Places to Learn About music Online

28 09 2009

I ran into a blog post which had a good list going here and thought I’d add a few ideas to the list which were more suited to elementary aged students.

  • Learn by doing – Noteflight lets you create, view and print professional quality music online.

One of the most interesting projects I have found is called the eamir project, which was originally designed to help special needs students create music, but uses input devices like the guitar hero guitar, or the DDR mat, which students typically already know and understand to create music.  Just goes to prove with the internet, seek and you shall find.


Research on Creativity in Music Education

20 01 2009

What is Musical Creativity and How do we Measure it?

Creativity is a major factor in the context of a complete music education. Whether it can be taught is still in question. Musical creativity has been found to be connected to exposure, which is not always something that happens in a formal educational setting. Researchers have found creativity in jazz improvisation to be linked to knowledge of and exposure to jazz theory, to be linked creativity to classroom participation in a school wide arts program. They have explored ways to structure curriculum to promote creativity, and there has also been much written about the use of technology to aid in fostering creativity.

Ahh creativity?  What is it? Can we teach it? Is it divine or perhaps just luck?  Do we need skills to be creative?  So many questions.  Some argue that musical creativity can be defined in a similar way to general creativity, in that it must produce work that is both original and appropriate, have structure and not be random noise, but isn’t that what many consider the music of  Arnold Schoenberg or Jimi Hendrix?  Is distortion or dissonance noise or creativity.

The biggest obstacle to researching creativity in music education, has been finding a way to quantify the creative value of an artifact. The majority of the literature on creativity in music education focuses on improvisation and composition, two areas that are commonly agreed to require creativity.

I recently gave my grade 5 students a mini composition assignment.  One student wrote a very interesting piece that had a clear form, and structure, but had no clear tonal center.  Was it creative or just naive? How do we measure it objectively?  (btw – half the kids thought it was awesome, the other half rolled their eyes.  I’m thinking Schoenberg here…)

Like I said, more questions than answers.

Creativity in Music Education and Technology

16 01 2009

My current coursework has us looking at the idea of research and research questions.  After I finished my research last term on Creativity and technology in Music Education, I was left with more questions than I started with.  The most difficult is how do we define what is musically creative?  Most of the studies look at improvisation or composition.  There are, however,  plently of brilliant composers who basically stole from their colleagues and contemporaries and mixed things up.  (Ever listen to both Handel and Haydn at the same sitting? it becomes clear that they shared) How different is borrowing a motif and re-arranging it from a mash up?  Is it creative, innovative, or theft?  Or some combination? What role do new technologies play?  Can I consider student work to be creative when there is no “musical” skill involved?  So many questions… not many answers.

Favorite Links for this week

9 09 2008

Creating Student Accounts Using One Gmail Account | The Edublogger Good directions for creating the Gmail “+” account for your students – in order to sign them up for other web services, such as edublogs.

YouTube Teachers and Principals talk about Google Docs Written by google, so necessarily with bias, but good for selling the idea.

Google Tutor Good for the Geek in you…

Sound Junction A completely amazing online music site created by the Royal Schools of Music.  Everything from music history to online composition.

