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Session 2 is here: #MUS654

1 min read

Just up!

What makes a melody? 

It’s week two of MUS654 in Chichester (England), and the second session is here! … well on the link above (or via the dropdown menu), and it starts like this:

Pitch is everywhere…

How are pitch and melody related?


Last week you we explored the experience of sound, soundscapes, analysing and describing it. Was that also about music? The sounds around us everyday can have musical qualities, but are they actually music? What about, for example, birdsong…

The session goes on to be practical, and comes with various tasks intended to inform and amuse. I am so pleased that jazz violinist Duane Padilla, in Hawaii, made a tutorial for this week. (more from Duane later in the course) and it is fantastic that a couple of my students have started to post on -

Most musicians are pretty new to both the idea of doing the technology stuff by themselves and of sharing different aspects of learning and music making before there is some ‘final’ edited product.

I admit to doing a little happy dance and speaking in ALL CAPS for a little when I saw those first posts. MUS654 is all about learning and I’ll be doing it too. …can’t be a cook if you won’t eat your own food.

So hop on and join us!

It’s fire.

(in response to the #ccourses question Why do you teach?) 1 min read

This is me:photo-3

I have always been hungry – hungry to learn, hungry to know and connect to people, and hungry for homemade chocolate chip cookies (I completely blame my sugar-coated childhood for that one).

As for the question why? Why is one of those questions that applies to something – why this or why that, certainly begging an answer. ‘Teach’ is a loaded word that is in common, with, and, but, although, and despite its many connotations.

Liora Bresler spoke at the 40th SEMPRE conference and gave me a new way of thinking about it when she said that all research is really ‘ME’-search. That resonated, and made me think – that is what learning is about as well – a sort of ‘we’-search. Yes there are skills and facts too, but who does it? Not the teacher. The learner, the student, the me. So I don’t think of teaching or learning as a book, or a directive, and I don’t have a start or an end to it, but it is my fire: consuming, life-giving, and something that can radiate between people.

Back in the olden days… teachers often ‘taught’ in a very different way. I have an essay one of my relatives wrote in gradeschool in the 1950s, after being pulled up for talking. It starts like this:


and ends…



As you can see in my photo above, I couldn’t follow that advice. I’d rather sing out and reach someone, even if for a fleeting moment. I believe in people and in people believing in themselves. Self-efficacy is my bag really. Each of us has a voice and you never know who you might connect with next, where they will go, and how those connections will spread. If as a ‘teacher’ I give/show/foster/allow something that connects once with a single person… that just grows the fire.

Holy Hashtags Batman!


Day 1 of Connecting it all Up. …and how did it go??

It was absolutely liberating.

Photo CC licensed. (I’ll learn how to cite these cleverly soon…)

For the first sessions in my different lectures today I got the students to find all the course materials in their various online locations… and start tweeting! This was a leaf out of the #Phonar book, where @Jonathan_Worth has his students tweet all of their notes- and then I borrowed another idea from @mcdanger and asked the students how they might want the physical space to suit their learning…. replies via twitter. (you can see the fun in this already) and the consensus was:

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… for the students who jumped in the beanbags are on order! There was another lecturer, Clive Holtham who told me about his idea  of providing comfy sofas as ‘priority seating’. I wonder if it will inspire a few more to get involved next week…

The second class was #MUS654 and this first week’s content and tasks went live. That course is one I hope others from the world wide interwebs will join in with us and grow the learning…

From my point of view it was absolutely liberating. Imagine a lovely circular room with two grand pianos and not a whiteboard in sight, but tablets and phones at the ready… and plenty of smiles :)

As a Music Department we have a longstanding policy that makes us pretty much paperless, and that includes no photocopying privileges. WHY??? Well, copyright of course! Music is either purchased or legally downloaded, and when downloaded, it needs to go through the reprographics people, as there is clever software that prevents students from printing musical scores, and gives them a load of blank pages. We’ve been paperless for years, and it has meant that online has become home more and more….

For my two classes today it was a soft entry to the big wide world, but between the groups there was a lot of enthusiasm with a pinch of genuine trepidation, but overall a sense of community and fun that began to emerge and that gave me a lot of hope!

Let’s see where we go with this!

#CCourses are here to stay


MUS654 suggestions to guide us…

 In MUS654 I should…



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Respect what is going on with others.

