Overcoming Obstacles: MusicLaunch
Salinla Bang, Tyler Burchfield, Devin Ulibarri
Spring 2012

Welcome to our Spring 2012 Portfolio chronicling MusicLaunch at the Wang YMCA of Chinatown!  


Welcome Sign First Day

Photo taken of the welcome sign that we displayed on the first day of MusicLaunch, for the 2012-2103 year. Artwork by Chie Yasuda.


Portfolio created by the MusicLaunch Team

Devin Ulibarri, M.M., Site Coordinator & NEC CE Faculty

Johnny McInnis, M.Ed,  Boston Teachers Union School & NEC CE Faculty

Randy Wong, Ed.M, Program Manager & NEC College/CE Faculty


Guided Interns:

Tyler Birchfield, NEC College

Salinla Bang, NEC College


Thanks to:   

Angela Tang, YMCA Program Coordinator

Leslie Foley, Dean & Executive Director, NEC Preparatory and Continuing Education

Sean Hagon & Dan Schmunk, NEC School for Continuing Education

Dr. Larry Scripp, NEC Music-in-Education Department Chair



About MusicLaunch

What is MusicLaunch?

  NEC’s MusicLaunch was founded in 2010 in partnership with the Wang YMCA of Chinatown (Boston).  MusicLaunch is an innovative community-minded music education lab, where programs and curricula are driven by the dynamic, multi-faceted, and versatile faculty of NEC’s Continuing Ed Music-in-Education Certificate Program. It follows the YMCA’s commitment to “developing the potential of every child” with its open enrollment (no audition) policy and classes that encourage music literacy from the ground up, starting from a child’s first exposure to learning through music. Small-group lessons in guitar, band instruments, and recorder are also offered.

   Like the YMCA, MusicLaunch is committed to promoting social responsibility, critical thinking, and socio-emotional development.  While many arts organizations focus on free performances as their way of giving back, MusicLaunch instead puts experiential, hands-on learning and multi-level (even multi-generational) instruction at its core. Youth are guided, mentored, and instructed by experienced teaching artists from NEC’s Continuing Ed faculty, as well as by adult intern volunteers from the MIE Certificate Program.

   Documentation of each child’s MusicLaunch experience is collected throughout the year, in the form of reflective journals, video vignettes, and performance recordings. Personal reflection is encouraged amongst faculty, students, and parents alike; sharing sessions are scheduled on a regular basis to facilitate and allow for flow of constructive inquiry.  Program documentation is assembled on a semesterly basis into digital portfolios that make visible these poignant moments of learning and exhibit MusicLaunch’s efficacy for all to see.

"The focus of the YMCA on young people represents our dreams and vision of a society where people are able to take control of their own lives and decide on their own future. We work towards global citizenship for all, and our goal is to improve life in community by developing body, mind and spirit.

Although our central focus is on youth, we provide opportunities and services for everyone – all ages – because we believe we are all one."

Quote Taken from "What we do" page of the YMCA International Website


An image of the YMCA logo. At MusicLaunch, we believe that music has the power to engage young people in all of the goals of the YMCA: Youth Development, Healthy Living, and Social Responsibility.

An image of the YMCA logo.

An image of the YMCA Continuing Ed logo. NEC’s partnership with the YMCA has allowed student-interns from the New England Conservatories Music-In-Education programs opportunities to teach and mentor children.

Ideal Goals vs. Reality

Setting Goals Aside, Then Seeing Them in Disguise

by Tyler

 As you can see in my internship proposal, I have placed a great emphasis on ear training and helping students learn to improvise in my goals.  However, when after the first MusicLaunch meeting, I realized that this would be difficult because the students were at a very beginning level on their band instruments, and I needed to address that first.  Because the program only consists of a once-a-week, 45-minute period of focus on the instruments, and because these band instruments are very challenging to play, the focus really needed to be on developing their skills on the instruments.  For a while, I was not able to work on my own personal goals as outlined in my proposal.

Although the needs of the group did not allow me to accomplish all of my goals, it turns out I was, in fact, able to help students with ear training and getting their focus off of the written page. However, this happened in ways that I did not anticipate and that I didn’t even recognize at first.  For example, when I was very concerned about working on the students’ rhythm and pulse I did an exercise where they would stomp out a 4/4 meter with their feet and I would clap 4/4 rhythms for them to repeat back to me.  While this did, indeed, address rhythm and pulse, it also allowed for them to use their ears on a basic level to try to determine what I was clapping. This was a great development because it allowed for them to do this without the burden of dealing with their instrument.

