Category Archives: Orientations to Teaching

Internship Reflection- Developing Pedagogy Through Warm Ups

In the ASU Music Education program we do three semesters of internships before doing our student teaching. While we are doing these internships we take “Art of Teaching” classes that align with the content and experience from our internships. This was an assignment from my Art of Teaching Advanced Instrumentalists class that I took while doing an internship in a high school orchestra program. This “Internship Reflection” asked us to think about the use warm ups as a tool for developing instrument-specific pedagogy and technique.

Internship Reflection-Warm Ups

My Initial Ideas:

This is actually something that I struggle with a bit understanding just how to accomplish this. I feel that if I am working one on one in private lesson with students that we can work well on these instrument specific skills, and I think I can even do this pretty well with sectionals of students all with the same instrument, but once we have several different instruments in the mix it becomes more challenging. I think the first key element is to know instrument specific pedagogy for different instruments. I know this sounds like common sense, but this can actually be the biggest and most common fault. I know this as both a student and a teacher. First off, as a teacher, the first time I stood in front of my String Project class and was leading them through the fingerings for a scale I successfully told the violins and violas their fingerings and then followed this by the cellos’ fingerings, but then I looked with a blank stare of terror at the bass as I realized that I honestly did not know what the fingerings were for her for that scale. I felt terrible about that and then felt extreme relief as I saw one of the String Project experienced teachers go over to her and instruct her on the fingerings for the scale. From that moment on I decided to make a point to know what I was going to tell the bassist for every time I told the violins, violas, and cellos something because I was determined not to be “that teacher” who did not know what to tell the basses. I have worked a lot on bass and I think that my instruction for the instrument has improved immensely.

I have also been on the other side of this scenario. As violists, there are so many times that we receive instruction that simply does not consider the logistics of our instrument. Many teachers or conductors (or composers for that matter) simply think that we are big violins. This is simply not true. There are separate challenges that meet us as violas than those that meet violinists, but there are many times I have been given instruction that does not account for this. All this said, there is much importance in knowing specific pedagogy for different instruments.

I suppose that the best way I can think to help my students develop instrument specific skills in warm ups and repertoire would be to play through sections as a group and give the separate groups instruction before starting and then as we play the section through I could assess how the different groups are doing with these skills and if any groups need extra help then I can run the section just with them to try isolating that idea. I often do something of this nature with scale fingerings. Before we start the scale I will tell the violins and violas their fingerings, followed by the cellos’, and then finishing with the basses’. Then if any group looked like they needed some extra work on the fingering then I’ll have just that section try it again as I lead them through the fingerings.

These are the best thoughts I have on the topic so far, but it really is a skill I would like to work on improving, so I look forward to learning more about it throughout this part of the class. I hope to learn a lot more about this and build some ways that I can achieve this goal with the classrooms of students I will work with.

The Voice of Authority:

The article that was based on the interview of Doug Akey had a lot of information, some of which included information on this topic and some of which did not. The first idea he mentioned relating to this topic was his opinion that teachers should not focus so much on wide recognition or placing highly in competitions or things like that, but rather they should focus on directing their instruction more to their students’ needs and making sure to foster a love for music. In doing this teachers will focus more on the specific needs of their students as opposed to just pushing them to play a very specific and narrow set of pieces to aim toward winning a competition. The next idea he brought up was his belief that for middle school classes it is best to have a structured warm up that he uses every day. He may vary it slightly depending on the needs of his students that day, but he uses this structure nonetheless. He goes on to say that it is important to keep all groups engaged throughout warm ups and rehearsals even when focusing on one specific instrument section. Finding ways to keep the whole class engaged and active in the lesson is important for classroom management and for keeping students’ interest. He always includes sight-reading in his warm ups based off of hymns that he has arranged himself. He expresses that it is crucial to know how to play all the instruments he is teaching so he can demonstrate good tone and instruct instrument specific skills. Akey also mentioned that conducting is not the most important thing he does as the teacher in his class. He will start them and then teach them to listen to each other when playing and simply stop conducting to foster this.

