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TRANSFERRING SKILLS FROM ENGLISH-LANGUAGE ARTS AND MATH

CLASSROOMS TO INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC CLASSROOMS

Discussion

Introduction

The idea for this study came from wanting my students to take charge and become

more independent in their learning of a new or difficult piece of music. In my experience

of teaching music, students often fall into the trap of trying to mimic what the instructor,

or other students around them are doing rather than taking an active approach to their

learning how to perform a song. While teaching and learning by rote in the music

classroom can be necessary at times in the music classroom, in many of my personal

experiences it can lead to boredom and lackluster performances. Teaching students solely

by rote also does them a disservice by not providing the tools they need to be successful

in their own learning of musical skills, and fails to teach them how to problem solve (a

necessary 21st century skill). Getting more students to take an active approach to their

learning in any music classroom will also help to move the group forward significantly in

skill level and level of performance. Knowing that deeper meaning of a subject can be

gained by making multiple connections to other areas, the researcher developed a theory

that students would perform better in a music classroom by bringing in techniques that

they were already using in other classrooms.

Math Concepts and Rhythms

Cranmore (2015) suggests that it may be beneficial for music and math teachers

to form strong partnerships and even co-teach music and math concepts that are related to

reinforce concepts in both areas of study. The researcher found that talking with one of
our math teachers at the middle school about how to apply strategies from her room to

mine was extremely beneficial. There were some really cool experiences in applying the

use of area models to what a certain rhythm might look like. In the researchers

classroom teaching, the perception was that students got a deeper understanding of how

to perform unfamiliar rhythms. Using area models also helped to reinforce counting

techniques that the researcher have used since the beginning of teaching, along with

clarifying why certain rhythms are counted the way that they are.

During one class period, my students were working on a passage of music that we

had not gone over a whole lot in class in a tune called Entry of the Tumblers. It was not

a particularly difficult passage, but it was just not coming together. Students were going

different tempos and not holding notes for their full values, or holding them too long; it

was sonic chaos. The researcher was able to draw an area model on the board and let the

class know that this is what the violin 1 part would look like. The researcher was able to

connect that area model to one that showed what the second violins and violas were

doing at the same time. The researcher was able to then connect both of those to one that

showed what the cellos and basses were doing. When we went to play through the

passage again, it just clicked, and suddenly the students were able to perform it

accurately. This had a huge impact on the level of student success during the class period,

and will be revisited by the researcher in future classes.

Reading Strategies and Sight Reading Music

Essex (2012) emphasizes that Music content is not sacrificed with the integration

of [reading] strategies. On the contrary, utilizing effective reading strategies enhances the

content of the music classroom (Essex, 2012, p. 89). When handing out a new piece of
music to the class, the researcher gave the students class time to use text-coding strategies

to analyze the new music. This generally led to longer and deeper class discussions about

the music before even playing through it. This gave insight about what the students

already knew, along with what they did not know, or might need more review of. It

empowered the students to guide their own learning of a piece by asking about what was

unfamiliar to them, and allowed the more experienced musicians to share what they

already knew with their fellow classmates. While the discussions took some time, the

time for students to be able to perform a piece of music as a whole group was

significantly less. Songs that might normally take 3-4 class periods to get through were

performed with a fair level of accuracy in 1-2 class periods. The researcher also noticed

that the students level of motivation to carefully engage in the activity dropped off the

more they had been using these text-coding techniques as a whole group. On a string

orchestra version of In the Hall of the Mountain King the students spent more time

visiting with their neighbors than being engaged in the text coding process when given

class time to do so. The conversation about the music itself was extremely short, and few

questions were asked about what was unknown to the students or what might be difficult

on the sheet music (this was by far the most difficult piece that the students had

encountered at this point in the year). When the students played the piece for the first

time, the melody was barely recognizable, and a number of students were playing at

slower or faster tempos than the rest of the class. During the next class period, we took

class time to go back and use text-coding strategies again. The researcher let them know

that from looking at their sheet music it was clear that they had taken little care in their

analysis. After a longer and more in-depth discussion of the piece, the students attempted
to perform the song again. While this run-through was far from perfect, the students were

mostly together with each other, and the melody could be recognized. The students

agreed that their performance of the piece had gone much more smoothly after doing a

more careful analysis of their music (Appendix B).

