Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘learning’

Teaching to let go

(3 min read)

“…the delicate relationship between teaching, giving knowledge, and learning knowledge”

This comes from Chapter 4 of We make the road by walking, a book of conversations between the educators Paulo Freire and Myles Horton. Paulo goes on to elaborate this quote, talking about going beyond the knowledge that the people bring to a situation. (p.151) I am struck by this book, how much it resonates with me and I sincerely wish I had been able to meet these people in person. It’s my holiday read, part of a book club, and I suppose this is my post about Chapter 4. It is a short one, not because there is less that inspired me, but because there was one paragraph that leapt out for me. Paulo speaks about this balance between teaching, knowledge, and learning and adds the authority of the teacher.

“The other mistake is to crush freedom and to exacerbate the authority of the teacher. Then you no longer have freedom but now you have authoritarianism, and then the teacher is the one who teaches. The teacher is the one who knows. The teacher is the one who guides. The teacher is the one who does everything. And the students, precisely because the students must be shaped, just expose their bodies and their souls to the hands of the teacher, as if the students were clay for the artist, to be molded.

The teacher is of course an artist, but being an artist does not mean that he or she can make the profile, can shape the students. What the educator does in teaching is to make it possible for the students to be­ come themselves. And in doing that, he or she lives the experience of relating democratically as authority with the freedom of the students.” -Paulo, p.181

This is so true, and a difficult one to learn. As a teacher it is a huge apocalyptic epiphany to know, not intellectually, but to really understand that you (or I or anyone) cannot change another. Read more

Meeting on the road

(5 min read) I’ve been reading a book. –reading for pleasure, for my own growth, not for research on an upcoming project, but to stretch my mind. I love that. And I’m a bit behind. The founder of this book club, Bryan Alexander, did his post on Chapter 3 nearly a month ago! I really do read so slowly. Let me give you an example – my daughter has started reading funny tweets to me because she reads fast and gets impatient when it takes me longer to read it than it takes her to say it. The point is, the rest of the book club kind-of finished the book, but it’s a little appropriate that my post on Chapter 3 from We make the road by walking by Myles Horton and Paulo Freire comes now.

Myles says: …can’t teach people, they have to learn. Meet them where they are & go together. …So while I insist on starting where people are, that’s the only place they could start. …I can start somewhere else. I can start where I am, but they’ve got to start where they are. (p99-100)

So here I am. This is also the core of everything. Rather like a Dr. Suess illustration, we are all on our own path, somewhere. Paving the way through a series of ‘nows’ as we go. We can carry the paving materials with us, plan for, and mix the mortar to set the stones, but we do in the now and it is impossible to teleport someone to where we are and somehow skip their own road-building. From my experience, when you try to do that, it just means that sometime, somewhere along the journey you have to go back and rebuild what you tried to skip. (Image source

Myles says: Education is abstraction. It is stories that connect. It is the catalyst that entices you to think. (p.100)

Yes, and the stories help to be relatable. If we accept that we are each on our own roads, then it would be impossible to have ONE moving sidewalk for everyone, but we still need the building blocks. Tools, facts, skills, these are separate, they alone are not education, but are both context & mortar in the synaptic creation we build.

Myles: My quest is not to go alone but to go with the people. (p.101)

I have a responsibility to provide whatever light I can on the subject and share my ideas with people. (p.105)

Oh, yes. –but not in a blinding torch in your eyes kind of light, but hopefully more like the glow of the approaching dawn. Well, that’s the ideal dream. That gives people enough light to look and see for themselves and find….

Myles recounted a student telling him: “When you’re talking, you aren’t learning.” (p.114)

And don’t teachers need to be reminded of this. How many have job titles of ‘lecturer’? Language has impact on thinking. It is our translation of thoughts, and as Bandura says, thought mediates action – and I believe that. What you think is powerful. You might not be learning while talking – just as you cannot listen to two conversations at once ( )…but you do learn in the in-between times. After, before, in conversation, in doing.

