Friday, May 11, 2012

One Year of Teaching Music

I'm just wrapping up my first year as a Teaching Assistant for a class called 'Aural Skills'. I'd rather have the class be called 'Musicianship' but I have no decision in the matter. I did however, have a lot of decisions to make this year about what to teach and how to teach it. The saying that goes something like 'the thing you learn about something when you have to teach it' is totally true as well. Here are some things I've learned this year, in no particular order.

-Get people up and moving. I wish it was a Dalcroze Eurythmics class! Unlike most teachers, I have everyone stand at the beginning to warm up, and then during dictations, I have people come up to the blackboards to write examples. It's a new perspective, having to be 'on call' and work on a giant board rather than paper, but there's less pressure if you're not the only one in front of the class, and the whole class can also use the examples on the board to sing from or critique.

-I make a lot of mistakes, and sometimes the timing of the lessons isn't what I envisioned. But then I teach the class a second time to another section, and I can refine things a lot.

-I try to call on every single person at least once in class. Even for tiny questions or observations, it keeps people on-target. Even though they're put on the spot, it's also okay to be wrong or just take a guess.

-Perfect pitch people need extra challenges. How do you make it worthwhile for a student who can recognize every note played on the piano and write it out by rote? Bring in a different instrument to play the examples, or have students write out dictations in alternate clefs and keys.

-It's amazing how much you can learn about a student's learning habits and work ethic by hearing them sing individually for five minutes.

-Attendance is to be taken seriously. I'm super-forgiving about someone letting me know they might be gone for this week's classes because of a trip, or that they're not feeling well and they might not be in class tomorrow. But I'm not forgiving about just not coming to class and not letting me know. Take a tiny bit of responsibility, kidz.

-Some musical topics are just hard to explain, mostly because they're hard to hear. If you can't break down music into small chunks first, or play examples that show the relevance of what you're talking about, it's really hard to make people 'get it', and then hope that they do well on a quiz. Also, if you don't get the material, seeking out extra help=super bonus points with me.

-It's important to teach the material in conjunction with other classes, so connections can be made between what's conceptual and what's practical. The theory class just learned about augmented 6th chords, and now we're practicing how to sing them! We just learned about church modes and now we're dictating in Lydian! I wish I had more of those inter-curriculum connections in my studies.

-Nobody actually wants to be there, and it's not your fault. The class I teach is required; it's mostly practical applications of what they learn in another class. Though you can't do much with making diminished sevenths fun, you can make class as amusing as you possibly can by playing ridiculous music examples, warming up with tongue twisters, and very seldomly but surprisingly, bring a snack for everyone. Nobody turns down cookies!

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