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Thinking Too Hard

Posted 01 Mar 15:15

I had the great pleasure of working with some middle school kids last week. As we worked together, I stumbled onto something that I want to share. It may be very helpful to you just before contest/assessment/festival performances. This is the perfect time to give it a try. 

With the students I saw last week, it was like magic. 

As we came to one of those spots that is so difficult to tune, I found myself feeling desperate because there was no time to teach every student how to favor his particular note. So I decided to take a shot at teaching concept rather than details. 

I asked them to play concert F and notice how clean and clear it sounds. Of course, they were able to do that well because they play that note every day for the purpose of tuning. 

Then I asked them to imagine that problematic ensemble tonality (that we had just found in their music) sounding clean and clear just like concert F. I asked them to sit quietly for a moment and imagine that sound in the room. As that sonority came into my imagination, I asked them to focus on "hearing" it in their imagination as beautiful, clean, clear, and focused like the concert F. I could tell that many were "hearing" it. 

Then I told them to remember how they brought that into their imagination and to listen to my words again. I told them that if they could "hear" it, their body knows how to make that sound. So I asked them to stop thinking about the details of playing and "let your body be smart" and "allow it to do what it knows how to do." 

Then we once again focused on fingering and "hearing" that problematic sonority with the same "beautiful, clear, clean, focused" sound that they hear on the concert F. When I could tell they were "hearing" that, I asked them to get their instruments up, challenged them to "listen for that beautiful, clean, clear sound," then conducted the breath and the downbeat. 

The difference was astounding!! 

For the rest of the clinic session, we worked in that direction. If it was a technical issue, I challenged them to imagine what it should sound like and then "get out of the way and let your fingers be smart." If it was a tonguing problem, I challenged them to imagine the correct sound of the music and "relax your tongue and let it be smart." 

The results continued to be immediate and startling - though not always perfect. 

At the end of the clinic, I told them that they had performed exactly like professional musicians perform. That is, a professional does not ponder all of the ways to make that low Q in tune or think about fingerings in that fast passage. She reads the music, imagines (hears) the music as perfect and beautiful before it is time to play it, and then she simply plays it with precision and in tune. 

It will be a long time before I forget that experience. I hope it helps you in this stressful preparation time.

Tomas Busto

Kylee Dueson

Jordan Dyer

Damien Ford

Damien Gomez

Bentley Love

Julian Lynch

Trenton Matlak

Lesly Ugalde

Delta Brain Waves are the Best Therapy

Posted 16 Dec 16:33

Scientists have learned that Delta Wave brain stimulation (frequency of 1 hz to 4 hz) are the most effective in treating symptoms of Parkinson's Disease.
That translates as 60 beats per minute to 240 beats per minute, which pretty well encompasses all of the music we perform and hear.
If I lived with someone with Parkinson's, I would keep them moving rhythmically as much as possible. With music always playing, we would be clapping, walking, tapping, clucking, dancing, jumping, stretching, nodding, kissing, etc. in time to the music. If my housemate could not do that, I would move her hand in rhythm until she could do it herself.
The short version of the article is that Parkinson's impairs the ability to perceive and measure time. So faulty steps and slurred speech could be the inability to perceive the timing required for walking and talking. Brain stimulation (practice) has been shown to improve/restore that timing ability.
Check out the website below:

Spring is for Sight Reading

Posted 25 Feb 13:53

Ten Commandments for Band Members

Posted 17 Apr 01:30

Rhythm Harmonics and the Brain

Posted 30 Jan 04:18

The evidence is mounting that music study - and improvement in rhythm acuity in particular - enhances brain activity.  Some neuroscientists are beginning to refer to "rhythm harmonics."  That is, there seem to be multiple levels of rhythm that are relevant to brain activity and brain health.

Ten Commandments for Band Directors

Posted 11 Sep 15:57

Thou shalt write these words on thine heart and keep them ever present in thy planning and teaching.  With these commandments as thy guide, thou shalt perfect bands and musicians beyond thine understanding.

  1. Thou shalt have no priority higher than beauty of tone.  Both in thy students' and in thy band's sound, thou shalt constantly ponder in thine heart what thou mayest do to improve what thou hearest before thee.  In thy listening thou shalt search for, and in thy words thou shalt constantly praise, beauty of tone before all in the sound of thy voice that they may know it and strive diligently to acquire beautiful tone above all musical qualities.  Thou shalt not praise the tone of he that makes that sound which is not beautiful.  Nor shalt though come to consider beautiful tone to be possible for only those who have reached a fullness of years, for a beautiful tone tunes exceedingly well and brings joy to the heart. He who, even in his childhood, holds and breathes life into an instrument may cause the sound to be beautiful if perchance he studies at the feet of one who believes.
  2. Thou shalt teach tuning to thy youngest students, to thy middle school students, and to thy oldest students.  Though tuning perfection be illusive and full understanding of acoustical mysteries are beyond the imaginings of thy students, ears are given unto all for this most pleasing use.  As the heart warms to a new love, so doth ears warm to accurate intonation.  They must be taught when thou warmeth up, when thou playeth loud or soft, when thou playeth scales, when thou marcheth upon the field or the street, and when thou sitteth to play. Yea every sound that cometh forth must be placed before thee and thy students as a test of thine accurate hearing.  It shall not be pleasing unto thee until it is well-tuned.  Thou wilt find this endless travail to be thy glory, for in tuning, beauty of tone shall also come forth.  Yea, tuning and tone are constant companions and true.  They cannot be forced asunder.
  3. Thou shalt develop and use a sequential rhythm training curriculum.  Thou shalt enter into its mysteries every day and thy students shall explore its wonders with rapture because thou hast caused it to be a delight unto them.  They shall learn to speak and to play according to every written rhythm, both simple and compound.  Yea, I say unto thee, thou shalt make known to all under thy direction that perfection of rhythm performance is required of all and thou shalt countenance no other result.  For this cause, thou shalt teach these things to all thy students and cause them to understand and count well beyond that which they canst play.  In this way, they shall not behold music that seems difficult unto them, nor shall they fear when thou ask them to play that which they have not seen before thou asketh it of them.  This shall not come to pass without thy daily attention to rhythm and its myriad perfectible qualities.
  4. Thou shalt begin thy rehearsals at the appointed time, and thou shalt release thy students from thy control as thou hast promised in thy schedule.  Thou shalt keep every minute of rehearsal time as a sacred opportunity and teach the value of time unto thy students.  To do elsewise is arrogance and shall be a curse unto thee.
  5. Thou shalt select from among thy students and their familes leaders to assist thee.  They shall do all that they canst do, leaving thy days, hours, and minutes for that which thou alone canst bring to pass.
  6. Thou shalt honor thy family as that which reveals thy character unto thy students.  Thou shalt honor thy husband or thy wife and thine own children in the viewing of thy students lest thy students think thy family abused by thine absence from them.
  7. Thou shalt not place earthly rewards - be they ratings or trophies - above musical beauty in the eyes of thy students.  Nor shalt thy words be filled with what judges might say or write.  Musical beauty and fullness of heart shall be thy trophies and that of thy students.
  8. Thou shalt speak truth in all thine utterances.  Neither shall falsehood or deceit come out of thy mouth.  For though thou mayest attain today's bread by connivance, tomorrow shall find thy soul wanting for joy, yea even for students that thou mayest teach.
  9. Thou shalt place before thy city, yea even before thy judges, performances of material, both music and movement, that is fitting for the age of thy students and what thou hast afore taught unto them. Thou shalt respect thy students' limitations of time and abilities and build upon them in a manner worthy of thy calling.  For thou art a teacher.
  10. Thou shalt live before thy students as a man or woman of honor, taking time for thyself and thine enrichment of mind, body, and spirit.  For who shall follow in the steps of him who hath only band as his god?  He is a fool whose ways are beyond knowing, and wisdom hath not come unto him. None shall wish to follow him in the days of his striving nor in the paths of his labor.


The Right Beginner Instrument

Posted 31 Jan 18:30

There are many well-known factors in selecting an instrument for each beginner.  Those involve face, lips, teeth, arms, hands, body size, and the list goes on.  Some factors are very difficult to predict and may not even become evident until sometime after the beginning student starts to play.  These slow-to-appear factors link to those beginning observations and the common knowledge we assume when we help a student choose an instrument.  But constant observation during the early months is the only way these factors will be evident to the teacher.  We must be aware of the physical status of each player and compare what we see to what we expect.  So what do we expect?  Let's analyze that.

