Archive | April, 2011

How gaming can make a better world

April 26, 2011

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“If we want to solve problems like hunger, poverty, climate change, global conflict, obesity, I believe that we need to aspire to play games online for at least 21 billion hours a week by the end of the next decade.”

(Jane McGonigal: Gaming Can Make a Better World, 2010)

This is a funny and fascinating talk given by game designer Jane McGonigal, who’s goal for the next decade is “to try make it as easy for people to save the world in real life as it is to save the world in online games.”

I love games, but I don’t play online very much at all.  I do spend heaps of time playing them, though, and I know tons of people who do the same with online games like World of Warcraft.

I also have a couple of junior music assignments which focus on composing music for games, since this is one industry which always needs good composers.  Some games have got the most stunning music in their soundtracks.  Case in point: God of War, a personal favourite of mine.

During her presentation, McGonigal shows some crazy stats, like:

  • today’s average young person living in a country with a strong gaming culture will have spent 10,000 hours playing online games by the time they’re 21 years of age (10,080 hours is the amount of time that a young person in America spends in school from fifth grade to graduation, with perfect attendance).
  • the number of years we have collectively spent playing World of Warcraft (5.93 million years) is also the number of years that have passed since our earliest primate ancestors stood upright.

Read that last point again.

She talks about why so many people spend so many hours playing games, how playing games may have helped an ancient culture survive a famine and rise to become the Roman Empire, and how she is working to develop games which help us solve the world’s most pressing problems of today and the future.

Very cool.  Go look.

TED Talk: Gaming Can Make a Better World (Jane McGonigal)

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How gaming can make a better world by Gabrielle Deschamps is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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Teaching senior students how to write a musical analysis

April 24, 2011

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Of the three musical assessment areas – performing, composing, and analysing repertoire – it’s the last one which invariably takes up the most lesson time, and the one which my students seem to have the most trouble with.  My analysis assessments generally involve an extended written task or a formal exam, where they have to write an essay of several hundred to a thousand words.  In order to let them analyse a work in as much detail as possible, I will generally give them only one question in the exam, or a choice between two or three in an extended written task.  Where possible, they will be provided with both a score and a sound recording of a musical work, and the question they must answer will require them to gather evidence primarily, if not solely, from those resources.

The problems which need to be overcome in teaching musical analysis don’t just involve teaching musical literacy – reading a score, identifying the musical elements, comparing and contrasting compositional devices, etc – but also English literacy: forming a main idea, listing dot points, constructing sentences and paragraphs, writing an essay.  Furthermore, the senior music student is required to demonstrate higher order thinking skills: using evidence to support a hypothesis, justifying a position, comparing and contrasting.  I’m constantly searching for more efficient and effective ways to teach all of these things, and yet still have time to get around to performing and composing.

One of the resources I created in this endeavour is a powerpoint presentation, which looks at the first four bars of “Et In Terra Pax” from Vivaldi’sGloria, and aims to show just how much information can be pulled out of that one tiny section of music:

The presentation has several objectives: firstly, it aims to help students take the elements of music, and pull out as much information as possible from the score about each one of them, one at a time.  Secondly, it shows them how to articulate that information as clearly and concisely as possible, first in dot points, and slowly working up to full paragraphs.  A third aim is to teach them how to look for evidence in the score and apply it to critical thinking questions.

The method for all this involves giving lots of visual cues and verbal hints at first, and slowly backing off until the students are getting no help at all and they’re on their own.  A sequence of animations take the students through each of the elements in detail.  They also aim to encourage students to look at the score and try to answer the questions, before being given any answers.

On my “Resources and Lesson Plans” page, you will find a download link for the powerpoint presentation, plus a student handout, teacher’s notes, and a “read me first” document which gives a few hints about running the slideshow.  Feel free to download all of these so you can use them in your own classes, if you wish.  You will also need to obtain a sound-recording of the piece to go with the rest of the materials.  It’s quite a long presentation, and will take several lessons to cover in detail.

I’ve made a short film which demonstrates the slideshow, so you can see what’s there.  Since I used Jing to make it, I had a five-minute time limit, so some of the slides go through quite rapidly, but the animations are designed so that you have manual control and can run them as quickly or as slowly as you think necessary.  To find the whole set of resources, go here and click on “Vivaldi Analysis”.  To see the five-minute runthrough of the content of the slideshow, click on the video link below:

Vivaldi Analysis Demo

You may wish to use PowerPoint to cut out some of the slides, and that’s fine.  What I don’t advise it editing the animations within each slide.  Fiddle around with them too much, and you may never find your way out again.  Believe me, I know.

If you do use this resource in your class, please get back to me and let me know how it went.  Some feedback on how it could be improved would be especially helpful, and I will do my best to apply it to any future presentations I make and share with you guys.  Enjoy!

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Teaching senior students how to write a musical analysis by Gabrielle Deschamps is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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How to cope when your music class is full of “screamo” (sorry, post-hardcore) fans…

April 19, 2011

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I’m not kidding. That’s exactly what I had last year, and poor classically-trained me had a tough time getting them to listen to Vivaldi.

So in the interests of cultural exchange, I asked my students to write me a whole big list of songs they liked, and I agreed to get hold of them and find ways to incorporate them into our senior music unit. That weekend, instead of listening to Bach, Mozart, and Prokofiev, I was studying the musical works of Bullet For My ValentineParkway DriveEnter Shikari, and The Amity Affliction.

Once I got my ears around the fact that their songs often use the voice as a (deliberately) non-pitched instrument, I discovered that some of them aren’t all that bad. “I Hate Hartley” by The Amity Affliction is now one of my favourite songs. The following week, I used it for a couple of musical analysis lessons, where it became quite a good learning tool for discussing timbre and pitch (or lack thereof). I also learned to never, ever refer to these songs as just “screamo” (“It’s post-hardcore, Miss!”). It’s also about a dozen other musical genres.

