Week 4: KAME again?*

In this CO-VID season I have come down with an odd case of deja vu and seem to be taken back to a period of my life not too far gone. I will be learning a chord playing instrument, however fortunately the situation surrounding such events have changed this time around, likely improving the success of such endeavours.

I have therefore decided this second time around to focus on the keyboard, finally putting to use the instrument that has been living under my couch for the past 2 years or so. The instrument in question has been in my family for a while, having been made before the trend of planned obsolescence, so indulge me as I relay its history for you.

This poor keyboard has never really been truely sought-after, being the product of a conversation my mother had with a convincing salesman and an enabling friend back before I was born. Thinking it was a thoughtful gift, my mother invested in the keyboard as a surprise for my father, who played the electric organ rather well as a teenager, but had since neglected the art as an adult. My Dad has been and always will be a particular and frugal man, and hence the gesture was inevitably a flop. Mum had paid too much for the type of keyboard she bought, and it didn’t have the sounds or features my father was after.

Hence this instrument became rather neglected and a sore spot for my parents, up until about 5 years later when my brother and I rediscovered it. We grew quite fond of its sound effects and pitch shifting ball, becoming basement DJs in our spare time. It didn’t take long for it’s display to die out, and the little plastic feet to melt and drip suspicious impossible-to-clean plastic liquid on the floor below, and for us to grow sick of it. It was left to collect dust for the many years to follow existing only as a symbol of my parents frustration towards one another. However somehow, surely by the will of God for this very moment, it works to this day and will be the perfect vessel for me to build my chord playing skills this very CO-VID season.

Talking of the CO-VID season, without minimising it’s very real threat, it has brought to life the wonderful flexibility and usefulness of the internet. Classes have been able to continue with minimal disruption at Uni thanks to a program named ‘Zoom’, and I hear the Uni’s big choir has decided to follow in Whitacre’s footsteps and become a virtual choir. These benefits are not limited to university subjects, and I plan to use such means to teach myself the keyboard within the confines of self-isolation. Youtube will be my friend once again!

CO-VID season has also brought me instability with my work, and as I brainstormed work opportunities the other day, I was reminded on the necessity of being able to accompany on a chord-playing instrument as a music teacher. Sadly, due to my lack of ability in this area, I feel under-equipped to sell my services as a voice teacher. I will NOT be one of those teachers that uses backing tracks with their private students, whether for the sake of my pride, or for the students who never get to experience the communicative relationship present with an accompanist.

It is a vital skill for the classroom as well, whichever age group you may teach. Demonstrating songs, it is invaluable skill to be a one-man-band. Delivering musical-futures styled content, it equips you with the ability to perform multiple components of the songs. And that’s not even to mention the added benefit of being able to relate to the plight of the beginning, self-taught musician who you will most definitely encounter in your classroom. Really, there is no disadvantage to this task, and hopefully this time round I have the patience and persistence necessary to give it a red hot go!



*In case you didn’t get it, the title is a pun on the common phrase ‘come again?’, using the unit name (kame) instead (yes, I feel so proud of this pun that it’s necessary to explain it)

Week 12: So really, what’s the point?

To say this process has been straight-forward would be a lie. I have had weeks where I have missed practice and regressed rather than progressed. To be frank, I’m not awfully confident about my ability going into the upcoming practical exam. However, being currently on placement, I can already see the positive implications of putting myself through this process. It has enabled me to relate to my students’ own learning having become familiar with the process myself, aware of the struggles and possible mistakes that are involved. For instance, I was able to pick up on errors in a student’s strumming technique as I watched him practise and prepare for an upcoming assessment. Before I may have heard a difference in the sound, but I would have struggled to pin point the direct cause and suggest a strategy to improve it.

Particularly in younger years, it can’t be expected that all students have one-on-one tuition on their instrument, or even formalised tuition of any sort for that fact, with many teaching themselves instead. It has been great to put myself in those shoes and approach music making from that perspective as a beginner myself, something somewhat unfamiliar coming from a conservatorium environment. Additionally, I feel far more confident delivering a class that involves students learning a new instrument, and I am grateful to at least have this amateur level of skill now part of my teaching tool kit.
The resource for this fortnight is one I made to teach on placement (found here), which scaffolds the guitar part into different levels based on ability and role. From my experience picking up guitar this semester, I felt far more confident in creating content that suited the  different skill levels  present in my classroom, and in helping students progress through each one. I already had an ability to read guitar tab notation and chord diagrams, but if I had not, this would have been a great way to learn as well.

To sum this experience up, it wasn’t as overwhelming as I first thought, or at least it didn’t have to be; it just required some amount of consistency and desire to see it through, and I am very glad I did.

Week 11: Putting things together

This week I have been trying to organise my chord playing into useful sequences. Previously, I would practice my chords in alphabetical order, which was helpful in ensuring I got through them all. However, it is important that I can move to a chord from any chord, and so it is important I mix this up a little.

I decided to start with some common chord progressions, such as I IV V vi. Starting in C major, this meant I followed the progression C, F, G, Am. The F chord in this progression is the one I found most disruptive, as it is a barre chord. You can play it not as a barre chord using only the upper four strings, however now that I have switched to a nylon string guitar, I have decided that I should attempt bar chords as they are nowhere near as a painful as on the steel string guitar. I also practiced this progression in the key of G, meaning the progression would be G, C, D, Em. This progression sat under my fingers with much more ease, as the open chord shapes were nice and straight forward.

