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Jasmine Faulkner and ‘Tech’ as an Instrument

Mary Claxton • Modern Band • October 3, 2019

Jasmine Faulkner will be quick to tell you that she was no expert on audio equipment going in to her job as a K-12 music teacher in Fort Collins, Colorado.

“People assume that I had some background, but I had to learn it all as I went,” she says. Considering that now, years later, Faulkner now has a program of students who trade off engineering sound for on-stage monitor mixes as well as the front-of-house sound, it is easy to see why people would jump to that conclusion.

When Faulkner expanded her modern band program from guitars to a full-band orchestration with keyboards, ukuleles, bass, drum set (and the occasional horn player, harpist or marimbist), she immediately recognized the need to train students in sound engineering. “I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up with it all at the same time I was teaching,” she says. She started small with second-hand audio finds off of Craiglist and community donations – a few speakers and a mixing board. She also reached out to some local venues to find sound engineers who would be willing to show her and her students the ropes. “We just learned all together,” she says, and that trend has continued! Jasmine now integrates sound engineering in to her K-12 curriculum, starting with little steps.

“I label everything,” she explains. Students can see what everything in the room is, how it works together, and what the order is to get it all running. The vocal microphones each have their own colored XLR cable that connects to the board in ROYGBIV order, and the cables connecting the instruments each are labeled at each end with a tag of tape. She now has a digital mixing board that is also color-coded and labeled to match this set-up.

Faulkner has acquired this new equipment slowly over the years, mostly through grant writing and fundraising – for example, she and her students set up and run sound, lights and music for dances, and they also perform for community events in exchange for donations. She frequently consulted with various music industry professionals to find equipment that would give students a real-world experience without being so nice that she would be afraid to let her younger or more beginner students use it.

It is important, Faulkner asserts, that everybody is empowered to try out the equipment at the appropriate level. For kindergarteners, they get to turn the mixing board on and off where they see the big number 1 sticker. Soon afterwards, they learn how to mute and un-mute microphones and adjust the volume up and down. The sound engineer for one of her elementary theater productions was in second grade. Their job? Make sure microphones go on and off at the correct times, and that everybody can be heard!

In secondary, students take true control of the process. They quiet down the room at the beginning of rehearsal to run a linecheck and make sure all of the microphones are working properly. In the early stages of the program, this was just vocal microphones. Then acoustic-electric instruments were added, and finally microphones were run off of amplifiers. This last step is not done every day, but is added in as they get closer to a performance.

“Tech” is treated like another instrument in the classroom. Many students rotate through the tech chair on one or more songs, though occasionally a student will opt to do tech alone. These tend to be students who would not otherwise be drawn to the music classroom, according to Faulkner. At times, demand has been high enough to have an after-school tech club which can delve deeper into techniques for live sound, recording and music production. Sometimes, volunteers or paid local experts are brought in, and other times students experiment on their own, using YouTube and other resources.

All of this, Faulkner says, is to give her music students the most authentic, professional experience possible. “It became clear in my conversations with sound engineers that how musicians communicate with them on and off stage has a big impact on whether or not they get hired again at that venue,” she says.

This intersection of technology skills, communication, job-preparedness and student empowerment makes a journey into audio engineering a worthwhile one for any modern band classroom. Like Jasmine, we can learn from our local (or online) experts along with our students, step by step!

Jasmine Faulkner is a K-12 music teacher in Fort Collins, Colorado, who will be presenting on modern band at the NAfME National Conference in Orlando. Mary Claxton is the Colorado Director of Programs for Little Kids Rock.

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