Music Education

Don’t Shoot! I’m the Guitar Man!

I just finished this book.

If you’re looking for illustrious prose, go somewhere else. If you’re looking for an insider account of today’s prison life spoken by a sincere guy that you could sit down and have a drink with, then crack the binding.  It’s an easy read, and very provocative. I’m looking forward to the film version.

This book is a personal story of a man (the author) who spends three years teaching weekly group guitar lessons to both inmates and cons (to know the distinction, you’ll have to read the book!) at San Quentin State Prison. Composed in a diary format, this tale outlines Martin’s journey, including the lessons he teaches and the ones he learns.

While some of the entries are a bit redundant (they’re naturally self-reflective), I picked this up and barely put it down. It felt like I was on an anxiety-driven rollercoaster that made me want to gratefully kiss the grounds of freedom. Yet as a music teacher who’s taught at-risk youth, and gone home in tears about it just like the author, I understand how his heart must feel when he knows he’s made even an ounce of difference. I hope his book will inspire others to do the same.  This guy’s got a huge heart and a rockin’ soul.

Check him out at

3 down!

Sundays have turned into a cleaning and prep day. I rather like the ritual of it all.

Early in the morning, my partner and I glide through the house picking up our accumulated clutter, sweeping and mopping the floors, and unpacking a few more boxes- one day we’ll be completely moved in! Today was particularly productive.

At the point in which the house is ‘clean enough’, I tend to sit down in my office and take a look at my upcoming calendar, look at the assignments due this week, analyze my productivity data, reflect on last week, and clean off my desk.

So, as this week comes to an end I have about 100 papers left to grade, an assignment to finish, and a binder full of lecture notes to put together. As usual, I want to take a few minutes to recap the week –

  1. I’m not sure how this will work out, but in creating course binders as teaching resources I bought a package of insertable CD binder pages from Office Depot.  I’m going to create listening example CD’s for each chapter/unit, and include them in the same binder with my notes.   I don’t feel comfortable having only digital copies.
  2. I can’t believe how much I’m using my MacBook. I feel like I never close it.  This is such a change from last year when it was brand new and I barely used it.  It’s come to my attention that I should probably start backing up my work and my students’ files. I have hard copies of everything, but I am going to look into an external hard drive.  I have no clue where to start with that.
  3. This week I saw a fantastic photo-lecture on Bali, given by a PhD student who had recently returned from a 4-week intensive Gamelan program.  What struck me most were the similarities in the birth/death rites between Bali and New Orleans (and their musical rituals). Sounds far fetched, I’m sure… but I feel like every 45 seconds or so during the lecture I was able to make some kind of connection. There might be room there for a comparison panel.  At the end of the lecture, she gave us each a small book called by Nyoman Tantrayana –Storylines: The Guide to Balinese Arts & Culture Through the Stories That Inspire Them. Essentially, they’re folk tales. She was given several copies of it in Bali– I’m looking forward to reading it!
  4. In a class of about 100 students, almost all of them trace their development of musical taste in a chronological way, which maps significant points based on educational level and location. This is, of course, a ‘known’… but it’s never been quite so observable to me. Students changed their musical taste from elementary to middle school, and from middle to high school, all dependent upon what “everyone else was listening to”. One student in particular told a story about growing up in the rural south and being forced [by his peers] to enjoy country music. If he did not, he would have been shunned out of a particular sports team (This would be in the past two/three years).
  5. Alexander J. Ellis was “the Forrest Gump of ethnomusicology” (coined by a particularly insightful colleague).
  6. The phonograph was invented in 1877. (No kidding, you say?) Well – I’m adding it to this list because my mistakenly eager self answered 1891 and looked like an idiot for it this week, particularly because we were discussing an article that had been written in 1890 about phonograph usage. I doubt I’ll forget the date again.
  7. In teaching music to non-musicians, we become the lens through which they see music. This means that we have to carefully pick/choose the ‘elements of music’ that we teach them, and ensure that it doesn’t bind them into a box. For example, asking students to memorize basic forms in music is going to color how they hear music that does not adhere to any particular form.
  8. One of the problems with teaching ‘world music’ is that with one semester to cover the entire planet, we tend to teach traditional/indigenous styles rather than popular/current or, more recently relevant, world fusion genres.  It’s likely that all of our students will walk away thinking things like, “all music from Australia sounds like an aboriginal didgeridoo”.  The goal is to build the negation of this into our course materials.
  9. Justification for our jobs at colleges/universities includes that we teach, even if we’re hired as research professors. However, most college professors have never taken an education course, and therefore most have never been taught how to teach… doesn’t mean they don’t learn. So the question is, why isn’t there a push to teach graduate students how to teach? Well – there is (hence the program I’m in). I’m grateful for the push.


    an attempt to thank my body for keeping me alive

  10. Anxiety is an awful, awful thing. My blood pressure is through the roof (not completely caused by anxiety, but it doesn’t help).  However, I’ve been treating my body better these days. Today I made a delicious salad  for lunch with baby greens and seared scallops. Dinner with a bit heavier, but still low in sodium, which helps.

