There are several annotation apps available for iPad, including iAnnotate and Penultimate, but Goodnotes has been my favorite so far for the music classroom, particularly for score analysis. The functionality of Goodnotes across multiple platforms and the ease with which scores and annotations are imported and exported provides ample opportunities for making analysis more interactive in the flipped environment. For students and classrooms with easy access to mobile technology, Goodnotes is a low-cost solution to expanding textbook resources quickly and efficiently.
I often introduce peer analysis activities to encourage students to think beyond the isolated examples of the course anthology. Most music history textbooks, for example, include Josquin’s motet “Ave Maria…virgo serena” to illustrate the new compositional techniques of the Franco-Flemish school circa 1500 CE, namely those described by Pietro Aron in Toscanello in musica (Venice, 1523/rev. 1539). The most striking of these features include the pervasive “points of imitation,” paired voices, and homophonic textures, which reflects a sensitivity to text setting achieved by composing all voices at once (vertically) instead of in linear stages. Simulating the stages of composition and text setting with an activity facilitated by Goodnotes helps students solidify concepts from the book and anthology and reflect on the conditions for composition, performance, and dissemination.
After discussing “Ave Maria virgo serena,” teams of students are assigned a different motet by Josquin to analyze and present to the class. Goodnotes facilitates teamwork outside of class by its compatibility with a variety of applications, Dropbox, Evernote, Google Drive, to name a few. Individual students can work with a specific color to represent their contribution with the file-sharing capabilities of the external programs.
One advantage of Goodnotes is its compatibility with Safari on the iPad, which permits students to seek and acquire examples using their own judgment rather than relying of the instructor to provide. Note in the second screen shot that the Safari app provides a box for opening .PDF files from web resources directly into Goodnotes, like the International Music Score Library Project.
The Goodnotes workstation will assist student learning outside of the classroom, offering the autonomy of choosing a variety of annotation styles and of managing notes in folders and through file-sharing programs. These activities solidify important concepts from the textbook by engaging students or teams of students in the steps of acquiring, annotating, and discussing musical form, style, and function in the context of their readings.
In recent years as I’ve gradually begun integrating technology into my teaching in and out of the classroom, I’ve guided my pursuits by the following phrase: “allow technology to enhance, not dictate, your pedagogy.” While the message may seem naive and a bit too simplistic for the complexities of instruction in 21st-century higher education, I remain confident that its guidance has served me well. I’ve witnessed the rise and fall of the “next big thing” and dodged a slew of aggressive advertisements by companies with devices that are already obsolete. Student engagement with technology does not always translate to higher scores, skill sets, and understanding.
Last week I had the privilege of attending my first “un-conference,” Flip Camp Music Theory 2013, at Charleston Southern University, which embraced the possibilities of technology wholeheartedly. Conference organizers Kris Shaffer, Bryn Hughes, and Phil Duker have pioneered the application of social media, just-in-time teaching, and screencasting, among other techniques, to the music theory and musicianship classrooms. As a musicologist straying from my usual conference fare, I was immediately exposed by my lack of an aluminum Macbook Pro. But after a quick Twitter tutorial, I was ready to go!
What really impressed me by this conference was that technology was targeted toward a primary pedagogical method, the flipped classroom. The show-and-tell and open discussion forum continually addressed the possibilities that arise when students take responsibility for the content out of the classroom. Technology did not take the spotlight away from the professor; the flipped environment did so that students could apply what they learned out of class to activities in the classroom instead of sitting passively in a lecture.
Despite my heavy adoption of iPads to classroom activities, I remain relatively low tech: I do not correspond with my students via Twitter or Facebook; I still administer Bluebook exams; and I write my first drafts by pencil. However, I am encouraged to continue exploring new platforms of instruction when I see colleagues directing new technological possibilities toward specific learning outcomes. Leaving the un-conference, I was already brainstorming how I could apply what I learned to enhancing my own pedagogical methods. I shall share soon enough!