Another unassuming breakthrough happened when I lead our larger group for the first time. We were doing an activity where we used blocks to symbolize solfege pitches and the person in front of the blocks would touch different blocks and get the students to sing the corresponding pitches. I introduced them to a new song that they enjoyed: Lean On Me, by Bill Withers.  I wasn’t very familiar or comfortable with solfege at the beginning of the term, but I had since gotten comfortable with it and recognize it as a potentially very effective option.

Finally, in a time where I was leading the large group, I had the students start with the aforementioned stomping exercises, but decided to challenge them a little bit with some more difficult rhythms. When I found rhythms they weren’t familiar with I wrote them on the blackboard so they could see them.  After that, I had the idea that they could write their own 4/4 rhythms on the blackboard and we would clap them out over the 4/4 stomp to hear what they sounded like. While this is less directly considered ear training, it very much satisfied my wish to have them thinking of things that were not on the page. On a small scale, they got to do some composition and use their imaginations, which I was really delighted to see.

I feel that the first lesson in all of this is that, regardless of what the teacher’s ideal goals are, the immediate needs of the students always come first. Ultimately, they are entrusting their education to us and we owe it to them to do what is best for them.  In doing so, not only did I, as a teacher, get to “improvise” myself, trying to alter my game plan for their benefit, I gained experience in teaching something that I wasn’t expecting to do, and this will serve me next time I’m in a similar situation.  The second important lesson here is that ideas can be learned in ways that you don’t expect or that serve other purposes. In trying to break down time and rhythmic concepts, I was able to simultaneously teach them to use their ears and their imagination.

<– Here is my original internship proposal


Intern, Salinla Bang, had her own struggles to create lessons that effectively achieved her goals to teach children authentic music theory. Read the following passage from her MIE Seminar portfolio of the same semester:

"This semester I have a chance to participate in MusicLuanch program, and teach at YMCA in Chinatown. I always have a question for myself during the time I teach kids.

My main question is " How can I relate music theory to my teaching?" "How can I create a joyfulness of learning music to my students?"

First two months I confess I was failed. I knew that my students didn’t have any enthusiasm. I was focused too much on teaching through the book. I tried to teach them with blocks (the same concept as teaching cups), but they said that they have done that before and they were bored.

I could feel the crisis on my teaching, and got stress out during spring break (poor me…)

However, I was thinking about my colleagues’ advise(thanks to Devin, Tyler, and Randy) and tried to take what I have learned from the class to my teaching.

Therefore, I came up with the activity which I called it "creative activity".

After I had introduced "Ode to joy", and "The Itchy Bisy Spider" song with matrix, I assumed that my students were familiar with reading matrix. I handed them with blank matrix and asked them to make their own song.

Moreover, I decided to let them sit in circle facing outward – like playing music chair, then let them present their own song. Siting in circle changed the atmosphere of the class because my students seemed to enjoy what they’re doing. Furthermore, I was very happy when my students could answer the key word of this activity. (See on video)"

Communicating with Kids

  The Complexity of Effective Communication
by Tyler

   One of the main teaching challenges I have faced so far is communicating with young students effectively. Because this has been my first experience in a long time even interacting with preteen kids, it was especially challenging. This is in reference to both direct, verbal communication that affects my ability to convey concepts to the kids and the indirect communication that affects my ability to relate to and reach the students on a social level. Let’s take a look at where I stumbled and how I worked on improving:

Types of direct, verbal communication blunders I committed:

1. Use of vocabulary that the students did not understand

2. Use of analogies that the students could not relate to or tried to negate

3. Use of sentences that were poorly thought out, thus sacrificing coherence

4. Failure to fully explain a concepx; not enough consideration for what might need more elaboration

Tyler Teaches Cups

Photo of Tyler conducting a cups game in September of 2012 at MusicLaunch.

