Incorporating Non-Performers Into Your Music Community
When I started to teach, I was in a predicament. My first job was in a town with a great performance-based program boasting excellent bands, choirs and orchestras. A music teacher’s dream job, right? Well, I had just graduated from Berklee College of Music. I was a jazz guitar player, a tech hound, and a composer who had very little experience in the wind band setting. Simply put, I was in the wrong place. Luckily, the school had recently started a small music tech lab. I knew this was where I needed to be.
How it all started
My school’s music technology lab was a great place to attract all the other students that did not participate in performance based classes but still had a love for music and wanted to learn more about it. My students ranged from songwriters, composers, engineers, historians, and everything in between — and they all were hungry for a musical outlet.
In the real world, there are composers, performers, performance managers, promoters, engineers, and critics for any performance. Why not establish all those positions in your high school music program?
Establishing the Tonic: Music Technology
First of all, you’ll need a music lab of some sort. These labs need not be expensive. Mac computers with GarageBand work well. If you want to eventually upgrade, purchase Logic and go from there. Garageband now comes free with the new Maverick OS, upgrading to Logic through the App Store is only $199 per seat. Add in a few MIDI controllers and you’re all set. If you don’t have Mac computers, FL Studio is a popular title for PC that is also around $199 per seat.
Use the music technology class to get the students writing their own music. Students learn the basics of music, composition, and technology. However, do not adhere too strictly to your curriculum structure if you see your students progressing in different ways — especially if they already know basics such as writing harmony. Instead, turn the students loose on their own and simply facilitate their progress.
The goal of this project-based class is to get the students working on their own and writing their music. As a composition teacher, I offer suggestions about what they can do to get the sound they are looking for and what software functions might help them.
My composition students work on original music in the class, setting the pace for their individual progress. The students also write pieces for the school’s performing ensembles.
Theme: Audio Engineering
You may not know how many prospective audio engineers you already have. Put over the announcements: ‘Any students interested in pursuing a career in audio recording/engineering or live sound, come to an informational meeting after school in the music room”. I guarantee you’ll find twenty or more students. Get a few microphones and suddenly you’re teaching these students about recording, acoustics, mixing, and other elements of audio engineering. In my engineering class we start recording ensembles on the first day; future lessons are structured around equalization and mixing. This is another project-based course and I check in with every student every day.
Again, GarageBand and Logic will work well to get you going, but the more equipment you can acquire, the more possibilities for your students. If you need recording equipment, ask your local community. I have acquired many mixers from community members.
Have your audio engineering students record concerts and rehearsals. You can also take them on music trips with you ask them to record those performances. Use your class time to have them edit, mix, and master. Train them well and they can run audio for the music groups at festivals. But keep in mind that any student-made recording is subject to licensing (which we’ll dive into further later).
Theme – Music Business
Put out another announcement, looking for students that want to study music business. Not all educators are equipped to handle a class about copyright, trademarks, record deals, and digital rights. Don’t worry about it; as most of the stuff is already in the news, and the kids will teach themselves. Give students an article about The Estate of Marvin Gaye suing Robin Thicke over copyright infringement and you will not be able to stop them from finding out what, where, why and how. In a music business class, I create about 10 – 15 projects that the students have access to on the syllabus. These projects contain the directions and resources for reference. For example, students need to research and discuss copyright law. Consequently, I offer links to the U.S. Copyright Office, The Library of Congress and others.
For their projects, students are broken up into groups that focus on different elements of a specific case. For example, one group researches history, one focuses on the current events, the other investigates legal issues and they all cover one infringement case.
Have these students hone their skills in real life scenarios. These students can book your music trips, for example. You can also have them help create your travel plans. Set aside some money on trips for promotion. With that reserved money, have these students create flyers and advertisements for your upcoming performance.
Moreover, any recordings your engineer students make of your concert recordings need to be licensed before they are posted online. This is another great job for your business students. Getting a license to record and post concerts is not hard, it’s not expensive and it’s something that all school should be doing anyway. The school can create an account with the Harry Fox Agency to licence the music and everything is easily done online. Remember that for something, like booking a trip, it will require a teacher to supervise since students under 18 can’t enter in to a contract, but the students can do all the leg work.
Theme – Music Appreciation/Broadcasting
Start a Music History/Appreciation course, but discuss reviews and musical critique in addition to listening skills. Have the students in this class write the program notes for your concerts. Post-concert, they can write reviews for the school newspaper as well.
A broadcasting class is also a great option. Have the students use the lab to create podcasts and setup streaming audio on a website. These students can interview music directors before a concert and post it on the website to create interest in a performance. Again, with the proper licensing students can also post the concert audio after it occurs and then archive the recording.
Imagine: the music technology students write a piece for a group on the concert. Next, the music business students promote the concert and/or sell tickets. They also register the student pieces with the Library of Congress. The music history students create the programs for the concert, or even create a pre-concert talk! Before the concert, ask the drama tech crew to set the stage and lights. Ask the audio engineering students to record the concert and then edit, mix and master it. Lastly, ask the students to send the file to the broadcasting class where the concert can be archived and put online for parents, students, administrators and the community as a whole. Your music curriculum is now a community of music students doing their part while simultaneously working together for the benefit of everyone involved.
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