If this kind of music really isn’t your cup of tea, but it’s what your students are listening to, the way to get around it is to treat the “screamo” voice as just another type of instrument with its own distinctive timbre. Then read the lyrics of the song (you’ll need to: it’s next to impossible to understand a screamer otherwise) and see how the “scream” brings out their meaning. What meaning would be expressed if the lyrics were delivered differently? Sung in the usual way? In another dynamic? By a higher or lower voice?

As it happens, in a song like “I Hate Hartley”, not only is there both a screamer and a singer, there’s also what sounds like a whole football crowd, and the way that all three types of vocal execution interact with the lyrics becomes an engaging discussion about musical expression and interpretation. The song is also quite interesting and complex in other areas as well, particularly structure, dynamics, and texture. The way it uses the musical elements to express both anger and despair as well as determination and hope could make for a pretty interesting analysis essay. Check it out…if your eardrums can handle it.

Having said all this, I don’t advocate dropping Vivaldi & Co. from the senior music class altogether and just concentrating on “stuff the kids listen to”. As a music teacher, it’s part of my job to take them out of their comfort zone and introduce them to other genres and eras. But I’m all for using “their music” as a teaching/learning tool, and maybe even incorporating both at the same time. One idea I have is to take the chord progression and/or bassline from the second movement of Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in F Minor (for example), uploading it as a soundfile in whatever sequencing software I can get onto our new laptops, and getting my students to compose around it, letting them be as “post-hardcore” as they like if that’s what floats their bubble.

Then after they’ve done that, I’ll show them the original piece and see whether their understanding and appreciation of it has been influenced by their own work, and to what degree. It will also be very interesting to compare all the different compositions they’ve created. I look forward to the experiment. I also have a student who’s a very good bass player, and I fully intend to have him pinching basslines from Bach before the year is out.

The only thing one needs to be cautious about with the post-hardcore and similar genres, is that a lot of their songs tend to use explicit language and themes, but there are a number of others which are quite useable in class. I would tend not to use them for my junior classes, but they’re great for seniors.

I will say that listening to post-hardcore and using it to teach, has stretched my horizons and widened my repertoire scope dramatically. This learning curve hasn’t happened without any payback, however. There was one other student in that class who was not part of the post-hardcore metal-head group, and she also had some input into our listening list. The week after shredding our eardrums with The Amity Affliction, those same students were analysing Beyoncé. Revenge is sweet.

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How to cope when your music class is full of “screamo” (sorry, post-hardcore) fans… by Gabrielle Deschamps is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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Spotlight: e-learning resources

April 19, 2011

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E-learning resources is one site that every music teacher should visit.  Allan Melville and Miranda Myers put together this fantastic online resource for use in schools, which has a whole stack of material for music classroom use, with more being added regularly.  Here’s their content snapshot:

You get a teacher’s login password, and all your students get a student password (the same one for the whole school).  With that, both you and your students can have access to the site 24 hours a day, from home or school.  One yearly subscription fee covers the whole shebang.  There’s a 7-day trial, but they’re not stingy: if you don’t get a chance to have a look in that time, they’re happy to extend it.

I’ve spoken to Allan on a few occasions about this site.  He’s absolutely lovely and can’t do enough to help.  Something I haven’t had the chance to do yet (but I will soon Allan, I promise!) is sit down with him so he can take me through all their new updates.  Once he’s done that, he can give me a certificate for professional development to add to my ongoing registration requirements.  How cool is that?

I’ve used this site for teaching analysis, setting homework, and exam preparation.  I haven’t yet used it nearly as much as I would like, but with our new computer resources which have just arrived at my school, that will be changing very soon.  Go check this one out.  It’s very well worth it.  To get there, click on the banner below:

e-learning resources banner

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Back From MTEC 2011

April 18, 2011

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It’s the second time I’ve been to a conference for music technology in education, and it definitely won’t be the last. MTEC 2011 left all its participants completely knackered after three full days of hands-on workshops, but also inspired to get back to their classrooms and businesses with stacks of new ideas.

For me, this blog is one of the results of the conference.  I’ve wanted to do a music technology and education blog for months, and James Humberstone’sworkshop on delivering learning materials online finally tipped me over the edge.  So here I am.

I came away with a brand new copy of O Generator, the demo version of which I showed my students before I attended the conference.  If you’ve never heard of this music composition program, do check it out.  Not only does it look weirdly cool, it’s a great program for students to create their own loops and compose whole songs, which can then be uploaded into GarageBand for further editing.

Speaking of which, a GarageBand app for ipad has recently been released and it’s ridiculously cheap at AU$5.99.  O-Generator has also released an app for ipad and iphone, which I’ll definitely be telling my students about, since they liked the classroom demo so much.

I also attended workshops on creating short video tutorials, editing with Audacity, teaching composition with Sibelius, and using ProTools (which for me has been a bit of a scary prospect).  That was just a very small taste: there were stacks of other workshops that I didn’t get to attend, either because they were all full, or they were happening at the same time.

To top things off, we got to see the award-winning a cappella group The Idea of North perform at the conference dinner on Tuesday night.  Fantastic!

The timing of the conference was pretty good too.  Having come to the end of a twelve-week term, it was nice to get away for a few days and be reminded of what I really find meaningful in my job.  Now I have a ten-day hiatus to pause, digest, and do some planning, because I definitely don’t want to waste this moment of inspiration after such a worthwhile event.

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Back From MTEC 2011 by Gabrielle Deschamps is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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