Reading on… there came something very powerful which begins to crystalise the understanding of education vs. organisation. This is often something that I think many educators feel or sense but haven’t been able to articulate, certainly not with such grace:

Myles: One of the examples I used to use got me in trouble and still gets me in trouble when I use it. I’d say if you were working with an organisation and there’s a choice between the goal of that organisation, or the particular program they’re working on, and educating people, developing people, helping them grow, helping them become able to analyse -if there’s a choice, we’d sacrifice the goal of the organisation for helping the people grow, because we think in the long run it’s a bigger contribution. (p.115)

My first reaction is (wow, yes), and the parenthesis are because, yes, it is something usually thought and not discussed, but then I did think on it and realised that this is less controversial than it sounds. – and we see it in practice all the time. Goals of big organisations and then that we are not aiming to become a machine, because we deal with people – with students, and they are people with their own futures. Then we learn about learning and realise it cannot be done to people – as in a machine, and it has to be about developing people. Sometimes people within the machine mistakenly believe that caring for the individual means you are somehow against the goals of the larger unit, but it is from within that we find strength, it cannot be imposed. That scales on any level, from the individual who either needs the strength of courage or of muscle, they both need time, experience, patience, nurturing, and diligence to build. You cannot impose true strength on anyone, and to teach individuals is a great privilege.

Freire: Education is before, is during, and is after. It’s a process, a permanent process. It has to do with the human existence and curiosity. (p.119)

Yes. Just yes. Freire goes on to explain that an organisation can solve problems, but education is a process. That is such a good thing to remember and be reminded of. There are not answers to problems. Sometimes students expect to learn ‘IT’ and then they will have ‘IT’, but there is no ‘IT’. Oh there are aspects that help you find something. It takes me back to a game I obsessed over as a child. In search of the most amazing thing (ISOMAT) certainly had primitive graphics (compared to today’s games!) with mostly line drawings, and you moved at a rate of pixels across the screen, but intellectually it was amazing. Travelling around the universe, meeting different cultures, learning about their food, their music, their art, and learning how to barter for clues to get to ‘IT’. ‘IT’ was everything. I kept all the clues written on special paper, folded and labeled by country/species in a little glass box with a leaded outline of a butterfly on it. These clues were more precious to me than jewelry. Rings and neclaces didn’t go in that box, my paper clues did. In the end I nearly solved it – I was told by the wise old Uncle Smokey that – the most amazing think was you kiddo! And then there was the quest to get the B-liner (your ship) home through the mire crab desert, but you lost your navigation system and then my floppy disk got corroded after sitting in the basement for 20+ years and I never finished the game. That has been a lesson to me as well. (you can download the dos version of the game here: )

You never finish the game. There are no finite answers. The most amazing thing is you – me? You? Yes. And we are always changing. Nobody can put us into a bottle, and label us, and define us, and neatly compile us into a catalogue. Even this book, gives a glimpse into those conversations between Horton and Freire, but it isn’t them. It is just a glint, a hint of a slice, and how magical to catch that dazzling sunbeam, but it would be foolish to then walk away announcing ‘Ah, I know now.’ There is so much more…

…and as Myles says: Now there’s a big difference in giving information and telling people how to use it. (p.129)

I’m going to leave it there, even though there is more to say, because it’s Boxing Day, and the last day of my holiday in Mexico, and I need to do some more imperfect, inelegant (supremely fun) handstands on the beach and look for turtle tracks in the sand.


Internationalising the curriculum

This post is a transcript of my speech at the Westminster Higher Education Forum Keynote Seminar:  Innovation in curriculum design – internationalisation, employability and inclusivity, December 7, 2016

(5 min read)

My Lord, ladies and gentlemen, respected colleagues,

Twenty years ago as a student at university I experienced two types of curriculum: one stemming from a traditional textbook and a sage-on-the-stage, and the other based on praxis which was completely bespoke and co-developed. Perhaps I was lucky that this was not an uncommon feature of studying music performance.

Then in 1999 the Boyer Commission produced an Academic Bill of Rights. Its preamble states that a college or university should provide ‘maximal opportunities for intellectual and creative development’ of its students (p.12). The first right is that students should have ‘opportunities to learn through enquiry rather than simple transmission of knowledge’ (p.12). These are both essential.

Since that Bill of Rights, enquiry that crosses intellectual and physical borders has become an everyday reality at our fingertips, and Internationalising the curriculum is one way to expand our student’s experience, encourage and develop connection, and prepare our future graduates to successfully meet the demands of a continually developing workforce.

I will outline how I do this in my own practice as Teaching Fellow at the University of Chichester, and present various methods and tools that can be embedded within your own curriculum, no matter what the discipline.

Definitions of employability have expanded from the outdated view that simply developing the required skills or knowledge is enough, to now include an array of wider, and less discipline-specific qualities: from organisational and management skills to self-beliefs.

