spends considerably more time on fundamentals than the other seven sections of music theory 1, yet reaches the same ending point content-wise as those other sections. I think the students thrive in future semesters for two reasons: (1) they work hard, and (2) they had a great teacher for theory 1.  Of course, this makes me completely nervous, too…  I have big shoes to fill! Continue reading

MOOCs and Music Theory Pedagogy

So, I’ve been watching some of the discussion on massive open online courses (MOOCs) and notice some parallels with things I, and others, experiment with in our music theory classrooms. In discussing the rise of online education, David Brooks’s recent OpEd in the NYTimes, “The Practical University (April 4, 2013),” explores the question that helps me define my pedagogy: “What is a university for?” Continue reading

Podcasting pt. 3: Thoughts for the future

In this post, I want to do some thinking and organizing about when a podcast is a good learning tool (not just a last-minute work-around for something that I forgot to do). It’s the last podcasting post of three (pt. 1 was reflection on past use, pt. 2 was evaluations of present use). I will draw on student feedback and my own hopes to form some guidelines for identifying good podcasting opportunities and ideas of things to try.  I’ve organzied these thoughts as “good for podcasting,” “bad for podcasting,” “good podcasting habits,” and “ideas I want to tinker with.” Continue reading

Podcasting, pt. 2: Experiments from this semester

After feeling really good about my use of podcasts last semester, I wanted to continue exploring it this semester. My upper division class, Form and Analysis, didn’t seem like the right space for podcasting because we are working at a level of analysis wonderfully fraught with nuance and detail. Podcasts (as I have been using them) are best for passing on factual information, information I assume these upper-division students already have.

So, the experiments landed on my Aural Skills 1 class. This course does not initially feel like a natural fit for podcasting since there is almost no lecture anyways. Furthermore, I do not want to force things into a podcast just for the sake of using the tool. So, I was surprised that I ended up with two opportunities for a podcast use during the first 6.5 weeks of the course. Continue reading

Podcasting, pt. 1 (reflection on past use)

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:

Continue reading