A recent study estimates that 10,000 hours of practice gives an athlete/musician/craftsman an opportunity to be expert.  How does that relate to beginning band?

If we want our beginners to make one-tenth of that journey in their first year of playing, that means they must practice 1,000 hours in that year.  1,000 hours divided evenly over the number of days in a year means that our students must practice 2.7 hours per day.  Now - let's assume that we have over-estimated by 100% the percentage of expert that they will become in a year, and let's assume they won't always practice on holiday, weekends, etc.  So instead of 2+ hours per day, let's expect that they should practice 1+ hours per day outside of band.  

In my experience, that is the outer region of what I can hope for from even the most eager beginning band student.  Then I think back to my early days as a young trumpet player and my critical error in thinking that increased mouthpiece pressure is an acceptable way to play higher.  I also remember some of the small trombonists that had trouble holding the instrument in playing position for even a few minutes.  There are the clarinetists that developed a raw lower lip after just playing through beginner band class.  As I remember their discomfort, I realize that the players mentioned above cannot possibly play for 1+ hours per day.  It is a physical impossibility.  Because I had not done that math, it never occurred to me that they had no chance of becoming expert on their instrument.

Remembering my physical state as a young trumpet player after a rehearsal, I recall that I was completely worn out.  I had no chops left.  The excessive pressure on my lips had completely wasted my chops, and it was difficult for me to play until the next day - and I certainly could not look forward to putting that trumpet on my face again.  I was an enthusiastic musician and even competent at that level.  But I did not have the endurance to develop the technical facility that I sought.  Of course, fixing my chops was the right thing to do.  But private lessons were not possible.  So my beginning band director would have been wise to suggest that I play another instrument.  He could not have known that on instrument selection day or for weeks to follow.  But it should have become evident to him within the first semester.

The question that we often avoid is this:  Do my students love to play enough that they have a chance at becoming expert?  If not, would a different instrument make that possible? 

Whose Responsibility is Ensemble?

Posted 18 Jan 16:44

Lack of rhythmic stability is common among bands - especially young bands.  The students don't seem to follow the conductor, subdivide the beat, change notes together, etc.  It is easy to view this common ensemble behavior as a maturity issue. But it is not that difficult to find examples of the very youngest bands in our business doing all of these things at very high levels.

How do they learn to do that?

In many cases, they learned that the first day they started playing - or even before - such as on the first day of beginning band. That is the easy way to ensure that those traits are second nature to every member of the band.

What can a director do to instill those characteristics in a band that has not learned those skills from the very earliest days of their band experience? The next time band rehearsal is marred by the lack of those ensemble skills, try this: 

Director to band:  Whose responsibility is maintaining a steady tempo?

Individuals in the band:  "The drums!"  "The director!"  "The tubas!"  "Ours!"

Director to band:  Please repeat after me.  "It's mine!"

Band:  It's mine!

Director:  It's mine!

Band:  It's mine!

Director:  It's mine!!

Band:  It's mine!!

Director:  It's mine!!!!

Band:  It's mine!!!!

Director: Whose responsibility is maintaining a steady tempo?

Band: It's mine!!!!

Director: Earlier, someone said "It is ours." But that is different from its being each individual's responsibility. Every one of you must think that it is your personal individual responsibility. So if you should look up and see that the band is not playing exactly with the conductor, you must take it upon yourself to shut the band out of your ears and get with me while playing very boldly. That is not easy, but it is how the band can get back into the correct tempo.

What will happen next is that the person on either side of you will think you have lost it. But it will make them look up, and they will realize that you are right. Soon, they will join you. Then the people next to them will do the same thing, and the people next to them, and next to them, etc. until the entire band gets back with the conductor. All because one person - maybe even the youngest and weakest player in our band - took it upon himself to be a leader. We call that process of a musical idea spreading across the band - "musical communication." It started with one person getting the idea from the conductor, and it spreads to everyone in the room.

So let's try this piece again and see if there are some musical leaders in the band.

Start the band and take care to avoid conducting differently. The previous problem will probably not occur immediately, but the band will fall back into its old habits. When the tempo lags or rushes, keep the conducting steady and say loudly over the band, "Where are the leaders?" Someone will invariably begin the process of returning to the intended tempo. When that is accomplished, stop and praise the band for their musical communication, and praise the "leader" who started the process. This encourages the rest of the band to follow that example.

In that ten to fifteen minute process, the band acquires an important perspective about how an established tempo can be maintained indefinitely. Diligent attention to encouraging this change will result in individuals being more attuned to the tempo and the band's having much less of a tendency to drag or rush. In many cases, I have found the change to be permanent with only periodic attention by the director. When there is a slip, the director can recall the previous learning moment by calling out, "Where are the leaders?"

Teaching the Details - On The Way to High Quality Performance

Posted 06 Sep 21:37

In the August 20, 2013 post on this site (see below), it was stated that elementary music teachers don't have nearly enough time to produce the result that we desire in every student. That is the case for all elementary and secondary music teachers. When we ponder all that we wish to teach, everything seems important - no everything seems indispensible to a complete music education. But there are alternative strategies, and we should take charge of the situation and adopt them. We can narrow our scope to a set of indispensible instructional goals and let everything else stay on the edges of our time and attention.

After several discussions on the topic, I am confident that performance skills can only be taught with constant dedication and direct attention toward performance skills. So let us assume that we establish performance as our primary goal. Are there critical enabling skills in the topics of music history, music theory, music literature, music vocabulary, etc. that must be taught before we can focus on music performance? In the perfect world, we might teach some of those things first, but they are not necessary before we can begin our stress on performance skills. For instance, we can teach the performance and even reading of a quarter note without ever saying those two words, although we will say those words many times.

When students are able to perform quarter notes fluently, they have much more interest in what they are called. When students perform and feel a dynamic crescendo that brings emotion from deep within their souls, their interest in a verbal description is huge. The feeling causes them to need those words, and they will remember them. The same can be said about well-performed eighth notes, sixteenth notes, triplets, note names, accents, slurs, ties, waltz music, march musc, music by Brahms, etc. etc. etc.

In fact, it is doubtful that we could teach someone to sing or play well without their becoming fluent in music terminology - if only by accident. We fear that might occur, but it rarely - if ever - does. We can all site those one-off situations, but they are certainly the small minority of cases. So why do we take time to drill and kill or even test on music theory, terminology, music history, and many other items dealing with the academic side of music literacy?

We should take control of the situation and focus on the goal of making every student a competent and enthusiastic performer at the next grade level.  Allowing the academic (non-performance) details to be absorbed as incidental learning would allow us huge amounts of time to focus on performance.

If we were to do that with diligence, we would develop many more lifetime music fans and - more importantly - we would not leave students behind because of their negative experiences with an academic approach to music education.

So let's maximize the time available to us and make high level performance skills our singular instructional goal. The academic details can come along for the ride, and we will continue to speak in music terms. We can teach those details with ample emphasis on the way to developing competent and enthusiastic performers for the next grade level. 

Solfeggio for Band???

Posted 23 Aug 22:06

Written by Adam Chapa, Band Director and Music Teacher at Shanghai American School 

One of the biggest failures of music educators in the "band world" is that they don't give their students enough opportunities to sing.  In many cases, band teachers have themselves not been exposed to choir or singing classes and so they do not feel confident about their own singing skills…thus, they avoid singing in class.  Similarly, many teachers have had extensive vocal training and wrongly assume that all students have similarly developed vocal skills. Because of these invisible biases and assumptions, many teachers may not even see the purpose of singing in developing aural skills and how those skills are applicable to band. These teachers cannot sight sing accurately and cannot audiate (singing in your head without vocalizing) tunes in their heads while looking at notation; they need the aid of their instruments.  If this sounds familiar, have no fear, know that I too was deprived vocal training, and that there is a tool that can help you and your students develop the audiation and sight singing skills that are crucial for band.  Please read on. 

