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Putting words to music

This post is an open activity to anyone. One of my classes has been discussing expression and the communication and teaching of this in music. It is a challenge to listen to short piano examples and say what words it conjures up in your mind. On a more abstract level the task is to name the ineffable. As teachers we somehow need to convey this abstraction to another person, our students, so that they can achieve this for themselves on their instruments. What makes it even more difficult is that in music we speak through sound, yet describe it with something else… well, you know Plato’s allegory of the cave? Yes, that’s the perpetual state of communication in music. -Not really, but we never *touch* the essence.

Teaching expression is a topic that is rarely taught in an experiential way, partly because it is easier that way. I mean, as a teacher, I have answers if there is something definitive, but with music and expression we are drawing upon associations. For me to create something that embodies a certain emotion is different, conceptually, than the way my 14 year old student would do it, and will be different still than how the student who is a 50 year old father conceives of the same musical sentiment.

As a class we wanted to explore this idea of experience and understanding and so we created a few examples for you to listen to. The task is to choose an example (you are welcome to choose all three if you like!) and listen to it. Comment on this post with whatever words the example conjures up for you. If a certain place in the example is where you thought of the word, add the time when it happens. For example you might write that you thought of ‘red’ at 8 seconds and ‘tricycle’ at 23 seconds. We are looking for words.

The hope is that as many different people from all walks of life can contribute, because that will expand our collective experience. Having this window into your understanding can in turn allow us to deepen our understanding and will be food for our discussion on how we might teach and explain to our students.

Example 1

Example 2

Example 3

Please do post a comment! Thank you!


Featured image CC BY-NC-SA by Phil Hilficker

What makes us human?

This post is in response to the question asked by Frank Polster in his post about the conversation between Stephen Downes and George Siemens.  I found the question via Jenny Mackness’ post. The basic question was What are the core qualities that make us human?


Here’s what my gut says:


Primitive machines were reactionary. They performed functions. We perform functions too (and are often reactionary), but, as a human I have the synthesis of agency, vision, and drive in self-efficacy. Put super-simply: my belief that I can do something. There’s a lot in there. Read more

Encouraging learning: A graph with perspective

At uni my teaching students follow along with the topics of open music class #MUS654 as a stimulus for learning about designing a curriculum. One of my aims is that students connect outwardly and begin to form wider networks of inquiry with teachers and musicians. Although this year I haven’t succeeded in convincing people to make blogs and post outwardly, the students occasionally allow me to share their ideas. This post is about a task I gave students to create a representation of their 1-year curriculum to present in our class session, with strict instructions not to use powerpoint. I wanted some creative representation, and that is exactly what I got.

Brady made a graph and a graphical representation, and gave me permission to share his ideas with you. It is also fitting that he made a graph, as in another course (where I’m the student), #el30, the task this week was to make a graph. Lovely when strands of life cross paths, isn’t it? Read more

Graph #el30 Week 3

Stephen has tasked us all with creating a graph of some sort for #el30 this week. Questions that came into my mind were:

  • What are the parameters?
  • How do they interact?
  • How can I make visible the potentials?

I’m thinking of learning and what’s visible, what we bring, resources, and what is ideal to implement in each of our situations. I began with things I know (or have seen) and the examples of music and astronomy guided me to an image. Read more

Sharing joy & the quest for excellence

One of my students, Francesca Raimondi, an accomplished teacher studying on the ESTA Postgraduate Certificate for String Teaching course shared her writing about striving for excellence with and for our students. It is with her permission that I’m sharing it – because I found it so inspiring. Joy, achievement, self-efficacy, real learning, it’s all in there. This is also on Francesca’s blog, but that’s in Italian, as that is her first language! I am grateful she has translated it for me.

Francesca’s translation:

Given each student’s features and skills, one of my biggest aim is to teach them to go beyond their limits. I believe everyone can reach his maximum and excellence. Excellence is not perfection, but it’s the highest level one can reach in terms of performance, learning and musical skills’s development.

A student should reach excellence just for himself. He shouldn’t have an abstract idea of perfection. He shouldn’t compare himself with anyone else. But he just should have the constant increase of his skills as a goal.

To put it in statistic terms, he should have an idiographic and not nomothetic approach. This way he’ll be able to create his personal story of success and growth.

This goals aren’t, in my opinion, just for the “most talented” pupils. They’re for everyone.

I expect the excellence from all my students. Even the youngest ones, aged often 2 or 3. And the disabled ones. Each one has his maximum and his excellence, and he can reach them. My job as a teacher is “just” to adapt my work to each one of them and work oh their motivation. I also want to discover and foster their strengths.

Using positive reinforcement, games and motivation, I demand them total earnestness and dedication. I don’t like making distinctions or discounts or this matter.

