Developing the whole musician

As music teachers we have a lot of plates spinning always at all times. In order to make sure I was growing the comprehensive musicianship of each of my students I developed an approach I call Cellular Teaching.

imagesCellular Teaching was something I formulated several years back with the idea that there are a lot of curricular targets to cover over the course of a year but that I struggled to find a flow for a scope/sequence that felt useful and relevant.

Ear training, rhythmic literacy, sight-reading, basic music theory, scales, sight-singing, articulation, finger dexterity, musical terms, ensemble listening skills, individual executive skills…it is a long list!

Because I was hung up on feeling like I was supposed to tackle these concepts one at a time, teaching it to completion, and then moving on to the next item on the list, I was gridlocked early on to the point that I was teaching very few of these things with any depth. I was constantly wondering if I was teaching anything at all.

So I decided to approach these concepts in a different way. I chose to teach all the things. All of the time.

Let me explain.

A typical class will begin with 2-4 “cells” with each cell designed to address a single concept in a short burst and with increased skill as a result of repetition over the course of time.

Many of these cells are shared via apps, taught from my iPad, and projected using Apple TV. For example, on Monday my lesson might include the following cells:

  • Ear training using Harmony Director or Tonal Energy
    • Melodic/Harmonic Interval Identification: M2, M3, P4, P5, P8
  • Rhythm drill using the Rhythm Reader App
  • Introduce a Term of The Day using a projected Keynote slide
Rhythm Reader

Each of these cells would take 1-5 minutes and precede our warm-ups and repertoire work for the day.

On Tuesday I would shift my focus a bit and do the following:

  • Ear training using the APS Trainer app (which asks students to identify a second pitch against a baseline pitch as either in tune, sharp, or flat)
  • Introduce a new Term of The Day
  • Sight-sing a melody on solfege

    APS Trainer

Additional cells involve the use of sight-reading folders, method books for key-centered literacy, and chorale books for teaching both chorale style playing/tuning as well as transposing.

I have found that the short daily cells help to reinforce a stronger sense of connection between concepts. For example, I don’t have to try and teach all of the ear training I want the students to learn in a single unit of study over a few weeks.

By doing the ear training cell 1-3 times per week over the course of the entire school year the students are getting what I believe is more consistent and beneficial exposure to developing this skill.

Now I can keep all of the musical plates spinning with balance and know that my students are utilizing more of the skills at the same time, which I feel is what I ultimately want my students to be able to do.

There are definitely times when I will go deeper into a concept, especially when introducing something for the first time to an ensemble.

But once the initial idea(s) has been presented, shifting to this cell teaching allows for quick review, reinforcement, and repetition of the building blocks my students need to be literate and competent musicians.


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