Building the Basis of Musicianship

music Feb 20, 2024
As Seasons of Seven's music teacher, I have the pleasure of encountering students from all over the place geographically, and at all sorts of skill/experience levels musically. In the lower grades we focus on basics of steady beat, how beat relates to rhythm, how those together relate to melody, and how we translate those concepts to instruments like recorder and ukulele. All in an approach that's centered on experiential over intellectual, process over product. We have fun making music together, and the technical aspects of the skills and concepts being taught are imbibed invisibly, organically. Essentially, we're building the basis of musicianship.
So what about High School? Presumably many of the students at this age have had at least some musical instruction. Whether they've had private lessons on an instrument or voice, or they've had music classes in a traditional school environment, many of these teens have at least some understanding of the basics. 
With that in mind, my approach is to meet them where they are and use their skills and experience collectively to create a collaborative composition. From the outset of our 8-week session, the goal is to create one cohesive song together by assembling each student's component contributions. Still process over product, but we like having a nice little product at the end of the process.
I begin by giving the students a homework assignment: create a simple, repeatable musical idea. On whatever instrument you play. If you don't play any instruments, you can sing something. If you don't like to sing, you can bang out a rhythm on a cardboard box. Doesn't matter. Come up with a short, repeatable musical idea, as long as it's yours, and it's something you like, we're good.
Together as we hear each other's ideas, we decide how they can fit together. Does the song take a traditional pop-song structure (Verse/Chorus/Verse/Chorus/Bridge/Chorus/Out)? Or is it more exploratory? What key is it in? What's the tempo? What's the instrumentation? If you play more than one instrument, can you create a complimentary part to the first one you made?
As it comes together, I guide the structural assembly process. The students give their input and the song begins to take shape. Now comes the question, what is the song "about"? What feeling does it give you? What theme does the musical feeling suggest? Are there any poets here? Let's write some lyrics to go along with the theme. What melody do the lyrics suggest? Or, what lyrics can fit with this melody? 
This being a remote-learning situation, the students send me recordings of their parts, and I assemble them (they sing all the vocal parts and play almost all of the instruments, I try to be as invisible as possible). Week-by-week it takes shape, adding a bit here, subtracting a bit there, tweaking a moment or an idea, making improvements. They listen critically and make honest, clear recommendations, and we adjust accordingly, til finally by the end of an 8-week process I have all the elements I need to mix everything together and produce it like a "proper" pop or rock song. 
It's interesting how much the "flavor" of each class comes through in their compositions. Each group is unique with its own particular mix of attitudes, experiences, musical influences, etc. And yet there is consistency with the students' developmental stages that comes across in their music. It's so evident in the difference between "Beautiful Day", composed by 13/14 year-olds with themes of nostalgia for an innocent past and enjoyment of the now and "A Boy", composed by 16/17 year-olds, all about breaking free, individuating, making your mark in the world. More than they realize, their songs become a window into their souls.
It's absolutely astounding to me what these students come up with, what they create, what we can accomplish together. Even working remotely we can learn by collaborating to create powerful music together.

Mr. Mark
Seasons of Seven Music Teacher 

Watch samples of our Four Fold Enrichment which includes Music HERE

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