  1. Listen, and observe.

    1. Comment when ready.

Remember your Ps and Qs

-For some reason that means please and thank you-

as my mother would say… Decorum.

 be patient: with others and with yourself

If you are unsure…                                             ASK.


*Please, nothing nasty*

Genuine critique, encouragement, and inquiry are all welcome.

make things happen…

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…don’t just dance around the subject.


as often as you can

Tag everything!

#MUS654 is only what we allow it to become



MUS654 Session 1: The Mechanics of Sound

The Mechanics of Sound


Photo credit: CC licensed.

In this first topic we begin with a broad overview of sound in general and move to what you do on your instrument, looking at some of the mechanics of how and why. We need to begin with the everyday, to set a context before moving to the specifics of music and making music on your instrument.

Sounds are everywhere, and yet somehow they often go unnoticed as we are so visually oriented. You might begin to become aware of what sounds are around you as you read this – nearby traffic, typing sounds, inside sounds, outside sounds, people sounds, electricity sounds, humming, buzzing, even slurping coffee sounds and if you’re like me, you’ll also have some level of background sound constantly in your ears – tinnitus. 1405837190_2f00228dc7_m The moment we consider being aware, is like removing a dustsheet or turning on a light and suddenly you can see things differently. As a musician and someone considering teaching, it is important to dissect this awareness of sound and how it is perceived in the space around us so you can a) understand it better in your own mind, and b) gain a perspective that will inform your teaching. What is the difference between focusing through your eyes as opposed to your ears? How is one sense affected when you use the other? Can you shut off? Do you need to?


Photo credit: CC licensed.

Task: Explore your own experience of perception while digesting these resources – listen and see. The first is a radio programme called Aural Architecture that was broadcast on the BBC World Service Discovery, on April 29, 2009 and the second is Chapter 2 From ‘Spaces Speak, Are You Listening: Exploring Aural Architecture’, by Barry Blesser and Linda-Ruth Salter. © MIT Press 2007.

Sound as an experience is important, because it can be the starting point for a music student’s everyday experience, and the base of their aural learning. As a musician and teacher this has implications for your own performance as well as how you listen, communicate, and explain. Listening is a skill, and just as people may say someone has developed ‘an eye for detail’, being able to hone in listening is a valuable skill that can be developed and refined throughout learning.

Task: Capture your experience of the surface of sound around you. Choose a place and create a soundscape using your phone or another recording device. Before you make your recording, take a photo or video of the place and take time to really be aware of what you are recording and how the sounds are woven or collide to form that canvas. Write a full description of the place, including photos or videos if possible, and list all the sounds you have captured – do this right away so you have everything fresh in your mind.

Post the recording online and tag it with #MUS654 so people can then find it and have a listen. The idea is that we listen to each other’s recordings and see what we notice- first impressions, details. Link the description to the post. Embed the link so people do not see the photos/video and read your description before they listen, but they only hear and can then comment ‘blind’.  The really interesting thing is to see what people pick out, what they miss (or mistake for different things), and if they perceive enough to paint a picture of the place.

Listening within the sound

With music there is an art of listening, and it is a challenge to listen with your ears as if they were your eyes and your fingers. Sounds are complex and have texture, depth, movement, and specific signatures that identify the instrument or source and that stand out as elements or qualities that are particularly pleasing or sought after. Inside musical sounds there is a complex spectrum of harmonics, and although these are present, we don’t always hear them and certainly don’t always listen to them. The best way to explain and demonstrate this is not through words, but by hearing it. Jump straight in and listen to these two short videos. Reflect on how you listen, what you hear, and how this impacts how you thought you understood your own voice. Amazing Grace with overtones:

And here’s a tutorial on how to do it:

Harmonics and instruments

What is the difference between your voice and an oboe? Lots. What about the reason the sound is different? Each instrument has its own harmonic envelope, with its signature pattern of harmonics drawn from the same harmonic series. Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 18.44.28

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The differences between instruments can be understood with a simple analogy: we are all people, but our shape, size, eye colour, hair length are all different and unique to us. It is that way with instruments. The harmonic envelope, or shape formed by the strength of the different harmonics within the sound of a string instrument is different to that of an oboe or piano or voice, and this is partly how our ear is able to identify the instrument being played. There is a very clear explanation here about the makeup of musical sounds from the Physics department at the University of New South Wales in Australia that you can access here. Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 16.45.11

It comes complete with fun audio examples… There is one very important point that comes out of the first page of the link above, and that is the harmonic envelope does not completely define the sound. It is one of several components.

