Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Music 101: Day 1

I taught my FIRST MUSIC 101 CLASS yesterday.

It was a two-hour long class period.  I'm fairly certain I had about 50 students in there, although now as I look at the current registrar I've noticed now I only have 43 students signed up.  *sigh*  It's like Dr. Johnson always says.  You can't help it if some kids just can't take your class.  It may not be by choice, but it may be.  Your job is not to take it personally and keep teaching.  Which I intend to do.

I do think that most of my students really enjoyed our class.  I have lots of energy and enthusiasm, so it's hard to fall asleep, I suspect.  I have discovered some things about the room that I don't love.  Lighting is an issue.  My darker power-points couldn't be seen very well in the bleary light.  The pianos are both Steinways (good) that are pushed onto the far side of the room and can't be moved (bad).  So I found myself running back and forth from my computer to the piano to play examples.

I made a few jokes, and my students giggled.

Some students are pretty witty.  During our first discussion about music, what it is, and how we define it, I presented them with the Webster's 1828 definition of music, which is sounds that "please the ear."  I asked my students, "Does music have to please the ear?"
"No," one kid said, fairly loudly.
"Why not?" I ask.
"Nickleback," was his answer.

It was brilliant.

We also talked about melody, harmony, texture, and dynamics that day.  My favorite part of the class was teaching them about polyphonic texture.  We sang "A Child's Prayer" together.  One half of the class sang one part, and the other sang the second part.  Afterward, I mentioned that the reason why polyphony is so effective is because there are often two very distinct messages in a song, and both deserve to be heard.  But when they're played together, you get this whole NEW interpretation of both messages.  In "A Child's Prayer" we have the innocent questioning of a child, while on the other side we have a parent's assurance that yes, Heavenly Father is actually there.  And when they're played together, it's like this dialogue between parent and child that many people relate to and understand.  It's not just some unknown narrator telling you to "Speak, he is listening."  It's a parent, hovering over her/his child's shoulder as that child is praying for the first time.  It's beautiful.  I choked up as I talked about it with my students.

My other favorite part of the class was talking about harmony, and how things like tonic and dominant work.  I used the example of "Heart and Soul," a song everyone is so tired of, but it's PERFECT for explaining how harmonic progressions work. I likened it unto a baseball diamond, where you have a home plate, but you can't just STAY on home plate.  You have to take a journey around different bases (sub-dominant and dominant chords) before you can feel satisfied about coming back home.  I thought it was clever.  Perhaps my students didn't.  Who knows.

My fear is that my students will get to the test and they won't be able to merge what I say in class with what's written in the exam.  I want my students to succeed SO BADLY, but I must remember that in order for them to TRULY succeed, I must challenge them.  The baseball analogy works here, too.  If I gave them a bunch of freebies and easy answers, they'd never get past home plate to start.  They need to take the effort and head round those bases themselves before they can really feel accomplished.

I'm learning some great stuff!

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