Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Don't stop learning.

This is a lesson not only to students ("kids"), but adults, parents, and especially, teachers. Never, ever, ever...stop learning. Over the past few months, I've learned more while being away from the public school system, than I ever did in college or while teaching. Here's a quick list to some of the new things I've discovered, that we never learned in a class.
  1. coworking - "Coworking is cafe-like community/collaboration space for developers, writers and independents. Or, it’s like this: start with a shared office and add cafe culture. Which is the opposite of most modern cafes." - Independents Hall When I started attending events in Philadelphia, I fell in love with the idea of coworking and collaboration. We learn "group work" in school, but it was never this cool!
  2. social-networking (or social media) - Stuff like Twitter, Facebook, blogging, Flickr, etc are all types of social media. If you know how to play, social media can teach you anything, and you get to share back! If you're reading this, and not connected to me via the hundreds of other tendrils of my "personal learning network"...why not?
  3. charity - After attending Philly's BarCamp, a group of friends (who are a part of my network, btw!) came up with GeeksWhoGive. On our first event, we donated over 1200lbs of food to Philabundance, and had a great time doing it! No matter how good you think your life is, if you're able to read this blog, there's someone that needs your help. 
 And more...
Point is, ever since leaving teaching, and beginning my job at Staples designing, copying, and printing all those teachers' tests and assignments, I've learned so much. It just proves that there's so much out there, and we get tunnel vision sometimes, especially when we've only ever done one type of work. Reach outside your realm of "expertise" (because you're not an expert until you've done it for 10,000 hours), and learn something new!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Acoustic Smog, Headphones, and Your Ears

Maybe you just left the amphitheater from an amazing concert. Maybe you were mowing the lawn, working near a construction site, or at a Nascar race. were listening to your iPod (or any music player) for an extended period of time.

Are your ears ringing?

As a musician, especially one with rock band experience, I know. If your ears are ringing, they're hurtin' and being permanently damaged. A recent study written about in the New York Times showed that many people are listening to music at a higher concentrated volume than even the loudest workplace or factory. Even the iPod (which has an upper volume limit, should you choose to enable it), can put out more decibels than your ears can safely handle. Length of listening increases the chances that you're doing damage.

Sound is even affecting our wildlife, most notably whales, who are suffering because of acoustic smog coming from cruise ships, oil tankers, etc. Whales, like humans, communicate through sound. If they can't communicate, they have trouble finding mates, fellow pods, and raising offspring. TreeHugger has a great post about it.

I won't bore you with the science of hearing loss. In fact, I shouldn't have to. The simplest solution to preserving your hearing, is to follow my 3 rules:
  1. Listen through headphones at the lowest possible volume. If you need to "drown out" outside noise, consider getting noise-cancelling headphones instead of blasting the volume.
  2. Protect your ears, anything that sounds "loud" to you, probably is. Use ear plugs (or noise-cancelling headphones) while mowing, at rock concerts, car races, or in any job that deals with heavy machinery.
  3. Give your ears a break! After an hour of headphones listening, give your ears a chance to heal (and they will, provided you didn't do permanent damage, i.e. ringing or short-term hearing loss).
Please...take care of yourselves :)

photo credit: e-magic

Monday, October 6, 2008

Creepy Trees, or Networking Tools?

In full disclosure of my views, I am networked on MySpace, Facebook, and many other social networks, in some cases, with students. At the end of the article, I'll share some of my tips for avoiding "awkward situations".

According to an article in the Dallas Morning News, written today, students are upset at the thoughts of teachers and other adults using popular social-networking sites like MySpace and Facebook because it interferes with their privacy and personal lives. Students have created the slang term, "creepy treehouse" to refer to, well, creepy interactions between students and professionals.

Students believe the sites were designed and created for them (and originally, they were!) and that adults don't belong. With teachers as "friends" (Alright, folks...let's call them "contacts", okay?), students can't possibly post pictures of their parties, relationships, burning class notebooks at end-of-term, etc. If you're a teacher with students as contacts, how can you possibly post those bar shots, or pictures from your friend's bachelor's party, or a status update that you're moonlighting as a stripper to make ends meet! KIDDING!