Dr. Sullivan’s PowerPoint was specifically on this topic and provides many ideas and suggestions in the use of warm ups for rehearsals. She starts the PowerPoint with a quote that mentions that warm ups show a lot about a teacher such as their maturity, skill and philosophy. This quote also mentions that the warm ups should set up the students to be able to play whatever it is that they may face in the repertoire they are working on throughout the class. This concept is the focus of the PowerPoint and this philosophy of warm ups. Dr. Sullivan goes on to say that emphasis on the strength of the individual in an ensemble is important to make a great ensemble. She explains that some ways to develop these individual skills are through performance of solos or chamber groups or through private or group lessons with the teacher. She goes through five main elements to focus on in warm ups and emphasizes the importance of tying these into the concert pieces the students are working on in class. Dr. Sullivan goes through various specific examples of how to use these five ideas in warm ups and then goes through some ideas for assessing students’ progress. Some of these ideas of assessment include peer checks, self-assessments, use of mirrors, digital portfolios, and journals prompting students to assess their own growth.

My Initial Observations:

When I first started taking note of what my mentor teacher does in her classroom concerning warm ups and teaching instrument specific pedagogy in a large ensemble class I noticed that she has a very structured and methodic way of going about this. The students in her advanced orchestra class have a yellow sheet of paper that has various different parts such as a bass line, a harmony 1 line, a harmony 2 line, and a melody line. There are rhythmic variations for the bass, harmony 1, and harmony 2 lines. This is a general warm up sheet that she is having them do at this time but is making sure to tie it into the piece they are currently working on, Holst’s Jupiter. There are several times throughout the piece that there are sixteenth notes as a sort of pulse keeping element in the piece. The warm up sheet that my mentor teacher has for her students included an eighth note pattern in the rhythmic variations that she would at times have half the class play while the other half played the same line but with the half notes rhythm. By doing this she is helping them understand that subdivision relationship and preparing them for these sixteenth note parts in the piece.

Furthermore, she has all of the students learn all of the parts, which helps them to listen for the bass line and the harmony parts and how they relate to the melody. This is a very important skill to develop and this is a very strong way of doing so. Throughout Holst’s Jupiter it is important to listen across to harmony parts and listen down to bass parts to help keep a strong unified sound and performance. I did not see her make any specific connections between the warm ups and the piece, however I did not start observing this until they had had both materials for a while, so it is very possible that she had mentioned this earlier in the process.

Students’ Voices:

As the class was playing doing these warm ups I was walking around and playing along with the students to provide a solid foundation to follow if need be, but also to observe them a bit. I could see that the students were pretty strong on the eighth note pattern in the warm up, however once we started playing the piece they seemed to have some trouble transferring this knowledge to the piece. In the warm ups they were successfully not rushing, but in the piece they were rushing the sixteenth notes part (which we were actually playing as eighth notes because these are doubled eighth notes). I asked a student how he was thinking of their part and how it fit into the cellos’ and violas’ parts (the melody) and he had not really thought of it in that way, he was just thinking of his part individually. This seemed as though he had not made the connection between the emphasis on listening in the warm up and the need to listen in the piece.

Once we started playing Jupiter, I sat next to a violist and played the part with her. Before we started as we waited for everyone to get the piece out I asked her, “So this warm up sheet, is this a warm up for this piece?” She answered that it was. This showed that there were connections made between the warm ups and the piece.

Mentor Teacher’s Voice:

When asking my mentor teacher about her ideas concerning this topic she reflected not only on her practices as a high school orchestra teacher, but also as a middle school and elementary school teacher. She explained that when she taught elementary stings and middle school orchestra that she had a very consistent routine. They would do the same basic warm up every day, but she would have a different focus for each day. She explained that she would rotate what area the focus would be on. One day she would work on something in the right hand, the next day something in the left hand, and then the next and ear training exercise of some sort. She further explained that when she taught at Rover Elementary School she had students in her fourth grade orchestra class that had been playing since second grade (because of a specific program they had at the school at the time) as well as students who had never touched a string instrument before. She said that in teaching these classes she would focus on the same technique for the whole class, but that she would have a challenge for the students who ad been playing for a while, like having them change the contact point, or doing patterns with only the first finger.

She expressed that this helped her immensely when coming to the high school level, because often learning gaps get even larger in high school orchestras. She said she practices similar ideas in her classes where she will have everyone focus on the same technique, but have different students do it at different levels. She also said that she emphasizes an idea of the students as a community of helping each other. An example she gave me is that if the cellos are having trouble with a section she will have everyone “help out their friends in the cello section” and everyone will learn the cello part together to play along with them. (This also helps them develop listening skills where they listen across the orchestra.)

