Friday, September 05, 2008

Day 09 (Round II) "In the trenches" (context edition)

Well, we're kinda hanging tough around here. End of the second (short) week of classes, off to the Friday happy hour pub session in a few minutes. Freshman music history students have their first Listening Quiz on Monday (no point trying to get them to study over the long Labor Day weekend, as their parents would have all insisted on their going home, and ain't no work going to get done then), and more than a few are more than a little stressed about it.

But, that's a good stress: more of the "this ain't high school any more" vibe that's so important for us to convey in the opening of the fall semester. And today's meeting, instead of happening in the lecture hall where we usually convene, was in the performance theater just down the quadrangle, where a guest artist, Mark O'Conner, who concertized last night this morning gave a lecture-demo.

In the event it worked out well: they're two weeks into two new critical-thinking and critical-listening skills: the content- and style-focused SHMRG listening parameters (Sound Harmony Melody Rhythm Growth), based in Jan C LaRue's approach, which are aimed at reinforcing consistent critical-listening skills, and a parallel set I came up with myself years ago: the context- and function-focused "5 Questions", to wit:

Who's playing?
Who's listening?
Who's paying?
What is it doing?
How does it work?
It's just a patterned mnemonic, like the SHMRG acronym above, that's aimed at prompting students who maybe never have thought about why the music is the way it is, to do so. Like the SHMRG parameters, the "5 Questions" are designed to be at least conceptually applicable to any musical event, regardless of the time period, geographical location, or genre-specifics. Introducing freshmen to both these systems, right from jump-street in their first semester, and giving them both templates (worksheets with prompts, in this question) and lots of opportunity to practice, is a good way to help them over the "they're using a lot of Music Words in college I don't understand...and I'm freaking out!" hump, and into the zone of "OK, I can't do this yet, but I'm starting to see how other people do it, and they're showing me how." This in turn makes it seem more do-able--if just as effortful--and in turn pushes them to focus day-to-day on building new skills, just the way that they learned to do with their instrumental rudiments.

See below:

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