Starting tomorrow we have a Venezuelan Artist-in-Residence. This of course means that there’ll be several exciting lectures, concerts, and workshops. I’m looking forward to it! The music of South America is where I am weakest in acquaintance. I learned so much during Festival Brasileiro last year in New Orleans about the music of Brazil (and of course the NOLA connections there). I know this will be a comparable experience.

Here’s to week 4 and to 20% of the semester being behind us!

Conductors You Should Know: Marin Alsop

*My last post in this series was on Gustavo Dudamel. If you’d like to read it, you can do so here.

Marin Alsop (image from the archives)

At age nine, Marin Alsop (b. 1956) saw Leonard Bernstein conduct and decided she wanted to become just like him (ABC Video Clip). Currently the music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) and the first woman to lead a major orchestra, Alsop is fulfilling that childhood dream. At the beginning of her appointment, the BSO musicians publicly protested her position. Today, Alsop is the public face of the orchestra.

Ms. Alsop does her best to integrate cultural diversity from her own community, such as programming works based on Baltimore’s large Latin-American population. She also integrates popular music to target audiences that would not necessarily attend her concerts, for example, by programming The Roots with her orchestra.

Alsop never stops advocating for music or for the profession.   This is the reason I admire her. Her goal is to get people from all walks of life to experience classical music while honoring her orchestra in the process.

Concerning more technical aspects:

As a conductor, Alsop gives very consistent breath preps before the beginning of every piece.  This is an example of non-verbal interaction that leads to clarity of intent – i.e. letting the orchestra know what she wants. The result is that the orchestra breathes together as a unified body. Her pattern is always present, however she often lacks a horizontal conducting plane and instead emphasizes the vertical (i.e. enhancing articulation and dynamics).

She often supplements expressive gestures with the use of her body and face, notably when she has the score in front of her and her left hand is used to turn pages. These body and facial gestures flawlessly demonstrate clarity of intent for tempo, dynamics, and style, often without using a pattern at all.  In a performance video of Shostakovich’s Jazz Suite she often raises the right-hand pattern to her chest or higher, and often cues at eye level with her left hand.

Check it out here:

I consider Alsop one of my favorite conductors, and cannot wait to see her wave that baton in person. She has a long way to go in her career, although I greatly admire what she’s already accomplished.  As the first female conductor of a major U.S. orchestra, she makes me proud!


Works Cited:

1. Alsop, Marin. Shostakovch Jazz Suite Part 1, Concertgebouw Orchestra

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2. Marin Alsop on ABC’s World News [Video], 2005

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3. Marin Alsop on NBC’s Today Show [Video], 2007.

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4. Marin Alsop at Aspen Music Festival & School [Video], 2008.

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Music Student Resources

Today I decided I wanted to be useful. I know – doesn’t happen very often. Freshmen music majors always have that ‘deer-caught-in-headlights’ look for a while. I decided to make a list of REALLY useful websites for folks who study music at the undergrad level. Feel free to let me know if there’s any good ones I’ve missed.

Finding Musical Scores & Parts… for FREE

Sheet music of "Indiana". Page 1 of 2.

Image via Wikipedia

Petrucci Music Library – free public domain sheet music & scores. Printable. – This is a good resource, but not nearly as comprehensive as the Petrucci Library (above). If you just type in the address, it will come up in French. Click on the British/American flag in the top right corner of  page to change it to English.

Watching & Listening… for FREE

Image representing YouTube as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase – self-explanatory. You can find a lot of things from your drop-the-needle exams here, among other things.  One other great thing you can do with it is sign up for an account and upload short videos of yourself practicing. Keep them private if you want, but it’s a great way to self-reflect or let your teacher critique your practice. – Find thousands of songs, stream them as often as you want, make your own playlists, and SHARE THEM. Also great for listening exams. It’s completely legal (because there are ads). Make one playlist and share it with the whole class. Or share a “mixed playlist” with your crush (new version of a mixed tape?).  ** Grooveshark also has a mobile app!

Image representing Pandora as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase – Create your own radio stations. Downside: Can’t repeat specific songs. However, you can do some genre searching and find some great new music here. – put your OWN music on the web with this awesome site.

Online Metronomes & Tuners…for FREE– for quick & easy access while practicing. They also have some great articles. – another great free online metronome tool – online tuning for electronic instruments – simple note-based tuner. Gets the job done!

Music History Timelines and Lists… for FREE


Image via Wikipedia (by Sony) – an excellent but super-basic chronology of music history – an online timeline of music history and hymnology

Music Theory Lessons, Trainers… for FREE by Ricci Adams – this is interactive and VERY useful. It’s definitely my favorite in this section. Great for training keyboard skills as well as theory. – AWESOME for learning how to analyze music once you know the basics. – Music Notes,  an interactive online experience. You can practice theory, music history,  and musical styles here. – EMusicTheory – interactive note names – EMusicTheory – interactive piano/keyboard skill builder – EMusicTheory – interactive scale builder.

Ear Training &  Resources… for FREE – a great interactive online  ear training site. – Big Ears – the original online ear trainer. Teoria – another interactive ear training site. – Great for rhythmic dictation.

Other Great Resources

Wouldn’t it be great if there were a neat online tool to organize it all? What if it were something that held bookmarks that you could access on any computer? Check out Symbaloo.

Do you like to stay SUPER organized? Check out


I hope someone finds these a little bit useful.