My personal experience has shown that, if I cannot sing a musical pattern, then I cannot play that pattern on my instrument with accuracy by ear, and I cannot sing it with accuracy by reading it’s musical notation. There is a connection here, and singing is the key.  To build my own and my student’s aural skills, I use the following Kodaly-esque method in class.  1) Matching single pitches, 2) Singing intervals or pitch patterns, 3) Singing scales with correct intonation.  All the while, after singing each pattern, I show them what the music notation looks like, and they begin to develop an understanding of how the patterns they are singing are connected to the notation, and vice versa.  This is where the Rhythmbee Solfeggio units are invaluable,….more on that in a minute.  

Here’s where this effects the band: If students cannot audiate musical patterns, they are not usually actually listening to what they are playing. The ability to sight-sing and to audiate are components of true musicianship that all students should ideally develop in band or before they reach band in general music classes.  Can you recall any of your students playing a wrong note and being completely oblivious to that fact?  With the ability to audiate, they would be able to correct their own mistakes in real time by identifying that the notation doesn’t match up with what they hear coming out of their instruments.  For example, when a trumpet player sees a major third interval but instead plays a perfect 5th interval and doesn’t recognize the error, he/she is not audiating.  Similarly, if you asked that same student to sing the interval in question without having heard it, they would not be able to sing it with accuracy.  A student that isn't reading and audiating would not catch that error, but a student that was, would.  Many clarinet, flute, and saxophone players are most prone to relying on their instruments to produce the intervals for them and thus, have very underdeveloped audiating sight-singing skills.  Brass players usually develop better audiation and sight-singing skills because they have to hear (audiate) which partials to land on, simply blowing and fingering won't cut it.  

Is there no hope for musicians that cannot recognize when they are playing wrong notes?  Certainly not!  I know there is hope because I was one of these musicians all the way up until college.  I had a very difficult time in my college aural comprehension class because my audiation and sight-singing skills were very underdeveloped.  As a young student, I was never required to sight sing in band class so I never developed singing or audiation skills.  Now, after reading and singing with many Kodaly and sight singing methods, and with the help of the Rhythmbee Solfeggio units, I can finally sight-sing and audiate properly.  When I look at a piece of music I can sing it without any aids, and more importantly, so can my students.  

Help is on the way! Rhythmbee Solfeggio units! Instead of creating an endless supply of flashcards, “Solfeggio” units are so much easier to use. These units are fantastic for developing audiation and sight-singing skills and can be included at the beginning or end of a band class.  They are quick and easy for teachers to use. The units help students to develop a connection between "reading" music and audiating through the listen/echo format. They provide students with the chance to hear themselves and to build their audiation and sight-singing skills in a structured and progressive format.  What more could you ask for?   It's magic.

Have we been duped or what???

Posted 20 Aug 19:44

Gradual changes over a number of years have caused us to forget that many elementary schools used to provide daily music class for every student. As student contact time decreased, we compliantly agreed to provide the same product with a fraction of the student contact time. That wasn't something we were asked to do. And we usually had no input to the changes. We simply observed the situation, rolled up our sleeves, and committed ourselves to the task that we love. 

Here is an analogy that reminds me of the seriousness of our one meeting per week situation:

Assume that we have a chance to cook the perfect meal for some very important and beloved guests. We collect all of the ingredients, the necessary cookware, and have the process and the timing all planned out.

The day before we are to start our cooking, we are told that we can't begin until the very day of the dinner.  Of course, plans are adjusted. But we decide that we can do the same complicated meal with an adjusted process, and we plan every detail of how to get it all done.

The morning of the 6:00 PM dinner, we are told that we will not be allowed to start until 5:00 PM. For whatever reason, no other kitchen or preparation process can be used, and we are stuck with the situation and its serious limitations. It seems evident that something different has to happen. The seven-course meal that we planned simply cannot be completed in an hour. Perhaps changing to a different end product is in order.

How foolish would it be to insist on preparing the same seven-course meal?

The results of that attempt might be more suitable to an episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond" or "I Love Lucy" than for our beloved guests whose visit is so important to us. We would do well to toss a salad, throw some steaks on the grill, and bake up some potatoes in the microwave. That meal has a chance of being successful in an hour. But attempting the full seven courses sets us up for failure and embarrassment.

Our elementary music education situation is similar. We haven't necessarily adjusted our expectations and our methods to ensure that the students have the very best opportunity. In many cases, we are trying to produce the same result with a fraction of the time. We divide our time among so many instructional objectives that none of them teach every student.

The kids who are going to get it anyway, still get it.  They always do.

Some of the rest sort of get it.

But the kids who need us most and could gain the most from a quality music experience are left out. We have to move on before they have a chance at the repetitions that they need for success. 

How can we get down to the "steak and potatoes" of music education to ensure that all of our students have a chance to be HIGHLY successful?

To be continued.


Rhythm Accuracy - The Basis of Motor Control

Posted 07 Jun 14:11

As I work to understand rhythm and how we perceive it, I have found a singularly interesting finding from the world of brain research.  As therapists work with brain injury patients, students with learning disabilities, and autistic spectrum disorder individuals, they stumbled onto the following:  

Improvement in rhythmicity (accurate perception and performance of rhythm) improves the golf swing of even professional level golfers.

Motor control seems far removed from rhythm training, but maybe it isn't.  The rest of this entry is a summary of articles that report on research results out of Stanford University.  The articles were published on June 6, 2012 in a variety of publications.  Here is a link to the Stanford University News article.  If that link fails, here is the URL.

Neurologists have long understood the actions of the brain as it encodes visual information.  In that situation, the brain "records" its view of the environment much like we would photograph a map.  In considering motor control, scientists expected to find similar brain activity.  They looked for evidence that the brain controls muscles with signals that include all the parameters of movement such as direction, distance, speed, etc.  But they found no such easy answer in the motor cortex of the brain.  This was a baffling inconsistency.

The Standford University researchers discovered evidence that allows them to propose a new theory.  They suggest that the brain sends a synchronized series of signals for each movement.  That is, the brain is in constant direct control of each movement, sending a cascade of rhythmic messages, allowing it to call for minutely different muscle movement as the circumstance requires.  For smooth and rhythmic muscle movement, the synchronized signals must be rhythmically accurate down to the smallest time variable.  Scientists understand that readily enough.  But in studying non-rhythmic motion, they found equally rhythmic neural messages.  It seems that intentional movement is controlled by rhythmic signals - period.  

Mark Churchland, now a professor at Columbia, is one of the scientists responsible for the ground-breaking discovery.

"Under this new way of looking at things, the inscrutable becomes predictable," said Churchland. "Each neuron behaves like a player in a band. When the rhythms of all the players are summed over the whole band, a cascade of fluid and accurate motion results."

So back to the improved golf swing.  One might draw a conclusion such as the following:

By improving the brain's macro-rhythmicity (say up to 200 beats per minute), we train it to better synchronize the micro-rhythmicity (10 beats per second and beyond) required for accurate and efficient motor control.

So music training, and especially rhythm training, become more indispensible with every new discovery of neuroscience.  Here are some of the things we know to date:

If you want to improve reading skills - improve rhythmicity (the accurate perception and performance of rhythm).

If you want to improve math skills - improve rhythmicity.

If you want to improve verbal fluency - improve rhythmicity.

If you want to recover from brain injury - improve rhythmicity.

If you want to moderate the effects of learning disabilities - improve rhythmicity.

If you want to improve motor skills - improve rhythmicity.

If you want to improve your golf swing - improve rhythmicity.

If you want to improve your love life - OK, maybe that is a bridge too far.

I have a free one year RhythmBee subscription to the first person who claims it as a result of this posting.

Just call 903-790-0842

Neurology and Music

Posted 06 Jan 17:24

We seem to have entered a new era in which music and science co-mingle.  They are almost equal partners in an ongoing search to discover how the brain works.

Instruction Blog Archive (Pre 2012)

Posted 06 Jan 11:35

Instructional Blog Archive

Copyright 2011 RhythmBee

11/29/11 - Cerebral Activity Mimics Quantum Entanglement

Philosophy: Quantum Entanglement is most famously known for the discovery that subatomic particles affect each other with no evident means of communication.   Einstein called that phenomenon "Spooky Action at a Distance.It is indeed spooky because the particles behave as though they are connected - but they are really separated by immense space (theoretically unlimited space) and have no known communication medium in common.