The ‘USEM’ model of employability: (Knight and York, 2004) includes

  • Understanding
  • Skills
  • Efficacy beliefs
  • Metacognition

And it reinforces the importance of enabling student experience and engagement with applied processes. It reframes knowledge as understanding and recognises an element of deeper learning. Metacognitive processes underpin many aspects of strategic and self-regulated learning, and without efficacy beliefs these could not be combined into successful self-management, academic achievement, or eventually into effective employee performance. (see Brigstock, 2009; CES, 2009; Pegg, Waldock, Hendy-Isaac, & Lawton 2012)

The Institute of the Future, a California think-tank, recently published an article containing this infographic about emerging ‘new’ types of jobs, born out of our on-demand economy. These resonated with me, as in music, graduates seldom have a singular fixed professional destination.

I use internationalisation in a way that amplifies individual creative development and intellectual enquiry, addressing:

  • Gaps between institutional life and the working world
  • How students transfer their knowledge…into something relevant to their professional lives
  • How to develop employability and entrepreneurial thinking

These are derived from benchmarking goals in the Polifonia Handbook: Combining a research orientation with professional relevance, published in 2014.

I embed teaching methods within the curriculum that foster international interaction between and across disciplines, such as using technology to connect to other learners and teachers. I believe it is essential to engage with students, peers, industry partners, and the wider community across the globe. Specifically in my teaching I use:

  • screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-09-07-41Public outreach and engage students via Twitter,

    because it is a platform well populated by professionals, and allows students to engage either as themselves or with a pseudonym of their choice.

Connecting Classes began with Jonathan Worth and his use of the hashtag as an educational tool for his photography class #Phonar. With this methodology, short videos or audio are shared online and people are invited to use a specific tag for discussions. Students Tweet their notes, comments, and questions, and often draw other professionals into large-scale group discussions. This provides students with a rich resource for further research.

  • I also use webinars and hangouts featuring student-led discussion with international practitioners.

An excellent example of this practice established for the educational community is Virtually Connecting, which brings keynote speakers from international conferences into contact with other teachers and students across the world through live, online hangouts. Maha Bali co-founded Virtually Connecting. She lives in Egypt and recognised the need to connect and the practical limitations of travel and cost that affect educators and learners.

Virtually Connecting sessions include people ‘on-site’ as well as a virtual room full of guests- teachers, students, people from across the world. This real-time interaction and engagement with professionals across disciplines is invaluable for all involved.

  • And finally an example of a change to the curriculum itself is my International Experience Module.

This development was driven by students. They wanted to go beyond technological connections, and formalise these interactions, making them face-to-face. Students led the first iteration of these trans-continental experiences, and that trip served as a proof of concept and model for the module that now runs as part of the undergraduate Music with Instrumental or Vocal Teaching Degree.

Students are responsible for the details from planning the logistics of travel to the content of what happens with partners when abroad. Moving away from a textbook based curriculum, they now have to consider, plan for, and anticipate aspects of inclusivity, communication, and cultural sensitivities they might encounter in practical settings. My current group includes a blind student, others with dietary allergies, and of course, musicians from different stylistic backgrounds. There is a host of planning and management skills on top of the musical preparation required, and the students relish it.

Stepping outside the classroom provides immersion and means that:

  1. Students have ownership of their learning and actions
  2. Learning is integrated into life, where theoretical knowledge is applied and tested through experience
  3. Students actively reflect and practice real-time accountability as they learn.

Although when my students travel with me to America, English is a common language, there are distinct cultural differences when traveling to any other country, and effective relationships and communication take forethought and sometimes situations required careful navigation. Embracing differences of those beyond your ‘home’ community can facilitate promotion and reflection on civic agency, another important quality for us and our students to develop.

Not every programme can be expected to include a full international experience module, but there are certainly elements of both cross-discipline and cross-cultural communication that can be embedded into any curriculum, whether through a project like Connecting Classes, using hashtags on Twitter, or through other bespoke online projects.

Connection, communication, and learning all encompass far more than theoretical subject-knowledge. Within music, sound, and playing the instrument is a small part of teaching and professional interaction. Music requires confidence – self-efficacy beliefs, communication, everyday organisation, management, and interpersonal skills. By building and applying transferable skills alongside the discipline-specific skills, students are more prepared to step out and carve a niche in their future professional world. What better way to do that than as an active participant in various international fora? It does mean that we the teachers need to do significant networking, learning, and groundwork in order to fully participate and keep abreast of the changing landscape. It is worth the effort.

