The music lesson and the walnut tree

This is in response to Steve Wheeler’s challenge to use a ‘twisted pair’ that has somehow impacted your teaching. My pair is the music lesson and the walnut tree. Photo CC-BY by Steve Slater

In my Open Music class #MUS654 we have been exploring the different aspects of music learning and how these map on to different instrumental specialisms with the end goal of designing a curriculum for a year’s teaching. We had dissected the components of sound, playing, scales, and then studies and connecting material before moving on to repertoire. I love using metaphors to describe situations, and I wanted to make this one fun….

Thinking cap on, I had an idea. In the building where my office lives, there was a recent renovation that included adding a kitchen. Fantastic! Everything we had learned so far points to an informed outlook on learning that includes being informed and having a firm grasp on the way different aspects of tasks relate to one another and fit into the larger picture. -teaching my students to use self-regulation in the way they approach teaching- with hierarchical goals, using metacognition, and interweaving reflection and evaluation into the way they teach and learn. So the kitchen would be the key to my metaphor.

We had the ingredients, and now it was time to put them together. What could be a better ‘lecture’ than one where you bake cookies as a class? (oh, yes, I am serious.) The plan was to bring in all the ingredients and to discuss the components of musical learning and how we approach them, the techniques of mixing the different elements, what they mean, and what they produce – and then the punchline

The punchline??

We’re in the kitchen, we have cookie dough, but….


(health and safety, you know)

So the meaning of the analogy? Well that’s the discussion starter – is it enough to have all the ingredients and have the instructions to put them together? What’s missing? What do you need? As learners do we need someone else to learn? How does our learning cook?

And where does my neighbour’s tree come into it? It’s a walnut tree, and every morning as I walk 8042842059_74fd751c09_zmy son to school we pick up a couple more walnuts that have fallen out of the tree…. so I thought I’d give each of my students a walnut and leave them with the physical reminder of our time together (as there were no lovely, fresh-baked cookies – I know that is totally mean, but all that active learning has to have some sticking power, no?) and give each of them a walnut, still in the shell and as I hand it to them say, “It’s a tough nut to crack.”

Photo CC-BY by Nacho



  1. Terry Elliott

    Loved the “no kitchen” line. The lesson for me is one that educators fail at on a regular basis: don’t even start with the ingredients unless you have the oven scoped out. So much of education is about baking without an oven and I am happy to have you bring that lesson home.

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