Creative Commons License



The sound. Bringing it back to your instrument:

It makes sense to move on to exploring the harmonics produced with your instrument. There are several programmes that will display the wave form of a musical sound. You can experiment with a free tuning app. N-track. With this app, you will see the complex shape formed by the composite of the harmonics within the sound and the spikes from strong harmonics. You can use this to see if you are able to sing those overtones and change the tuner’s perception of the fundamental (root of the) pitch. VoceVista is a programme that was designed specifically for singers and to analyse the timbral content of the human voice. There is a free version of the programme here. (scroll down the page – or search- and look for Voce Vista)… looks like this:

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The programme downloads via the link at the bottom of the paragraphs.

This version is designed for a pc, but if you have a MAC, the programme can be converted to run with winebottle – another programme that’s free (instructions and links here. I did this on my machine – ran the youtube tutorial and only had to go about 4 min 30 into it… and it worked! As soon as the VoceVista icon appeared as a white square with music staff lines on it, then all was go!) Have an explore and play with the programme and see what your sound looks like. Explore different musical sounds and compare the content. Can you change the strength of the harmonics? Have a go with that overtone singing… If you play your instrument in different ways are you able to subtly change the composition within the tone? Can you draw any conclusions as to what these changes mean? Do any specific alterations make the sound ‘better’ or more appealing?

Physicality of playing:

How is the sound is sound physically produced? In your instrument what makes the vibrations? Air? A string? How is it amplified? Understanding the physical mechanics of your instrument can be slightly neurotic, and it is possible to go into microscopic, complex detail, but on a practical level having an understanding matters. This is an awesome video of a violin string in slow motion. Sadly there is no sound, but if there was, the beginning and ending of the sound would be shocking. That is no reflection on any performer, but a violin sound contains a lot of ‘noise’ as the bow begins to excite the string. Slow motion violin bow:

The physicality of playing instruments is more obvious with some instruments than others, but what people do not necessarily consider is how the instrument reacts to the creation of sound waves. Hitting the drums is dramatically illustrated here in super slow motion.

It is important to note that percussion instruments, including bells, sit outside sound production based on the standard harmonic series. Bells are complicated, they do have harmonics, but these do not follow the same pattern or relationship as other instruments have with the fundamental note they produce. You can read more on the Keltek Trust page here. Drums do have harmonics, but they follow Bessel functions (explanation here), which are mathematically complicated. There are some approachable visual representations on the wikepedia page that show the variety of ways in which a drum head can vibrate – as opposed to the vibrational signature of other instruments that is based on the harmonic series.

Now comes the link to pedagogy…

How does all this relate to creating a curriculum? If you are going to teach, you can simply copy what you already do and repeat that to a student, but that is not at all ideal, and to be adaptable and be able to relate to different people, it helps a lot to understand what it is you are talking about. Consider the body and the instrument and how both aspects work, separately– and then what happens when body and instrument come together. For vocalists the body is the instrument and that becomes extremely tricky as there is potentially a very complex aspect of psychology involved with actually being the instrument.

anatomy head MUS654 1Photo credit: CC licensed.

Task: Map out the physical movements that you need to make when playing your instrument. Have a look at the interactive skeleton programme called KineMan. Choose a joint from the drop down menu to get started – and don’t worry if you don’t know the medical name for an elbow or a shoulder, there are crosshairs on the drawing that show you which joint you have selected… also, DO have a read of the T&C, they point out that you are free to copy static images, but not to reproduce animations. Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 16.37.37Document this process with a few screen shots that show the different body parts and how they move, and reflect on what you as a practicing musician, were already aware of, and what you learned about the body and how it moves. These posts are all about process: how you figure it out and what it means to your music making. computer posture MUS654 1

Photo credit: CC licensed.



What are some of the challenges in producing sound for your instrument? Are there pitfalls to making a good sound? In string playing people say things like – relax, don’t press, less is more… Ok, those are clichés, but there are things that people try to do and make happen, and often we can physically get in our own way – or in the way of the vibrating sound waves we produce. I’m a cellist, and so here’s a cello example to get you started.

