Sunday, November 18, 2007

Teaching Public Schools to Rock

David Wish on Huffington Post.


"I became a public school teacher because I felt the best hope for our future had to be our children. It seemed to me that a lot of the grown-ups of the world seem to have gotten, well, let's just say "distracted." On my first day as a teacher, I went to my principal's office to ask when my class would have their music periods. She just gave me a blank stare and told me that we didn't have a music teacher and that anyone who wanted to introduce music to their class would have to develop the curriculum and teach it themselves. I was shocked but, being an avid guitarist myself, I took it on as a personal challenge. The twenty second-graders in my class were going to learn to play the guitar.

I started with nothing but index cards. I asked my students to write down all their favorite songs on one side of their card and all their favorite artists on the other. When I had collected the cards, I had my curriculum and repertoire for the year. Now all I needed was twenty guitars. I called up some of my musician friends (especially ones that owed me favors) to see if they had old beat-up six-strings that they could donate to the cause. Within a few weeks I had assembled a ragtag fleet of instruments and I began to offer a guitar class once a week after-school.

The music classes I had grown up with took a very dry and didactic approach. Since there was no formal music program, I had the freedom to create something from I scratched most of what I had seen of more traditional music programs almost immediately. The first thing that went was the cannon. We didn't learn "Mary Had A Little Lamb" or "Three Blind Mice." We learned top 40 hits that the kids knew and loved. The kids went bananas over that! The next thing I eliminated was the use of music notation. I simply taught the kids to play by ear, a less-intimidating path and one that eliminated a first obstacle to playing. Finally, I added two elements rarely seen in music classes for kids: improvisation and composition. That's when things started getting really interesting."


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