Similarly, scientists have discovered more about human reaction time and the standards and supposed limits of human response to stimulus.  This discovery includes the verifiable observation of almost instantaneous (simultaneous) response to stimuli when the conscious self is removed from the action.

That is closely akin to "Flow" or "The Zone" that musicians and athletes strive to achieve.  It may be that disjunct parts of the brain communicate and respond to each other without the need to wait for neurologic activity between them.

Application: Highly competent rhythm performers quickly become mindless of the rhythms they are reading and performing.  Their conscious attention goes to other elements of musical performance, and the rhythm reading is left to the autonomic response function of the brain.  The mystery involved with that is closely akin to quantum entanglement mentioned above.

As music educators, we must get our students to be so competent with rhythm that they can devote themselves to musicality. That requires lots of repetition and frequent attention to ever-increasing rhythmic capabilities.

6/28/11 - Neurologic Development through Rhythm

Philosophy:  A variety of programs and services have developed to address learning disabilities and other mental conditions which have been considered to be permanent.  Many of these purport to yield dramatic improvements in ADD/ADHD, Dyslexia, and that greatest of all learning problems, the golf swing.

That's right - the golf swing.  Both amateurs and professionals have taken the Interactive Metronome seriously enough to participate in its lengthy and expensive process with the hopes of improving their golf game.  There is a lot of precise timing involved in the golf swing, and training the brain to respond to rhythmic stimuli with precision actually improves the golf swing.  In the nomenclature of the research community, the attribute at the heart of this improvement is rhythmic acuity.

Musicians have their own terms for that attribute.  They call it precision, vertical alignment, ensemble accuracy, and rhythmic accuracy. In either setting, the learning in question is the ability to recognize and create simultaneous events.  I am tempted to add adjectives to that description, but it is descriptive enough as it is.  "Simultaneous" describes absolute precision, which is a common goal of musicians.  Twenty-first century research is showing us that learning to achieve that goal enables other skills and provides benefits beyond music performance.

Frances Rauscher, a famous music/brain researcher, learned that rhythm performance improvement created improvements in the spatial-temporal reasoning of at-risk pre-K students.  These improvements were still evident when those students were 2nd graders, even though the rhythm study was not continued in the intervening years.  That improvement

Magnetic resonance imaging and functional magnetic resonance imaging of brains involved in music activities have made the benefits of music a popular research topic.  The findings are so clear that music educators have an unprecedented opportunity to lead our schools toward a Neurologic Development Curriculum.

Rhythm-based therapies rewire the brain and moderate symptoms of ADD, AD/HD, dyslexia, and even autism in individuals who can afford the price of one-on-one therapy.  Aggressive music programs may choose to lead the move toward classroom rhythm activities that teach the traditional curricula of Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies while developing brains that function more effectively.

Application: Very soon, innovative schools will begin feature rhythm related delivery of curriculum material.  In that environment, the music teacher becomes a key curriculum leader.  The benefit of rhythmic delivery is helping the students improve their rhythmicity (rhythm acuity - accurate performance of simple rhythms).  Most teachers will have to learn the importance of exact precision.  Many will not even be able to distinguish between approximately correct and absolutely correct.  So the music teacher will be an important "trainer of trainers" in that environment.

7/17/10 - Curriculum that Develops Neurologic Capacity

Philosophy: Magnetic resonance imaging and functional magnetic resonance imaging of brains involved in music activities have made the benefits of music a popular research topic.  The findings are so clear that music educators have an unprecedented opportunity to lead our schools toward a Neurologic Development Curriculum.

Rhythm-based therapies rewire the brain and moderate symptoms of ADD, AD/HD, dyslexia, and even autism in individuals who can afford the price of one-on-one therapy.  Aggressive music programs may choose to lead the move toward classroom rhythm activities that teach the traditional curricula of Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies while developing brains that function more effectively.


Application: Very soon, innovative school administrators will discover the potential of rhythmic activities in moderating symptoms of learning disabilities.  When the science is fully understood, music teachers may be held accountable for affecting the brain activity of every student.

The music program can be ahead of the curve by introducing these proven benefits to school administrators and leading the charge toward a Neurologic Development Curriculum.  That is, the rhythmic expertise that music teachers possess is the logical place from which such a curriculum should grow.  Music educators should become the campus and district level experts in teaching rhythmic accuracy in core curriculum activities.

Would that detract from the current goals and activities of the music program?  I suggest that it would be just the opposite.

When students are involved in rhythm activities every day in every subject from kindergarten on, music will not be mysterious or puzzling to them.  Music classes will be an opportunity to expand their developing skills and build upon fun activities.  Further, the discoveries that music teachers make in the process will help us teach music to every student rather than sorting for those with talent.  As a result, music programs will grow even larger.  We will continue to develop strong musicians as music education contributes to the core curriculum of every campus and leads the education establishment in the process.

Here is a link to a March 2010 article that describes the state of that research.

Neuroligic Development with Rhythm


1/30/10 - Establishing a Culture of Success

Philosophy: Research indicates that one of the primary failings of our school system is drawing at risk students into a culture of success.  To impact this situations, students should be drawn into group activities that allow all to make progress and be successful very early in their school years.  In doing so, they become bonded to the social structure and develop a sense of satisfaction in the group's success.  Each student's obligation to group success carries over into the studies that require individual achievement resulting in a student who is more diligent and successful.

Application: Music teachers encounter kids at various times in the students' progress through our schools.  Whenever that occurs, teachers assist the school and the student by engaging all students in fun (joyful) group music activities that allow all to be successful.

Contrary to common perceptions, this goal does not require that we teach to the least gifted in our classes.  Achieving the goal just requires that we make it possible for every student to be on task and not get lost, whether or not he/she can interpret the written music and perform up to the level of the class.  Few of us can resist an opportunity to participate in an activity that offers joy, success, and common purpose. 
The teacher can use this activity to become an encourager, cheerleader, and advocate of music as a fun activity.

So be sure every class contains fun music activities in which the class can be successful and no student can be lost.

Of course, RhythmBee offers exactly that opportunity.

1/5/10 - Nature, Nurture, or Switch?

Philosophy: We have learned a great deal about the genetic material in the DNA code, but much of it is still mysterious.  Some of the "dark matter" in DNA has recently been identified as trigger or switch material.  That is, it doesn't directly account for specific traits in human beings, but it does "turn on" other bits of code that create specific traits.  Student ability to make proper use of time may be innate but dormant until an event or experience activates a trigger.  It is possible - maybe even likely - that rhythm study can activate that trigger.

Application:  Music educators have a singular opportunity among the teacher population.  Making certain that every student is involved in daily extensive rhythm study gives each child the greatest possible opportunity to avoid serious time-related learning disabilities.

RhythmBee provides a five to ten minute rhythm experience that leads to rhythm fluency.  Such an opportunity may trigger innate but dormant time-related traits.   


11/30/08 - Experiencing the Environment

Philosophy: Every "here" is the sum total of things and events in a certain space at a precise time.  Most of us perceive our "here" in its entirety without consciously distinguishing between those elements that are spacial and the time at which we experience them.  However, each of us has the ability to block out either dimension of our environment.  That is, we can focus on things and events and allow time to pass without our being aware of it.  Or we can focus on time and ignore the things and events in our environment, much like we do in sleep.  Sometimes one or the other of those abilities becomes the dominant behavior, resulting in an identifiable disability.

The state that we call
normal human behavior occurs when we are aware of and interact with both dimensions of our environment.  Music reading and performance is an activity that requires just that awareness and interaction down to the minutest detail of both time and space.

Application: To give our students every opportunity to link time and space appropriately as part of their state of being, we should give them as many opportunities to interact appropriately with their entire environment (time and space).  It is not necessary to be a physicist to offer that opportunity.  All we have to do is prepare our students to respond with correct performance when we say "1 - 2 - ready - go."  Of course, they do not gain anything if they are not able to perform the music that is before them.  But there are tremendous gains every time we lead them through a successful performance at any difficulty.

So start early, and perform often.  The experience is the key to learning, and we do our students a disservice when we insist on learning before or apart from the experience of music.  The best use of our instructional time is engaging them in constant performance experience that is also instructive.

RhythmBee is designed with exactly that philosophy in mind.

11/23/08 - Time Orientation is Learned

Philosophy: All animals and young humans are event oriented.  That is, they are attracted by and interested in events with no thought or awareness that these events happen in time and are related to each other by their sequence in time.

