Music and 21st Century Learning


It’s been said before and will be said again

“Teaching<insert subject field> is different”  followed sometimes by “you wouldn’t understand” and “it’s hard to explain”.

Musical pedagogy has a history steeped with pre-existing “norms” that are currently being pushed.  Even “recent” Pioneer musical educators such as Kodaly(1925), Orff(1920’s), and Delcroze(1910’s) and even the Suzuki Method (1950’s) have fallen by the wayside unable to cope with the new way of thinking.  Some teachers still cling to these values because they’ve worked in the past, but what could 21st Century teaching and learning do for or to music education?

In a world where you can be shown exactly where to put your fingers over and over to make it sound like the original on youtube for free, masters who have studied and honed their skills seem boring and dated.  Everyone with access to the internet can pull up a website and start to learn any instrument, so why do we need music teachers?  In PLP we are challenged to shift our thinking from being the “sage on the stage” to being a partner in learning and knowlegable other.  I don’t know everything about music, but I have to know a pretty substantial amount to teach 30 fresh, eager, full of energy grade nine students to play at least 13 different instruments at the same time.  It is much easier when a student asks you what fingering Bb is to just answer them while oiling a trumpet, printing off the bass part (because they lost it again), conducting, while listening for mistakes that the saxes make and realizing that they’re making mistakes because they’re not using the octave key.  You watch the drummers because, well – they’re drummers and like to get into trouble, so you plan more advanced rudiment exercises for them to do while the rest of the class still struggles to make a sound.  And practicing… let’s leave that for another post.  Oh, and try to practice for yourself somewhere in there. (another blog post)  So, when my brain tries to process what I do on a regular basis in a music room and tries to shift thinking it melts a little, but does spit out some interesting ideas:

  • Have students create their own method books – compose their own short pieces to address a certain element of learning their instrument or musical concept.
  • All tests done at home and recorded to or
  • Record a practice session before a test to – and have your peers make three comments at specific times as to two things that went well in the session and one that could be improved (in regards to playing or planning of the practice session)
  • Create a digital footprint for an assigned composer from the Medival to Modern era *(allready in production @ – email me if you want to have a look inside)
  • create a youtube video on “how to” play a certain element of their instrument
  • Skype symphony – might be tough with latency issues – although Peavy has software out there that almost eliminates latency and allows simultaneous jam sessions!
  • Class album – write, record and produce their own songs put together in an online album as well as a physical one

Most of these ideas will take more time than I have to implement – plus I havn’t weighed the value that they would have v.s. the time to work them through is.

What is the future?  I hope that clarinets and trombones don’t go the way of the sliderule and abacus.  I don’t think that they will though, music has survived through worse – the dark ages, crusades, wars, etc.  Instruments are tools of music, so are the new tools of music in the 21st Century going to be computers alone?  If we use tools with tools, there’s too much time being spent on how to play the instruments and compters and not enough on the music itself.  It’s hard enough to get a grade nine class playing something recognizable in under five months let alone having to teach them to use sound recording software, mics, software, sequencers, tuning trackers and proprietary software. – Is this a separate post (What is a successful music program do?)

I see much more value in a class full of flutes and tubas than just a lab of macs running garageband loops.  The collaboration and communication that can happen with a single gesture, or glance, or nuance of a note without even a word spoken has so much power and is lacking these days in general let alone the education world.  Can I have both?  I want a trombone player that can take a tablet out in the hall and play a passage he or she’s having trouble with, and post it to soundcloud and get feedback from peers, me, and the rest of the world.  Who knows, someone might sample their recording and make something else that makes a million dollars!

A music program is like life, it needs balance, and until I find just the right weightings and more than a year in one school, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing.  Haven’t had many complaints yet!


Darren Kools

Kenner Collegiate and Vocational Institue – Peterborough, Ontario, Canada

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