MusicLaunch is a laboratory learning environment at the Wang YMCA in Chintown, Boston. The main mission of the program is to provide the constituents of the YMCA affordable, quality music instruction that requires no audition (open-access) and aligns with the YMCA’s goals of community involvement, healthy living, and social responsibility. The program also functions as a safe environment for students of the New England Conservatory to gain experience as teachers and try different pedagogical techniques. A partnership between NEC’s Continuing Ed and Preparatory Program, NEC’s Music-in-Education program, and the Wang YMCA, teachers have experimented with using music integration techniques in the classroom as a solution to practical issues in the classroom. The results have been effective, fun, and sometimes unexpected (See Third Party MusicLaunch Report by Tufts student Tamara Winn 2012).
The program meets each Saturday, except on national and school holiday weekends, for a total of 24 classes each year. The classes are 90 minutes long, with the time divided between instrument instruction (60 minutes), general music instructional activities (15 minutes), and group-reflection/peer-performance called “sharing time” (15 minutes). Students join at various degrees of experience, but generally they have little experience before the program (MusicLaunch surveys for parents, ‘11–‘12, ‘12–‘13, ‘13–‘14).
Music integration projects have become an important part of the curriculum for a few reasons:
1. To reference invaluable knowledge from other subject areas that the student should be familiar with from school. It is essential to draw upon a standard base of knowledge when introducing musical concepts that in most cases are unfamiliar to the student before attending MusicLaunch—in fact, it can be impossible to avoid in many cases.
2. To teach a new concept—or improving understanding in a certain area. One example of which is reading Cartesian coordinate graphs (matrix), which is a similar skill to reading musical notation. The skills for reading graphs are basic, fundamental, and shared across subjects.
Many times it is the most expeditious for the circumstance. In the case of reading a Cartesian coordinate graph (matrix), the graph reading is akin to note-reading with the modifiers for volumes (dynamics) and attack removed.
3. To focus on a particular dimension of music. When using cups to demonstrate rhythm, for example, pitch is easily removed and other modifiers can be introduced only when desired. When using the Cartesian graph, solfége can be introduced on the y-axis (for pitch) along side the note names for quick reference.
4. To allow for student manipulation. This is a teaching/learning technique that is currently being leveraged in other disciplines, but is rarely used in music education. Math classes, for example, have students use manipulative cubes as they study addition, subtraction, and multiplication for the first time. Language arts teachers may bring in cards with words that can be mixed and matched in a “mad-lib” fashion. Music integration removes artificial constraints that make musical manipulatives impractical, if not impossible, to use in the music classroom.
5. To create an access-point to communicate with parents/family members, who would otherwise shy away from actually learning musical skills themselves (although they require their children to participate and achieve in music). Inspired from Suzuki’s policy of teaching to the parents as well as the children—improving the “mother tongue” of the adults in the room, who are the “teachers at home”—we have found that music integration creates a common-platform to discuss otherwise esoteric musical concepts (See Portfolio WEBSITE URL HERE)
In the first (1.) case, teachers find that simply for pragmatic reasons they must refer to knowledge that has been taught from a different subject area. Many times, in fact, the teacher is not even aware that they are drawing upon knowledge
that is expected to be taught in from different subjects. A common example is when a teacher counts to four in order to explain the concept of meter. The teacher, whether realizing it or not, is making an assumption that the child (a) understands sequencing to a certain extent, and (b) can count to four (and can understand the words for the numbers of the language that the explanation is being given in). Most of the time, an assumption for knowledge as simple as this example goes unnoticed, but for some groups of students, like in the example of very young children, the assumption is unjustified.
When counting to four to explain meter, the instructor of course is trying to explain a concept that is unique to music (‘meter’), but is also simultaneously drawing upon the knowledge of other subject areas in order to communicate this idea. In most instances, this assumption is a fair one and goes unnoticed by the teacher, but in certain instances teachers discover how important the knowledge from other subjects is for getting their point across. The first time that a teacher tries to explain meter to a child who has just entered the public school system at K1 or K2, for example, and before they have begun learning the foundations for knowledge that we understand as common knowledge. The teacher realizes that they have been relying on this common knowledge all along.
Music integration that utilizes the knowledge base of other subject areas is far from limiting. As students get older, the average student in America receives a disproportionate amount of educational/class/instruction time in music [see Scripp et. al 2013]. There are many, many examples of this at MusicLaunch, mainly because of the disproportionate attention paid to music as a core part of the curriculum—aka we get 1.5 hours a week with the kids, while they are expected to have mastered many skills from other subject areas and spend considerable amount of time learning language, for example.