Types of indirect communication disconnects:

1. Standing up in front of the students as opposed to sitting; slightly alienating

2. Loss of composure after a behavior incident – resulted in long pauses and disrupting the positive flow of the lesson

3. Often times too "serious" demeanor. Not enough jokes or lighthearted activities.


1. Try to come up with constructive feedback AS they are playing, giving me more time to choose my words and present my thoughts clearly

2. Keep behavioral interventions brief and get immediately back on task

3. Place the students in an arc and sit down as well, facing them, in order to come down to their level

4. Ask students about their interests, their vacation plans; try to joke around and take short breaks

 As you can see, my challenges were many. My solutions, although they took the lessons in the right direction, are still works in progress and really developing the ability to communicate and connect with students is a long process.  I believe there are also different skill sets involved when dealing with different personalities and age groups and that is definitely something that I intend to explore in future internships and teaching scenarios.


Breakthroughs in Teaching Solfége at MusicLaunch:

This year at MusicLaunch, Instructors Tyler and Devin Ulibarri set out to teach the students the important musical skill of solfége. Solfége is a crucial component to one’s overall music literacy, however can seem like a foreign concept to students growing up in a culture that scarcely uses it. American schools do not teach solfége and we knew well that the majority of the students would be learning about it for the first time. This gave us a unique challenge, and we asked ourselves, "how can we teach solfége skills to young children in a way that is inviting and friendly, yet is authentic and transferable for future expansion?"

This is when Tyler and I came up with the "Solfege Business Card" Unit. Basically, students were assigned to come up with their own seven digit solfége ‘phone number’ for their own make-believe business. Phone numbers, like solfége must be one-hundred percent correct in accuracy in order to communicate effectively to someone else and this became the premise for our analogy. For us, the creation of this unit came directly out of our desire to come to an agreement with the kids. The implicit deal with the students was simple – We’ll make it fun, if you learn the language of music.

Click above to watch the video commercials that students made for their Businesses of their ‘Solfege Business Cards’. Students created their own ‘solfége phone numbers’ and scripted their own commercials.

Solfege Business Card

Above is an image of one of the business cards. After all of the students created the cards, we printed them out on real business card paper and handed them out to the students to keep.

Varied Representations

Salinla Introduces the Matrix to Students

Intern, Salinla Bang, Introducing "Ode to Joy" with matrix to my students for the first time.

The day this video was taken was the first day I gave Ode to Joy matrix to my students. Although some of them couldn’t play it on recorders, they wanted to sing along with others who could play it.The video continues with performances from all the students at MusicLaunch.

This video demonstrates the students use of the matrix to compose their own pieces. With the matrix, students are able to write down their own musical compositions much earlier than they would be able to if they were only allowed to write them in standard notation.

Ode to Joy Matrix - First Page

Small image of the first page of the "Ode to Joy Matrix".

Salinla’s Reflections on using the Matrix for teaching recorder at MusicLaunch (taken from her MIE Seminar Portfolio from the same semester, Spring 2012):

"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 don’t think that teaching with these techniques can help students much at first. However, what I thought was change 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.

Ode to Joy Matrix.pdf

First time I introduced 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.

For me, teaching matrix has both advantage and disadvantage. Students can read faster with this method. They can read and learn notation, rhythm, and bar-line, etc. though matrix. However, I think teaching matrix only might has disadvantage. For example, students may not want to read the real music score in the future because they find reading matrix is easier than reading normal score. Therefore, I want to find out more about teaching matrix in the future."

Disciplinary Negotiations

Addressing Behavior Head-On!

One thing I definitely overlooked as a central issue with this age group was managing behavior.  While I knew from experience growing up that it was definitely there, I didn’t realize the extent that I’d have to focus on it.  Out of my four small-group students, a pair of sisters were very conscientious, hardworking, and polite. However, another pair of siblings consisted of an older brother and a younger sister who were quite the opposite. Both students failed to practice in between sessions and they would resist participating much of the time. The brother was often antagonistic and disruptive, while the sister, at times, pouted and would not speak when she did not feel like participating or embracing a challenge.

Addressing and improving these students’ negative behavior became more and more of a necessity as the weeks went on, especially because it became increasingly unfair for the two students with good behavior. The older brother would argue more and more with me, openly announce his disdain and apathy, and would make very inappropriate comments. The younger sister became increasingly disengaged and even cried one time over what seemed like something very small. After talking to Devin and the others on the team, I came up with a behavior contract for each of them to sign. Their respective contracts varied slightly to reflect their specific concerns. I framed the concerns of the contract in positive wording in order to emphasize the desired behaviors. Devin and I presented these contracts to them and their parents at a conference before one class.  After that point, their behavior definitely became less disruptive, but I still did not see a genuine change in their attitudes.

