Teaching Music to Digital Natives

Here is one of my essays for my application to the Klingenstein Summer Institute. I will hear the results in March!

Our students are affectionately known as what Marc Prensky calls “digital natives”, yet we as teachers are often “digital immigrants”. I consider myself a digital “immi-native” having grown up in a generation who learned to type on a typewriter, but who also learned to play Oregon Trail and how to use email in high school. As a teacher, I have always believed that using technology is good and useful, but until this school year, I never realized how it could transform my teaching practice.

As a music teacher, I was trained in a variety of musical pedagogies, all of which involve a tremendous amount of rote learning and passive listening. When we provide our students the opportunity to listen to music from a diverse range of historical and genre perspectives it opens new worlds. Or so we hope. In my few short years as a teacher I have found that traditional listening lessons, where students sit and listen to music, have led to very inadequate musical understanding of concepts such as pitch, instrument identification, and tempo. There is also very little visible enjoyment. Passive listening to music, however beautiful or exciting it may be, does not provide students an experience that most composers intended when writing their great works. Music is to be experienced using multiple senses-seen and heard and in many times felt. Writing prompts, historical context lessons, and movement have surely helped engage my students to listen as an experience not as an act. I felt like something was still missing.

Then, it arrived – the shiny new Epson LCD projector mounted firmly on my music room ceiling and attached to a lovely desktop PC with a high-speed connection. To my absolute delight, You Tube was not blocked by our firewall and I was able to commence a completely new way of teaching listening lessons to my elementary children. We no longer listen to each season of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons while sitting idly on the carpet. We watch as the great master Itzhak Perlman plays the Allegro section of Autumn with the Tel Aviv Symphony. This opens a new world for my children and therefore, for me, as the teacher. We explore together what we see and hear, and experience the music in what seems a new way, but is rather an age-old tradition. We transform our classroom through the use of technology.

So while I embrace the masters of music pedagogy in many ways, I believe firmly that my instruction must include technology integration. Our digital natives have come to expect it. In homage to the great masters who have written for cathedrals and concert halls, I can think of no greater gift to provide in our music listening than by using technology to recreate this experience for the students.

One thought on “Teaching Music to Digital Natives

  1. Casey January 10, 2008 / 4:35 pm

    I am insanely jealous of your projector. I’ve had one in two of the three classrooms I’ve taught in, and now I’m projector-less. I have to take a 10 week seminar to get credit for HALF a projector. For now I have kids crowd around my monitor to show videos, and, alas, no youtube here.

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