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Spotlight on Research in Music Education

Important research in music education assessment practices was presented at the fifth International Symposium on Assessment in Music Education (ISAME5) held in Williamsburg, Virginia. Only in its third year, the doctoral program in music education at George Mason University was represented by two paper presentations dealing with the measurement and evaluation of effective teacher practice. The first paper proposes a theoretical model that attempts to identify the essential teaching and musicianship skills needed to help pre-service teachers boost their effectiveness as they transition into the first-year of their teaching career.  The model is based upon findings from prior research as well as a more recent survey involving teacher-practitioners who helped identify which observable traits they believed were essential skills that would lead to improved music instruction.

Another paper investigated the idea of basing student achievement grades in music through rigorously assessing mastery of standards as opposed to a traditional approach to grading (TG) that focuses on basing grades on a “hodgepodge” of extra-musical attributes such as attendance, effort, and participation. This study looked specifically at how pre-service teacher attitudes can change in favor of accepting and presumably adopting a standards-based grading (SBG) approach. The process for attempting to accomplish this goal was two-fold: 1) through instruction primarily in terms of how SBG differs from a TG approach by focusing on measuring and improving student growth through the idea that the standards are the focus of learning, and 2) through emphasizing the idea that if the profession is serious about adopting a standards-based approach to grading, then the design should be implemented and modeled for preservice teachers enrolled in teacher preparation courses.


Music Advocacy

Music advocacy is a topic that has really hit home in the last few years and the importance of it is more necessary now than ever. I think that it is a topic we normally don’t think about when in the classroom. However, in the classroom we can advocate for music the most. As teachers, it is important that we consistently fight for our program when teaching our students. By using best practices and encouraging our students to reach their full potential we are doing just that. By being a fun, encouraging, yet strict teacher we earn the respect of our students and they return that by being enthusiastic about the program. If students enjoy band or choir then their friends want to join. More students in the classroom shows more interest in the program to those just concerned with numbers but it also allows for more opportunities as a large ensemble or for small chamber ensembles. Students who enjoy the program also earn support of the program through their parents. There is another way to advocate for music, the parents. As much as there will the parent or parents you can’t stand talking to you still need to be civil and friendly to keep them supportive of the program. Being cordial will be worth its weight in gold. Not only do you need parents in support of their student being in band or choir but you also need parents in support of the entire program. They will be the ones to give support when dealing with the school board. They will be the ones to consistently call and annoy the board until the point that they realize that the program is really needed. You also need the town where you live to like you as well. If the band has played the same version of the Star Spangled Banner for the last fifty years and you live in a conservative community it is important that you uphold the tradition (you may be able to make a few unnoticeable tweaks). The same goes for a parade the band participates in every year or a competition you think you should compete in, the parade always wins. The parents and public will be the ones that come to the concerts and who buy cookie dough and hoagies for fundraisers. You need them on your side. Another way you advocate for your program is through you music selections. If you pick a field show or a piece for the spring concert that the students relate to and identify with. They will be more excited for band or choir and will stick with it the next year to see what new pieces they’ll get to perform. They’ll also probably be more likely to practice. The public will also enjoy your program more. One of the biggest ways you can advocate for program is being a nice, agreeable, non-confrontational person. You need to respect your students, their parents, and the general public to gain their respect. Their respect and support is the best advocacy you can get for your program.

Ten Tips for the New Music Teacher March 26-28, 2015 I went to the PMEA State conference in Hershey, PA.  There were so many wonderful workshops and it was a great experience.  One workshop I went to was Ten Tips for the New (or soon to be new) Music Teacher.  The presenter was Dr. Michael Panza who is the superintendent at West Jefferson Hills School District.  What I find interesting is that he was a music teacher before becoming superintendent.  He still continues to play his instrument today which is exciting.

His ten tips were very thoughtful.  The first tip was to get off of social media. In my opinion you should to an extent but not necessarily the whole way if you are being careful.  He presented three cases of teachers who got fired because of inappropriate pictures that were posted on social media either of them at a party (drinking alcohol), or they had an inappropriate relationship with a student.  The second point was always maintain a positive attitude.  If you get mad at your students, take thirty seconds to just breath and just let it go.  You should be in a pleasant mood towards your students or they’re not going to want to be around you.