The world is a constantly developing place and even those we perceive as most distant to us are actually closer neighbours than we know.


An ode to my teacher

My teacher saw in me

what I

could not see

in myself.

Maybe it’s just me, but I wonder for how many people does this ring true?


Why did someone see something in me, and why couldn’t I have that vision myself? Is it something in our culture? Something with upbringing? Some factor… gender, schooling, money? Or something internal -the ability to see possibility over weakness? Isn’t a child told ‘no’ thousands of times in their first years of life? I’m a thinker and will always wonder.

Regardless of why, it still holds true:1312969901_9b1d83f026_z

My teacher saw in me

what I

could not see

in myself,

and I am grateful.

Read more

Remember on Armistice Day

This is an important day. We must remember, and for those of us who were not there:

we must learn. 

I will tell two stories here.  Firstly, I am reminded of leaving America to come live in England. Even though I thought we spoke the same language, there was so much I didn’t understand. Culture, history, different values, meanings, and traditions. It was a powerful lesson for me to learn that there was a universe of understanding that I did not yet have. I’ll tell the story…

When I moved down to the South Coast of England after my master’s degree in London, I used to enjoy going to my fiancé’s grandfather’s house a couple of villages away to visit with him and talk over a glass of sherry – it broke up the day’s cello practice, and he was a truly lovely man. A gentleman wise beyond words. We would sit at his old pine table Read more

Romanticism comes to life with #cclasses

I am genuinely very very excited for this Friday’s session in my Romanticism lecture. Really. In it we’re joined by three distinguished guests who each bring Romantic music to life through their experience, understanding, and advice. Three perspectives by hugely respected professionals. wow.

It will all make sense on Friday.

For now, just mark your calendar for Friday 4 Nov. 11am GMT. Whether you are a performing musician or not – this is something that especially musicians, but anyone interested in learning, connection, and personal perspective will find fascinating.

Join us on Friday as we listen to

  • Portland-based cellist Katherine Schultz take us through aspects of preparation and practising.
  • UK concert pianist Jonathan Plowright discusses interpretation.
  • UK mezzo soprano Susan Legg takes us on an in-depth exploration of the first song of Schubert’s Frauenliebe und-leben, and finishes her interview with a glorious impromptu performance of the song.

They each bring the topics we have been studying to life. I interviewed them all – Today I conducted the final interview and am in the process of uploading the audio to (now) all ready for Friday’s session.

If you cannot join us exactly at 11 am (for example if you live in America and you might be sleeping!), it is perfectly ok to listen later and still join in our twitter conversation. Just tag your tweet with #CClasses and #MUL316 . People will tweet back and I genuinely look forward to the conversation unfolding.

I created this content because of the research project Connecting Classes, but it has become much more a way of learning and teaching for me than a ‘project’. The other day it dawned on me just what is possible with this Connecting Classes project. As a common theme in all connecting classes session, there is some sort of pre-recorded content that the live class focuses on during the session. They engage with it and tweet their notes. (We will be using the project tag #CClasses and our class tag #MUL316 ) In the original version by Jonathan Worth, he used audio content, but others have used video, and I don’t see why a text couldn’t be used – these things are made to be sprouted, riffed on, and remixed. Last semester, I created my own content (with the help of the students) and we used the pre-recorded aspect of the project as a springboard for what we were studying, to focus discussions and to lead us to external connections and resources, but also to connect to our individual interests.

That connection is key in my view.

Take our class for example. In this historical period, Romanticism, there is SO much variation and such a sheer volume of music. One composer wrote 600 songs and another wrote an opera that literally takes close to 24 hours to perform. As a teacher I know it is important to study a topic and all around the topic. How important it is to understand the application of the topic, and digest the topic, and then put that knowledge to use – but sometimes it all takes years to realise and internalise, and it can be hard going as an undergraduate. Sometimes, just sometimes, (just saying), studying the music of bygone times is not the most thrilling aspect of a young performer’s education….


and oh my goodness, this does!!!