Okay, so I'm all for social networking, with or without students. I've used Facebook groups to share worthy, educational YouTube videos, links to orchestral sites and events, practice tips, and so on. I've gotten and shared gigs via MySpace. AND...I've done it all without changing my personal life. My take on social media sites, is that while they may have been created for students or "kids", adults need to be aware of them, and maybe even know how to use them. Students should be worrying about colleges and employers researching their online profiles. (How's that for "creepy treehouses"?).

My tips: (as a teacher who's had successful network experiences with family, friends, colleagues, and yes, students)
  1. Don't initiate a friend request. If students feel comfortable "friending you", let them. Then you have the power to accept, or deny, as you choose.
  2. Be smart with what you post. While I was joking about the bachelor party pictures, or posting about your *coughs* second job, some adults aren't smart, and post those things anyway. Model good online behavior, and your connected students will hopefully learn what's appropriate to post online. 
  3. You can't require students to sign up for social networking sites for assignments, can't, can't, can't. Some students (and more importantly, parents) choose not to use the internet for privacy reasons, previous bullying issues, and more. Refer to #1...
  4. Appearance is everything. If all your contacts are students, it looks scary! If you're going to learn and use Facebook, get some friends on it with you, or even better, fellow colleagues! (likewise, if you have one student, it'll look creepy as well.)
  5. Finally, talk to the student if they request friendship. What is their reason? If it's to get help on assignments outside of school, awesome! If it's to share great educational links/news with you, awesome again! If a student can't give you a valid reason, maybe it's best to decline the request. 
What'd I miss? Think the article is right-on, or way-off?
photo credit: Ward

Friday, September 19, 2008

Aural Theory & Dictation [Yes, you need to know this!]

As a music major in college, I had 8am ear-training lab (we called it "Guido" because of the software we used). It came naturally to me, but that's because I was a bass-player in a garage band, and before that (think middle school), I was a smartass kid taking bets that I couldn't figure out some show's theme song on my clarinet.
It's sad to me, as an educator, that ear-training, sight-singing, and rhythmic/melodic/harmonic dictation isn't taught more, especially at the high school levels. A favorite professor of mine always said,

"If you can't clap or sing it, you can't play it."

If your district doesn't offer aural theory, here are some things you can do on your own:
  1. Learn solfege and apply it to simple melodies, before tackling that district solo you're working on. 
  2. Got a song stuck in your head (known as an ear-worm)? Instead of trying to get rid of it, try notating it on staff paper. (use something like Finale Notepad to check your work!)
  3. Another fun experiment: play an "A" (440Hz) on a piano, tuner, or other instrument (see my iPod Touch post for another option). Then, go about your day. At lunch, hum the pitch. Are you close? If not, figure out how far off you were. Do this for a few weeks, and you'll have as close to perfect pitch as you can get. :)
Ear-training and dictation is a must-have for anyone claiming to be a musician. End-of-story. Want help getting started; need pointers? Email me or leave 'em in the comments.

photo credit: wrestlingentropy

Friday, September 12, 2008

Creative Commons is Cooler than Copyright

The only thing cooler than my alliterative title, is the Creative Commons licensing, and the philosophy behind it. Everyone knows what Copyright is, ya know, the little "c" in a circle thing (©), and how it essentially means that the author has "all rights reserved" on his/her intellectual property.

Creative Commons is cooler than Copyright, because it allows and even promotes sharing, adapting, and resharing creative works. This is incredibly important, so much so, that any educator who isn't aware of Creative Commons licensing should not be teaching, period. A creator chooses who can use it (commercially or not?), whether it can be adapted (and if you have to share it similarly once you do), and how the creator should be attributed to the original work.

While I was teaching, my students loved asking me about legality (remember, this is the digital generation where downloading music and watching videos online is quite common). When I shared Creative Commons with them (by performing one of my compositions, then inviting them to remix it as they pleased), they understood, and fell in love with it.