My mentor teacher further explained that she does not have a theme of the day for high school, but a theme of the week. With the theme of the week they work on this element of playing in depth for a week and then she has the students write a short reflection at the end of the week explaining what they learned about that throughout the week. She also mentioned that she looks within the pieces she gives the students to play and picks challenging parts of the pieces to base the focus of her warm ups off of. In doing this she is clearly connecting the warm ups with the repertoire.

My Voice:

I feel that I have learned a great deal about this topic throughout the last month or so. I have learned that it is crucial to tie the warm ups into the repertoire that the students are playing, and even more importantly, I have learned some methods on how to do so. I felt that all of the information presented to us in class was all very helpful information, and I would have to say that I agree with what was presented to us. I was happy to see that my mentor teacher’s ideas about this topic coincided with these ideas. I also like how she emphasized the idea of having a structured and routine start to class. I think this is a very important and useful technique in order to help with classroom management. She was able to successfully use the same warm up, but do so in a way that emphasized different techniques. I also like the overall idea of doing one technique the whole class can work on and adjusting instruction so that it is applicable for all levels of students. Additionally, having the students act as a community of students there to help each other is another important aspect of teaching instrument specific pedagogy in large classes.


The Evolution of Funk Chamber Group

In my ASU Art of Teaching Advanced Instrumentalists course we had to form a chamber group and make either an arrangement or a composition that we would prepare for performance. This was my group and we made a mash-up arrangement of Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars and Play That Funky Music by Wild Cherry. I decided to play bass as a secondary instrument to get more familiar with the bass.

There were three parts to this project. The first part was the rehearsal/performance aspect, which the video of our performance depicts below. Additionally our group was to come up with a model form of assessment for this project. Our group chose to make a summative verbal reflection which is below the video. Finally, under that is the reflection on the process of this project that I completed individually for this class.

Our Group’s Summative Verbal Reflection

We decided to make a verbal in-class reflection. This is an example of a summative process-based assessment. The way this would work is that the class would all reflect about their experience in the chamber group project and everyone would have to participate. Some ideas for how to facilitate this sort of assessment in our classrooms could be to either have the class sit in a circle and go around in the circle and reflect, or have them only speak if they have a certain designated item to let them talk, like a ball or something of that nature. Here are some ideas for reflection that we would put up on the board. We could have everyone answer all of them or, for time’s sake, we could have everyone just choose two or three to reflect on.

-Reflect on your group’s process.
-Reflect on your personal process.
-How do you think your group did overall?
-What would you do differently next time?
-Reflect on your group’s dynamic and how you feel you meshed … or not.
-Did you notate your music in any way? Why or why not?
-Share a comment about what you liked about another group’s process or performance.
-Ask one question to another group.
-Any other thoughts…

Chamber Music Project Reflection

How did your group choose a melody to arrange?:
We discussed a few different options of music choices to arrange and we began looking up a few different songs on the internet to get ideas going. We were also discussing different songs to see what everyone in the group was familiar with so that we could all have a pretty thorough background knowledge of the music we were working with. As it turned out, three of us were fairly familiar with pop music while one person was not. We had decided that we wanted to do some sort of arrangement of a pop tune, but we wanted to pick something that everyone knew at least a little bit about. Part of our group was involved with the ASU marching band, so they spoke about some of the pop tune arrangements that they played with the band. In speaking about this we found that we were all familiar with the song Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars. We decided to do an arrangement of this song. After we started working with this piece we decided we wanted to do a mash up of two songs, and we decided to have a unifying factor of the word “funk” in the name. There are not many different songs with funk in the name, so we quickly narrowed it to Play That Funky Music for the other piece.

Describe your general rehearsal process over all the rehearsals.:
In the first rehearsal we decided on the music that we were going to arrange and how we were going to go about doing so. We also discussed instrumentation and decided on the instruments we would all play for this project. We did make one change with one instrument at the next rehearsal, but aside from that we kept all of the instrumentation the same throughout the process. Throughout the next couple rehearsals we had our instruments and began listening to recordings of the two pieces we were working with. As we did this we picked apart different layers and parts of the pieces and began determining who would play what. We figured out the different parts people would play and when they would do so. Within the last few rehearsals we had a solid plan for our piece and we mainly rehearsed the music we were doing to get familiar with the form and with performing it. We made any final changes as needed and decided on making solo parts for every individual throughout to spotlight every member of the group. On in the last rehearsal we just rehearsed it a few times over so we would be ready for the performance and ironed out any issues as needed.

Description of the Overall Process:
*Did your group seem to have one main leader, or did the leadership rotate?:
We did not have any designated leader in any given rehearsal. Our group collaborated very         well as colleagues and we all equally shared leadership within the group.