In the second (2.) case, the teacher is aware that their curriculum can help a student understand concepts that are in common to other disciplines. It may be as simple as putting time on the x axis and pitch on the y axis, or as complex and abstract as the concept of pitch being
the frequency of vibrations per second.
[Jingle Bells Matrix.tiff]
Example of a Cartesian coordinate graph—or ‘matrix’—that was used at MusicLaunch to instruct Jingle Bells. Multiple versions were created for different instruments, but the one displayed here is for Bellsets. On the left-hand-most side is the solfége, and to the right of that are images of the Bellset with the corresponding note filled in grey for reference. The number for each beat runs across the x-axis, or time axis, above the lyrics. The notes that should be performed are filled in across the matrix in grey. This approach allows students to familiarize themselves with the basic concepts of music literacy, while giving them additional and useful references. Ages 5–9 used this at MusicLaunch as they learned the song alongside older and more experienced children.
It should be noted that this is not entirely one-way, since the connection, once it has been made, has the potential to be understood both ways. Hence the idea of shared fundamental concepts [cite MIE work here].
One good example of this at MusicLaunch is the Math, Music, and Physics unit. Students were expected to take away some knowledge for math, science, and physics, as well as understand how 440, for example, is related to one of the songs that they have learned (la, si do re).
[Carissa First Page]
Scan of a filled out worksheet for a unit on Math, Music, and Physics. Students were asked mathematical questions, then they would hear the sounds on a speaker (for example, we would listen to 440 Hz, or A 440, on a tuning fork and on Audacity, a software program that can generate any tone specified by the user.
In the third (3.) case, music integrative approaches may be the best approach since they are easily tailored to focus on a specific dimension. For example, it may be utilized to teach solfége. In an environment, like MusicLaunch, where the teachers are only able to work with students for 1.5 hours, one day a week, it is necessary to create documents that can be utilized for reference for a particular idea[CY1]
At MusicLaunch, students are given matrices that have the fingering, along with the solfége, so that students can quickly reference the solfége as they practice a piece at home. Traditional notation would make this a difficult demand, since the students would be expected to parse the standard notation, as well as the solfége. The page would become cluttered if solfége were written above the notes on the page of standard notation, especially if information about fingering, dynamics etc. were to be added as well. By tailoring a representation (which is easily accomplished in alternative representations), the instructor can guide the student’s attention to a particular aspect of music that is worthy of study.
In the forth (4.) case, in order to allow for manipulation, students are allowed and encouraged to use manipulatives to explore musical concepts on their own. Receiving documents week-after-week that cannot be modified by the student can be exhausting for a student[CY2]
. Manipulatives can add excitement to the classroom as well as set the precedent early that “creation and decision making is a natural part of music making”, empowering and encouraging the student to act as a creator, improviser, composer in the musical process.
At MusicLaunch, a great example of musical manipulatives in the classroom is the cups game. Students first experience a demonstration by the teacher of the cups game. During this time students learn the rules of the game by learning the basic rules of music (like rhythm), and then apply that to participating in a collaborative performance of rhythms created by the teacher. After the students seem comfortable with their understanding of these rules a student may be asked to come up to the front of the class and make their own rhythm, which the rest of the class is then challenged to perform. Students enjoy both performing the rhythms and leading the group by creating new rhythms. The spontaneous nature of the game challenges students to understand and master fundamental concepts of rhythm, tempo, and timing. Extensions to this unit may be easily added that make connections to math and language explicit.
Music Integration such as the cups game has the ability to teach the basics of standard note reading skills as well as reinforce math, language, logic, cognitive, and socio-emotional skills. One of the reasons that musical manipulatives may not be utilized in the standard music education approach is because it is impractical to utilize standard notation as a medium for manipulation without already having a certain level of mastery over various skills. Musical composition may be considered a form of manipulation, but it is usually not expected as a required musical activity for the average student until well after the pupil has mastered a certain degree of skill on an instrument and is able to read standard notation. Music integration, allowing teachers to find creative ways to utilize knowledge from other disciplines, is able to have students creating and making new choices at their current skill level immediately.
