Category Archives: Music

Thoughts on Music and Music Education

Lights, camera, fail.

My amp build got finished Friday afternoon, but was less functional than expected. I had light from the vacuum tubes, the camera was on, but no action. Not all is lost, my next step is to find a better schematic online and see where the directions went wrong. Maybe I need to FaceTime with an expert cough Tom Hughes??? image
The drums are coming along, but the snare setup is proving difficult to do right. It looks a bit sloppy, but I’ve got a couple more to do, so I get to practice.

Time flies when you’re making instruments

It is already thursday, and I don’t think I will finish on time. I’m also concerned that will be some left over parts from the amp making. Nowhere in the instructions does it say where to put the diodes… image
I reclaimed some hardwood from the dump on the weekend for the bracing of the drums, and went back to get another. There was so much more dumped and scraped and piled that the wood I saw was buried. I did find some nice table legs that I can plane and cut down though, so it wasn’t a wasted trip.
I’m feeling a little disappointed in this week. My blogging has gotten bland and I feel like no one is reading, save my mom and a few key relatives. At least everyone knows I haven’t been devoured by a polar bear. I hope to be more interesting in the future.

Hump day

Day three of pd, and things are looking up. The cajons are coming along… I still don’t like the log style one, but that’s ok. I had some success with the reclaimed wood! I found a piece of wood with some feet I intend to put on later, and after cutting it in quarters and planing, it is perfect for the reinforcement behind the tapas (front hitting surface).
I considered planing down the tapas to 4mm called for in the plans, but we’ll see how the 6mm boards sound. The sample piece seemed to stand up, but I won’t if I don’t have to.
I hope I will have enough time this week to finish my projects. I know that I can work on my spare time, and I might put all my effort in to finish by Monday.
The amp is also coming around. I think if I have time I will make an enclosure for it.
More work. Yay!


Day two- spinning wheels

Day two is at an end and I feel like I haven’t accomplished much. This morning, I spent most of my time cutting pieces out for the interlocking drum. This took almost all of the time. The result is less than desirable. Because the drum works on air pressure, the unexact cuts and poorly filed edges won’t make a very good sound. I thought it might work as a travel canon, but it doesn’t stay together on its own. So, I’ll have to glue or silicone it together to get a tighter fit. At the end of the morning I was getting frustrated, so I thought I would just plane down the other two boxes… Mistake… I was impatient, so I went to the power plane, and it ripped part of the plywood off that was going the other way. Boo. So more work to do tomorrow.

The afternoon didn’t seem very productive either. I kept having to reposition the vacuum tube slots, but I did get them soldered together.

At this point I have two thoughts. One that I’m not going to get finished/ around to the didgeridoo organ, and these are not projects for students. Perhaps it would be good for advanced students framed in an instrument making unit. Lower ability students can create other projects like the hose-a-ma-phone… Tune in tomorrow for more updates, and later this week for my trailer!

Pi week

I love professional development. The idea that as part of my job is to better myself is amazing. I suppose some pd is more exciting than others, for example, learning to assemble Peruvian box drums has more pizazz than school effectiveness framework developing. So when I was told that here in Nunavut teachers get a week of self directed professional improvement, I just about fainted.

It was hard deciding what angle to follow in my pd spectrum. I thought about my peeps at plp, and all the fantastic work I did last year, but I’m working on implementing that in my daily routine. I thought about learning throat singing and Inuit drum making. Unfortunately making an Inuit drum is a very labour intensive project, and it’s not really the right time of year for it.

So my plan for this week is as follows:

  • cajon -Peruvian box drum
  • 18w tube amp header-
  • didgeridoo organ
I don’t have a specific order and I’m not sure that I need to.  I think I will get a better sense of the pace I need to have if I devote Monday morning to the amp, and the afternoon for the box drum.

The parts for the amp came in yesterday! I would like to thank Karen for checking my mail and lugging it back to the school for me, I was only expecting to have my pay stub there!
The nice wood is still en route, but my test of the good one side c grade from umingmak (local lumber store) is waiting to be made into a box drum. I also have to look into the PVC for my didge organ. I was a little worried about getting all of the materials, but things have come together. I’m tempted to get an early start this weekend on these fabulous projects.

I will be updating more than usual,this next week to keep an almost real time, more pics to follow!


Disappointed in myself so others aren’t.

I am a music teacher with a secret.

I’m sorry for all of those music teachers out there who also have this secret, but I have to expose it.
I don’t play the piano well.
Yes, a music teacher who doesn’t play the piano is more common than you may think. I love listening to the instrument, and am super envious of those who can play, but when it comes down to it, I suck.

I’ve always kinda known this, but I’ve learned ways to work around it, learn the guitar, improvise on simple bass lines a la cannon in d. Shame on me. As a kid I took a couple of weeks of “keyboarding” classes… Melodies were ok, but my unfamiliarity with treble clef was my bane. I became uninterested especially when both hands took action. Thinking back it was probably the dyslexia.
Fast forward to first year university, enter piano proficiency class Aka piano deficiency. Yes I learned a whole lot, but it didn’t get me to where I should have been. It threw my brain for a loop.
The guitar had foiled me for the longest time as well, but just recently(4 years ago) I managed to pick it up, and now am a decent player. Being thrown into teaching guitar courses and clubs helped.