Again, why an educator wouldn't know and use a license where their property (including lessons plans, worksheets, presentations, podcasts, images, etc!) can be shared and adapted, befuddles me to no end. I learned early that good teachers create, but master teachers borrow, steal, and remix. Doing it legally, by using Creative Commons, everybody wins!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Web2.0 for Musicians

This is a rather long post, so I plan on dividing it into two parts: 1) Studying Music, and 2) Music for Studying (sorta). I'll be highlighting 4 websites that fall under the "web2.0" moniker, how I use them as a professional musician and educator, and their pros/cons. So, with that, on to part 1!

1) Studying Music
I remember sitting in a "listening room" in the library with a pile of CDs, my textbook, anthology, and my personal class notes. While I haven't had a music history class for about 7 years now, I still listen daily, as I believe it's the most important thing a musician can do. Now, though, I'm using better tools for the task. is one of my new favorite sites. When I'm studying an artist, or style of music, is the first place I turn. You log in, do a quick search ("Yo-Yo Ma" for example), and it returns tracks and videos relating to him as an artist. You can also stumble through music of a specific genre, looking for new jazz music, for instance. keeps track of what you listen to on your iPod (via "scrobbling"), and will suggest similar music as well. is a relatively new site for me. It seems like a Twitter-like company, with a DJ spin on things. You can search for an artist or song, and "blip" it, allowing you to play it immediately (or later if you wish). While the faq is still pretty confusing to me, I can envision uses for (a music professor creating a timeline of pieces to listen to, for example, or members of a cover band sharing ideas to each-other for future covers. The possibilities are endless!

2) Music for Studying
There have been quite a few studies done on music and how it effects the brain, including The Mozart Effect, and my favorite current book, This is Your Brain on Music, by Dan Levitin. In addition to actually listening to "music", though, the advantages of "white noise" and even "binaural beats" have been lauded as ways to focus on your work, shutdown headaches, and cure insomnia, among others. Here are my two favorite sites for focusing on my work. is simple that. The site offers an online stream of white noise, pink noise, and red/brown noise. They refer to Wikipedia to explain the differences, and the effects/benefits of using white noise. Find the desired volume, using the slider, then get to work blogging, studying, filing, or whatever you need to focus on. I can vouch for simplynoise as I've gotten into meditation and reading; two things I could never focus on before because of background noise stealing my attention.

I Dose is probably the most interesting in part 2 of my post, but also the one with the most debate as to its effectiveness. I Dose offers streams of "binaural beats". Essentially, binaural beats are 2 different frequency pitches played simultaneously, but coming from separate sides (they are best listened to through headphones). Your brain takes the difference of the two frequencies (in Hertz), and creates a wave at that frequency (which can then alter your mental state). If you find yourself struggling with writer's block, for example, lie down, close your eyes, and listen to this one for 15-20 minutes and give writing another shot.

If you try any of these out (or have previously), let me know in the comments! Am I missing any other great web2.0 music sites?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Streaming Live Music

Whether you are a classical musician looking for places to perform, or a guitarist/songwriter trying to promote him/herself on your own, the internet is something you should be aware of AS A TOOL. You can use streaming as a way to broadcast your music anywhere in the world! It's something that takes some finesse to setup correctly, but with the right know-how, it's incredible valuable as a means of getting your music out there, giving you motivation to practice, and who knows!
About 3 years ago, I Skyped in to an Irish fiddler and played some of the jigs and reels I had been working on on my own. He gave me some incredible pointers about style, and taught me how to string playlists together. My fellow teachers were amazed at the technology, using my laptop (no webcam at that time), a small lapel mic, and the school's wifi, I was able to collaborate with a professional musician on the other side of the globe, over my lunch break, without leaving the building!
So, while some people believe that Second Life is a waste of time, and of no educational or learning value, I am getting the opportunity to perform live inworld for people I've met all over the world. They'll get to hear me live, without me leaving my small, studio apartment, using only computers and internet connections. Imagine the ability to perform live without all the performance anxiety, travel expenses, and moving of gear (always my favorite part).
If you're in SL, check out some live performances inworld! If you're in today, come to Misfits Underground at 3pm (slt)/6pm EST and hear not only me, but a fantastic vocalist, "PhoebeAnn Theas", followed by an open mic. It's taken me a long time to get into playing over the net, but thanks to my girlfriend, Cecily, I now have a venue, and a small set of live tunes worked up.