By age 7 or so, most human beings learn that events are related to time, and therefore, we humans also live in time.  But that learning is not automatic and inevitable as we sometimes suppose.  Some humans live a lifetime of many decades without learning to relate to time properly, if at all.  They relate to space and the occurrences in space, but they do not relate to or even acknowledge time, the other dimension of every human's physical existence.

We have various terms to describe people with those characteristics.  Some of those terms are autistic, dyslectic, attention deficient, and attention deficient hyper-active.  In addition to those individuals, injury or other health-related issues add more event-oriented humans to this number.  Some of those problems are stroke, traumatic brain injury, and Alzheimer patients.

We would serve a large segment of the population if we could develop the means to teach time orientation consistently.

Application: Humans develop time orientation by practice.  That is, they experience events and understand that those events are related to each other in time.  Lack of adequate attention span causes some to have great difficulty in noticing those relationships.  They simply bounce from one event to another seeking stimulation for an active or over-active brain.  In many cases, if environmental events do not occur, these individuals create events in their undisciplined minds.  We describe this self-stimulation with terms such as day-dreaming, hallucinations, flash-backs, acting out, and an over-active imagination.  Each of these actions allows the brain to remain active without environmental stimulation.  If we can control the environment to provide purposeful stimulation, we can help event-oriented individuals interact with time.

The process of music reading and performance requires simultaneous interaction with space and time.  It is very difficult to teach event-oriented individuals to read and perform music because the skill is only possible through long periods of concentration.  But we can simulate music reading in a manner that almost every human can execute with increasing efficiency.

The construction of events that are engaging, occur frequently enough to hold each individuals attention, and require the subjects to respond in time holds immense promise.  Such an activity may moderate the effects of natural occurring and injury related event orientation states.

Here is an example of such an activity that even our youngest learners can master.

In using such resources, we must remember that the goal is not cognition.  The goal is to give the brain experiences that require it to notice and deal with the passage of time.  So whether our students perform well or not, consistent repetition of the process is the only means of transitioning to time orientation.


11/1/08 - The Mind as Muscle

Philosophy: The brain regulates and controls the human animal - the mind manages and directs the human being.  Cognition requires the attention and intention of the mind to direct and control the capacity of the brain.  Like other organs, the brain can be improved by putting it "under load."

Application: It is easy to believe that we improve the brain simply by thinking differently.  That is because we confuse the functions of the brain and the mind.  Thinking differently may be one product of a healthier and stronger brain, but it is unlikely that any thought process alone has a lasting impact on the brain.  No anatomical entity - or organ - improves without stress.  Thinking differently may be interesting, invigorating, and even intriguing.  But it does not really stress the brain.

If the brain is anything like every other part of our anatomy, it can be improved only by requiring it to function at a level that is unusually challenging.  Such a challenging activity must be frequently repeated and of sufficient duration to cause new capacity to be required for satisfactory completion.  That is, the brain must be placed "under load" in a manner that requires it to develop a new and different means of functioning.

1/31/08 - The Process as the Product

Philosophy: The changes that occur in the brain because of music training are base level changes that do not occur as a result of more thorough understanding.  They are changes that result from a large volume of experiences.  Those experiences "fine tune" the brain in ways that we can predict and anticipate.  With this increased level of understanding, we can structure programs to target and enhance the effect.  (See the most recent research.)

Application: Students can "experience" music reading and performance years before they are able to understand it.  We can begin "fine tuning" their autonomic brain functions almost as soon as they can speak.  By simulating music reading and performance, students begin to make connections with sound and experience without their understanding of why or how.

At the base level, performing music at sight is:

  1.  Perceive images and the representation of their relative timing.
  2. Interpret those images and their relative timing.
  3. Perform the verbal/musical representation of the images in time.

We can simulate this process with the youngest students in our educational settings.  Knowing the fundamental changes that this process can make in human beings and their ability to perceive and respond to language and every aspect of their environment, teachers should repeat this process as frequently as possible with every student under our charge.


1/29/08 - What makes kids smarter?

Philosophy: The human being is greatly changed by music.  The precise change is a subject of much debate and research.  We are getting closer to determining both the precise cause and the precise object of that change.

The brain stem is that part of the brain that is sometimes considered the primitive brain.  That is, it manages and manipulates those base level functions that are responsible for survival itself.  The brain stem regulates breathing, heart beat, and dozens of other human functions that happen without our consciousness or our willing them to be.  The most recent research indicates that the brain stem is altered through music study.   It is far more active than would be expected during music performance, and trained musicians have capabilities of perception that are not present in their untrained peers.

Application: Knowing that the brain stem functions as the regulator of autonomic activities, we can assume that trained musicians fine tune the brain stem to more readily accept tasks that are not the vital life-sustaining activities that we thought to be the only fuction of the brain stem.

As music educators, it is important that we teach to automaticity, as Madeline Hunter might say.  That is, we must be sure that each student develops skill levels that are clearly beyond the level that can be attained by conscious activity.  Only then can we be assured that music training is actually changing the nature of the brain's functioning.

The straight line between Point A and Point B is rhythm training. 

1/8/08 - What makes kids smarter?

Philosophy: There is a particular musical element or combination of musical elements that account for the phenomenon known as "The Mozart Effect."  Should we determine that source of intellectual improvement, we could concentrate our efforts on that source, though the whole of music must always be part of each student's education.

Research will one day point directly to the source of "the Mozart Effect," which was discovered by Gordon Shaw and Frances Rauscher in the last decade of the twentieth century.  As experienced and described by Shaw and Rauscher, the effect is far less certain and "magical" than was later claimed by others.  So research continues, particularly, for this writing, to a 2003 project by  Dr. Rauscher.  (See the 11/26/06 entry below.)  She has attempted to acquire funding for further study on that topic, but those requests have not been granted. But some underlying facts behind the original study are interesting.

I recently contacted Dr. Rauscher and learned that the rhythm study in that project was under the direction of a particular teacher, whom I was also able to contact.  (Her name is not shared here out of respect for her privacy.)  Upon contacting the teacher, I learned that she was also the teacher of the singing class.  We were able to discuss the curriculum of both classes.

I learned that the curricular material was the same in both classes.  They played the same games, sang the same songs, and were identically structured except for the types of correction made by the teacher.  In the singing class, the teacher addressed inaccuracies of pitch and other musical elements that are critical to proper singing.  She did not correct rhythm performance.  In the rhythm class, the teacher corrected rhythm inaccuracies consistently while purposefully ignoring other issues.

By way of reminder, students received one 15 minute lesson per week in the specific area for two years of their enrollment in a Head Start Program.  Lessons were not continued in Grade 1, then the students were tested in Grade 2.  All music students had made gains, but the students who studied rhythm had spatial temporal reasoning understanding and abilities that actually exceeded that of their middle class counterparts.  As you surely know, such music study making so permanent a change in intellectual development is rare.

More contact with both Dr. Rauscher and the teacher is forthcoming.  But the early returns seem to indicate that rhythm may be one of the musical elements with the strongest possibility of making long term intellectual changes in very young students.

12/6/07 - Can instruction model the digital circuit?

Philosophy: Students are often trapped in an instructional situation that is inappropriate for them.  The material is too demanding to have relevance - or it is too simple to hold their interest. It may be possible to develop instructional situations which allows any number of students to determine their own instructional need and find their own path through the circuitry.

Application: We have often thought of the computer as a "super brain" that is modeled after the human brain.  Perhaps we are considering that situation exactly backwards from the thought process that would be most helpful to teaching and learning. What if we used a digital circuit as the model for teaching and learning.

If instruction were engaging enough to hold every student's interest, it might be possible to offer a variety of instructional circuits through which each student's brain might navigate. In such a model, the student must be able and willing to provide the power that operates the circuitry and that is the primary criterion for this sort of instructional process. Without that, the circuitry is worthless because there is no "voltage" moving through it.