Music and Digital Storytelling

4 09 2008

Integrating Music Education with Digital Storytelling
A Literature Review

March 12, 2008

The stories of our ancestors, and the folk literature of the past has, until recently, been rooted in print.  Today even though our society has become more rooted in digital technology the print medium still holds our stories.  (Mello, 2001).  Digital storytelling, according to Bernajean Porter of Digitales, “takes the ancient art of oral storytelling and engages a palette of technical tools to weave personal tales using images, graphics, music and sound mixed together with the author’s own story voice” (Porter, 2008).
This review addresses several topics associated with digital storytelling.  First it looks at  storytelling in education, and how it is defined.  The next sections focus on the elements of a good digital story, assessment of digital stories, and finally on the integration of music education with digital storytelling in the classroom.  All of these topics are addressed with the understanding that the final project will be a digital storytelling project which integrates art, photography, language arts and music with a grade 6/7 classroom.
Storytelling in Education
Storytelling has always been a part of education. “Oral and written stories (both through text and pictures) are used as teaching and learning tools” (Mello, 2001 p. 4).  Storytelling and sharing stories allows students to make connections with their own personal narratives. It is “used to teach literacy skills, cooperative learning skills, critical thinking, and to build knowledge of different contexts” (Mello, 2005 p.5). This ties in with the learning theories of Jerome Bruner, which suggest that there are two primary modes of thought, the narrative and the paradigmatic.  The action oriented, sequential and detail oriented nature of telling a story engages narrative thought, while the logical thought structure and connections address the paradigmatic.  In addition, Bruner defines three types of representation of thought, action based, image based, and language based.   A good story will address all three.
“[S]torytelling brings people together with a common perspective” (Huffaker, 2004).  The sharing of digital stories allows students to  “demonstrate unique artifacts that allow children to share and discuss ideas and feelings, ask and answer each other’s questions, or showcase projects, all of which promote a pro-social attitude” (Huffaker, 2004).  There is a growing trend whereby digital stories are shared via the internet for general viewing which is being promoted as a great way to connect with a larger audience (Huffaker, 2004, Robin, 2005). While there is merit in the concept, it also makes students vulnerable to unwanted or unnecessary criticism, and has no overreaching benefits to sharing in a more controlled environment such as the classroom, or the school for students in this context.
From a learning perspective,  digital stories “appeal to the diverse learning styles of the students” (Robin, 2005), encourage technical fluency and give students more control over their learning.  They are engaging, motivating and have many educational benefits (Robin, 2005). Storytelling can be used as a medium to present research, as a showcase for writing, as a way to teach sequencing through storyboards, as a digital gallery for art work, and as a way to demonstrate thoughts images and feelings in music.  In addition they help with digital literacy, and iconic literacy.  According to Bruce, computers are the new media.  They are learning environments in which students can share ideas and products (Bruce, 1991).
Elements of Good Digital Stories
The Center for Digital Storytelling identifies six key elements to a good digital story (“Telling Tales”, 2005).  First, good digital stories are personal.  They should have a clear point of view, and purpose.  The narrator, or protagonist, is encouraged to make the story personal. Awareness of the audience should be reflected in the vocabulary, musical choices and visuals used.  Second, good digital stories must begin with a story and script.  As written by  Bernajean Porter, “no bells and whistles will cover up the lack of a good story”  (Porter, 2008). Thirdly, good digital stories are concise.  In some ways this is a reflection on the available internet technology, a video over five minutes in length can be onerous to load.  More importantly the more concise the story is the tighter the script will be, which makes for a more compelling story.  Fourth, a good digital story uses readily available source materials.  It is pointed out that video footage is not necessary.  Still photos or drawn and scanned images with transition effects added are just as compelling as video, and “put the participant in the editing chair, with a minimal amount of preparation” (“Telling Tales”, 2005).  Fifth, good digital stories include universal story elements such as conflict, resolution and closure.  They are sequenced logically and allow the audience to identify with the story.  Finally, good digital stories involve collaboration.  Feedback on the art of storytelling is an important aspect of the process.  In the traditional of oral narration, stories are meant to be interactive.
Assessment of Digital Stories
The process of critiquing and sharing stories helps to “develop communication skills by learning to ask questions, express opinions, construct narratives and write for an audience.” (Robin, 2005)  There is very little literature available which addresses assessment of digital storytelling.  There are three methods outlined for obtaining feedback by Porter at Digitales, informal reflection, informal evaluation, formal evaluation (Porter, 2008).  The first, informal reflection, is achieved by critiquing and sharing stories and providing guiding questions and rules of engagement for students.  These rules include, only positive commentary, you have the right to decline to answer, and mutual respect is required.  Following this model will encourage inclusion and help to create a collaborative environment (Gibbs, 2001).  Porter also discusses the use of informal evaluation, which she defines as the use of rubrics and scoring guides.  She also mentions that these could also be used as a means for self reflection.  The third type of assessment is described as formal evaluation.   It evaluates the “content and craftsmanship of communication” (Porter, 2008)  and looks at three main types of writing, expository, narrative and persuasive from the perspective of a digital story.  Within each type of writing there are nine traits identified, some of which apply to  a digital setting and some of which do not.  There is no mention in any of the literature of the use of musical knowledge or skill in creating a soundtrack for a digital story.
Integrating Music Education in Digital Storytelling
“[A]uthentic music learning need not be sacrificed nor compromised in any way when the music teacher designs and teaches curricula and units of study that integrate music learning with learning in other academic subjects…” (Cosenza, 2005). While many core subject teachers plan integrated units of study for their students, music teachers are often left out of this planning process.  The lack of time equity with other subject areas makes many music teachers hesitant to use class time on integrated collaborative projects for fear of not having the time to cover the curriculum (Cosenza, 2005).

