by Merlin B. Thompson - Calgary, Alberta
Have you ever noticed that around the time your students are in Junior High School, they seem to reach a threshold in their music studies? After years of consistent progress throughout elementary school, they seem satisfied with their music studies and want to continue, yet they’re often content with just working on one piece even over very long periods of time. So, what are the options? Composition, improvisation, ensemble music? How about something that will amplify every one of your preteen/teen students’ relationships with music!!
Beginning in January 2018, I decided to respond to the Preteen/Teen Threshold by doing something completely new – engaging my preteen/teen students in examining their own Everyday Musical Connections through a Project-Based Learning approach. Everyday Musical Connections (EMC) is the descriptor I use to capture the breadth and depth of every person’s unique relation with music. At times, music is a companion, diversion, interruption, refuge, catalyst, and reminder. Project-Based Learning (PBL) is an established educational approach widely used in classroom settings. PBL is all about organizing learning experiences that prompt students’ active participation in their own learning, rather than giving students a series of facts to learn for an exam or tasks to master for a performance.
Over the past year and a half, I have included EMC projects with impressive results for my preteen/teen students. Each week, we spend 5-6 minutes of our lesson time in fine-tuning their investigative process. Students present their finished projects at informal home concerts and formal public concerts. Parents are typically blown away by the insight and sophistication of students’ presentations. Thus far, students’ explorations have included analysis, video creation, audio presentations, PowerPoint, transcription, personal anecdotes, and live demonstration. The topics they choose are as varied as their own personalities. Everything from – what makes a good song good, to the evolution of the Batman musical theme, to how does music affect work habits. Comments from students after they finished their projects – “I learned that I know more about music than I thought.” “Now, when I need to make an analogy at school, I take examples from music.” “I loved working on something that actually belonged entirely to me.”
I appreciate the way EMC explorations serve to amplify students’ own musical persona, to shine light on the depth of their relation with music, and highlight music as an important part of their lives. Students also exercise their disciplinary knowledge of music and strengthen the higher-order skills of critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, analysis, communication, and reflection.
In a nutshell – using EMC projects is positively the most exciting and music-affirming activity I’ve ever employed with my preteen/teen students!! It’s completely transformed my studio!
To find out more about Everyday Musical Connections and Project-Based Learning – please visit merlinthompson.com and click on Everyday Musical Connections (https://merlinthompson.com/project-based-learning/).