Yesterday I failed the 88 keys once again. Wednesday morning I was approached to see if I could do some accompaniment for the Missoula play “the secret garden”, which has its performance friday in front of other teachers, the entire school and parts of the community. In my defense, yesterday I practiced my little butt off and managed to “learn” three of the 12 songs in this mini musical. My favourite of which is “honk if you love geese”, hilarious! Given another week and rehearsals with the kids, I could have pulled it off. So instead of going out there and possibly making a fool out of myself, I decided that I had to bow out.

I feel bad that I can’t do it. People expect that a music teacher can play the piano, and that disappoints me. The best I could have done is not embarrass myself a do a mediocre job. This would have little impact on how people see me. The worst that could happen is I screw up everything and make things worse, and people see me as less because I can’t do it.

I know I’m not a failure, and most likely this is just another skill on the pile of to do for those long blizzardy nights.

On the upswing I made the most amazing pizza last night!

Is it really the end of the year?

The end of the year is nearly upon us and again the agony starts.  I was declared redundant, and again, I’m in the wrong spot at the wrong time.  I might not end up getting anything.

This gives me the opportunity to change directions though.  Armed with the tools of PLP, I feel confident I can do much better than I have in the intermediate grades.  Having seen so many people succeed and do exciting things with tech and kids.  Plus I’ll have some people resources to turn to.

I would really like the opportunity to create a literacy based, technology aided, integrated arts program for grades seven and \ or eight.  I think that differentiation is going to be the key to individual success, but I know I need an over-arcing project or theme.

I have been told that I look and act very similar to Jack Black in School of Rock, so creating, promoting and marketing student created music might be a bit to cliche.

I could go deeper and make it for a cause. Kools’ Cancer Killers, a band that puts on concerts to raise money for cancer research.

me and my coffee??

I think most importantly I need to get into things.  I need to use the great ideas that I’ve amassed in my integrated arts AQ and the PLP event.  I do feel like I’ll be missing out on great opportunities in Secondary, but this is something I can do now, and not wait to see if I get screwed over again.  I’m taking back control, I’m going to do the best that I can, and strive for awesomeness.  Skadoosh as it were.


Let’s make the supply teacher cry…

The supply teacher is often one of the hardest roles we as teachers are asked to fill. Often at the beginning of our careers when we are the most unsure of ourselves, we are dropped in a unique situation on a daily basis.

So what does a 21st Century supply teacher look like?

There are essentially two scenarios that we as the teacher going to be away have control of. It all depends on what we leave for the supply.

  1. We leave something we would do. This is often a difficult option because of the unknown. Will the supply understand the specifics of the lesson? What about the technology – if it fails? What if the supply is uncomfortable with this style? Will I have to reteach this lesson or concept?
  2. We leave a “conventional” lesson or worksheets and textbook work or dare I say it, the dreaded movie and a fill in the blanks… *shudder*
OPTION 1: If we choose to leave a lesson that we would have done, then there are two further outcomes that may occur:
  • A: The supply has no problems with the content, learning style, and technology that is left for them. Your students respect them because they know what they’re talking about – as well as the good sense you’ve instilled in them. Hopefully that supply teacher also brings in aspects and elements of their teaching style and personality to augment and compliment your lesson.
  • B: The supply can’t handle the style, content or technology you’ve left and either muddles through, not effectively leading the class in the learning you intended, or they ditch the lesson and pull out a copy of Ferris Buler’s day off they keep with them.
OPTION2: If we decide to go with a less difficult more straight forward approach, then are we cheating our students? Is this the opportunity to give for the essential personal work, where they can work independently? We want to leave the class easy to handle, but we also want the students to be challenged and rise to the occasion. So two things often happen:
  • C: Students work well at what was left for them, but ultimately uninspired.
  • D: Students ditch the work knowing they will have to go over it again, and it makes more sense coming from their regular teacher. You then have to redo that lesson, essentially losing a day.
Occasionally this happens.
  • E: Supply teacher ditches what was left because students aren’t buying in and on the fly re-imagines the lesson as some other interesting way. – For example using song-writing to better engage the learning and production of the persuasive letter. (yeah, I did… and the kids seemed to buy in.)

Sometimes the subject restricts what can be done – Music teachers won’t often leave playing instruments, Shop teachers won’t have any work in the shop, Science teachers won’t do any experiments involving chemicals, etc… BUT beyond dangerous situations, why do we not trust supply teachers with what we expect of ourselves?

Supply teachers are teachers too, in fact, they have varied and distinct skill sets, a fresh view, often experience or unimaginable energy. Unfortunately, there is the dark side. Teachers who haven’t perfected their classroom management strategies, or have given up.

I think it comes down to the fact that we are afraid of the unknown. Take a chance next time you have a supply coming in because your off to a conference to learn a great new approach or tech tool. Try to get a hold of them before hand and co-plan the lesson, or leave them a lesson and encourage them to add to it and make it their own.

What do you do for supply teachers? What good and bad experiences have you had with supplies?

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