Today is World Teachers’ Day. I was just wondering: do you have a personal Teachers Hall of Fame – with teachers who you are grateful of having met or been able to study with? What teachers are in your personal Teachers Hall of Fame? What traits do these teachers have in common?
Here are some thoughts about some of the best teachers I have had. These teachers:
Mastered their content and were enthusiastic and passionate about it.
Provided me with guidance and tools that suited my way of learning and helped me understand the content.
Thought outside of the box and created new ways of explaining things.
Never stopped learning themselves.
Created successful and positive learning environments.
Contributed to my personal growth in a profound way.
Inspired me because of their contributions to the community I lived in.
There is another thing that these teachers have in common. I believe these teachers were / are in what Sir Ken Robinson calls “The Element”:
“…the place where the things we love to do and the things we are good at come together.”
Every time I have met a teacher who is in their Element they have helped me find out something about my own Element.
What do you think makes a good teacher? And if we narrow it down to the areas of specialism this blog is about: what do you think makes a good music teacher? A good singing teacher? What teachers do you think belong in a “Music Educators Hall of Fame”? Why?
It’s been a bit quiet here on the blog lately. But quiet doesn’t mean things aren’t happening!
Katja has been giving a year-long in-house training for the singing teachers at SKVR Music School in Rotterdam, coaching a music teacher at Stichting TRIAS in Rijswijk, teaching singers and worked with choirs. She’s also been quite busy rehearsing and performing with her duo The More The Mary.
And there’s been big changes happening for Jeanne too, she became a mother for sweet baby Emma! Motherhood can be a big source of inspiration for a music educator, and so Jeanne is busy collecting lullabies from all over the world. Perhaps this collecting will result in the developing of a whole new workshop!
Recently I started re-reading ‘The Art Of Possibility‘ by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander. It is one of those books I would recommend everyone to read: teachers and students, bosses and employees, leaders and members of an organisation, choir conductors and singers, band leaders and musicians…
Rather than living in a world of measurement, where we know things by comparing and contrasting them, the Zanders invite us to step into a “universe of possibility”. The book presents twelve practices that will shift our view of life, and open up new possibilities and opportunities where we thought there were none.
Image courtesy of BJWOK / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
The challenge of ‘giving an A’
One of the practices in the book, and the one I would like to challenge you to try out this coming week (or month), is the practice of ‘Giving an A’.
When you give an A, you find yourself speaking to people not from a place of measuring how they stack up against your standards, but from a place of respect that gives them room to realize themselves. Your eye is on the statue within the roughness of the uncut stone. This A is not an expectation to live up to, but a possibility to live into.
In essence, the practice of ‘Giving an A’ means the following: when we assume that people will do well, and teach them how they can do this, they will. The Zanders remind us that practicing “giving an A” will not only transform the person receiving the figurative or literal A, it will transform the person giving the A as well.
Possibilities to live into. Reading these words made me think about how much faster people learn in a positive learning environment. And about how important it is to ‘reset’ and have a ‘clean slate’ every time we go into a teaching situation, and not to bring in any expectations or judgements based on previous experiences or on what we have read or heard about someone.
“Pentatony is an introduction to world literature: it is the key to many foreign musical literatures, from the ancient Gregorian chant, through China to Debussy.” – Zoltan Kodály
Any music educator who has taught songs or musician who has improvised melodies using the pentatonic scale knows the power of the five tones. The five-tone pentatonic scale has been called the most universal of scales, because of its substantial use in music cultures around the world, including West African music, Sami joik singing, Hungarian folk music, Indonesian music, Appalachian folk music, Celtic folk music, Chinese music, and Andean music, to only mention a few. The pentatonic major and minor scales are commonly used in jazz, blues and rock music, and the blues scale predominantly derived from the minor pentatonic scale. In classical music, the pentatonic scale was used by Western impressionistic composers including Claude Debussy.
In this interesting video from the World Science Festival 2009 Bobby McFerrin uses audience participation and the pentatonic scale to demonstrate neural programming, as part of the event “Notes and Neurons: In Search of the Common Chorus”. At the end of his “pentatonic brain hacking” McFerrin mentions that regardless of where he is, anywhere, every audience gets it. Aside from the fact that the pentatonic scale seems to be used in music cultures around the world, interesting questions arise. Why does it seem that the pentatonic scale is universal? Is our brain programmed to “think pentatonic”?
Perhaps it is. A Belgian research found the pentatonic scale could be heard in the vocal interaction between babies and their mothers. And whoever has listened to children on a playground, can recognize the so-mi / la-so-mi patterns in their chants. This natural use of the pentatonic scale by children lead music educators including Zoltan Kodály and Carl Orff to largely use the pentatonic scale for pitch-matching and improvisation in their music education approaches. Not only babies and children seem to gravitate towards pentatony though: military cadences, used to keep soldiers in step while marching or running, also typically use pentatonic scales.
“Some people (Leonard Bernstein among them) have theorized that the universal quality of the pentatonic scale comes from a subconscious sounding of the overtone series. A string produces a sound based not only on the vibration of the whole string, but also on vibrations of that string in halves, thirds, etc. Each division produces a soft, but audible tone called the overtone that becomes a part of the texture of the fundamental tone. This is not only true of strings, but any vibrating body, be it a tube of air or metal gong or drumskin.”
I find it interesting to theorize about the universal quality of the pentatonic scale or about our brains being wired for music, but what counts for me in the end is that it actually works. No matter what age, no matter what cultural background, be it with people who are completely new to music/singing or with music professionals…the pentatonic scale can always be used. In my singing workshops I often use pentatonic songs from various cultures and music styles, and base a lot of my vocal improvisation and ear training exercises exercises on the pentatonic scale or pentatonic modes – often combined with accompanying drones or ostinato melodies.
Some musicians and music educators dismiss the pentatonic scale as sounding one-dimensional. Before you dismiss these powerful five notes, try exploring beyond the major pentatonic scale. Also, in my opinion, whether a scale sounds one-dimensional or not does not only have to do with the scale itself. It also has to do with how we use our instrument (in my case, the voice). A pentatonic improvisation can either sound like a “somewhat boring children’s song” or “sound like magic” depending on how the singer uses rhythm/timing, sound color, volume, etc. and on how the accompanying vocals are built up. Perhaps more about that another time. For now, let yourself be inspired by Bobby McFerrin and his “pentatonic brain hacking”!
By Katja Maria Slotte
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