Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Some of my memorable teaching moments

Memorable Moment #1:

How many beats are in 6/8 time? Answer: two!

Frankly, I wasn't surprised when the majority the students from the "Musicianship 1" course that I had been assigned TA for answered "six" to the above question on one of their homework sheets. As a beginning piano student, I myself had been taught that six-eight time meant "six beats per measure, the eighth note gets one beat." It wasn't till I got to college and joined the choir that I started asking the question "why does the conductor always beat in two when when have a song in six-eight?" Unfortunately, I didn't get the answer till I started teaching music fundamentals at a music school in Kathmandu that all the pieces finally "clicked."

Being compound time, six-eight has two beats per measure, each beat divided into three pulses. The dotted quarter note represents the beat. In simple time, two-four has two beats per measure with each beat divided evenly into two pulses. The quarter note represents the beat. Both are duple meter.

Musicianship 1 is one of those college courses that music majors are required to take but loath. Its basically doing a bunch of nonsense exercises such as sight reading, clapping rhythms, identifying intervals, transcribing melodies, and for non-keyboardists, learning to play scales, arpeggios and chord progressions on a keyboard. Doing such things makes most students feel like children to begin with. Its the TA's job a lot of times just to make things interesting to solicit their participation and make them comfortable doing it. Going over the differences between simple and compound time--an elementary music principle--wasn't going to be easy. For a few of them, who had been musicians all their lives and honestly had way more performance experience than I will ever have, it knew it was going to be a bit of an ego crush.

"No! I'm a bagpiper, and in bagpipe music, each of the six beats REALLY COUNTS!" was the way one of my students reacted. I asked him to sit down and just listen to my other examples. He finally agreed, somewhat, by muttering "ok, I see your point," before leaving class all in a huff. I myself left class a little ticked--why couldn't he get offended over something worth being offended over, like, the Gospel?

Another student acted as though I had just shown him the path to enlightenment. "Wow! That makes SO MUCH sense! Geez, how did I get this far not understanding this? Hey, thanks so much!!!"

Memorable Moment #2:

Anthony was a very active seven-year-old boy, who found it very hard to pay attention for a 30-minute piano lesson. He enjoyed playing a lot--he was always excited to perform for me and demonstrate what he had practiced our lessons--but paying attention was sometimes hard. One class in particular, I noticed that he was squirming more than usual, but at the same time, making an extra effort on his own to focus on what we were doing. Finally, he burst out, "Miss Tori, I really need to go to the bathroom!" I burst out laughing and excused him to run to the restroom. When he came back, I suggested he visit the restroom before he came to class. After that, I would regularly see him make a b-line for the restroom at the music school before appearing at my studio door, ready for his lesson.

Memorable Moment #3:

"These participatory methods that you're introducing are really new for these people," Keshar told me one evening after we had finished the Tharu songwriting workshop for the day. "All this discussion and activity they're not use to--usually, the teacher just gets up and talks. Its good, but it will take time for them to get use to being active."

During the review and evaluation time at the end of the workshop, Keshar asked everyone what they had enjoyed the most. One young man piped up, quite animated. He spoke entirely in Tharu, so I didn't understand a word. When he had finished, Keshar turned to me. "He really liked the participatory methods. He liked making the charts, discussing the passages, and doing that kind of thing. It was new, but he felt that he learned more being an active learner rather than a passive one." I wanted to fall off my seat. Oh, if only my State-side college students would say as much!