Self-Directed Music?

Does your child love music? Probably. But how can there be a self-directed music class? This is a question I’ve asked myself since joining the Village School. My college degree is in music education, but I don’t think a single class of my Bachelor’s degree talked about how a learner-led music classroom could function.

Let’s take a look at traditional modes of music education: band, choir, orchestra, and general music classes. All of these have either a conductor/director or a music teacher who leads the class. The musicians follow directions and sing or play their instruments in accordance with prescribed methods. While there can be moments of self-direction, as a whole, the model is very teacher-centric.

So far, my approach to teaching music at the Village School has been one of experimentation. I’ve never seen a learner-led music class. I’ve done lots of research, and only one book even exists on the topic, written in the past three years, and originally in Finnish (luckily I found an English translation). So what have the learners done?

Spark learners during freeze dance!

The Spark studio learners have music twice a week, and we have a few main activities. One of the learners’ favorite activities is “Draw What You Hear.” I’ll play a piece of music that’s around 5 minutes long, and the learners have a blank piece of paper and crayons. Their only direction is to draw what they hear. They’ve drawn along to a Copland ballet, to Latin jazz, and to a Trinidadian steelband. Oftentimes, the learners get to explore with instruments as well. They’ve written songs together and played lots of games with their drums, castanets, shakers, xylophones, and a myriad of other instruments. We always end with freeze dance, where the learners get to dance however they want to a song, but they have to freeze whenever the music stops! Our first session was all music from North America, and this session, all of our music is from Asia. Each session, the music will all be from a new continent!

Discovery and Adventure studios have music together on Fridays. This is where I’ve been most hands off. Their goal in session one was to write a song. I provided a few online resources that they could use if they wanted, and wrote a very general framework for how most songs are written. With that, some formed groups, others went at it alone, and across three or four music classes, I got to watch people experiment at the piano, create beats online, bring in instruments from home and form bands, and write some exquisite lyrics, all without my help or direction.

Adventure learners dressing up and bringing in instruments

At the Village School, we want to do music differently. We want learners to explore and discover their musical interests and to harness their creative power. So far, I’ve seen lots of creative power, lots of discovery, and lots of exploration. As the year goes on, who knows what they’ll come up with?

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