Apart from the behavior contracts, I became increasingly more direct to the students as their behavior issues got worse. Instead of making a mild comment or ignoring poor behavior, I addressed it directly until the students ran out of excuses. This was sometimes temporarily effective, but not ideal, because it took away from the learning experience and it caused tension in the room.  While I don’t have all the answers for addressing poor behavior, I definitely have learned some tools and I will be more prepared for it in the future.

<– Check out a behavior contract for one of the students

Image of Behavior Contract

Above is an image of the behavior contract that we used to negotiate behavior agreements with two students at MusicLaunch who were causing disruptions in the classroom learning environment.

Ways to Practice

Staying Engaged During the Week
by Tyler

One thing that was a struggle towards the beginning of the term was accountability for practicing and growing musically during the week. A few specific concerns within that were: amount of time spent practicing between sessions, quality of practice time, and perceptions of what constructive musical activity can be.  Here is how we addressed these things:

As an incentive to get students to practice, Devin and his wife, Chie, brilliantly came up with these very neat practice charts.  For every five minutes spent practicing an instrument OR listening to music, the student fills in one of many squares on the chart. When the chart is completed and signed by a parent, the student gets a treat such as a little magnet or a small piece of candy.

To improve the quality of practice time and to make sure my students remembered the proper fundamentals, I gave them a sheet with reminders for practicing:

<– Practicing reminders

I phrased these reminders as questions to ask themselves so that they can really think and take ownership of the process.

Finally, to encourage music listening and to emphasize it as an equally constructive musical activity, I would give them easy listening assignments every now and then, with a short, open-ended questions to answer. Sometimes it would just be to listen to their favorite band on the radio, and sometimes it would be a little more specific. In the example below, I wanted to acknowledge Black History Month and introduce them to some awesome music at the same time:

<– CD listening questions for Black History Month

I burned them a CD of these tracks and had them answer these easy questions, with the purpose of introducing them to active listening and analysis somewhat casually. In retrospect, it might have been a few too many questions for each, but I know at least some of them really enjoyed this activity and got a lot out of it.


Practice Chart 

Above is the original practice chart illustrated and designed by Chie Yasuda and Devin Ulibarri.

Completed Practice Chart

Above is a scan of a completed practice chart by one of our students.

Program Orchestration

Structure of Partnerships that Fuel MusicLaunch:

MusicLaunch is a program with a very interesting structure. At its core, it is music program that was created by partnerships that continues to be fueled by collaboration. Our goals in terms of these partnerships can be summarized as thus:

1. Partnership between the Wang YMCA and the NEC Prep School to teach life skills (Healthy Living, Youth Development, Social Responsibility) and music to children.

2. A hands-on learning laboratory for Interns through the Music-in-Education (MIE) program at NEC Continuing Education or main college. Interns at the New England Conservatory are highly skilled and thus need a real teaching environment in order to hone their skills further. The partnership with the YMCA gives them this opportunity.

3. MusicLaunch and the community. MusicLaunch students and teachers frequently share their knowledge and experiences with others through presentations, dialogue, and performance. "Sharing Days" happen a couple times during the semester, and we take opportunities at the YMCA. like "Healthy Kids Day" to share with others what we are doing.

Janea presents "La Bamba"

Guitar student, Janea presents how she has learned to read "La Bamba" using fretboard charts during sharing time, Fall 2012.

Next Steps

Next Steps
by Tyler

In personal development as a teacher:

– Continue to work on steps for improvement as outlined in "Disciplinary" and "Communicating" categories
– Consider "generative tensions" and think about the balance between what we think the students *must* know and what will make them happy
– In my next internship/teaching assignment, anticipate challenges based on this experience and plan for multiple scenarios
– Develop beginning woodwind pedagogy to avoid "expert induced amnesia" and have more immediate answers

Next steps for future MusicLaunch teams:

– Reach out to parents who seem less involved
– Make sure students fully understand the relationships between solfege syllables and traditional notation
– Splitting between younger and older groups during large group time was a great idea. Because the age range is so wide, continue to understand the needs and traits of different age groups
– Take it from me, when I started writing summaries of noteworthy events TEJ style, it helped Devin figure out how to help me. So let the interns know what a difference that made, and show them examples right at the beginning, in case they were like me and didn’t know what it was/didn’t realize how helpful it is.


Yankee Doodle

Elysia, Carissa, and Mingsley play "Yankee Doodle" in 3 part harmony.

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