“Some music educators are passionately devoted to the concept, while others are reticent and consider interdisciplinary curriculum to be yet another way of measuring the importance of their subject area by how well it develops learning abilities in the “academic” subjects. These educators might be encouraged by Gordon Shaw’s theory that all learning is a result of highly complex brain activity and that musical learning is, therefore, probably neither a greater nor a lesser influence on the development of the brain than is something like mathematical learning.” (Shaw, 2000 in Cosenza, 2005)

Integration, however provides not only the context for understanding, but also the motivation that is often lacking in music students.  Musical concepts like form, composition, and dynamics can be integrated in most any content area. It takes only a little creativity and the willingness to explore how to integrate other musical concepts into a context which makes sense for students.  Rather than teach concepts in isolation, using stories to teach musical concepts allows students to start from the elemental and move toward a more sophisticated understanding of music.  A well designed digital story is a perfect way to include most elements of music into a collaborative project which students will find interesting and motivating.


Bruce, B. (1991).  Roles for computers in teaching the English Language Arts.  In J. Flood, J.M. Jensen, D. Lapp &J.R. Squire (eds) Handbook of research on teaching the English language arts (pp.536-541).  New York:  MacMillan.

Center for Digital Storytelling.  Retreived March 4, 2008, from:

Chirstensen, C. (2000).  Reading, Writing, and Rising Up: Teaching about Social Justice and the Power of the Written Word.  Rethinking School. (pp.40-47).

Cosenza, G. (2005). Implications for Music Educators of an Interdisciplinary Curriculum.  International Journal of Education & the Arts. 6(9).  Retreived March 11, 2008, from:

Cox, C. (1991)  The media arts and English language arts teaching and learning.  In J. Flood, J.M. Jensen, D. Lapp &J.R. Squire (eds) Handbook of research on teaching the English language arts (pp.542-548).  New York:  MacMillan.

Robin, B. (2005) Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling. University of Houston.  Retreived March 11, 2008, from:

Fiske, J. (1990).  Introduction to communication studies. (2nd ed.). London: Routledge. (Chapter 3).

Gibbs, J. (2001).  Tribes, A New Way of Learning and Being Together.  Windsor: Center Source Systems, LLC.

Huffaker, D. (2004).  Spinning Yarns Around the Digital Fire:  Storytelling and the Dialogue Among Youth on the Internet.  Information Technology in Childhood Education Annual 63-75 Retreived March 9, 2008, from:

Jerome Bruner. (2008, March 10). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved  March 14, 2008, from

Mello, R. (2001).  The Power of Storytelling: How Oral Narrative Influences Children’s Relationships in Classrooms.  International Journal of Education & the Arts. 2(1) Retreived March 9, 2008, from:

Porter, B. (2008) DigiTales: Overview of Evaluating Projects.  Retreived March 11, 2008, from:

Telling Tales With Technology.  (2005).  Tech Learning.  Retreived March 9, 2008, from

Orff Schulwerk and Constructivism

4 09 2008

Deconstructing Music to Construct Learning
June 29, 2008

“Tell me, I forget, show me, I remember, Involve me, I understand.”

