Music and Learning and Discovery

One of the more interesting elements of reading on the Web is the way that hyperlinks send you off on a journey, and how readers can add in as much substance as the writer. This morning, I followed a trail that began with an email newsletter from Edutopia. The headline on an article caught my eye: Using Music in the Classroom. (written by Gaetan Pappalardo).

I love Gaetan’s work around music and learning (we’ve crossed paths before with the National Writing Project) and so, of course, I wanted to read what he had to say. In the piece, he gives pointers on some simple ways to incorporate music into a lesson, including using an instrumental piece for writing.

“I want my students to use their mind’s eye so I reverse the roles. Instead of writing music to the story, I want my students to write a story, a thought, a scene, or a list to the music.”

So, I am reading Gaetan, and then I scroll down to the comment section and there, I find a long list of teachers who  have been adding their own ideas about music and learning, and suggesting lesson ideas.

For example, I found a link to an article about the benefits of having music playing while students are studying (Study, Stress and Music by Michael Griffin) and a series of songs that could help teach about bullying behaviors, and a link to another Edutopia piece about music and social behaviors and then I found myself off at this post called Teaching With Tunes: 21 Idea for Incorporating Music Throughout the Curriculum by Fallwell Dunbar.

And then, it was back to Gaetan’s article and off again to see Benjamin Zander TED talk about music and passion (Passion being one of Gaetan’s topics on his piece).  There, I found the video embedded up above of Bobby McFerrin and his visual demonstration on the power of the Pentatonic Scale, and music and movement.

But I noticed that the sign behind McFerrin said “Notes and Neurons,” so I had to figure out what was up with that, which led me to the World Science Festival site about music and the brain. That is a site I have to come back to one of these days, but not now.

My journey came all the way around, as I write here about what I found. I love that discovery process that began with a headline and expanded out towards a whole session of learning and music.

Peace (in the notes),

Now I know who to blame …

Appetite for Self-Destruction

For years, my pet peeve was that darned packaging around CDs. First of all, it would tear at my fingers trying to get it open. Second, I was left with more plastic and cardboard than CD case, and so every purchase of music felt as if I were germinating the local landfill.

This week, I finally found the name of the guy credited with this entire packaging idea. It is Jerry Shulman, who was director of marketing at CBS at the time. In the book Appetite for Self-Destruction by Steve Knopper (an excellent look at how the music industry has again and again shot itself in the foot as the digital revolution took hold …. Napster, anyone? Or now bit torrent?), Shuman admits to the idea. “It was me,” Shulman is quoted saying by Knopper. “It cut everyone’s fingers to shreds when you cut it open.”

Yep. That’s probably why they were known as blister boxes in the industry.

Now, Shulman did not invent this contraption just to cause pain to music customers (although Knopper does an excellent job of showing how us music lovers are often farthest from the minds of the record company executives at so many turns in the road over the last 30 years). The tomb-like plastic and cardboard casing was invented so that record store owners would not have to build new shelves for CDs; they could just use the old LP shelves and fit two CDs in the spot where one LP used to go.

Now, who is the hero of this story of the old CD cases? Raffi. That’s right. Raffi — the children’s singer who has always earned my respect for refusing to license any of his recordings for marketing that might influence a child to buy a product. He just wants kids to love music.

According to Knopper, Raffi refused to put out CDs in the so-called longbox. Good for you, Raffi.

Meanwhile, the industry realized they could save a bundle of money by eliminating all of that packaging, and appease other artists like U2, Peter Gabriel and others who were worried about the environmental impact of the packaging. It is nice to see that CDs (if you still buy them) are mostly without the plastic sleeves.

Of course, the digital versions require no packaging at all.

Peace (in laying the blame),

My Tech Song

A number of weeks ago, Scott McLeod (over at Dangerously Irrelevant) put out a call for a contest for poems and songs about technology. I rehashed an old song and updated the lyrics, recorded it quickly and then sent it along to Scott. It turns out he chose my song as runner up. Neat. (Here is his post, with the winners).

Here it is — composed as I was thinking of the overload I was feeling at the time.

