As I reflect on my music teaching experiences back in the day, I fondly remember those times I wanted to do something more innovative and motivating for my 5th and 6th graders. I made it a point to provide a well-rounded music experience for my students. It just wasn’t enough to have them sit in their seats, open their song books and sing their favorite songs. There needed to be movement and there needed to be interaction.
So, I cleared the desks out and had the students come together as a choir. They were now up and on their feet. They were closer together. They had a sense of being a group. I would take the songs in the song book and do a little rearranging or enhancing. I would add an upright bass student and a drummer. Maybe I would add bongos and/or congas. Students were excited because their experience was augmented. They sang with more enthusiasm. It was always a challenge to introduce music that didn’t appear in their song books.
I wanted my students to be familiar with all types of music… including classical, blues, popular, religious (yes, religious in the school), instrumental, etc. They learned basic theory and music notation. Students always enjoyed being divided into 5 or 6 rows – facing the blackboard. I would write 5 or 6 rows of rhythms 8 measures long. They would clap the rhythms, one row at a time and then all at once. Sometimes drums were used. Students learned how to count different time signatures.
Invite Community Performers Into The Classroom For Demonstrations And Collaborations
I enjoyed inviting pre-professional and professional musicians to the classroom. This provided my students with first hand exposure to various music presentations. I would invite students from Duquesne University, Pitt and CMU music schools for demonstrations and Q & A. Examples included a string quartet, a pianist, brass ensemble, percussion ensemble, vocal quartet, woodwind ensemble, guitar. These guests were scheduled year-long, about once or twice per month. I especially remember inviting my friend, Mr. Tim Eyermann and his jazz group “East Coast Offering” to my classroom. They were able to not only perform for the students, but to answer questions as well. I remember inviting a tap dancer to visit my class, Mr. Saxe Williams. He actually presented a “master class” and had everyone on their feet.
I recall another outstanding guest to our classroom. He was the great drummer, Mr. Rufus “Speedy” Jones of the famous Count Basie Band. Mr. Jones happened to be in Pittsburgh, performing at a local jazz club. I was fortunate to convince him (with an honorarium) to play for our entire school. I was able to invite two musician friends, one on piano, the other on bass. They were happy to come and accompany Mr. Jones. Needless to say, the students (and teachers) were amazed at the high level of musicianship displayed that afternoon.
As a performing musician and classroom instructor, I was acutely aware of the positive impact direct exposure by college and professional musicians had on young elementary school students. I was motivated to “feed” their ever increasing curiosity by bringing to the classroom experiences they might not have ever had at that age.
To this day I am proud to witness a number of students I had over the years who have become jazz, popular and classical musicians. They became interested and involved because of their early experiences and exposures in the classroom. I had a student who became an accompanist for singer Gladys Knight and the Pips. He started out playing bells in a small ensemble I had developed. Another student became a backup singer for Jeffrey Osbourne. He continues to perform as a solo act. Another student had not had the opportunity to see a guitar up close. He had that opportunity in my classroom. He is now an accomplished jazz guitarist, travelling throughout the world.
You Don’t Have To Be An Accomplished Classical, Popular or Jazz Performer
It is not necessary to be an outstanding performer. In order to have success above and beyond in your classroom, you as the teacher must be more creative…become an innovator. As the teacher, you have to learn about, watch and listen to each of your students. Continued encouragement is important. A positive relationship with your principal always helps. Many times you will discover a “diamond in the rough”! Nurture him/her. Give them a way to test themselves… a way to explore. As the teacher, look for ways to embellish the classroom experience with exciting events. You are the promoter. They soon will develop increased anticipation when coming to your class. If they like being in your class, you’re 50% there. Your job is to keep them coming. Keep them challenged.
Dr. Harry Clark Ph.D.