[Jasper leads cups game]
One student at MusicLaunch Guitar (MusicLaunch’s satellite program at the YMCA in Malden, MA) leads the cups game in front of the class. Leaders of the cup game choose the sequence of the cups, creating their own rhythms and are in charge of counting off and conducting the group’s performance of their rhythm. Performers are challenged to read the rhythms in “real-time”. The cups displayed in this picture have A, Z, and M printed on them. A stands for “alligator” (4 sixteenth-notes), M stands for “monkey” (two eighths), and Z for “zoo”). Young students use these linguistic equivalents of important musical rhythms to establish their foundations in a fun and authentic way. On the reverse side of these same cups (not shown in this particular photo) are the “stick-notation” version equivalents of each of these rhythms (which is basically standard-notation without note-heads and a staff). Students quickly make the transition from the linguistic approach to the more abstract stick-notation, putting them one step closer to reading standard-notation in a seemingly effortless manner.
In the fifth (5.) case, mutual access-points that are commonly understood well by adults are explicitly referred to when introducing a topic. Many parents, although they expect their children to develop and achieve musically, have little or no expectation of their own ability to learn music. In our experience, many parents avoid the task of challenging themselves completely by simply stating that they are “not talented” or that “it is too late” for them to learn music. In theory, it would be fine if the parents chose not to improve their musical skill—it would leave more time for the teachers to focus directly on the students exclusively, who are the main constituents. However, in reality, the student achieves much to the degree that the parents achieve. This does not mean that the parents need to be at the same level as their children throughout development, but the students whose parents show effort in understanding and learning what their children are learning achieve more, faster.
Music integration has been an incredibly useful tool in this regard because it eliminates the usual excuses that parents have. They may not know what a quarter or an eight note is, but they can certainly read a clock, use a yard stick, and understand ratio. Parents may not know what pitch is, but they understand frequency, sequencing, and set-theory [FOR SOLFÉGE—ANOTHER EXAMPLE?]. In one lesson of a particular music integration project, a moment was caught on camera where the parent tried to excuse himself from the project saying that this is not “what he does” (his line of expertise), however the unit was using Cartesian coordinate graphs and the parent is a computer scientist .
Concluding Thoughts about using music integration in the classroom
As stated here, music integration is an important part of the classes at MusicLaunch in Chinatown. It serves many purposes, from the utter pragmatic (time-efficiency, communicating ideas effectively), to the far-reaching (foundations for creativity, bringing families into the classroom). Integrative techniques to music education are often unfamiliar to new teachers, but they soon discover the benefits of using additional systems of teaching/learning in the classroom.
One NEC student who found benefit in exploring music integrative approaches is Salinla, a composition student at NEC who, at the time, was aspiring to found a school for musical composition in Thailand, her home country. At first Salinla was reluctant to use untraditional tools, such as the matrix, to represent musical ideas. These tools seemed to unconventional and she saw them as a diversion from teaching conventional notation. However, her goal was to find ways to teach composition to young students and, in the current model, conventional notation must be mastered before composition exercises can be started—which would have taken all of the class time. After trying the matrix a couple days in the classroom, she began to see the music integration tools differently—as more tools in her toolbox. She still continued to teach standard notation in her classes, but she began to embrace the matrix as a solution to the challenge of empowering students to make their own compositional choices early in their development. She found a way to teach standard notation in tandem with other approaches in ways that benefitted both methods of understanding.
Quote from intern, Salinla’s, portfolio regarding using the matrix in the classroom (http:https://musicineducation.sicreative.com/preview_units.php?id=237&page=tab4):
I’ve learned a lot in MIE class. Also, I learned several teaching techniques such as teaching music with matrix and teaching music with cups from this class. To confess, I didn’t think that teaching with these techniques can help students much at first. However, what I thought about it originally changed when I used these techniques with my students.
This semester, I worked as an intern at YMCA in Chinatown. I had to teach recorders for kids. My students are very young; they are six or seven years old. Most of them couldn’t read the note and had a rhythmic problem. Moreover, my students didn’t have much patience to read music score. When they struggled with reading or playing, they would easily gave up and no motivate to learn further.
I planned to challenge their myelin, so I thought about teaching music with matrix, which I have learned in the class. I made Ode to Joy for recorders and put it in matrix.
The first time I introduced the matrix to them, one of my students suddenly said to me, "Why don’t you give this to me at first time!." After that, class’s atmosphere was totally change. Normally, my students wouldn’t perform anything if I didn’t ask them to show. Surprisingly, they wanted to show others what they’ve learned after they learned matrix.
[Salinla’s Student Comp]
Again, discussing the need. Maybe this should be its own topic?
I think that this is true, but what do we have in the literature that justifies this claim?