Talk 64: Paris Collection XII – Bow Changes from David Finckel and Wu Han on Vimeo.

In this video David Finckel talks about the bow change and some associated issues. He also makes nice references to specific body parts and the motion they make (you could go back to the KlineMan and try them out, and when you pinpoint the challenging areas with making free, uninhibited sound on your instrument, simulate the motion for those as well…). There is always controversy about technical issues, because we each have different bodies and there are so many variables, and a solution that works for one person might not be right for another, but there are some physical, physics-ical, and technical details that will make even the most sceptical people think about how and why they play a certain way. With this openness in mind, don’t be afraid to explore some of the complexities of sound production. Questioning is the first step to understanding, and if you as the teacher don’t think of it – will the student??   Task: Note at least three challenges to playing your instrument where it is possible to get in the way of sound production. Support these with pictures, sound recordings, or videos. And remember … tag it!

The sound

As a final task, to round off the week, consider that vision of the ideal sound that you have in your mind. If you do have a vision of sound then this will help you articulate it, and if you aren’t sure what ‘that sound’ is for you, then this exercise will guide you toward it. Get stuck into listening to performers on your instrument. Choose at least five distinct and different people. What different sounds are out there? What do you think of them and why? Write it up! Post about who you listened to listen to, what particular aspects of their sound attracted you and why. You don’t need to become a critic, but use this as a vehicle to highlight different examples of types of sounds within your instrument. There may be a specific moment in a recording , as opposed to the whole general sound, and it could even be the things that the listener doesn’t hear that attract you. There are no wrong answers here, just evidence of genuine thought and reflection. The process of listening and directing your attention has a lot to do with that initial soundscape you created… wonder if you would hear it differently now…

This week’s checklist:

  • Read and listen to the resources about aural architecture
  • Create a soundscape, post it, tag it, and remember to have your description and photo of the location linked to the post
  • Explore the sounds you make on your instrument with VoceVista
  • Physical how to play your instrument
  • Map how to physically move the body to play the instrument. Document this with screen shots and a reflective commentary on how or if this affects your awareness as a musician.
  • Three challenges to producing a free sound… with support from photos, videos, or sound recordings.
  • The sound – listen to performers and hone what it is that you really like about each of their sounds.


So over the course of the week as you complete the tasks, post about them, tweet about them, and remember to tag them with #MUS654 so others can join in the conversation.

The penny dropped…

(1 min read) It’s Monday, school run time, running late – and a bit of idle chit-chat with the teaching assistant just closing the waist-high iron gate behind us and said:


‘Our biggest boy starts college this week. Can you believe it? Full time and he is only there two days a week. Full time?!’

I had to say something – ‘Oh but there is a lot he needs to do – it is a big leap to that sort of independence.’

‘Yeah, he’s terrified actually.’

The penny really dropped.

There is a definite way of being a learning being that is all encompassing, and certainly goes beyond the hour or two in the classroom. Thank heavens I have always dreamed. Leaping from a textbook to the sky is not at all easy – and cannot be assumed to be something intuitive or even something that seems possible for some people.

Beyond what you can dream has always been a sort of mantra for me, and I hope through Connected Courses there can be steps taken to help those who are terrified, or who never thought of learning that way – so that when they are asked to GO! and they feel like someone is pushing them off a cliff, that they can realise they have already grown wings.

Photo credit: CC licensed


Please do not put me in that box.

Box photo credit: CC licensed

Please sir, do not put me in a box.



On the way to check out of my B&B accommodation this morning I found myself carrying rather a lot: overnight bag and the chunky wooly jumper in one hand, cello in the other, handbag slung across my body, and a backpack. With all of this, I opted for the lift instead of the stairs. I went in and just as the doors were closing in pops a tidily suited man dragging a rolling case. He gave me one up-and-down glance and said, ‘No point asking what you do, pretty self-evident,’ and added a slightly roll-eyes-ish half-smirk.


I held my tongue. Maybe I shouldn’t have, but honestly, if that was how I treated my students- ??? It is unthinkable.

I could rant, and there is definitely some steam rising above my head, but instead I just want to take it as a wake up call to remind me that it is a pleasure and a privilege to find out about the people I meet. I do not want to be out into a stereotypical box.