I often encounter the following Chinese proverb: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for the day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for lifetime.” But I’m not always certain that I live by it enough in the classroom. As we often say in education, our job as teachers is not to give students the answers but to show them how to find the answers. We are not encouraging them just to learn for our test, but to be a lifetime learner. Whenever we create a special resource for our students, we may be denying them a profound learning opportunity.
An educational technology expert recently introduced me to a wonderful iPad app called ScreenChomp. ScreenChomp allows iPad users to create video tutorials from interactive screen shots with full annotation capability. Primary and secondary education teachers already engage with this application to archive video demonstrations of math calculations, verb conjugations, and other resources on course management sites.
I immediately began experimenting with ScreenChomp, as there are several complex demonstrations I often repeat for students after class and during office hours that could easily be uploaded to MOODLE. As I drafted a list of videos to create–“How to find the thesis statement in a scholarly article,” “How to invert a dominant seventh chord,” How to complete a Babbitt, 12-tone matrix, “How to distinguish members of the saxophone family,” etc.–I thought about how much my students will love me for such an extensive body of resources.
Yet, as the fog of self-absorption dissipated I began to have second thoughts. Why do I need to demonstrate these abilities? Aren’t students supposed to demonstrate these outcomes? Bingo! I’ll have the students make the videos. Although having students create peer learning resources is not new, this seemed to provide a better model. Furthermore, making instructional videos adds a bit of permenance to student presentations. Unlike live presentations, videos will remain in circulation. The performance doesn’t end.
The transfer of responsibility from the professor to the student is a good thing. My students have occasionally asked me to pronounce a word on their Powerpoint slide during a presentation. Why should I answer? Aren’t they in the position of expert? Did they not seek resources online and in the library to learn how to pronounce it ahead of time? And most importantly, would they be able to ask me in the middle of an instructional video to pronounce a word for them? I think not. Cue resourcefulness, preplanning, and revision. The work that goes into a video with unknown distribution far exceeds the minimum requirements for delivering a single performance to a finite audience. Any engaged learning activity should develop transferable skills, skills rooted in the liberal arts and applicable to a variety of disciplines and careers. When we catch fish for our students, we deny them an opportunity to master these skills.
Jazz improvisation is a challenging concept for undergraduate, non music majors to grasp. One can either offer vague descriptions of expressing the soul or attempt to simplify complex patterns of harmony. Neither angle proves satisfying, as non majors have difficulty relating to the process by which a self-taught musician channels emotions with convincing melodic gestures and a thoroughly-trained musician sequences complex chordal structures with ease. Professional musicians are either uncannily talented or exhaustively schooled in music theory.
But I am convinced that non music majors can try their hand at improvisation as well. And it is important that they engage in the behavior of solo and group improvisation to fully appreciate the creative process that defines jazz. Group performances of modal jazz changes, the scale-based form found in Miles Davis’s “So What” from Kind of Blue, make this opportunity quite accessible. Not only do students piece together components of the jazz ensemble, they have an ability to shape their own creative voice through several phases of improvisation. A comprehensive knowledge of jazz harmony and standard changes is not required and not really necessary for non music majors. Students in this exercise are protected from playing “wrong notes.”
The modal changes in “So What” are relatively simple. The “head” is in D dorian and the “bridge” is in E-flat dorian. Each chorus is a conventional AABA, 32-bar cycle. In even simpler terms, the white keys of the piano form the basis of “A” and the black keys of the piano (plus F and C if you really want) form the basis of “B.” Several rhythm section practice tracks (with a walking double bass and drum set) are available for these modal changes, or you can have students use Garage Band on iPads to construct a walking bass line and basic swing pattern on the ride cymbal.