Number three was volunteer now.  It is good to get your foot in the door, whether it is working for a school committee, or you could volunteer for your local high school marching band, orchestra, church choir, etc.  This will help you prepare for the interview.  You should know your district, whether it is reading the local papers, or looking through old yearbooks.  You need to let your students and the parents know by your actions that you are interested in them, their school, and their community.

One big thing is to be a teacher, not a friend.  We need to get to know our students but we need to keep it on a professional level.  We should be role models for our students.  We should also be a good classroom manager, not a good classroom disciplinarian.  It is important to have good classroom management skills and not just discipline students every time they do something wrong. We need to plan ahead, and we need to keep parents informed.

The number eight tip was to embrace change and accept new assignments.  We should be taking on roles other than the music teacher. If you are asked to do hall duty, lunch duty, run a study hall, whatever it is we should take the role with a positive attitude.  It is also very important to get to know the building secretaries and custodians and be nice to them.  If you are willing to work with them and talk to them, then they are willing to help you.

The last tip he mentioned which I didn’t even think of was to invite the principal or the superintendent of the school to perform with the ensemble.  It will give administration the hands-on experience.  I’m not sure if the administration in every school will agree to this, but this could open their eyes to the arts.  I know that in my high school that the administration was invited to every concert.  Usually someone came, but they did not stay for the entire thing, which was sad.

These tips are things we might already know, but are good things to be reminded of when we go out into the field of student teaching or when we get a job.  These are things that we should be aware of even now.  Personally, I would love to have this superintendent come to Clarion and give another workshop.  He gave some great ideas, and I’m glad there are administrators that are still passionate about music today.

YouTube is a “Reliable” Source?

All through school, including college, students are told to use reliable sources for anything they do. If I had a dollar for every time I heard a professor say, “Don’t use Wikipedia as a source,” “Make sure you sight everything,” or “The library is a great place to start,” then half of my college loans would be paid off! Recently, I have been hearing a lot of professors telling students to use a certain website. That website is called YouTube. When I first heard a professor tell us to use YouTube was in my CIS class. She said to us if we got stuck on something to use that website. I sat there in awe thinking, “You’re kidding right?” This blog will mostly be surrounded by musical instruments and how to play them.

YouTube is, technically, a social media website where videos are uploaded daily on various subjects. I’ve had a YouTube channel since late 2006 and I’ve been using the same account since. Nearly the last 10 years, I’ve been using YouTube as a guide for learning on how
to play guitar. There are now literally thousands of videos on “How to” with playing the guitar. In all honesty, I am not sure where I would be with my career as a guitarist if it wasn’t for YouTube. I have never been the type of person who enjoys formal lessons and learning from someone else one on one. Rather, I’ve been the type who would want to learn instruments on my own. People like me have to start somewhere and I highly recommend YouTube.

In the last year of my schooling with Music Education, I’ve been told numerous times to use YouTube as a source if I got lost or confused with an instrument with classes like Brass, Percussion, Voice, and most recently, Strings. For example, there was a time when I missed two weeks of Strings class. I was handed a violin and was basically told to learn how to play it in 3 weeks. Not knowing how to approach it, I went to YouTube and searched, “How to play the violin.” Immediately, I found numerous videos on the subject. Thanks to YouTube, I learned how to properly hold the instrument, how to bow and pluck, how to hold the bow, how to play the D Major scale, and even how to restring the violin. This is a prime example why teachers and professors are telling their students to use YouTube as a reliable source.

There are some discussions about the use of YouTube with schooling. I’ve heard and  read that YouTube is used for teachers who are too lazy to teach. I would like to defend those teachers who use YouTube as their teaching method. Even though that is a bold statement, it is not necessarily true. I have personally seen teachers teach the instruments fairly and clearly without the website. You still get your education and still have that one on one interaction with the instructor as well. In fact, I’ve seen instructors teach better than the YouTube videos that are provided for the world. However, again in their defense, YouTube is a method that can help students on their own time at their home. It is also used in class for teachers who find a video that explains a lesson better than they would use in their own words.

