The great Non-Traditional music class experiment

Well, time to put my “money where my mouth is”…I have transformed my 2nd block “A” day class into a non-traditional music class.  This was done mostly out of necessity and desperation (the father of invention?).  When we had registration last year I was pleased to see that my 2nd jazz ensemble was overflowing with students.  Eager to start the year, I began the plan for a jazz journey- to my horror, when the students arrived they all played guitar or drums (except for a few band instruments) so I knew that I couldn’t have a traditional jazz band.

I have been an advocate of “teach what walks through the door” for some time now- championing the cause that if we do not accept entry-level students into our band programs, we are doomed to extinction or worse yet- relegated to the “dumping ground” of the guidance department.  Now for the experiment:

I have set this class up to be project based.  We are running the class as a sort of reverse music theory class.  The premise is that students broke up into groups by interest in genre of music and have the option to work on an original or a cover of their own choice.  The only stipulation was that it had to have wide appeal (read NO death metal).  After several weeks of listening and discussion on what makes certain music stand the test of time, we dove headlong into our projects.

Currently, we have 8 groups of anywhere from 2 to 8 students each all working on their projects in class.  I serve as a resource and not the fountain of knowledge.  When students have questions, they ask (believe me, they get stuck a lot!) and I offer feedback on where they should go next.  Even my toughest kids have warmed to the idea and are happily composing.  I am recording their progress and posting it on the class website (closed to the public for the time being) asking them to comment on each other’s performance.  Eventually, we will perform the works in public and publish their portfolios on teacher tube.  We are also looking into collaborating with a school in Tallahassee that has an excellent guitar program so that our kids can collaborate over distance.

If anyone is interested in following our progress or participating with us in our collaborations, please contact me and I’ll be glad to discuss the possibilities further.  Until then, I’m just happy living in the moment day to day with them- you would be pleasantly surprised at their talent and motivation!

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2 Responses to The great Non-Traditional music class experiment

  1. Hey Owen,

    I am in class at Kent State right now in my graduate class, and we are visiting your site specifically the “Non-traditional Music Experiment”. Our class is discussing the role of music in society, and how can we connect our school music experiences with society. A couple of questions for you if you could get back to us about:
    1) What has been the overall parent reaction during this process of the students being involved in a “non-traditional” ensemble?
    2) How difficult was it to secure funding?
    3) How has your administration reacted to this ensemble being offered?
    4) What has been the reaction of the public when the groups perform in public?

    Thanks for your time! I hope you are having a great year, and I will talk to you soon!

  2. Outstanding quest there. What occurred after? Take care!

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