I’ve redesigned the blog… what do you think? Over the break I hope to produce several new blogs reflecting on observations and other experiences from this past semester, so I wanted to improve the layout in preparation. I hope you like it!

So, for one of my education classes we were required to write our Philosophy of Education. This was actually pretty tough! What my teacher received had one paragraph subtracted, and another added about specific philosophers that influenced my philosophy. But to be honest, I didn’t even know about those guys until recently reading about them. My philosophy is based on what leading music educators have written, and on other things I have seen in action, like El Sistema. So for my blog I’ve reinserted the paragraph about character building. Let me know what you think!



Philosophy of Education

I believe music is an essential component of the human condition. It has been said that music can express that which words cannot. While I believe all students have musical potential, and can benefit even from general study of Classical Music, those who engage in music performance encounter an emotional and aesthetic experience that is unique. In doing so, they not only develop a creative outlet, but gain a deeper understanding of the human condition than what is otherwise possible. My primary job, then, is to unleash each student’s music making possibilities by helping them to develop strong fundamental instrumental performance techniques and music literacy skills while exposing them to the best music ever written, with the goal of achieving music making experiences that are exciting, emotional, and passionate. All the while, students develop a skill that they can take pride in, one that boosts their self-image, while also gaining a valuable social experience that allows them to develop emotionally throughout their teenage years. The values of a great music education are truly innumerable!

Students will discover that it is always easier to play at a higher level when proper technique is used, and therefore proper technique, when reinforced, is intrinsically motivating. Ensemble techniques can often be complex, and require incredible sensitivity to one’s own playing and the playing of everyone else involved, but again students will be motivated to give this effort once they have experienced the musical benefits. I believe the key to motivating students toward this end is to demand excellence from both the individuals and the ensemble as a whole. Students must experience music making at a high level, because that unique aesthetic and emotional experience is addicting – it becomes the key to intrinsic motivation.

I believe students learn best in a safe, structured environment. Ensemble music making is inherently a group activity, and so success requires a classroom culture based on mutual respect and collaboration. I will strive to create a community of learners, in which students work together as I guide them towards the discovery of what facilitates the most musical outcome, whether in regards to fundamental playing techniques or musical interpretation. When an ensemble is only as good as its weakest player, it is counterproductive to demean that player. Instead, students will learn to give additional support to the weaker players because their improvement will benefit everyone. Additionally, I will solicit student’s suggestions on musical interpretation, and keep those that are effective, as I believe this will result in the students feeling more ownership over the music being performed (as opposed to forcing the students to perform my personal interpretation of the music). Advocated by Benjamin Zander, this creates a rehearsal atmosphere of collaboration not only between the students, but between myself and the students, which I believe will further increase student motivation. These activities will be focused through the use of procedures to maximize our time on task, and further increase student learning.

While students will work together to improve as individuals, they will also be held accountable as individuals. I believe the key to truly great ensembles relies on the independence of each performer, and so students will be assessed on their ability to perform independently as well as in the group. To unleash their musical potential, I will offer as much support as possible, including distributing instrument specific technique building exercises, offering private lessons as availability permits, establishing a peer tutor program, after school sectionals, and so on. I will require that students set personal goals for their playing, and I believe that with their dedicated action, and my personal support (as well as the support of their peers), that every student can reach their musical goals. It is my belief that music is just as conducive to diverse, student centered teaching methods as is any other subject, so part of how I will help them to achieve those goals is through diverse, differentiated teaching methods to address not only the various learning styles (such as auditory, visual and kinesthetic), but diverse intelligences as well.

A band can be many things, but it is certainly a team. Like any team, for the band to be successful the students must cultivate certain character traits and life skills, including: teamwork, commitment, responsibility, leadership, time management, goal setting (both in playing and personal growth), self-discipline, hard work, excellence, dependability, respect (for each other, for equipment), and more. Additionally, to make music requires that the members of the ensemble let down their walls and come together, despite the often diverse make up of its personnel. The success of the ensemble requires that I work to instill these traits into the students. As a consequence, band members become positive role models for their peers and agents of social change. If the diverse students in a band can grow as individuals, hold themselves to higher standards, and come together as a group working toward a common goal, then they can serve as a model for the rest of the school to follow.

In that same spirit, I will work to unite with my peers on the faculty towards the common goal of creating a safe and united school environment that fosters a sense of community and belonging. I will model the ideas of personal growth and cooperation as I collaborate, assist, and learn from fellow faculty members. A master teacher always seeks to learn and improve themselves as people and as teachers, and I must follow this path as well. The end result, I hope, will not only be my own improvement, but the improvement of the school, to the benefit of my students.