The resource for this fortnight is an app called Chordify. It’s useful for working out chords to a favourite song of yours if you are struggling to find it online.

Week 10: Seeing yourself in your students

Having just started my final placement, I have be graced with the wonderful opportunity of testing out my new skills in the classroom. Fortunately, the school I am at has a large focus on guitar this term, with the year 7 students learning the 12 bar blues on guitar and the year 8 students forming their own bands and writing a song. Besides the odd few who receive guitar lessons, most of these students are in a similar position to myself having never picked up a guitar before. I have found that even just having a very preliminary understanding of how to play the instrument makes a huge difference. For instance, issues with posture can be worked out straight away, and for students struggling with other aspects of playing the instrument, it’s easy to draw from your own experience with the same struggles.

As for my guitar progress, I have picked it up to practice occasionally, however I have not achieved anything notable over this past week. I think the challenge will be to maintain some consistency with my practice while I am on placement and have a very hectic schedule.

Week 9: Let’s get a lil’ deeper

This week I didn’t do very much practice. I am sorry. I did however read an article on informal learning in the music classroom and thought it would be great to share some of the points I found.

The approach of informal learning in the music classroom, such as that we will start to participate in during the following weeks of this course, is embedded in students’ own experiences with music outside the classroom. Whether they have taken it upon themselves to self-teach an instrument, or have written their own song, or even seen their friends do something similar, the informal approach bases its practise in an approachable and possibly familiar environment for the learner, bringing it to the classroom where it can be guided, examined and extended to uncover rich learning opportunities. Guided by the students themselves, it works with peer groups, extending leadership and decision-making to the student base, with the teacher acting as the facilitator rather than the knowledge bearer.

What are some of the benefits of this approach? The main benefit I have found in the classroom is that it is engaging. Facilitated correctly, it is relevant to students’ own experiences, free of the barriers of notational literacy and encourages student initiative in a music making process they can take ownership of. Often too, it presents an integrated approach to musicking, where students are engaging in composition, listening and performance opportunities all at once. It also facilitates an environment for peer-teaching, the benefits of which are numerous for both the peer learning and the peer who is teaching.

However, the success of informal learning in the classroom is dependant upon its facilitation. Being a learner-centred environment, it can be a challenge to maintain the ideal level of interaction. From my experience, I noticed I was all-too-eager to interrupt the process unfolding in front of me with my students, showing them the way to reach the goal rather than letting them find it. Although, the path needs to be laid clear enough that students can sense that they can achieve and know where to start, regardless of their ability level. Because of this, differentiation becomes an important component of planning the informal learning environment. Scaffolded beginner tasks need to be considered alongside extension opportunities. Fortunately, the democratic environment of the informal learning classroom provides room for all of these different levels of ability, amalgamating them all into a whole in the group performance of an item.

Want to read more? Check out some of this articles for yourself and see what you think.

O’Neill, S. (2014, Winter). Mind the gap: transforming music engagement through learner-centred informal music learning. The Recorder, 56(2). Retrieved from https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A413779589/AONE?u=usyd&sid=AONE&xid=19bcd3f7
Kastner, J. (2014). Exploring Informal Music Learning in a Professional Development Community of Music Teachers. Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, (202), 71-89. doi:10.5406/bulcouresmusedu.202.0071

Week 8: Sometimes it’s good to be mute

As a composition major, I have always understood the value of not only sound in music, but the absence of it. Muting on guitar can serve the same purpose, however it can also be used as a timbral or percussive effect.

The first muted technique is done with the left hand, gently touching the string to be muted while it is strummed. This is helpful if one of the inner strings of a chord is not to be heard. You can also use this technique on all strings as a way of ‘faking’ a chord in a progression. It ensures you maintain the strumming pattern without actually sound a chord. The resulting sound is indefinitely pitched, therefore having a more percussive purpose.

Palm muting is the name for the second muting technique, done with the right strumming hand. Keeping the pinky of your right hand against the strings above the bridge, you then pick a chord or note for this effect. There is still a discernible pitch, however the timbre and sustain of the sound changes using this technique.

The above techniques are useful tools to add style to the performance of a piece. This week I practiced these briefly, however my main focus is still to build confidence in my chord shapes, changes and strumming patterns as I feel these need to be solidly in place before I add in these stylistic elements.

Week 7: Jumping Ship (And not regretting it…yet)

Alas, my relationship with the guitarist partner has ended, leaving me doubting my choice of guitar as chord playing instrument, rather that piano/keys, which I could use the keyboard that currently lives under my couch. It is far too late to change though, and a solution has fortunately appeared in the form of my dad, who is driving interstate to help me move and has a spare cheap classical guitar back at my childhood home which I can now adopt.

I have had my new adopted guitar for a few days now, and I must admit that I am actually beginning to prefer it, or at least my fingers are. No longer do the steel strings force my fingers into calloused submission on this comparably gentler counterpart. This has got me considering the world of bar-chords far more than I ever did before, and so I looked around at the different bar chord shapes to see how they might be useful for me.

Since I am quite the beginner, I decided to stick with learning some straight forward shapes, and came across these two courtesy of guitarhabits.com. They took some time to get under hand and I noticed that they required even pressure from the thumb on the back of the neck to ensure the whole bar chord rung out. I’m thinking these are good shapes to have on hand if I get stuck in the exam, as I can change the fret I play the chord on to transpose it, solving any issues of forgetting the open chord shapes.Image result for bar chord shapes