*How did your group decide what to work on during rehearsals?:
Our group would assess how far we had gotten on the material we needed to get done and see what more we had to do. If we had not completed the arrangement we decided to work on adding on another section to the piece. If we were finished then we decided to rehearse it and discuss ways in which we could improve our work.

*Did your group work entirely aurally, or did you notate your music in some way? How did your group’s process work for you?:
As a group we discussed how we wanted to go about notating the arrangement or not and we decided that we would not notate the piece, but that we would do a basic notation of the form so we would know the structure of the piece and when which person would play what.

*How did your group decide which ideas to keep in your arrangement and which to change or discard?:
As we played through our arrangement we would listen for anything the did not quite work or sound right and then we would discuss this and see how we could go about changing something to make it work better. There were times that some people felt things needed to be changed but others did not key into that idea so we would play it again as it was and then try something different and see how we liked it better. From there we would decide as a group if we should change it or leave it.

*How did your group decide among different ideas? How did you handle disagreements?:
Our group really got along quite well. We were good about discussing different ideas and see what the group as a whole liked better. We would try out various ideas and we would very much work toward compromises as needed so that everyone’s input was put to good use and highly valued.

*Do you feel that you needed more class time to work with your group?:
Actually no. I felt that this time frame for this project worked very well for a group with our skills and background knowledge and experience.

*Describe how and/or what each member contributed to the group.:
We really did work quite well as a group and so we all would discuss the project and give input and ideas on how to improve the arrangement. We all put very equal input into the project on all of the decisions we made. Musically the breakdown consisted of me on the double bass with the bass line of Uptown Funk, another group member on the piano with accompaniment and the bass line to Play That Funky Music, another on the trumpet with the melody of Uptown Funk, and the last member on trombone with the melody to Play That Funky Music.

Describe in musical terms what you were most proud of or excited about musically in your arrangement? What worked well? Based on the informal performance, is there anything musically you would change or improve?:
I would have to say that musically my favorite aspect of this project was that we made sure to have strongly independent parts for all the instruments and how we highlighted all of the instruments by scoring a solo for everyone individually. The only thing I cold really think about changing musically would be to make a smoother transition between the Play That Funky Music section and the return to the Uptown Funk. We had played with several different possibilities for this transition, but none of them seemed to quite fix this issue. I think that the one we chose was definitely the best option we had come up with, but it was still a bit awkward of a transition.

What was your favorite part of working on this project? What was your least favorite part? What was the biggest challenge?:
I think that my favorite part of this project was making the mash up and figuring out who was going to play what parts of the piece. I very much enjoy making mash ups and figuring out how to fit two different songs together to make one. I was very happy with this project, so I don’t really know that I had a least favorite part in particular with this project. I would have to say that the biggest challenge was trying to figure out the transitions between pieces in the mash up. That is always a hard part of mash ups, but it is, nonetheless, part of the fun too.

What did you learn from doing this project? In your opinion, was it worthwhile for our class to do this project?:
I think that it was worthwhile for us to do this project. I learned different ways to look at and listen to music and how to pick apart different parts and layers and transfer those to the instruments into an arrangement. I also learned different ways how students could improvise and compose without having to follow strict and rigid traditional rules in doing so.

Following your informal performance, was the feedback from the class helpful? Why or why not?:
I thought it was helpful. I always find feedback from our peers helpful. I think that getting feedback from all of these highly trained musical peers is very useful in our musical development. I also think that it is helpful for us to give as much feedback as we can, being that we will have to do that often as teachers. Not only can we take musical ideas from our peers from their assessments they give us, but we can also take ideas of how to state our assessments based on the assessments they give us.

What suggestions do you have for doing this project another time? How might you adapt this project for junior high or high school students?:
One suggestion I could have for doing this project another time could be to have certain “limitations” such as a style of music we would have had to follow, like taking a classical song and arranging it into a pop song, or arranging a pop song into a classical tune just to challenge us in some sort of way and to make some variation on the project. If I were to use this project for a high school or middle school I would make several variations. For one thing, I would definitely have several other projects building up to a project of this nature getting the students used to composing and arranging and with projects with such little solid instruction. I would also probably have some more set instructions than we were given because we do have a higher skill level and maturity level than most high school students would. I would also make sure to, as the teacher, check in on the students throughout the process to make sure they are on task and that rehearsals are going overall smoothly.