As a student it can be difficult to study the music of an instrument you do not play, read, and analyse, and somehow have it inspire and move you. I want to be inspired and I want my students to be inspired. Textbooks aren’t always the most inspirational, but people and stories, now I love them. Please don’t get me wrong – I am not skimping on the content one bit, and I am a big advocate of research, journal articles, and primary source information. In fact the short interviews that we will listen to Friday morning will supplement and point to further resources and inspire people to make connections. Perhaps it will lead listeners to have an ‘a-ha’ moment of really find meaning in the detail and the process….

Mark your diary. This Friday, 11 am. I will post the content here and will tweet the links. I promise you are in for a treat. You will find beauty, simplicity, and wonderful musical insight.

I am very grateful for the generosity of my guests.


 image CC BY-NC-SA by philHendley

Featured imageCC-BY by Alan Kuruz

Creation, Spark, Learning, & Curriculum

Learning is a fantastically non-linear, subjective experience that is like a stream flowing over, around, and through any number of expected and unexpected obstacles. It’s midway through the semester, and always at this time of year I find myself reflecting on how and why, on visible and invisible progress, and on what my role as teacher and facilitator might be for my students. Yesterday I discussed the concept of ‘curriculum’ with a good friend and respected colleague, Kenn, and that conversation stuck with me. It stuck with me so much that I had to ‘sprout’ it. (See Geoffrey’s comment here for an explanation of ‘sprout’.) Kenn put forward the idea that anything could be strung together and called a curriculum, but it was important for that content to connect with the learner. He said one of my all-time favourites. You cannot make someone have a spark and be excited about something if an inkling of it isn’t there already.

He spoke about the nature of intrinsic motivation, and how if that ‘spark’ isn’t there, you can’t just throw it at someone and expect it to stick, like paint. But, if it is there, and I hope we all have at least one spark of passion to cultivate something deep within us. With sparks present, the teacher can metaphorically stoke the fire. You or I plan and lay the kindling to allow the air to flow, and when needed, get out the bellows to help puff the current.

Yes, connecting with that spark is so important.

From a teacher’s point of view that means I need to have an awareness of how, so that when I do lay the pieces out for the students, it guides. I likened it to driving the motor cars at Disneyland, with the metal guide rails at the side to keep people on the road. They are wide enough that you can veer to the left or right, but you can’t completely fall off. You can certainly receive a jolt as you bang into the rails, but you are safe and it would be pretty hard to fail completely. As a child I remember riding those cars and being so proud that I was the one driving. Guidance, yes. Safety rails, yes. Kenn reminded me that as the driver, that child or student, still has to put her foot down to make the car go. I did it. My students do it. The connection to the spark is so important.

When put in that car, with all the right guidance rails, and no spark, you still won’t fail. Why? Because 16600001_76402e66b1_zeveryone follows one another, and most people want to be there. So if the person behind does put his foot down, then your car will lurch forward when his bumps into yours! Being vaulted from one place to the next is no way to learn. I am sure it does happen though – and there are better ways to not fail. I remember classes I might admit to having taken just because of requirements… and lurching from one assignment to the next simply to accrue the necessary points or credits. In those cituations I certainly didn’t learn anything by choice. If we as teachers can find a way to connect, then it makes all the difference. (image CC BY-NC by Thomas Hawk)


I don’t have the answer to a golden curriculum, and I think that’s ok. It’s ok to admit as well. This semester my students create their own curriculum with #MUS654. We’ve been thinking about it this week. They set specific constraints for a single one-to-one setting. When you can define all the variables, it is easier, but things within the curriculum still change when put into practise in a live teaching situation. I certainly still actively search for answers (I think that’s also called learning!) and surely even when I think I have found a solution, it will change with each group of students, each changing year, each season. There are so many many variables that affect one’s learning and living that one size will never fit all. However, the good bits and the successful strategies will add to the repertoire and aspects of them will transfer to each new situation.

I commend to you this article by John Hattie and Gregory Donoghue

Learning strategies: a synthesis and conceptual model

It gives a model (like it says in the title) but more than that, it dissects the different stages of learning. It provides a very thought provoking discussion on those big questions of how and what we learn, why, and what is the value. The authors unpack surface learning and deep learning, and really discuss the ‘skill, will, and thrill’ of learning. I’m hoping to ‘think through’ this article as part of an annotation flashmob (hosted by Marginal Syllabus with Remi Kalir)

See what Remi says about the project here:

Featured image CC BY-NC-SA by Lawrence OP

Technical challenges: Barriers to Learning

This semester I spend time reflecting particularly on music learning and constructing a curriculum from the point of view of the teacher. BUT the learning challenges and barriers to learning are often the same across disciplines, so if you are not a musician, but a computer scientist, or a writer, or something completely different – I do think this will still hold relevance for you.