All of them know they can get better and they’re happy about it.

The cutest example of happiness is Maria, who has Down syndrome and after few months of lessons shows all her satisfaction for having learnt her first rhythm on the violin :


I want first of all teach my students to let anyone say to them “You can’t do this” or “You won’t succeed”. I want them to have high expectations for themselves. And I want them to try once more, practice, engage. Without neither anxiety nor fear but with tenacity and enthusiasm.

This way, when they’ll be grown up they’ll be able to face life’s challenges without being taken aback.  They’ll develop resilience and self esteem, and music will have been for them not just a nice activity. It will have been first of all an opportunity of growth and a great learning for their life that will last forever.”

Thank you Francesca.I love the topic of ‘going beyond your limits’. They aren’t limits, most often we don’t realise they are just corners, or we need to stand on blocks to see beyond the walls – and teachers can help guide us to that freedom of thought and possibility of making those dreams reality. This is music with joy, and I agree 100% Bravissima!

To find out more about Francesca and her teaching, see her blog HERE.

Containers (part 2) and Harvesting feeds in #el30 Week 2

It’s coursework day for me and I did two things: Watched the video on Applications, Algorithms and Data: Open Educational Resources and the Next Generation of Virtual Learning and I sorted harvesting the course feeds in both Feedly and gRSShopper, which was a suggested task to go with this week. This post is divided into two sections, to address each of these in turn and I promise to use headings so it is easy to navigate (that means if you want to skip to whatever interests you, that’s ok too.) My earlier posts for #el30 can be found HERE. Read more

Building with learning #el30: Week 2

While watching the discussion between Tony Hirst and Stephen Downes as part of the cmooc #el30 (my other posts are here) there were moments of clarity on my part but also I found myself really not understanding. Things that I thought were the important points were not. My lack of understanding only came clear when I talked to a professional who designs and uses containers (although in a non-academic world). You could say I used the ‘phone a friend’ option for help. My friend said things like:

By maintaining a common interface and abstracting the internals you can make changes to the contents of the container by patching it or updating it without changing the interface, as in DevOps.

He went on to talk about CICD and although he said it was an elegant model, and suggested shifting in the direction of Kubernetes (which comes from the Greek word for helmsman) instead of Docker. He did suggest chapter 1 from the book Docker Deep Dive by Nigel Poulton. Thank you to the author who provided a sample of the book via his website! (yes, that’s what I linked to)

– at this point I looked like a tree (that is to say, standing there, and not communicating in an understandable way). With articulate patience he explained containers in terms I, your ordinary academic practitioner, could understand. 🙂 yay! Here’s the non-technical, common person, explanation: Read more

Where Music and Culture Intersect: Reflections on Rock

I had the pleasure of talking to Geoffrey Gevalt about music, life, and the unfolding of rock music and its surrounding sources as he grew up. This was so fun because the combination of Geoffrey’s archived experiences and the fact that he is a masterful storyteller meant that he could articulate and paint a picture for those of us who weren’t there in person. This semester I have been gathering interviews with people who work in the music industry or have specifically poignant experiences in order to supplement published books. How can you do justice to a subject so rich as rock music by reading a book? Don’t get me wrong, that’s part of it, and so are the videos, but even all the live footage on a great big screen doesn’t match the hype of a real concert. (not to mention all the added factors of getting there, finding the loo, managing to get better seats somehow and then experiencing the event with however many other people)

For me, experience is a great teacher, and those with experience can be great teachers too. This is the fourth interview. You can find them all listed HERE.

In this 41 min video, Geoffrey and I discuss some important issues relating to music performance. He drops a million names (please do look them all up!), and there are some real seeds for future discussion about the nature of performance and what artists are aiming for – I don’t have answers, but I give these questions to you as listeners, as music lovers, and as performers. Please do start the discussion by leaving a comment, and enjoy!

Featured image CC BY-SA by badgreeb RECORDS

Installing gRSShopper for #el30

Today I took advantage of that extra hour when the clocks went back and everyone else was asleep and got stuck into some more of the #el30 materials. I started by reading this article/page on Linked Open Data and thought maybe I could contribute. Then I read more, opening this article by Tim Burners-Lee, and my brain was being squeezed a bit like when an octopus goes through a very tiny opening, but not so successfully in my case.

I moved on to watch the next video for Stephen Downes’ cmooc #el30. This one was about how to install gRSShopper. Now I do have a technical mind, but I haven’t moved with the times and got left behind in the second year of calculus in high school and never really got to grips with coding past basic. (yes, basic, but heck, that’s fun too.) Here’s the spoiler though – I DID IT!!!! and if I can, you can too!! Read more