Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Video Games in Education

I plan on doing some research soon about the possibility of using video games in education.Video games, once criticized as a waste of time for kids, are becoming increasingly popular among teachers in such subject areas as physical education, social studies and history. *Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/02/20/CLASSROOM.TMP#ixzz0razlcl00
As I said in a previous entry, video games helped develop my spatial recognition of shapes and patterns, therefore I feel it catered to improving my mathematics achievement. There is the obvious lack of direct proof of this, but I feel I know the way my brain works well enough to make that presumption.
Mauricio Buchler had written to me on the subject stating:
I teach ESL, and I find that RPG-style games (from Zelda, and Fable to GTA) help learning, but they're really extra practice. I mean, the amount of English learning compared to the amount of carnage isn't really proportional, so I usually just encourage my students to play them at home.
Strategy games such as Sims, Civilization, Age of Empires, etc. are better for the classroom because I can hook the PS/Box up to the projector, and we can discuss the strategy as a group, and write about the outcomes, focusing on whatever grammar topic I'm teaching that week.
So, the strategy ones work well, but still, they aren't really about teaching school subjects. We just use them to decorate the process.
With that in mind, I developed a prototype of an RPG that teaches ESL specifically, which I talk about in my TEDx talk.
Skeptical of integrating video games into your classroom? Well, read my previous entry, give me some comments and let me know what you think of this topic. I hope to conduct some research, so those for or against this, please provide some links to whether or not you believe this is a substantial cause.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Wolfgang Ama-who cares?

I spent a good four years studying music, concentrating on music history and piano performance. Through it, I’ve listened to a lot of music from various composers and I need to make a statement to any pompous parent who is trying to get your child to listen to Mozart over (who’s the newest popular music start out there?). You’re going to find parts in parenthesis – they’re not actual figures, but little bits of information that are approximate enough to help you figure out when in time I’m talking about.

The term “Classical Music” is one of the most overused words in music. The actual classical era is from about 1750 (or about when J.S. Bach died) until 1800 (or right around the death of Mozart). I like to be a bit more accurate and say that the Classic era died in 1801 when Beethoven published his Op.31 n.2, Piano sonata in d minor, “The Tempest”.

As part of the classic era, Mozart composed within the style of the time and he did it exceptionally well. Three principle foundations of the classical style are form, clarity, and balance. His music was extremely structured and equally balanced from beginning to end. The clarity aspect is quite understood when you realize that a mistake in Mozart stands out like an orange cow.

Despite how exciting that description could sound (eyes rolling), music does begin to make a turning point after Beethoven goes in and says, “wtf, this isn’t music, this is notes on a paper.” and creates the romantic era.

Why are most Romantics forgotten when it comes to those “commonly known classical composers.” I’m talking about your Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, 3B’s of music people. THERE ARE NO ROMANTICS IN THERE! Yet, the most commonly recognized classical music is romantic. Why are we calling it classical?

I asked a few people at one point, “hum me a Mozart tune” – and 0/8 successfully hummed one – They might have hummed Beethoven instead. When I asked them to hum a Beethoven, I think only 1/8 didn’t. Everybody knows Fur Elise, Moonlight Sonata Mvt. 1, Mvt.1 of the Fifth, and the Ode to Joy. Top of my head: I can think of Night Music and the Rondo Alla Turca as popular Mozart tunes – though I know more, I honestly can’t recall the melodies, and dare I say, I’ve listened to more Mozart than Beethoven in my life.

Other classics that people don’t know who composed:

  • Funeral March in b flat minor – Frederic Chopin
  • Flight of the Bumblebee – Rimsky Korsakov
  • Prelude in e minor – Frederic Chopin
    • Yes, you know this. It was the piece that the woman played in the Notebook.
  • The Revolutionary Etude – Frederic Chopin
    • Once again, any gamer should know this. It’s called Kakumei in Dance Dance Revolution, was the background music in the final boss stage in King of Fighters XI and was in one of the Grand Theft Auto games.
    • Also, Andre Watts performed this (and performed it very well, actually) on Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.
  • Adagio Cantabile from the Pathetique – Beethoven
    • Again, Youtube this – Guaranteed you know it.
  • Hungarian Dance No. 5 – Brahms
  • Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 – Liszt
    • Tom and Jerry did a very VERY famous skit with this piece.
  • Rhapsody in Blue – Gershwin
  • Toccata and Fugue in d minor – J.S. Bach
  • Clair de Lune – Debussy
  • Carmina Burana – Carl Orff
  • The Entertainer and Maple Leaf Rag – Scott Joplin
  • Nocturne in E flat – Frederic Chopin
    • If you listen to Muse, their last album featured this as the conclusion to the song “The United States of Eurasia".

These are a huge selection of time eras. Note about all of them – none of them are from the classical eras. Chopin and Liszt were Romantic. Beethoven is considered classic, but he really wasn’t about clarity, balance, and form at all. He changed all of the forms. Brahms was post-romantic / neo-classic, late 19th century. Bach is Baroque. Korsakov was post-romantic part of the Russian Five or Mighty Handful. Debussy was Impressionist. Gershwin was classical/jazz fusion of the 20th century. Joplin was ragtime. Orff was 20th century, died shortly before I was born.

So yes, now I’m being a technical ass indeed. Anyway, my point is this. I have a 9-year old piano student who is currently working on two pieces: Fur Elise and and Prelude N.1 from WTC1 (The Well-Tempered Clavier, book 1) by J.S. Bach. I gave him some Mozart at one point (Two early minuets, K.2 and K.6 I think) and he hated them when I played them. He loved the Bach and the Beethoven, and asked me to make him a CD with all of the music.