But assuming engagement, multi-faceted instruction may provide for every possible instructional need in a single lesson, instructional experience, or process that engages students for indefinite periods of time. In such instruction, several criterion are required:

  1. Teachers must assume the role of power provider.  As such, the teacher abdicates the long held position of information provider and becomes the motivator, encourager, and even cheerleader.
  2. It must be impossible for a student to get lost or irretrievably separated from the instructional sequence that the entire class experiences.
  3. Each instructional unit must include incremental development of the knowledge base and continuous review. These must occur simultaneously and continuously. 
  4. Teachers and students must be aware of positive and negative events within each student's performance that "closes circuits" that are too complex and "opens circuits" that are appropriate to the learning level.
  5. It must be possible for any student to move freely among several levels of circuitry.
    • Remediation - Students must be able to begin learning at any time that they become involved and enthusiastically engaged
    • Students must have unlimited opportunities to experience the process that is likely to result in mastery attainment
    • Reinforcement - Students must be able to review and practice newly learned skills.
    • Advancement - Students must be able to move into a new level of learning when mastery of previous learning occurs.
    •  Enrichment - Students must be able to deepen the learning experience at any time mastery and engagement encourage them to do that.
    • Self-selection - From subconscious selection of practice as the current need to the purposeful attempt of something new, students must be able to move among the many levels of learning without action, announcement, or notice by anyone else.


10/20/07 - Visual vs. Aural - is there a conflict?

Philosophy: Marching band performance draws out an interesting instructional dichotomy. The ensemble is spread so far across the field that they can't hear everyone else. That fact causes directors to say many or all of the following:

"Don't depend on your ears, depend on your eyes."

"Don't listen, watch the Drum Majors."

"Watch - don't listen!"

The result is that there are many marching band performances in which the concept of ensemble is absent. The students perform exactly as instructed, but the music suffers. The tuning, precision, and consistency of style do not demonstrate the skills that these students possess and would naturally use in the rehearsal hall. There must be an alternative set of instructions that would result in a better performance.

Application: It is equally important to use ensemble skills in marching band and concert performance. The difference is that the spacing of the ensemble emphasizes the importance of visual tempo cues. Nevertheless, ensemble skills must be taught by the marching band director, and those skills must be used by the students if the band is to have a unified sound. So how do we explain what we want the students to do?

"Watch for tempo!"  (That is the only way we can stay together when we are spread from 20 to 20.)

"Listen for ensemble!"  (We must still play in tune, play the same style, and lock in the precision.)

"If there is a choice to be made, play confidently and insistently with the Drum Majors."  (That will alert those around you that they must watch for tempo as well. As soon as the tempo is re-established and in agreement with the Drum Majors, return to listening to those near you as you watch to be sure you stay with the Drum Majors.)

The result is a balance between the two, but the balance shifts many times in the course of a rehearsal, and sometimes in a performance. The ideal is for every player to watch all the time so that no one is ever out of time with that tempo authority. While doing so, every player is also listening to everyone they can hear to ensure balance and blend, stylistic consistency, accurate tuning, and the highest level of precision.

It is only when the ensemble - or part of an ensemble - is not with the Drum Majors that the balance shifts toward watching as the urgent and most important task. Making that point clear would clarify obvious misunderstanding about how to make beautiful music in marching band performance.

10/18/07 - Arts Integration

Philosophy: Surely the natural process by which we learn to walk and talk is among the best models available to educators. That process is simple and straight forward. There is little or no technical analysis or computation of the physics involved. Nor is there extensive instruction. We have a model or many models from which to learn, and then we simply try as many times as it takes for us to learn the required skill.

We would even think it silly if someone were to suggest a lock step process of learning to walk, or a "by-the-book" curriculum for learning our native language. Those in a position to teach us adopt a very simple and time-tested fail-safe instructional method. They expose the student to the demand and encourage every attempt until the student learns to walk and talk.

As far as possible, we should mimic that means in teaching critical skills to our students.

Application: What a wonderful formula for learning. Try until you succeed. The unspoken understanding is that we even get encouragement every time we fall down. Someone who is much larger patiently sets us aright and gives another tender push to propel us toward the next calamity.

How long do we get to fail before it is assumed that we will never learn? Except for the profoundly disabled, every parent of every child assumes that the toddler will fall as many times as it takes to learn to stay upright. The result is that almost everyone on the planet learns to walk. The formula must be magic. And so it is.

In teaching music, we provide instruction - usually in carefully stated detail - then ask for the performance. We don't expect immediate success. But neither do we have unlimited patience. Our sense of perfectionism requires that we assert that high standard very early. Students who reach perfection (or its near relative, excellence) on our schedule are those with whom we continue to work. We tailor future lessons to be sure they progress. We reach back to those who are nearing excellence, and perhaps we stretch a bit farther to catch a few students who are on the margins. But we soon lose the ability to allow for unlimited attempts. Those who don't succeed at the required level are discouraged from further bold attempts. If they can continue to try at a level of timidity that ensures their invisibility, we tolerate them. If they can't do so, we find ways to eliminate them from the ensemble completely - or at least from the sound of the ensemble. Many public school rehearsals are solely dedicated to that task.

The perfection of our instructional methods requires that we modify our techniques to allow each student the following prerogatives:

Each student may...

  •  move ahead when mastery is attained.
  • practice until skills are perfected.
  • automatically and immediately receive remediation when it is needed.
  •  Each student must be encouraged to move among those instructional alternatives at will and even unconsciously from within the rehearsal (classroom) environment.

RhythmBee provides precisely that set of opportunities. While an ensemble or class is performing a RhythmBee unit, student levels of competence vary widely. Some are pushing ahead to develop advanced skills including leadership, some are practicing the most recently learned skill, some are participating at a minimal level while they seek to grasp the latest learning. And because no student can get lost, each participant gets to make hundreds of attempts in each class period.

Some students will perform consistently in only one of those stages of learning. Others will move freely among them many times in any given lesson. The result is that every student gets to try until they succeed, fail and try again, eventually arrive at a high level of achievement, and develop great confidence, leading to rhythmic fluency.


10/14/07 - Arts Integration

Philosophy: The arts have a marvelous benefit for all involved. The teacher of the arts knows that the students benefit immeasurably, but it is increasingly difficult to prove the worth of arts education in a high stakes testing environment. Arts education must find another means of making itself worthy of respect.

Application: Objective measures are the only respectable means of evaluating instructional effectiveness. In a high stakes testing environment, those measures are applied only to the traditional "core curriculum" subjects of language arts, mathematics, social studies, and science. Arts education will be evaluated on its ability to impact the assessment results in those subjects.

To claim proprietary territory in the high stakes testing neighborhood, arts education must prove itself invaluable. Many educators and legislators deem arts education helpful, encouraging, supportive, and reinforcing of the core, but only arts educators consider it invaluable. How would an arts education movement set about to purposefully make itself invaluable? The past and current efforts at supporting the core prove little. Although we claim to be important participants in the instructional partnership, the objective evidence is inconclusive at best because we focus on simultaneous support of the core.

To become invaluable to the process, we must anticipate the core curriculum through a practice that I shall call "Anticipatory Integration." With such a strategy, arts instruction will lead the core curriculum by taking responsibility for learning readiness in every possible area. That is, each arts discipline would teach arts objectives at grade level while introducing and providing practice at grade level plus one in every possible topic of the core curriculum.

The objective of Anticipatory Integration is for core teachers and all administrators to be surprised at the readiness and prior knowledge with which students enter each grade level. Because of that increased readiness, students would succeed at higher levels in the high stakes testing game. Knowing the reasons for the higher scores, core curriculum teachers would provide objective evidence about the value of arts education when organized as Anticipatory Integration.

Such results comprise the essential element that is heretofore absent from the list of advantages attributed to arts education. Until we stake out such proprietary territory, we can expect to be thought of as nice, but not essential.

1/1/07 - Multiple Learning Opportunities

Philosophy: Every student deserves multiple opportunities to learn music. But in the common methods of teaching rhythm, many students hear and understand the instruction but get lost as soon as we start the ensemble rhythm practice. They hear the correct performance by the ensemble, but after the first note, they don't know what symbol on the page goes with the syllables they are hearing.

The rhythm drill and practice is successful to our ears because we hear the students who get it and assume that it is a full ensemble effort. We often don't know that the very students who need it most did not get it and are lost and hiding in the safety of the ensemble. The teacher must direct the drill and practice and cannot be in close proximity to students to realize that many are not participating. The instruction passes over the heads of many students, and they get sorted out of our programs.

In the final analysis, they had one chance to learn the material before performing it. They could not succeed, and we had no means of providing multiple learning opportunities.