Also of great importance is the involvement of the parents and community. Through the use of phone calls, take home communications, and digital outlets, I hope to build good working partnerships with the parents of my students. Parental support in the form of booster activities is crucial for a program’s success. While not necessarily mandatory, parental support can make a large impact on an individual student’s success as well. Participation in the band often requires a financial commitment, as well as transportation, but also a good time and place to practice. Listening to a student practice is not typically pleasant on the ears, so when parents permit and encourage their children to practice at home, the likelihood that the student will practice increases significantly, and thus the student’s success increases. Additionally, my band program will foster a number of universally valued character traits, which will also be most successful when the parent(s) reinforces these at home through encouraging their child to practice, or ensures that they’re at rehearsals and performances at the specified times. I feel I must also do my best to garner community support, because when students feel that their contributions are valued by the community, the sense that they are part of something larger than themselves, even that they are representatives of the community, is increased, and motivation rises.

None of this is original, but is rather based on what leading instrumental music educators recommend. As John Dewey, the progressivist might agree, reading about music is no substitute for the learning that occurs by playing it. While some teachers merely focus on selecting great music, the leaders of the best programs select the best music ever written with an eye toward advancing student’s abilities based on what playing and musical challenges each work contains. The El Sistema movement, which began in Venezuela thirty years ago, also proves that using music education as a means of social reconstruction, an educational school founded by George Counts, can have a profound impact on the students and society. Masterworks often have great messages, sometimes universal, and I’ve found that it is only when these students understand that message that they can effectively communicate it through the music, which results in passionate performances. It is the music, not necessarily me, that will challenge the students to grow intellectually. And so these are ideas I have incorporated into my philosophy, again, not because they are strictly my ideas or philosophies, but because they are proven and sometimes even required for making music at the highest levels. And achieving this with my students is ultimately my primary goal towards which all other efforts are aimed.

Hello again!

Can paper percussion instruments help us keep an army
of percussionists engaged when there are more players
than parts?
Several months ago I wrote a series on how procedures maximize learning, and on the blog specifically about classroom procedures for band, one of the comments left recommended I think about how to handle percussionists.

Schools that are large enough have negotiated this problem by scheduling a percussion class that is separate from the full band class, so that the percussionists can rehearse their parts and additional percussion ensemble music non-stop. This is obviously a great solution, as percussionists only have to risk boredom during after school rehearsals when they put their part together with the full band. But you see, while the separate class is a great solution, it doesn’t avoid the problem entirely. When the percussion gets to rehearse with the full concert band, they will inevitably be bored. I did my best in rehearsals this past semester, but I, too, am guilty of allowing this to happen.

At the time I received the comment, all I knew was that you do your best to keep them busy, but thanks to Dr. Peter Boonshaft’s book, “Teaching Music With Purpose”, I think there may be a much better solution that actually keeps percussionists engaged.

Paper Percussion.

What is Paper Percussion?

In this case, I’m not talking about actual instruments. A google search yields results detailing how to make paper instruments for kids. That’s not what we’re talking about here. Peter Boonshaft describes making moch instruments, such as cutting out cymbal sized circles of cardboard, and rigging a way to hold it, so that a student who normally wouldn’t be playing can shadow the cymbal player, and go through the motions. That also means they’re reading music, and hopefully more engaged than they would’ve been.

The chapter outlines how to make paper keyboard instruments (which seems quite involved), and advocates purchasing extra practice pads for snare parts, and so on. All of the basic instruments are outlined, with step by step instructions of how to put them together.

Students then can practice percussion parts without having to be on the real instrument. At some point you can say, “Switch,” to signal students to rotate, so that everyone gets to practice on the real instruments. He notes that the paper instruments do make a little noise, but not very much at all, and that it’s worth it to him to keep those students engaged throughout the rehearsal. You can even watch and comment on their grip technique and stick height.

After all, we would never let a wind player sit out for an entire piece the way percussionists sometimes do.

He also suggests where to place the instruments as part of the ensemble set up. I won’t go into the details, as that might risk copyright infringements, but everything you need to know is outlined. It would be a lot of work, but I’m really very interested in this.

I wonder, has anyone actually seen this in action? If so, what did you think? If not, what do you think about this idea? To me it sounds like quite a project, but like it would be well worth the effort. I’m curious to hear other’s thoughts.

Thank you, as always, for reading. Until next time, take care!

Musically yours,
Mr. Cooper