The exercise is broken into 4 phases before free improvisation can take place within the ensemble. In phase 1, a piano soloist explores rich harmonies using the notes of the modal scales. I instruct students to “comp,” that is to freely articulate chords from any notes in the scale, that is any notes they want from the white and then black keys of the piano. Students are encouraged to spread their fingers in order to shape extended harmonies with wide voicing rather than the dissonant tonal clusters that result when their fingers are closed. In phase 2, students engage in variations of a thematic motive. They develop a short melodic gesture of 4-8 notes from the scale then attempt to vary it with slight changes in pitch, length, and rhythm. Some even advance their technique by using inversion, parallel harmonies, or imitation between the right and left hand. Again, as long as they know when to shift from the white keys to the black keys within the form, they avoid unpleasant notes. In phase 3, students employ a hybrid of chordal comping and melodic motivic variation to convey two contrasting moods, tranquility for the head and agitation for the bridge. Students tend to employ soft dynamics, slower rhythms, and light or legato articulations for tranquility and loud dynamics, quicker rhythms, and accented articulations for agitation. In phase 4, the final phase, two student soloists engage in a conversation, a technique jazz musicians often refer to as “trading twos.” Student A introduces a short melodic/harmonic gesture on one piano and Student B answers with something complimentary or contrasting on another piano. In some situations, a student playing a walking bass line on the iPad may also participate in the conversation.
Although this is a rather simplified reconstruction of “So What” changes, students have an opportunity to engage in the behavior of improvisation, both individually and collectively. Despite some resistance from a few individuals who do not want to play in front of their peers, the exercise yields a positive response in the classroom. Many students are surprised when they hear how well they sound along with the rhythm section. I require a post jam session discussion and ask that students reflect critically on the behavior of improvisation. How does jazz engage members of the ensemble in creative collaboration? What messages can a jazz soloist communicate to attentive listeners? What are the roles and responsibilities of each member of the rhythm section? What are the aesthetics of evaluating convincing solos?
I woke (E) up this mornin’ and didn’t know what to teach in class…yeah-yeah-be-dah-daw-de-daw (E7)
I woke (A) up this mornin’ and didn’t (Am) know what to teach in class (E)…yeah-ye-yeah-ye-yaw-be-bah-be-baw (E7)
So I got (B7) to just remember not to be (A7) that ol’ bumblin’ ass (E-E7-F#m11-Go7-E9-F13-E13)
This past spring faculty at my institution gathered in a development workshop on “performance learning,” which reminded me of an activity I regularly build into my courses for non majors. But the organizers of the workshop defined “performance learning” in more specific contexts than the familiar expression “performance-based learning.” Performance meant a public performance with an audience and the student in the spotlight, and the goal was learning how to harness the motivation that drives student athletes before the big game. A significant event, such as a final exam, was not the only factor; it was the public exposure in front of teammates, fans, and family. How can a public performance bring the best out of students and their learning?
For several semesters of music appreciation, I’ve engaged students in a compositional activity to learn the blues. After studying examples by Bessie Smith, Robert Johnson, and W. C. Handy, students are to author several stanzas of blues text, sequence the characteristic harmonies, and describe the musical expressions of the text with each line. I italicize “describe” because before this workshop I never actually expected the non music majors to demonstrate their understanding by actually performing their compositions. I was wrong.
Thank you Garage Band and iPad for making this possible. The new version of this assignment now requires teams of students to perform the blues for the class. In addition to the steps described above, students choose instruments on Garage Band (drum set, guitar, piano, string bass, etc.) and along with a singer play their compositions. The “smart” function for instruments in the iPad app allows students to preset chords in the harmony so they can easily simulate the act of playing the instruments. In many ways this resembles the level of difficulty one experiences in Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Everyone in the class can participate.
The added benefits of this experience are noteworthy. For one, students are pushed to act outside of their comfort zone and to demonstrate some level of competence in the area. Second, students must have mastered basic musicianship skills of counting measures and staying with the beat, both crucial to developing active listening habits. Outcomes such as these go beyond the “content knowledge of blues” to demonstrating relevant skills that will assist them throughout the course and will likely have a lasting impact on their interest in the music.