If you're just tuning in, this is the second part in a series of posts comprised of a summary and response to articles from the Music Educator Journal. My Synthesis of Music Education students at Southeast Missouri State University are taking turns assigning articles of their choice, and leading discussion and activities surrounding the articles. I'm posting my own thoughts on their selected articles here to add to the conversation. I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments section.
Today's article is:
Whitcomb, R. (2013). Teaching Improvisation in Elementary General Music: Facing Fears and Fostering Creativity. Music Educators Journal, 99(3), 43–51. https://doi.org/10.1177/0027432112467648
Dr. Whitcomb points out that while improvisation skill is vitally important to the process of becoming fluent as a musician, educators still struggle to incorporate enough of it in the elementary general music classroom. Many of us feel that our own experiences with improv are inadequate, that we don't know enough strategies to teach the skill, or we worry that there just isn't time to deliver it as part of the curriculum. This article gave tips to overcome these challenges and provided lesson ideas
One strategy that Dr. Whitcomb suggests which really resonated with me was that of learning alongside your students. I'm fascinated by the additional benefits of a teacher modeling the exploration and vulnerability required to learn a new skill. In addition to progressing along a sequentially more difficult set of tasks which would lead to better improvisation skill, students could also gain insight in to the process of learning something new, of overcoming fear and/or intimidation, and of making mistakes along the path to learning.
I am thankful Dr. Whitcomb reminds us that improvisation can occur within any style of music. In my conversations with music education students, many know that improvisation occurs in jazz music, but don't think of the ways that it can bring other musics to life including other popular styles, baroque ornaments, folk songs, and so many others. There are several suggestions for activities in the article which could easily be expanded in to lessons.
My own experiences with teaching improvisation were deepened in my experience completing Level 1 Orff certification. While I think I knew it intellectually, in practice, I had not been fully reveling in the fact that improvisation can spin out of the study of almost any music or musical style that I am exploring with my students. I'm reminded of the Orff teaching process:
We don't have time NOT to include improvisation in our teaching. As we learn more about the effects of play on memory and learning, playful activities such as improvisation stand out as perfect activities to reinforce learned skills and knowledge meaningfully.
I'm curious - what are your own personal experiences with improvisation? How will you use it in the next lesson you teach?
"Improvisation is a natural outpouring of a student's mastery of a skill - a celebration of their learning in the most authentic way."
In a course I'm currently teaching, my students are participating in a Professional Learning Community. Our first work together has involved each member of the group selecting a journal article to have the group read followed by discussing it's application and implications in our future classrooms. I was inspired by Heather Shouldice's work over at Everyday Musicality and decided to present my own reflections on their selected articles as blog posts.
The first article selected is:
Hart, J. (2014). Guided Metacognition in Instrumental Practice. Music Educators Journal, 101(2), 57-64. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0027432114552569
In this article, Hart describes the importance of teaching students to practice, but points out the dilemma that there doesn't seem to be a codified method of doing so. He advocates for the use of knowledge about how the brain functions in developing strategies for teaching students to practice, one of which is metacognition. While it is sometimes simply described as "thinking about thinking," Hart points out that it encompasses a more holistic approach to learning. Students who practice using metacognitive strategies think their time was used effectively. Teachers who utilize this approach with their students get results; students played more accurately and mastered passages more quickly than students who did not.
Some tips and takeaways (Hart, 2014, p.59):
1. Practice is a key issue in a student’s development from a beginner to an expert.
2. Metacognition is critical to developing efficient practice skills.
3. Students need educators’ help learning metacognitive skills.
4. Practice time structure, length, and organization are important factors.
5. Supervised practice can be very beneficial for younger students but may decrease as students become more autonomous.
Hart provides three leveled handouts for beginning, intermediate and advanced students to complete surrounding practice sessions as a way of guiding their thought processes. He also provides some hints for utilizing these sheets within the classroom or private lesson.
While this article is aimed at instrumental teachers, the concept could easily be adapted for those who work with developing singers in private lessons or choral settings. A structured method for approaching practice IS helpful in encouraging your students to develop these skills intentionally. On occasion, I'll overhear a teacher lamenting that their students don't practice outside of class enough, or that they don't know how to make progress. As a teacher, it's always our job to figure out how to TEACH our students the skills they need to comprehend and make progress toward learning goals. This seems to be one method for eliminating the need to complain about students preparedness. If it will make your life better, why not try it!?
I sometimes wonder if many educators have discovered effective practice habits of their own. In my own case, I find practicing the piano to be MUCH easier than practicing voice. It seems more tangible for me in many ways, and it was not until well in to my PhD program, and reading more research surrounding practice techniques that I even realized I had this issue. It is worth exploration by all music educators, first applying it to their own music learning, before expanding that knowledge to their own students. I hope for my current students that they will take this seriously in their own private study opportunities, and that they will understand how these skills will transfer to their future classrooms.