This week in specific I asked my students to dissect the topic of technical challenges, and that means I do it too. It struck me that there are two very distinct sides to the challenges in learning and they are perhaps not equal, but definitely intertwined and inseparable. Read more

#CClasses: Connecting classes & connecting composers

This semester my students and I are taking part in a research project led by Jonathan Worth at the Open Lab at Newcastle University. It is a project that makes use of creative, innovative, and practical pedagogical tools – right at our fingertips (more literally than you know!). It’s based on using Twitter as a ‘hub’. There are may ways of engaging with content and gathering information, and one of the biggest challenges today is to find common ground, or I should say a common platform. Some people use Slack, some Facebook, some Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, Evernote, -I have even heard of some people who like to write things down on paper. The point is that there are many ways to gather thoughts and information, and having many people with individual ways can be brilliant as it means that you can choose what suits you best. However, there are times when finding unity is useful.

This project sets out to do just that: provide a space for engagement, inquiry, reflection, and comment. Twitter is useful in that comments are in real time, they are short and sweet, and they can be identified with a hashtag. That means I (or anyone) could collect the tweets about a certain subject, or with a certain hashtag.

We are exploring using this method of ‘group-sourcing’ our thoughts and research on a topic in relation to musical composers in the 1800’s – during what is known as the Romantic Period. In a parallel to the possible ways of taking notes, I realised there was a similar scattering of material about composers.

When does this happen? Our first #CClasses session is Friday 21 October at 10 am.

Let me explain how it works:

I am fascinated by the interconnectedness of composers. In this period in history, seemingly more so than in the previous century, people have both access to music and listening. This was due to printing of music and to the rise in popularity of the piano as an instrument. When you begin to look at even a few of the most commonly discussed composers like Schumann, Chopin, Liszt, Schubert, Berlioz, Brahms… (and the list does go on) the connections between them are astounding. People heard one another’s works. They played one another’s works. They copied one another’s works. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a resource where some of the interpersonal connections were mapped out?

Yes, yes it would be! I found just that sort of resource for composers of the 1900s. screen-shot-2016-10-20-at-19-21-12

It’s HERE. Go ahead and click through. There are two or three clicks, and then you come to the ‘composer wheel’. (screen shot –>) As an interactive, at your fingertips type of resource, it is a great idea and so useful. If you wanted to take any of these connections further, they could definitely be researched. What a great starting point!I know there could be any number of different types of connection created here, and a very critical person could ask for more or question why these were chosen, but I love it!

So what am I proposing for this session?


just for Romantic composers. Here’s a short 3 min snippet of me explaining what I’m proposing:

I love the connections, inspiration, links between art, music, literature, friendship, and countries. Let’s make a map of composers.

Our own composer wheel.

You provide the tweets about the connections:

WHO: composers

WHAT: type of music

WHERE: cities/countries

STYLE: dances? nationalism?


(for those who wrote songs)

There could be any number of topics. Feel free to suggest composers, topics, links

Please tweet any contributions and tag it all #MUL316 and #CClasses

I look forward to you joining us tomorrow at 10am for the online discussion as we spin our topics in our live class at the University of Chichester. You are ALL invited to join in. Tweet at ANY time – if you can join us live at 10am UK time, FAB. Any other time will do too!

Featured image CC BY by Pedro Ribeiro Simões and on his flickr page, he shares (from Wikipedia):

Fado (translated as destiny or fate) is a music genre which can be traced from the 1820s in Portugal, but probably with much earlier origins. In popular belief, Fado is a form of music characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor. However, in reality Fado is simply a form of song which can be about anything, but must follow a certain structure.

The music is usually linked to the Portuguese word saudade (that has no match in English but it could be understood as nostalgia felt while missing someone), a word describing a sentiment. Another similar English translation can be to pine for something or someone.

Some enthusiasts claim that Fado’s origins are a mixture of African slave rhythms with the traditional music of Portuguese sailors and Arabic influence. ….

…maybe we should start there, with our first contribution via this photographer.

#CClasses #MUL316 …and look out for our next two sessions in the coming weeks where we listen to and discuss views of performers and then composers.

On repertoire: How do you know it?

