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Thomas J. West Music

Live webcam private music lessons, music education articles, compositions, clinician services, reviews


The Blended Learning Secondary Music Classroom

Posted on July 19, 2011 at 8:48 AM


This summer, I am spending part of my time preparing new online course material for my online-only students. We currently have 10 students enrolled in my school's Remote Access Music and Art courses - these students reside all over the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and study music performance 100% online. More on that later.

Blending Traditional And Technology-Assisted Music Education

This coming school year, all of my students, from 6th grade all the way to seniors, will be learning for the first time in a true blended learning environment. My on-site students will be meeting in regular classes to perform on their instruments daily. They will be learning traditional approaches to the elements of music (pitch, rhythm, timbre, form, theory, dynamics, etc.) and will study performance repertoire for our winter and spring public performances. They will be augmenting this work using desktop software and web-based electronic tools, both in the classroom and at home on their own computers.

One of the advantages I have is that all of my students by default have a school-provided computer at home with a broadband internet connection. They take the majority of their coursework online as part of our cyber charter school. The Performing and Fine Arts Center is a by-audition offering of the school that is above and beyond their normal coursework. These students are in my classroom because they want to be - they work hard to get ahead on their normal classwork so they can come to CPFA twice a week.

For music performance, my students will make occasional use of Smart Music to complete tonal and rhythmic literacy assignments and practice their performance repertoire. They will use Smart Music both in the classroom and at home, having the capability of accessing Smart Music's vast repertoire library from any computer with the software installed on it.

For ear training and music theory practice, my students will be regularly playing games by logging into the Theta Music Trainer website both in class and at home. I wrote an extended review of this service a few months ago and continue to be impressed with their offerings. I plan to have my students complete a few levels of these games each marking period depending upon their age and experience level, having a quota they have to reach. The majority of these games will be played at home, and Theta Trainer makes it very easy to track their progress.

For music improvisation, I will be using a combination of in-class activities and Smart Music. All of my students learn a basic pentatonic scale in an easy key early in the process and experience creating melodies without having written notation. Understanding and improvising simple melodies is an important step in our process for learning how to compose original music.

This school year, all of my students, from beginners up to seasoned veterans, will be composing original music. My goal is for the winter concert to be 50% performances of student compositions and the spring concert to be 90% student-generated. Students will be composing in class using good old manuscript paper, Finale Allegro, and Noteflight. This year, I purchased a Noteflight Classroom website and plan to make it a "composer's coffeehouse" - having students showcase their compositions to one another. I plan on encouraging them to complete not only my composition assignments, but to "play in the sandbox" and share their own compositions, both ones that they write for their primary instrument and ones that they use the virtual instruments to create. This particular part of the upcoming school year is quite exciting for me personally, as it is a new adventure that I hope to really "sell" to the students. Noteflight is web-based, so the students can (and hopefully will) log in from home on their own time to get their creativity flowing.

Learning The Elements Of Music From A Studio Engineer's Perspective

I also teach a class called Digital Music Compostion. Entering its second year, students primarily use Mixcraft to learn the basic elements of music to arrange and compose. They learn additional studio music skills such as recording, mixing, and editing. They also learn to distribute these sounds in various formats, including podcasts, ringtones, playlists, videos, and so on.

This year, we will be sharing the fruits of their labor privately with eachother and occasionally with the rest of the internet by opening a SoundCloud account for the school. I plan to use the account not only to showcase this class's work, but also to obtain mechanical rights to the performing repertoire my instrumental classes  perform and sell our best recordings from the concerts and Digital Music as a fund-raiser for our program.

Online-Only Music Education

As mentioned above, we currently have 10 students from all over PA who will be studying instrumental, vocal, and keyboard music as part of our Remote Access program. These students use all of the tools mentioned above plus various method books, textbooks, and workbooks to study all aspects of music, including performance. Remote Access music students meet with an instructor via webcam four times per marking period in what basically becomes an online private lesson.

This year, the students taking the Remote Access courses I teach will also be completing a series of asynchronous assignments as well, working at their own pace through performance exercises from their method book (recorded and submitted with Smart Music), music theory assignments from their workbook (filled out, scanned, and sent in), ear training assignments via Theta Trainer and a sight-singing method (recorded and submitted with Smart Music), and composition assignments using Noteflight Classroom.

Our Remote Access students also have optional opportunities to participate on-site in both our winter and spring concerts as well as a Remote Access Residency program each semster. Our on-site students have been fantastic hosts for the Remote Access students when they have come to visit, and the distance learning students do feel like they are a part of the exciting and nurturing community that is CPFA.

This coming year will be my fourth year working at the Center for Performing and Fine Arts, and I couldn't be in a better placement for my abilities, interests, and challenges. I look forward to sharing the great things that we are accomplishing as the year marches on.

This article (c) 2011 Thomas J. West. All content on ThomasJWestMusic dot com is licensed under a Creative Contributions Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License. Please contact the author before publishing on or off-line.

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Categories: Music Education, Music Technology, Teacher Tips

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