In adding a writing component into choir rehearsals, Cohen (2012) found that this

allowed the instructor to develop individualized instruction for her members. Cohen

(2012) was able to find out questions that members had about what was talked about in

the rehearsal if they did not quite grasp a certain concept or idea. In the researchers study

parallels were found with text coding opening the door to more student-centered learning

in individual and small group lessons. Even when students were unsure of what they

needed help with, the researcher was able to look at a students sheet music and base

what was done off of what was seen in the students annotations.

While it is happening outside of the time constraints of this study, the researcher

noticed a higher level, as a whole, of students preparation for their solo/ensemble pieces.

Solo/ensemble is an event that is required of the researchers concert orchestra students

where they prepare a piece of music over the course of a few weeks to prepare in front of

a judge. The judge then gives them feedback and rates their performance based on a

rubric created by the Wisconsin School Music Association. While the researcher helps

students prepare their pieces, one of the goals is to be pretty hands off with the students in

their learning of the pieces. In this way, the students are truly showing what they know

and are able to do with their knowledge. Each year it feels like a struggle with many solos

and small groups to get the students prepared. This year, the researcher noted that

students have been preparing their pieces on their own, extremely accurately in
comparison to other years and the hope is that this study has empowered them to do so by

being able to analyze their music and break it down in ways that have not been used in

the classroom in the past.

Cross-Curricular Collaboration

Rogers (2004) suggests that while one does not have to be a mathematician in

order to explain connections to students, music teachers may want to consult with math

teachers, but do not necessarily need to team teach with them in order for a lesson to be

successful. The researcher had a lot of fun collaborating with one of our middle school

math teachers. It was made apparent that she was apprehensive at first about

collaborating, and for a while she did not think that any of the strategies she was giving

were going to be of any help. Once the researcher started sharing stories about how area

models were being used in the teaching of rhythms and the effect it was having on the

instruction, she was really excited to be a part of what we were doing and our

professional relationship took a big step forward.

The researcher had hoped that the students would see how interrelated music was

to both math and reading. Unfortunately, it is not apparent that the researcher was overly

successful in this realm as a number of surveys showed that students saw absolutely no

relationship among the three subject areas. While the researcher may not have been

successful at converting more believers, a number of student comments were really

satisfying to read because of the commonalities they saw among the disciplines. On one

of the survey questions asking students how they thought music and math were similar or

different, one student remarked, In math, we can learn to read calculations, formulas,

and fractions/decimals. In orchestra, we have to know whole, half, and quarter notes. All
of which are fractions. Another student said, Each note has a number of beats you need

to play, you can add them together to make bigger ones. Also, music is like a big equation

to me. While student perceptions of the relationship between reading and music did not

change, student comments tended to focus on the act of reading itself rather than the text

coding and annotation aspects. Had the question on the survey been reworded to include

these areas, the outcomes may have looked different.

Music teachers looking to work across the curriculum could also do well in

working with science and social studies teachers. Plenty of music has been written over

the course of history as a reaction to or reflection on historical events. Lessons could be

developed with social studies teachers that might create student buy-in to a piece of

music based on its background even if the student doesnt necessarily like how the piece

sounds. Lessons could also be developed with science teachers around the science of

sound. This could be extremely beneficial in the string orchestra room in getting students

to figure out unfamiliar notes for themselves if they were able to understand how finger

placement on their strings affects the pitch of that string.

Conclusion

While this study did not definitively prove the value of teaching reading and math

strategies in the music classroom, it was apparent that with a little bit of collaboration

time with other teachers, the researcher was able to better my teaching in my classroom.

The researcher found that using the simple reading strategy of text coding gave my

students another tool to be analytical with new music, and allowed them to lead the

conversation about what they needed to know to be successful. Using area models
provided the researcher with a tool to make teaching counting and performance of

rhythms more understandable and meaningful.