Another negativity for YouTube is that the people who upload these instruction videos are amateurs. With that being said, that is true. People who search on how to play an instrument and want a fine quality video that they can rely on, how do they know they are getting that? There are many ways to find that out quickly. Displayed under the video is a thumbs up/thumbs down button. Obviously, if the thumbs up outnumber the thumbs down by a large number, it most likely means it’s reliable. A factor that can play into that method is look at the number of views it has. For example, if a video has 800,000 views with 50,000 thumbs up and 2000 thumbs down, it is most likely an accurate and reliable lesson but sometimes, it’s not always true. Lastly, which I usually use, is look at the comments. If there are a lot of positive comments, then it really is a good video to use as a reliable source. Now, I am not saying the video is 100% accurate every time. Your discretion is still advised however, it is uploaded usually by amateurs. There are companies like Guitar Center, Musicians Friend, & Guitar Player magazines that have accounts and teach methods on obviously, guitar. These are for sure reliable sources.

As you can see, YouTube is a very reliable source for just about anything, especially on how to play an instrument. I would say you could use YouTube for almost anything and about 9 times out of 10, you’ll find the results you were looking for. I would not recommend using
YouTube as a source for a research paper! But the next time you’re stuck on just about anything, try YouTube first! I’ve been using YouTube for the last 10 years and hopefully for the next 10 more! I strongly recommend anyone using YouTube for anything. Although the results may vary and not always be on the dot accurate, it is a good place to start!

Jazz Bass Playing Styles

In the early days of bass playing in Jazz, around 1910s to the 1930s, the bass often struggled with being heard when competing with the wind instruments of the day. Prior to the invention of microphones this was a constant issue that plagued bassists. Prior to 1910 players would still use their bows to play a fair bit, but around 1910 a “slap” style of playing was created. This style of playing can be referred to as Bartok pizzicato, where the string is plucked and rebounds off the fingerboard. The loud pluck and rebound gave the bass added volume allowing it to stay in Jazz, and later evolve with the advent of amplification.Jazz is a unique entity that requires special attention when performing. Just like performing other styles within the classical genre, is is incredibly important to understand how to play specific to the period that the pieces are from. Playing bass in Jazz is no exception to this rule, and here we are going to break down the key styles to keep in mind when playing Jazz bass.

From the 1930s to the 1960s and so on, the playing style of choice would be a traditional pizzicato in a simple walking bass line. This style gained popularity as it could outline scales, and and maintain a constant steady tempo. At this time the bass was fully established as a member of the rhythm section, and its added use of keeping time became a key element to its use.

Prior to 1952 everything was strictly played on an upright or double bass. It was in this year however, that the electric bass would hit the Jazz scene in Lionel Hampton’s band. The electric bass solved many of the practical problems of the upright; fixing portability, amplification, and intonation with fixed frets. The electric however wouldn’t take off until the 1960s.

The 60s saw the creation of Fusion, and with it a change in style. Fusion caused bass playing to mimic that of Rock and R&B bands. A simple repeated version of walking bass with a presence meant to be on the forefront of the stage. At the this time with Funk also being a form of Fusion, “slapping and popping” became a style of playing unique to the electric bass. The strings could be slapped with the thumb, and then plucked with the tips of the fingers. This style grew in popularity and became a standard part of Funk.

Additionally there are a combination of special effects that a bassist can use when performing. for double bass, musicians can slide between notes in a glissando effect, they can use the bow for a different tone or for sustaining longer notes, and finally using the body as a percussion instrument was possible. For electric bass, using different electronic effects on and off stage will always be an option. So when it comes down to performing Jazz on the bass, just like any other genre, understanding the styles of playing as they evolved is crucial to performing pieces correctly. One wouldn’t want to be using an electric to play a Count Basie chart, nor would to want to be slapping and popping in a New Orleans piece. Always be aware of when a piece is written, and apply your knowledge accordingly.