At 5’1″ with waist length hair in a plat, carrying a varsity-type jumper, and a cello I do get plenty of the ‘didn’t you want to play something your own size like the  flute’ type jokes.

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But honestly, I would hate to think that I was defined by that one second in the lift.

So I am off to give a workshop at UEA, where a room full of academics will learn about working together, communication, and laughter – all though the extremely inviting orchestral instruments I have driven the 200 miles to get here. I am certainly not going to judge them and wouldn’t dream of limiting my views of what they can accomplish.

And as for that man in he the lift, I can only hope that he is one of the people in that workshop so I can look on him with openness and find out who he is. It is worth asking. There is always a point.

MUS654: An Open Connected Course

MUS654 is an online version of a course taught at the University of Chichester. It is about considering and creating a year’s curriculum for a music student having private lessons. –on any instrument, voice, any style of music and for any age person. It is an individually guided, open course designed to be useful for YOU in your learning and professional practice.

From the official rubric, (and yes, I wrote it) the course aims

To provide students with an understanding of appropriate repertoire for players and singers, both the graduated repertoire of examination syllabi and also to examine ways in which a range of musics can usefully become part of the repertoire and learning curriculum…

Over the course of a semester the different ingredients that go into musical learning are examined, and you are encouraged to discover what is out there in the realm of published literature, find and fill some gaps with your own creations, and put it together with a rationale that links it all to usefully set the scene for a year’s learning.

This is not a textbook course, nor is it an attempt to create a textbook. In music learning there are an awful lot of individual variables – people, instruments, ages, experience, personal ambitions… and it would be silly to imply that there ever could be a single answer for how to teach.

I don’t know about you, but most people learn music in a very private setting. Some teachers are awesome and share what they do, but this doesn’t happen as often as you might expect. As a cellist, I never considered observing a flute lesson, or sitting in on a singing lesson. Now this is not to say the teachers wouldn’t have let it happen, but I never even thought of it, and because the opportunity wasn’t generally presented to me on a plate, it never happened. This is not a unique situation that only happens in music. As a lecturer, I can’t say I have observed colleagues teaching in Sport or Business Studies. Why not? Perhaps it is just practical pressures like time? – maybe, but I think as well, it is just not yet part of the culture to think this way and be completely open.

So this is my experiment (encouraged by a friend who is heavily involved with Connected Courses). Talking about a subject that doesn’t get discussed, but it is something all teachers have to face. Personally, I can say that I had to figure it out myself. Yes, I had a fantastic foundation from excellent teachers, but there is that added aspect of needing to step back and reflect in order to put it all together. Hopefully MUS654 will give you that opportunity, so that when you do come to apply your teaching, you are not working week-by-week, but have already begun the processes of looking at learning as the raindrop, the teacup, and the ocean it will become.

It starts on the 11th of September…. Hope you will join me!

MUS654 Overview


photo CC licensed


MUS654 is a course to get you thinking about, around, with, and through all the things you do as a performer and as a teacher so that whenever it happens that you are teaching (or learning yourself) you have the tools to structure a supportive and full environment in which to learn. It is a bit like baking…. you learn about the properties of the ingredients before you go rogue and make profiteroles from scratch. That gives a snapshot of insight into how the topics were chosen, and the content that you create will be highly individual. The huge resource is in reaching out to the community, because there are both a lot of teachers and a lot of musicians out there – and there’s no sense reinventing the wheel all by your (or my) self!

Feel free to take part in what you can and take from it what you want.

Topics at a glance…


1. The mechanics of Sound

2. What makes a melody?

3. Scales and the relationship of notes

4. Studies and supplemental material

5. Repertoire

6. Technical issues

7. Planning a rationale

8. Phrasing and musicality

9. Demonstration lesson

10. Interlinking issues

11. Final projects


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Each topic will have its own page to get the cogs turning. The point of it all is to give a holistic view that can then be honed to suit individual teaching and learning circumstances. Gotta think of all the bits before you can put it together if you want it to stick.

I have contributions from performers and artists from around the world that I am in touch with. You may think – hey! what about that?? – and you are probably right. The list is not the end, but just the beginning. So if you think there is something or someone (to interview or link with) who would make a valuable contribution to a session, then please get in touch!

Keynote at UEA 3 Sept. 2014

HEA funded Project Conference at UEA, Norwich

HEA funded Project Conference at UEA, Norwich