Application: The automated instruction of the RhythmBee program gives every student hundreds of opportunities to learn in each minute of instruction. Their eyes are guided through the drill and practice pieces while they hear the students around them performing accurately. The opportunities to correctly associate the syllables with the symbols are endless - and every student learns to count.

It is literally impossible for students to be lost for more than 1/2 beat.

11/28/06 - Performing with students in rehearsal

Philosophy: Sometimes, we convince ourselves that the students are performing well because of conditions that do not involve the students:

  1. Following a score too closely to listen carefully can convince us that the score is being performed well regardless of what is actually happening.
  2. Performing with the students can convince us that the students are getting it and performing well, when we are really assessing our own effort and understanding and are not really hearing the students well at all.

Although it feels good to perform with the ensemble, and it may be helpful to those very near us, it is impossible that a teacher who is performing with the ensemble can hear the entire ensemble as well as if he were quiet and listening intently.

Application: Demonstrate as a soloist - conduct and listen (or just listen) when the ensemble performs. That is vital assessment time and should be dedicated to listening and planning the best possible strategy for further development of the musicians or the ensemble.

Never (almost never) perform with your students.

The practice of listening intently and not performing when students perform is especially important when the ensemble is counting aloud to demonstrate rhythmic understanding.

11/26/06 - Rhythm Instruction is the Magical Brain-builder in Music Instruction.

Philosophy: A considerable body of research is developing to point to the element of music that is responsible for the much-touted "Mozart Effect" and other similar brain-building effects of music. In many ways, the result is logical, since one of the primary claims is that music accelerates the development of spatial-temporal reasoning. Dr. Frances Rauscher has documented that low SES (socio-economic status) students who have regular instruction in rhythm surpass low SES groups who study singing, piano, and computers in the development of spatial-temporal reasoning. Of course, all of those groups surpass control groups who receive no instruction.

But an additional surprise has emerged from this study. Dr. Rauscher has found that the low SES students who studied rhythm equaled and even surpassed the spatial-temporal achievement of middle class students after a two year period of instruction.

To understand the previously mentioned logic of this outcome, we must realize the meaning of spatial-temporal reasoning. That term refers to the ability to determine the future state of objects after specific manipulations are performed on them. One of the situations that is often cited is the ability to determine the shape of a piece of paper after certain designs are cut out of a folded sheet.

First of all, let's realize that rhythm notation is nothing more than a highly detailed time line. The facile rhythm reader is able to predict the precise events that will occur at each point along the time line.

Secondly, we can say that to perform that notation is to place events (sounds) into physical form at precise points which correspond to the prediction. With those two facts in mind, it is easy to imagine that consistent instruction and practice of rhythm performance could result in a marked increase in spatial temporal reasoning.

Application: Make full use of the "Mozart Effect" and similar claims for music instruction by teaching rhythm performance every day.

11/18/06 Critical Attributes of Performance Based Instruction

Philosophy:It is vital that every performance based class have the following:

  1. An awareness of what excellence looks, feels, and sounds like.
  2. A consistent (daily) experience of performing at high levels of excellence.
  3. Confidence that excellence is attainable in simple and complex performance tasks.

We often neglect this important aspect of daily ensemble experience. It might be said with some confidence that an ensemble cannot progress from 100% mediocre performance habits to a completely excellent performance. Learners need the frequent experience of excellence in some form so that the habit of quality performance is in place and in the process of being nurtured and solidified in every ensemble rehearsal.

Application: Use high level execution of simple tasks to remind the ensemble what excellence is like. That must include posture, instrument position, rehearsal procedures, and all other physical mechanics of performance. Any ensemble can perform all of these daily tasks as well as the best ensemble on the planet. Unless quality is maintained in each of those areas, it is impossible that the ensemble will accomplish high levels of music performance.

Other simple performance tasks that can be consistently performed with excellence include the warm-up, a traditional chorale, the school song, the Star Spangled Banner, and any other selection that has to be in constant readiness.

Unless we keep those simple tasks at a consistently high level of quality, it is impossible that more complex ones will ever arrive at that point.

10/31/06  Drive-by Teaching

Philosophy: When we are in the mode of "drive-by teaching," we often fire a parting shot. That is, we hear the ensemble perform a given passage, scale, or exercise, and we notice something that should be better. So we say, "Be sure to play A-flat in the third measure," or some other corrective comment. Then in the same breath, "Get up your contest music," or other instructions to move on to the next task. Of course, the "parting shot" rarely has any effect at all.

Furthermore, what message do we send to the students through this practice? Here are some possibilities:

  1. That was not correct, but it is not important enough to work on.
  2. That was not correct, but it won't help to work on it.
  3. I know you are not capable of paying it correctly, but I absolve myself of responsibility. After all, "I told them!"
  4. You don't have to play correctly, because I won't really insist that you do.

So, what benefit is derived from the practice of firing a parting shot?

  1.  Uhhhh . . .
  2. Then there's . . .
  3. Let's see . . .

Application: To develop a student-teacher relationship of integrity and consistent insistence on quality performance, we must always hold them to the highest standard we can imagine, and we must always be truthful. That means we should:

  1. Raise issues when we have the time to insist that they demonstrate accurate performance.
  2. Address every performance task with a determination to help our students conquer that task.

An appropriate motto might be:

Unless I am willing to help them fix it right now, I won't bring it up.

10/28/06 Sequential Teaching/Learning

Philosophy: It is important that simple concepts establish a basis for learning. That is - learners must be comfortable with certain fundamentals in order to learn other concepts which expand on the fundamentals.

Addition is a base on which learning multiplication is built.

Nouns are a base on which learning proper nouns and pronouns can be built.

Weight is a base on which learning about gravity can be built.

It seems that being comfortable with rhythm concepts is a base on which many performance goals can be built. Reports from across the RhythmBee world indicate that students who spend time working on RhythmBee alone find it easier to grasp the concepts involved in learning to play an instrument. Now how would that work?

  1. We know that the brain cannot think of two things at once.
  2. We often ask them to read music as soon as they can make a sound, which is asking them to do strange activities and read mysterious signs.
  3. If they have become accustomed to reading rhythms when they begin to play, one of the mysteries is removed, and the brain can concentrate on the remaining demands.

Seeing RhythmBee units, which make it impossible to mistake the proper performance of written music; students are comfortable learning one new skill (playing).

Allow students to become comfortable with RhythmBee before they even have their instruments. Get as far as you can so that the students feel comfortable with printed music.

With this strategy, when you introduce the beginner book, it will seem familiar because the visuals are things they already know.

10/7/06 Teacher as Facilitator/Director of Learning

Philosophy: There was a time when a subject matter authority was indispensable to the education of every student. The facts were unavailable to common citizens without extensive research requiring travel to original sources or to centers of learning where research was possible. So a teacher was important to convey information and to organize and present that information.

The internet and other technology applications have changed the world of education in ways that are not reflected in our practices.

  • We consider ourselves the only means that students have to acquire basic information.
  • We continue to stand before students and impart raw information that they can acquire in a variety of ways within and without the classroom.
  • We continue to organize information as though there were no other sources, and we approach students in the mode of eighteenth and nineteenth century educators.
  • We ignore the learning enhancements that are well-documented when we consider and focus on relationships, modes of learning, and adjustments to the "tried and true" methods of our predecessors.
  • We offer the static and immutable printed page as the primary bridge between ourselves and our students.
  • We perform many functions which can easily and more efficiently be performed by technology, thus freeing the teacher to observe and assess each student while building strong student-teacher relationships that can accelerate learning.
  • We see ourselves as the "Sage on the Stage" when we should assume the role of the "Best Ears in the Room."

Application: We must find ways to assess every student every day. With technological advances, that is possible in these earliest days of the twenty-first century. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Use every available means - including personal determination - to get off the podium so we can teach among the students. (In 2006, students can even learn to follow a conductor without ever seeing a live person in front of them.)
  2. Hold every child accountable while developing relationships that encourage every student to succeed rather than causing them to fail.
  3. Set the goal of assessing (not necessarily grading) every student every day. Goals are not always achieved, but we always achieve more with a goal than without.
  4. Ask for small achievable improvements with short and concise requests.
  5. Have a colleague time your rehearsal to determine what percentage of rehearsal is spent in performance. "Performance" is anything but silence and the teacher talking. You will be shocked how little time your students spend performing!
  6. Investigate every possible technological advance that is pertinent to your subject matter. My favorites are SmartMusic, and, of course, RhythmBee.
  7. Consider yourself the highly trained professional ears rather than the all-wise mouth.