So I’m going to ask – Wolfgang Ama-who cares? Honestly now… Who does care? I don’t. If you want a kid to appreciate classical music over Hannah Montana, you need to expose them to it. Find out what they like. This might take time, but I’ve found a classical piece or a jazz piece for everybody. Want some jazz classics? The Tiger Rag by Art Tatum, Greensleeves done by John Coltrane, just about anything by Bix Biderbeck or Miles Davis… the list goes on.

So I advocate this advice: You cannot show somebody something with one example. If you want to show somebody something, you need to show them many examples. Boys tend to like Beethoven and Brahms. Girls tend to like Debussy and Chopin. Aspiring  musicians tend to love Bach, Rachmaninoff and Scriabin.

Music: Who’s you?

Warning: This post will contain arrogance that you might seriously have objections to. Deal with it. With life comes opinions.

Recently (and not so recently) I’ve encountered a variety of people involved with various things in music: educators, musicians, lawyers, salesmen, producers, promoters, etc. Here’s my opinion on some.

Music salesmen. Now there are a few different types, but they’re generally applicable. When you see a young kid or an old, retired man or woman selling in a music store, that’s fine. For the kid, it might be their first job and for the older person it would be something to do. Now, there are two types of middle-aged people that sell music instruments – Your business owners and managers who are not much different than what’s found in any other business, and you have your reject musicians. The ones that cannot find work elsewhere. Don’t get me wrong, selling pianos can bring in some income, but honestly – is it a respectable career? I don’t think so, and lately, I’ve come across some very arrogant piano salesmen. I’m sorry that I can play better than you can hope to play. That’s not heavy on me. Not my fault you couldn’t make auditions and therefore is selling your favorite instrument. It’s not like you’re selling me cars or real estate.

Now, this isn’t to say that EVERY piano salesman is like this, as some could be professional musicians assisting their income. But don’t be pretentious about it. As a salesman, your primary job is to still SERVE your customer. To put it simpler, YOU’RE A SALESMAN, THEREFORE YOU’RE A SERVANT.

Musicians. I’ve found there are three types of musicians. There are those that will probably never make a career out of it, which is fine (like myself), but unlike the salesmen above, we have no animosity towards that. We play our instrument because it’s what we do and it’s how we cope with the world. Another type of musician is the type that will play with a band, ensemble, or by themselves to substantiate their income, covering Billboard Top 40s at bars and weddings. Last, there are the type that will attempt to make an income off of what they create, combining the two above. One of three things can happen from this – you revert back to being one of the two things above; you make it and become successful; you fail and become a music salesman because you can’t cope with your own mistakes.

Educators. Here’s the part that I’m going to get negative feedback from, as I don’t think most piano salesmen will ever read this. I’m finding that there is a HUGE segregation between music teachers, whether or not you believe it.

There are your generic K12 music teachers. Those that are great at sight-reading and organizing bands. The students that love these teachers are generally interested in playing their instrument, but more so involved with the activities they partake in. Some of the students make it to your Drum Corps and what have you, but most don’t and will never make a career from performance.

There are your innovative K12 music teachers that will attempt to integrate every cushion for your students to “relate” to your music, sometimes completely avoiding classical or jazz composition. Your students will like you, but when they figure out what type of music is actually appreciated in the world, they’ll hate music. Great job at making friends, poor job at music.

There are your K12 music teachers that are just amazing life-long learners and devoted teachers that will help students in every way that most other “core-subject” teachers will never be able to do (due not to the lack of caring, but the overwhelming amount of students they take under their wing). Notice: I didn’t mention they’re necessarily very good at music.

Then there are your K12 teachers that are amazing musicians, but terrible teachers. They probably took music education to have a “stable” career in music, as gigs don’t necessarily come as frequently as a paycheck.

Then there are, of course, your overall great teachers found in every field. Music is no exception to this: Great at teaching, great at mentoring, and great musicians.

Now for higher education – the rules and expectations are QUITE different here, especially depending on the TYPE of department.

In a performance degree, I want teachers to be excellent musicians that I can learn through modeling. As a performance major it is MY RESPONSIBILITY to practice and heed the advice of my professors. Not for them to spoon-feed it to me. They cannot give me talent, I need to earn it. Quite honestly, I didn’t care how good my teacher “taught” me the subject. I wanted to learn it. They gave me the information, I studied it my way. I don’t go to these professors for life advice. I go to them when I don’t know how to cope with an odd pain in my wrist or forearm.

Then you have those professors that know the material, maybe not as fluently but have a background in education. They can help you learn the material if you cannot do it on your own. The department doesn’t need to be flooded with these people – much like my alma matter is.

Now for a music education department, your professors should be modeling examples of being good music teachers. Proficient in music AND education. Why do I know so many music teachers that can’t make a note sound like anything other than a note? In fact, most music teachers I know can’t make a note sound like anything but a note. I suppose that’s just an elitist rant, but I do believe that music isn’t something everybody can do. Music is not about going to marching band festivals and partying. That’s what playing notes is about.

I want to make my point clear. Not everybody is a musician. Not everybody can be a musician. While, I believe everybody can learn the technique and how to read music, I don’t believe everybody is a musician. There’s a difference between a musician and somebody who can play an instrument or sing. There is no logical or clear definition to describe the difference. I can just tell you that the proof is in what you hear. If you can’t tell the difference, then you’re probably not a musician. K12 should have teachers who understand music. College should have musicians who understand how to teach. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be a great musician teaching K12 or an outstanding music educator in college. The world isn’t black and white. There’s a lot of grey out there, especially in education.