This week’s #MUS654 topic is Repertoire, and the music we play whether we call it songs, pieces, repertoire – it is the stuff that serves as the vehicle for our musical communication with listeners, each other, and ourselves. In thinking about repertoire, we’re encouraged to look back and see our own development as musicians. How have you come to know the music you know? What was the first music you knew? Maybe it had nothing or little to do with your instrument. How did you get into the music of your instrument and did you use the same mechanisms to find music there as you might have for other listening or music you engaged with?

When you begin to think about it, it is fascinating, and as a teacher it will have relevance. You are beginning to focus on the learning and become aware of the processes that you have undertaken. Sometimes through happy chance we find ourselves on a great musical path, but often it is through the dedicated guidance, planning, and nurturing of others – parents, teachers, and fellow musicians.

I’ve already presented a few different topics there and I’d like to start with this one:

How do we come to know the music we know?

As a child, I grew up with records – LPs, 33s, 78s. Yes, we even had a Victrola (as well as the fancy hi-fi record player). These were a mix of classic songs from the 1930s – 1950s, a good dose of Jazz quartets and trios, a very few classical records (1812 overture), lots of folk music, and a couple of very cheesy Christmas albums – one man with a deep voice singing to an orchestral accompaniment, with a touch of sleigh bells in the background…  That was it. There was no piano in the house. There were no other instruments. Those records were magic.

That is a starting point. I remember walking around with a little radio and we would search the channels to find whatever there was – eager to hear new things. It still happens like that with much of pop music. People eagerly await the next single or album from an artist. When did that die with other styles of music? (responses please – that’s a real question, not just a rhetorical one) As a cellist my knowledge of music, certainly at the beginning, was very limited and nearly completely reliant on whatever the teacher gave me to learn. Having a background in the LPs in the sitting room and the pop songs on the radio didn’t help me to know about the cello, and in the beginning, my years of first position etudes didn’t come close to giving me a clue about the repertoire for the instrument. The first time I heard a cello concerto was when I was learning one. That is the wrong way around.

Now people aren’t reliant on the records in their house or the two channels that might have good reception on the radio. We have access to so many recordings it is really mindblowing. So the question – do we (and do our students) seek to expand what we know? Do you look for new music to play? That could be new old music – it doesn’t have to be modern. I think we do, but the impetus is different. Think about reading books. We are taught to search from a young age. Children are taken to libraries and talked through what there is. (How often do we start students by giving them a tour through great works for their instrument?) We are taught how to find it. We are encouraged to seek and read. And when we get proficient at the basics, we are allowed to have preferences and to suggest our own content.

I don’t like horror books. I prefer comedy or mysteries where I have to think.


If a young learner is asked what would they like to play/sing, would they have the same musical literary knowledge to say – I would like to do X because I enjoy that style or period or composer… It may be a different way of looking at it, and it may take more work on the teacher’s part, but think how empowering it could be for the student.

I wonder what is your  experience with learning? Do you learn music and musical repertoire with the same relish you read or the same enthusiasm you find a new tv show to follow? Or the same way you follow popular charts? I wonder why or why not? Perhaps through understanding how and what we do, we can take the best bits from all our learning and bring those together as tools so we can be the best facilitators and teachers to guide ourselves and others.

Quite aside from the #MUS654 class, musician and author Bill Benzon blogged about his Jazz education in a series of posts, and it is fascinating. He did it the right way around and in these posts he expresses a breadth of listening, learning, and understanding that is noteworthy. I recommend you definitely read Bill’s first post:

My Early Jazz Education 1: From the Firehouse to Louis Armstrong59229006_2fb282fe23_z

and if that sparks your interest, Bill is very articulate (in music and words) as he goes on in successive posts. He takes us through influential repertoire and how he came to it. I wonder if we could each do a similar thing? What shaped you? …if you are drawing some blanks, maybe it’s time to go to the virtual musical library and check out some tunes.

I have linked to Bill’s further posts on his education below, but am saving the last one for when we talk about observing lessons. You’ll have plenty to read and listen to with these first ones… enjoy! (image CC BY-NC by Allert Aalders)

My Early Jazz Education 2: Maynard, Miles, and Diz

My Early Jazz Education 3: Herbie Mann and Dave Brubeck

My Early Jazz Education 4: Thelonius Sphere Monk

My Early Jazz Education 5: Al Hirt and (again) Maynard

Featured image CC BY-NC-SA by Via Tsuji