9/22/06 Teaching Students to Watch

Philosophy: You may enjoy this more if you begin at paragraph 6. Paragraphs 1-5 provide background logic that many will not appreciate.

In teaching, we must analyze what we want and, sometimes, we have to prioritize among many results that we seek. For instance, we want to teach our students music, and we want to teach them to be productive citizens and persons of honor, high character, and spotless integrity. If we place music above the character traits, we would organize our activities in a certain way. If we place those personal traits above teaching music, we would organize differently, tolerate or be intolerant of different activities, and develop a grading system that reflects such a decision.

Within the category of teaching music, we must also distinguish among various music skills and understandings. For instance, some teachers concentrate on theory and history far above performance. Others see performance as the end-all of their duties. And, of course, there are gradations through the continuum that links those two extremes.

Within the performance priority, we have to decide among several goals that we would establish within that objective. We can choose to concentrate on tone, technique, tuning, articulation, and many other skills that we wish for our students to demonstrate. We would all hope to balance those successfully, though each of us would choose a different specific balance as the ideal. That choice would depend on our own philosophical notions as well as on our skills of perception and our personal musical tastes. As responsible teachers, we should also set priorities about the timing and circumstances under which we want to hear our students demonstrate mastery.

Many times, we are short-sighted in the establishment of our performance goals. It is easy to convince ourselves that we must do whatever it takes to help our students perform accurately at each moment in our interaction with them. This is an admirable mind set, but in its extreme, we resort to rote teaching, which encourages the opposite of music literacy. Well before we engage in rote teaching, we may find several practices that are immediately fulfilling, but do not demonstrate the highest ideals to which all music educators should aspire. One of those practices involves the over-use of a metronome in music ensemble training. (Incidentally, metronome has only one "n" and two "m's.")

A metronome is a wonderful invention, and it should be used daily in the practice room for development of technique and establishing a steady sense of pulse for drill and minute tempo progression. But it can be - and often is - greatly over-used. When we do that, we unwittingly train our students that the authoritative tempo for ensemble performance is from an aural cue. In large ensemble performance, that is rarely the case. In small ensembles, the authoritative tempo is a melding of that which each of the ensemble members feels internally. Communication about that tempo is constant and, in highly trained ensembles, almost at the subconscious level. When a member departs from the tempo of the ensemble, aural skills pull that member back into the "correct" tempo. That authoritative tempo is internal to the ensemble and is constantly being negotiated. When the ensemble is large enough to have a conductor, the authoritative tempo is that which the conductor communicates to the ensemble with hands or a baton. Ensemble skills are still very important, and should be taught as one of the most critical elements of music literacy.

Paragraph 6
Performing in a large ensemble does not vest the authority for the tempo in the ensemble members as in a small ensemble. The tempo authority of a large ensemble is the conductor, and the tempo cue is almost always visual with aural skills playing a secondary, though highly important, role in the establishment and maintenance of ensemble tempo. We all agree that we ultimately want our students to watch for the proper tempo, so it is interesting that we persist in using a metronome as the tempo authority in the early stages - and sometimes the later stages - of ensemble development.

The metronome sound allows and encourages young students to bury their eyes in the music at that time in which they are establishing habits they will use for the rest of their lives. We gravitate to and depend on the metronome because it gets immediate results and causes us to think we are successful. Later, we often find that such feelings are evidence or our successfully providing a crutch rather than successfully building student musicianship. That realization may hit when we begin to ask our students to depend on a conductor as the tempo authority after months or even years of teaching them to listen for the tempo. Unfortunately, the first event at which we attempt this change of tempo emphasis is usually within a week of the first large ensemble performance. Rather than analyzing why our plan doesn't work, we resort to extreme measures as the survival instinct takes over and we struggle to put a reputable performance before the adoring parents.

In most programs, we never really break the dependence on the aural tempo cue that we established in the beginning year. That can be observed most in high school band and orchestra rehearsals when impatient conductors, with emphatic gestures and verbal creativity bordering on sarcasm,
stress the importance of watching.

So we spend a full year or more teaching them to listen for the tempo and the next five or more years trying to get them to watch for the tempo.

Application: Every student should own a metronome for practice at home. Sometimes, we should turn on the metronome in a large ensemble rehearsal so that we develop technique, facility, internal pulse, etc. with absolute certainty that the tempi are accurate. But we should realize that a metronome builds individual capacity, and it may inhibit ensemble development. Surely there is a better way.

With technology, ensemble training need not depend on a tempo cue upon which we do not want our students to become dependent. RhythmBee has developed Maestronome, a virtual conductor, so that the director - from anywhere in the room - can establish any tempo in any time signature with a visual cue. Other visual tempo cues are and will be available. Whatever the source, students can learn to depend on visual tempo cues from the first day of their secondary music experience.

What would it be like to have a full band or orchestra that had never known any means of ensemble performance other than watching a conductor?

9/17/06 A Framework for Music Instruction

Philosophy: Imagine that becoming musically literate is like working a jigsaw puzzle. There are shapes of the pieces, colors, and the minute gradations of colors and patterns that are clues to the proper position of each piece. The puzzle picture is not attainable without considering all of those factors.

If a puzzle had randomly shaped pieces and no interlocking features, we could group the colors. We could even line up the changes of color and the obvious patterns. But the nuance and fine definition of the picture would be impossible to put together, much less distinguish. Having grouped the colors, etc. we would still not have anything we could enjoy viewing. We would quickly lose interest and find another way to engage our minds and pass the time.

Too often, we consider - and try to teach - tonal color and harmonic detail without insisting that the students master the concept of interlocking puzzle pieces (rhythm reading). When we teach tonal matters without also insisting on the mastery of rhythm reading, we may eliminate from our program those students with little ability to perceive and grasp aural nuance. And at the earliest stages of our secondary music programs, that is most of the students, because those aural skills can be highly developmental. That is - those perceptions are not present and/or easily taught in our younger (least developed) students.

On the other hand, rhythm is more easily perceived and grasped by every student. It is kinesthetic - a physical event - that we all feel and enjoy. It is closer to our immediate level of awareness, so learning it is appropriately challenging. Rhythm reading is much like solving a puzzle or working a math problem. In fact, when taught as a skill - like walking, tying your shoes, writing your name, etc. - rhythm mastery is something that every student can acquire. In so doing, they are likely to become "hooked" on music because music notation is no longer mysterious and undecipherable. If they can easily perform the rhythm of a tune at sight, they can dedicate their curiosity and mental energy to the tonal issues on the printed page. If rhythm continues to be a mystery, we must learn to tolerate the question and prepare to answer when asked, "How does this go?"

Application: Rhythm reading should be the musical element about which we are most persistent and least patient. Every student can learn to perform rhythms correctly at sight. When taught in a carefully sequenced program which makes us of the physical nature of rhythm, every student can succeed. And we all know that student success means higher levels of retention in our music programs.

9/16/06 Do we really monitor student performance?

Philosophy:  The teaching profession is such an interesting one. We have a very practical and indispensable job to do. So there is a lot of physical activity that requires great energy. But each and every action is so important that careful thought should precede its doing so that there is reason, purpose, and an end goal that warrants the high-level of activity.

One of the challenges facing every teacher is student engagement. In fact, it is likely the most important precursor to our success as teachers and the most challenging problem we must solve to be successful. In this age of video and instant everything, conventional techniques and methods may not be sufficient to offer every student a reasonable opportunity to be a successful musician.

Our students deserve our thoughtful consideration of every available instructional method.

Application: It is important to notice who is "getting it" using the present method of instruction (whatever that may be).

Often, we become wrapped up in the whole so that we don't notice that we are really engaging in "drive-by teaching." That is, we spray our instruction at the target and do not notice when it sticks with only a few because we are on to the next instruction before we assess the result. We must develop a means of frequent (daily) individual rhythm assessment at the earliest stages so that we know two things:

1. How effective is our instruction?

2. Who are the kids that we are really engaged in this all-important instruction?

And the follow-up question must be:

What happens to the other students?