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?

First Brady showed us this:

Commenting that when he made this pie chart he thought, ‘You could never show that to a student, because they would never want to learn any of it. It looks like it’s all exercises.’ So true! I asked what if instead of counting the number of ‘items’, as listed below, you counted the length of the musical score in bars? That would certainly even out the percentages. We decided that there could be several different ways to both count and depict the content.


Next he showed another representation, a roundabout:


This is still a chart derived from the components within the pie chart, but put together in a completely different way. The emphasis, value, and focus are all different. In this ‘graph’ the student is in the centre and (ultimately) has the choice which path to take. The technical exercises and core building blocks act as a gateway to these different modes of expression. Brady explained:

The idea is that metaphorically speaking, the student will grasp the fundamentals of each of the main genres of music (Pop, Jazz, Classical and also composition). I will stand with the student on the island of the roundabout. This represents a collection of all the technical aspects embedded within each genre; we will be exploring these in depth throughout the year.

Most importantly, doing this will show the student that all different types of music in the world are linked in various forms and mannerisms. The more links we can discover; the more branches the student will have to bear fruit in his musical career.

“We have only 12 notes. From Beethoven all the way to Bo Diddley, all of them had just 12 notes”- Quincy Jones.

The two depictions give a totally different feeling and experience of the (anticipated) content and a clue about the methods. It opened my eyes to be shown in an unexpected way how dramatically the student/receiver’s thinking can change when perspective and presentation are considered. This does take skilful synthesis and understanding of the connection of materials on the leader/teacher’s part. Personally, as a student, I am far more willing to engage with technicalities that may ‘seem’, due to my lack of knowledge or experience, unnecessary or challenging when there is a ‘why’, an end goal or possibility in sight.

I love the idea of presenting possibility and giving the student the tools so they can exercise agency to choose, pursue, and perform what they want. This does not imply that a student should or could choose only one way. Creating a bubble for ourselves is not healthy, musically or otherwise. The goal of providing tools and options through our teaching enables and empowers.

Many thanks to Brady for allowing me to share this and for teaching me something. 🙂

Featured image (I couldn’t find a tree with musical fruit!) CC BY-NC-SA by Evans E


    1. Brady

      I’m glad you like the graph! When i was thinking of the idea I was searching for something that had a sense of fluidity… similar to a mind map i suppose!

  1. dogtrax

    I like the roundabout more than the graph. I hear more music in it. The roundabout seems more open to exploration — a visual of how music connects and can be flowing free — the graph seems more restrictive, even as it is more detailed. Strange how visuals make us think in different way. It’s a reminder of the power of design choices.

    1. Post

      Oh I agree! The graph is sterilised, unfeeling, and imposed on someone. I can’t see me (as either student or teacher) in the graph, and I don’t think it’s just a music thing. 🙂

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