Digging Out of the Digital World
(listen to the song as MP3)

Take your Macs and mainframes and toss them into the sea
There’s no PC compatible with the likes of me
I’m living up in the clouds — I surf a data storm
When the world goes wireless — nobody’s at home

I’m a cell phone connection and a blackberry man
I’m on call 24/7 — I’m always on demand
I need voice recognition to lighten up my days
so you can take all my power cords and toss ’em all away

Microsoft, Apple, chip, bit, byte, ram
I’m digging in the information highway, I hope it ain’t a scam
You can find me on Twitter, My Tumbler is alive and well,
I’m moving out of MySpace into the Second Life hotel

Somewhere out on the horizon – something new comes along
Something strange that will change the way we think we belong
Information to the left of me – Innovation to the right
I’m so connected now — I can’t tell day from night

Microsoft, Apple, chip, bit, byte, ram
I’m digging in the information highway, I hope it ain’t just a scam
You can find me on Twitter, My Tumbler is alive and well,
I’m moving out of MySpace into the Second Life hotel

Peace (in song),

Memoir Mondays: KISS it goodbye

(this is part of Memoir Mondays over at Two Writing Teachers)

I grew up on KISS.
Not just the ones from Mom and Dad but the over-the-top rock and roll band, KISS.
For a long stretch of my adolescent childhood, my entire neighborhood was enamored with this glam band as it hit the world stage with their dramatics (fire-breathing bass players, unnaturally-extended tongues, animal-inspired painted faces, the whole shebang). I even collected KISS comic books. Remember them? Rock and rollers transformed as superheroes.
At our bus stop before school in the mornings, we all used to take on characters of the band, and pretend that a fallen tree stump was the stage. We’d use the light from the rising sun on our hiking boots to create over-sized shadow images on the pavement as a way to replicate the patented KISS boots (a sort of stiletto heel, but huge, almost like teeth coming out of the foot). We’d listen to the songs on the albums (oh god) for hours at a time, singing out loud to the chorus: I Wanna Rock and Roll All Night and Party Every DAY!!! (emphasis on Day, since we were kids and nighttime partying was a great unknown …. for now)
We followed the drama of KISS as the band considered removing their make-up and what it might mean to the band. We also were curious what they really looked like underneath the layers of disguise. (It later turned out they looked pretty ugly and should have kept the paint on)

So, imagine the looks I got one day when I went and traded my sacred KISS Alive II double vinyl album for an older Earth, Wind and Fire disc. I still don’t know why I did it. Perhaps I was having KISS fatigue. Perhaps, as a saxophone player, I was searching for something with horns. Maybe I needed some groove. I could have been muscled into it by my older brother’s friend (I was very susceptible to peer pressure by the older kids in the neighborhood), but I don’t think so.

Earth, Wind and Fire were not unknown to me. My dad has a pretty eclectic taste and I heard all sorts of music as I was growing up, including Maurice White and company. I thought it was lame, until I started to actually listen.
The first time I put that Earth, Wind and Fire album on, though, my needle exploded with the sound of “Shining Star” and I was never quite the same. With the chorus of “Shining star for you to see, what your life can truly be,” I was hooked. “September” still has me dancing, even though the sound is, well, so 70’s.
Oh, sure, I had still had my Foghat albums. And Led Zep still has a certain place in my heart. Aerosmith, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd and others never left my collection until I grew up and weeded out the vinyl memories of my youth (I still have a Zep CD, though).
But with that Earth, Wind and Fire album, I realized that there was a whole other world of music out there to explore and I couldn’t spend all of my time listening to KISS. Plus, the ballad “Beth” was getting sappy to my ears.
Earth, Wind and Fire kick-started my heart and I never turned back.

What music informed your childhood?

Peace (in notes between the ages),

Moving Music into Learning

I am convinced that music gets a short thrift in most classrooms. I know that, as a kid, if my teachers had at least once in a while use music for lessons, I would have been much more engaged in what was going in the class. I try to use music as much as possible — from analyzing song lyrics to listening to music to writing songs.

The other day, I came across Mr. Duey, who is a teacher from Detroit who raps, and after watching this video about Fractions, I ordered his CD. Even if it was bad, I figured any teacher who tries something like this needs support.

And the CD is pretty decent. It is divided into curriculum areas — Math, English, Science and Social Studies — with an audience of middle school students. Topics range from writing essays to solving improper fractions to latitude/longitude lines. I got the CD yesterday and my own two kids were boppin’ around the house, reading the lyrics and listening to the hip-hop beat. Mr. Duey’s rap about Integers even sparked a discussion about the number line and positive and negative numbers.

Along with the CD is a DVD that I have not yet watched, but which shows the making of the music and this following video. I can’t wait to check it out.

Hey ya, Mr. Duey!

Peace (in rappin’ teachers),

Bob, the palindrome video (by Weird Al)

This video was shared over at the collective Teach.Eng.Us site by Linus but it had me laughing so hard, I just had to share it out. It’s a Dylan homage (does Weird Al do homage or just farce?) and uses palindromes.

Very funny.

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Peace (in backwards and frontwards words),