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Beyond the Repertoire: A Well-Rounded Performance Program

Jean Mcken • • July 13, 2016

Two Minnesota middle schools are adding 21st century learning tools to round out their performance- based music programs.

As band directors, we all want the best for our students and our programs. But how do we engage our students and create a more well-rounded, standards-based performance program in our schools? How will it impact our performances, if we divert some focus away from learning repertoire and rehearsing – when we’re already stretched for time?

This is the age old challenge, which I can certainly relate to, having been a band director myself for many years. The good news is; it doesn’t need to feel like a trade-off any more. We can “have our cake and eat it too” and like cake – many kids will enjoy it!

Two trailblazing schools – Twin Oaks and Hidden Oaks Middle Schools of the Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools, located in Minnesota – and their band directors have already taken a step in this direction. An important component for them has been the use of digital learning which their district embraces as a key philosophy, evidenced by a post on their website: At Prior Lake – Savage Area Schools we believe technology is a tool that can be used to improve learning, instruction, communication and student achievement. Our goal is to utilize technology to increase engagement and opportunities to learn anytime, anywhere.

In the case of Twin Oaks and Hidden Oaks, they implement Breezin’ Thru Theory and Breezin’ Thru Composing into their program. The program is designed to meet national standards (in terms of performing, responding & creating) and uniquely links theory with composing – so students not only learn important music fundamentals in a fun way, they can apply what they’ve learned to create music while using the program. The technology is accessible online – anytime, from anywhere – and designed to engage students while saving teachers’ time.

Since these particular schools have access to a computer media lab and Chromebook carts, they utilize them to integrate Breezin’ Thru into their performance programs.

How They Integrated Things

The three band directors Brian Melody, Dagan Hanson and Kristin Knoble-Swanson work closely together. They meet weekly as a team to discuss teaching strategies, look at student data, and align the middle school band program in all facets.

For Breezin’ Thru Theory, this is how they implement the program: each quarter, they schedule classes every two-to-three weeks to use the computer lab or Chromebook cart. Utilizing one PowerPoint slide for the initial session, the students are shown how to log in and get started. Students are required to achieve 100 percent on a “Mad Dash Drill,” before moving on to the next level, which is monitored in both the student and teacher dashboards – saving marking time too!

“With Breezin’ Thru Theory we’ve been so impressed at the differentiated instruction and the ease that students are learning music theory,” said Melody, the director of bands at Twin Oaks Middle School, “every student seems happy and engaged in their own learning. I have also seen very tangible results in the performance settings. When I talk about rhythm-counting or note-names, my students seem very connected to what I’m talking about after having gone through the software activities and games in Breezin’ Thru Theory. The student engagement and results are astounding!”

Brian feels that using the program makes their rehearsals more efficient and in turn they maintain their performance schedule of concerts and parade marches. He also finds that through regular use their playing improves while at the same time they are meeting their district music standards.

Brian MelodyFor Breezin’ Thru Composing, the teachers implement this component during the final few weeks of the school year, so that it won’t interfere with performances at all. Students have the option to compose at school or home, but the vast majority work on projects during school hours. “We’ve been using these programs for two years now and have really broadened our knowledge base for students as well as helping them to engage more authentically with music composition,” states Hanson, director of bands at Hidden Oaks Middle School, “In this new millennia, students have come to expect programs to not only meet them individually, but also to meet them at their level. Breezin’ Thru Theory and Breezin’ Thru Composing accomplish this aim more thoroughly than any other program I have used with my students.” Some students are so motivated by learning the fundamentals of composing that they continue to compose after the assignments are completed. Some choose to complete additional chapters in Breezin’ Thru Composing and others apply their knowledge, composing on their own.

Access

These particular middle schools are fortunate enough to have access to computer labs, but this is not entirely necessary in order to make use of the Breezin’ Thru programs. As of the upcoming 2016 – 2017 school year, the two programs are being made available for use on even more devices including; smartphones, iPads, and tablets with the new “Next Gen” edition for students in grades four to twelve.

Outcome

This is fantastic news not only for students and parents, but for teachers and administrators as well. Melody illustrates this point eloquently by elaborating on the impact that Breezin’ Thru products have had on his program, “We are coming much closer to reaching a well-rounded, standards-based music education in the performance-based classroom by adding these components.”

Like cake, repertoire rehearsals and music theory lessons need to be combined in precise proportions to create the best of possible outcomes. Breezin’ Thru Theory and Breezin’ Thru Composing are providing some exciting new ingredients to this mix.

 

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