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2016-2017 Teaching Reflection: Learning Music by Making Music

I taught a high school guitar elective class this past school year. This class was

comprised of a variety of students, some who were very involved in formal music making in

school, some who were well-versed in informal music making at home, and some who were not

given a choice and who had no interest in learning guitar, but were taking the class for

graduation credit.

As I was planning for this course, I remembered several discussions about relevant

teaching from various classes from my first two summers in this Masters program. I thought

back to my experiences in the Developing Vernacular Musicianship class, Culturally Affirming

Music Education elective, and the Emerging Practices in Music Education class. One common

thread between all of these classes is the importance of relevant and student-centered teaching.

I remember several discussions in which we talked about the traditional learning

process. Traditional teaching methods often involve a sequential and step-by-step process of

learning from a method book. Sometimes this is beneficial, and there are many positive aspects

that are involved with learning in an organized manner that progressively moves from simple

ideas to complex concepts (Pestalozzi) because cognitively oriented students and logical-

mathematical learners greatly benefit from this type of approach. However, to some students,

this style of learning can become too routine, and often seems decontextualized. Often, the

lesson book exercises are excerpts of songs and/or melodies. Many times, they feel out-of-date

or irrelevant to students daily lives and personal musical tastes. These discussion points

influenced me to start thinking outside of the box to find other ways to teach guitar to my diverse

group of high school students.

Additionally, in several of the classes that Ive taken with Dr. Kaiser, he has reminded me

about the importance of teaching music in a musical way. Dr. Kaiser shared his opinion that

musical expression should be taught at every level of musicianship as another musical

concept/technique. This point of view has resonated with me. I agree that students at the

elementary level should be able to experience emotional and expressive music, even if it is at a

simple level. They shouldnt have to wait until they are advanced to make good music. Music

itself is expressive and beautiful, so this aspect of it should not be reserved for a particular level

or age-group (Reimer).

I considered these ideas when I was planning for my guitar class. Knowing that I would

have a diverse group of students with varying interests and musical backgrounds, I decided to

look for a way to teach guitar in a relevant and interesting way that would allow for differentiated

levels of learning to occur simultaneously (Da Feltre). I didnt want to limit my students to having

to learn guitar from a method book, especially since most of them would probably not be

interested in learning decontextualized melodies and songs that they are not familiar with. I

decided that they would probably be more motivated to learn in a song-based approach that

involved songs that they enjoy, so they could practically apply their learning experiences to

music that they already know and enjoy (Thorndike).

With this in mind, I decided to explore the Little Kids Rock curriculum. There are a lot of

free resources online on the Little Kids Rock website. After deciding on the most logical order of

the guitar chords that I was planning on introducing to my students, I searched through the

resources on littlekidsrock.org to find accessible songs. After initially introducing the basic

chords, my students were able to jump right in by practicing them in the context of

pop/rock/blues/country songs. This seemed to work really well in helping them stay engaged in

the learning, and it allowed them to practically apply their knowledge and learning processes to

their final project in which they picked a song of their own choice to learn and record/perform.

Overall, this experience helped me learn the value of providing relevant and interesting

repertoire/music-choices to my students, and of teaching my students in a way so that they

could transfer their knowledge to real-life situations outside of school (Dewey, Vygotsky). It also

allowed me to explore new resources and alternative learning methods using various forms of
technology. Finally, the process of designing this class gave me the opportunity to synthesize

ideas from several of my graduate classes to create a better and more engaging learning

experience for my students.

*I have included an example of a project that I assigned in which my students were developing
their comfort level with C, G, D, and Em chords on the guitar through playing songs. Each group
picked one song to learn & perform from the given list.