Photo credit Gavin Whitner musicoomph.com
May 15, 2017
If you’re a music teacher, you’re probably not thinking about your super powers. “I’m just a music teacher,” you say.
You are a cultural ambassador — opening doors to an entirely new world. You are the curator with a unique opportunity to introduce a world of music, history and culture. You are the DJ, music programmer and taste maker. (And, often, you are a mentor, role model, counsellor, and friend.)
Just the mere mention of an artist, a song, a style and you have planted a seed in your students’ fertile minds.
Oh, what powers! But use them responsibly! Because with great power comes great responsibility.
Over the last few decades, how we access and enjoy recorded music has undergone a radical transformation. We went from analogue vinyl records to cassettes (eight tracks for a brief moment) and then CDs and MP3s. For a while, illegal downloading of music via Napster was a problem.
(Note: Napster is now back as a legal streaming service — Rhapsody purchased them in 2011.)
In October 2001, Apple introduced the iPod — a device that held thousands of songs in your pocket. Incredible! And it was easy to use and legal. The sound quality wasn’t as good as vinyl or CD, but who cares when it’s so convenient?
“What’s on your iPod?” became a popular meme.
But all these formats used a similar metaphor. You purchased a container that held the music. And then you owned the music.
Today, this model has almost disappeared.
A new subscription model has emerged in which you don’t own the music, but merely rent it when you want. It’s similar to the home video market where Netflix has won (for now) and Blockbuster video is a forgotten memory.
Today, you can listen to a majority of the world’s recorded music with just a few clicks.
The biggest players are Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Prime Music, Google Play Music and Tidal. Each has a huge catalogue of artists with some exclusive deals as well.
Most offer a free plan and then an upgrade without advertisements or restrictions for a monthly charge of around $10. It gives you unlimited streaming of music to your computer, app or other devices.
Never before have we had instant access to the world’s greatest music! And this is extremely useful in the classroom or teaching studio.
In a recent lesson, I wanted to teach a young guitarist the song Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison. The song has an excellent intro riff using sixths (or thirds in a simplified version). He had never heard it.
So, using my Amazon Tap, I spoke the magic words, “Alexa…play Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison.”
Within two seconds it was playing.
I couldn’t even search on my phone as quick as that. Using voice activation technology like Alexa from Amazon and Siri from Apple, I can rapidly cue up music from 500 years to five minutes ago.
Another time, I wanted to teach the song “Mean” to a young girl who was a big fan of Taylor Swift. For this, I had to use Apple Music as Taylor Swift is not on Spotify.
This time I said: “Hey Siri…play Mean by Taylor Swift.” Within two seconds, it was playing on my iPhone speaker.
I can quickly introduce music to my students.
I can also use it as a music history and comparative analysis tool. Teaching young students about what came before and each period of music greatly enriches the understanding and hearing it is so much more effective than me just talking about it.
I can say, for example, listen to this piece by Palestrina from the 1500s.
And then go through examples from the 1600s, 1700s, etc.
My students got a big kick out of hearing Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring as I told them how the first audience was so shocked, some of its members had to receive medical attention.
Another way I use Spotify is to demonstrate the fluidity of a song.
Many students do not realize that songs can be changed into whatever genre you like — a country version of a rock song, disco — whatever. And the key signature can change according to the singer.
Just as contestants on The Voice reinvent a song, they want to do that too. So, hearing what others have done with a certain song can be very valuable.
The folk song, House of the Rising Sun, is from 16th century England! But in 1964, the British Rock band, the Animals, recorded a now classic version.
But for a more modern version, we can hear American Idol contestant Haley Reinhart.
Or, Joan Baez:
Or, Doc Watson:
It really opens up the sense of possibility in a single song.
Another thing that is so cool is the ability to get your student’s music on Spotify and other such services.
Years ago, I had a songwriting class where each student had to write music to public domain poems. After we worked on the melodies and harmonies, we recorded them. Here’s a track that came from that class by my son when he was around seven years old. It’s called the Friendly Cow:
Perhaps the best part of using Spotify or similar service is the share-ability.
I can send home required listening for my students before the next lesson. This way, I can ensure that we have a maximum use of our lesson time.
We have “flipped the classroom” by assigning the listening at home and then we can work on delving deeper in the lesson.
There are other streaming music services you may have heard of like Pandora, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn. This is more akin to a radio station experience. You choose a style of music or artist you like and it gives you more in that vein. Very convenient, especially if you are driving and want to hear some music in a particular style.
But it does not allow you to play a specific song when you want to. For that, you need to be using Spotify or the others I mentioned.
How about you? Are you using Spotify or similar services in your classroom or studio? I’d love to know. Please share in the comments below.
Andrew Ingkavet is a music teacher with a thriving school in Brooklyn, NYC. He is the CEO/ Founder of the Musicolor Method®, an online curriculum/training for early childhood music education and author of “The Game of Practice: with 53 Tips to Make Practice Fun.” Andrew is passionate about the importance of music education to develop life skills in children.