The literature on constructivism is vast and varied; “[it] has become something akin to a secular religion” (Phillips, 1995 p. 5). While there are many different varieties, and many different names, the one common tenet of them all is that human beings can’t be “loaded” with knowledge, but instead are active seekers of meaning.  There is no single theory that could be called constructivism, but instead, there are some basic ideas that have been influenced by the work of many people.  The ideas are that: knowledge comes from within the individual, meaning is personally created by each learner, activities cause learners to access prior knowledge, learning is a social activity which is enhanced by collaboration, the outcomes of learning are unpredictable and inconsistent and, reflection and metacognition are integral parts of constructing knowledge. These ideas, whether explicitly stated or implied, have come to influence the attitudes and practices of the teaching profession.

It is believed that people learn by constructing their own understanding of experiences and that the creation of knowledge is in some way an active process.  It is this idea of active knowledge building that divides the different constructivist sects.  Knowledge construction can involve individual and social activities, or combinations of the two.  The Orff-Schulwerk approach to music education addresses knowledge construction activities in all of these contexts.  In social activities, according to Driscoll, “learners test their own understandings against those of others, notably those of teachers or more advanced peers”  (Driscoll, 2000 p. 385). The group work and collaboration used in Orff-Schulwerk allows individuals to contribute on their own level to the process of music making.  The constructivist approach to learning also states that learning must occur in context; “knowledge that learners can usefully deploy should be developed.  Moreover, this can only be done in the context of meaningful activity.” (Driscoll, 2000 p. 379)   Music making and practice is inherently situated in this manner.

The activity and experience of making music as a learning experience has been decontextualized in order to facilitate learning.  The work of Jerome Brunner states that,  “educators have considered the basic elements of a field of knowledge to be the core or essence of what students need to learn in that field”  (Wiggins, 2007 p. 36).  As a result of this music education  identified the “elements” of music in order to embrace Brunner’s ideas about thinking and learning in the 1960’s.  Breaking music learning into its elements certainly facilitated teaching, but it is unclear whether this is the best approach to learning.   Music is an art, and the sum of the parts does not necessarily equal the whole.  Learning the elements of music (rhythm, meter, melody, harmony, form, timbre, texture) in isolation does not necessarily allow students the experiences of authentic music making.  Much of the question about whether these elements of music can be taught in a constructivist ideology lays in the pedagogy of music education.

In order for music learning to be constructed, the musician must consider all the elements and how they relate.  This is a very complex task, especially for young children.  There are, however, some natural connections between musical elements which help.  For instance melody is comprised of rhythm and pitch; harmony includes pitch, rhythm and texture (Cutietta, 1993).  In order to teach music as a creative experience, it is necessary to build the knowledge and experience base of students at an elemental level and to take what is known and use it to build musical literacy. Unfortunately much early music education focuses only on pitch and rhythm.  As written by Covington and Lord,  “what makes a passage musical depends heavily on factors beyond pitch and rhythm -dynamics, articulation, timbre, register, texture-aspects for which a keen awareness is critical for performers, conductors, and composers” (1994 p.1).  In order to achieve this wide range of awareness, learning can be isolated to each of the musical elements in a meaningful context.  An Orff-Schulwerk teacher uses elements of music in a practical manner without losing their inherent musicality.  By isolating the musical elements, the ability to build on prior knowledge is greater, and students can be successful.

In the Orff approach, the starting point and element is rhythm, with speech patterns used as the basis for rhythmic development.  Melody begins with three tones and progresses through the diatonic scale to ancient Greek modes.  Harmony starts simple with drones and moves to complex arrangements.  All of these elements, however, are presented in a context of collaboration and group activities, which allows for this deconstruction of music into its elements.  Individuals can work on separate elements so that when the whole group plays togehter, the end result is something musical.  “Orff-Schulwerk can be described as a model for the design of learning experiences; its main thrust is musical learning, but it has strong implications for cultural and social learning as well.”  (Shamrock, 1997 p.41)  The goal is to create individuals who are comfortable with music making, who can sing, dance, play instruments, use rhythmic speech in music and drama, and combine all of these in their own compositions.    In the Orff approach to music teaching and learning, the process  is elemental, creative, collaborative, experiential and holistic.  These are all concepts that fit within the constructivist framework.  “In the process of exploration and creation, the learner chooses and permutes the knowledge, constructs hypotheses, makes decisions, and while performing these, relies on cognitive structuring.” (Crisp, 2006 p.1)

Carl Orff, and his partner Gunild Keetman, understood that children need to move, explore, try things out and use their imaginations. Because of this understanding, the Orff-Schulwerk also has a large social development component. There is an emphasis on social interaction and collaboration which fosters a learning environment where individual competency is used to support and strengthen that of the group. Students compose in small groups, large groups, and improvise individually.  In this collaborative environment, students learn not only music but valuable social skills.

The Orff-Schulwerk is considered a process rather than a product oriented method.  While the same musical piece might be used with several classes, the product of their work will surely all be different. “The same basic elements and format may be used repeatedly, but the essence of the pedagogy is that each group of participants must go through the discovery learning process of experimenting, selecting, evaluating, discarding, and finally combining materials in a way that satisfies that particular group.” (Shamrock, 1997, p.43).  The teacher in an Orff classroom acts as a leader, helping to guide the process to a successful result.  As students gain an understanding of musical elements through experience with Orff materials and process, they form a foundation which they can apply to any musical style or period.

In the sociocultural context, learning occurs when there is a shared understanding among individuals; what happens in learning, is the transmission or sharing of cultural knowledge (Driscoll, 2000).  Having a common foundation of knowledge in the musical elements helps to establish this shared understanding and allows students to make connections with historical or popular music.  Integrating recorded music which is culturally or historically relevant into the curriculum is easily facilitated in an approach like Orff that doesn’t have a set curriculum.  Additionally, since the Orff process is text based it can be adapted to any language or culture allowing for a shared understanding between diverse classes.  “An educational program is not the collection of courses a student takes or the participation in musical organizations offered” (Campbell, 2007, p.27)  but lies in the experiences, activities and the contexts in which learning occurs.  The shared understandings, and shared experiences afforded by the Orff process allow learners to experience a basic level of all the elements of music.

Listening to, describing and thinking about music is common in many cultures.  The metacognition that is required to describe or think of music requires guided questioning by the teacher.  It is a pedagogical practice rather than one of process.  The one constructivist idea that is not addressed in the Orff process is that reflection and metacognition are integral parts of constructing knowledge.  While metacognition does happen when students are composing, or working in groups, it is not explicitly discussed in the Orff-Schulwerk.  Explicit ideas about metacognition, would require the focus to be on the individual, where the Schulwerk is very much focused on the group as a whole.  In addition,  metacognition reqires students to have a foundation of knowledge with which to base their thoughts.    Since the Orff-Schulwerk is primarily aimed at young children, the knowledge base is vast and varied.  According to Driscoll, “students must have a base of knowledge that may be related to the strategies they are learning” (Driscoll, 2000 p.111).  While students of any age can render an opinion about a piece of music they have played or learned, that reflection is not likely to be metacognitive unless the student has a framework of knowledge about music from which to build.

The constructivist ideas around learning, activities and social context are addressed by the elemental approach presented in the Orff-Schulwerk.  There are some who challenge the idea of breaking music into basic elements, on the grounds that it decontextualizes the experience and dilutes the learning.  Separating music into its elements is no different than separating addition and subtraction, or studying map making as part of community.  In the end, the separation allows for a nearly complete constructivist environment, in which students can sing, dance and play while they learn.

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