Tag Archives: Teaching

Wiki Wiki Waaa?

So, I’m in a quandary.

For the past 6 years, I’ve used this book as the textbook for my Intro to Music Tech. It’s over 10 years old, which is an eternity in music technology, but nobody has really written anything that’s as clear and usable since.

loudspeakersThis morning, I stumbled across the Wikipedia article on loudspeakers. It’s … fantastic. Clear, concise, well organized, contains everything it should. It is, in fact, much better than the chapter on speakers from the textbook I’ve been using. That led me to the entries on microphones, MIDI, digital recording. Some are great, others are written by engineers using inscrutable symbols and mostly made up vocabulary.

But even the one’s that aren’t great are still pretty good. Which really has me considering why I make my students buy a $25 book every semester.

So, I’m considering a switch for the fall. Instead of having a required textbook, I think I might just have a page of assigned links instead, some from Wikipedia, some from other sites that cover the material well. The content is there, I think I can organize it in a way that has some continuity and logical progression. Maybe I’ll put together a few pages of my own on my academic site to cover the gaps.

Anybody think that’s an awful idea? Phil?

APU School of Music, 1999 vs 2009

Today was a mid-year faculty retreat for the APU School of Music. A major part of the retreat was developing concrete goals for the next 5 years, how we wanted to see our program grow and change as we move forward. To prepare us for that, we looked at a similar list of goals that was set by the faculty in Spring of 2000, and how those goals had been met. The goals for 2000 were based on data from the 1999 school year, which gave us a great perspective on how the School of Music has changed in these last 10 years.

Here are some of the highlights:

  1. In 1999, we had 142 undergraduates, and 7 graduate students. In 2009, we have 250 undergraduates, 70 graduates, and 15 artist certificate students.
  2. In 1999, we had 43 total faculty, 16 full-time, 19 adjunct, and 8 private professionals (those are professional musicians who run on-campus teaching studios). In 2009, we have 96 total faculty, 27 full-time, 39 adjunct, and 20 private professionals.
  3. In 1999, four full-time faculty had terminal degrees (PhD or similar). In 2009, 14 full-time faculty have terminal degrees, and 5 are in process.
  4. In 1999, the MIDI lab was crammed into an unused storeroom under the back staircase. In 2009, we have a 12-seat teaching lab, with fully integrated media (projection, speakers, screen sharing, Logic, Sibelius, Finale, Pro Tools, etc.)
  5. In 1999, we had 4 choirs: UCO, Bel Canto, Male Choral, and Oratorio. In 2009, we’ve added to that a Gospel Choir, Chamber Singers, and Vocal Jazz ensembles.
  6. In 1999, we did not have a Symphony Orchestra (we had a chamber orchestra that hired outside professionals to cover vacant instruments). In 2009, we have a thriving Symphony Orchestra that recently gave the North American debut of a symphony by Esa-Pekka Salonen. Yup, we did it before the LA Phil did it.
  7. In 1999, we had one jazz band that was not fully instrumented. In 2009, we have 2 jazz bands with full instrumentation, and multiple jazz lab ensembles teaching improvisation.
  8. In 1999, we had no ongoing service activity for our local community. In 2009, the Azusa Conservatory offers free and subsidized lessons to 60 local children, taught by APU students. I think this is one of the most outstanding things we do. A few years ago, I heard a 9-year-old boy whose single-mother speaks only Spanish, who goes to an elementary school that is failing on every level, and he played excerpts from a Bach violin concerto. This boy’s life had been fundamentally altered by the conservatory program. It brought tears to my eyes.
  9. In 1999, we only offered a Bachelor of Arts degree. In 2009, we offer a Bachelor of Music degree in Performance, and in the next year we’ll be adding them in Church Music and Commercial Music (the BA is a liberal arts degree, the BMus is a professional degree with a higher concentration of courses in music, and more credibility in the professional world).
  10. In 1999, we offered nothing for commercial music. In 2009, we have 75 students studying in the Commercial Music degree program, making it the fastest growing degree in our school.
  11. In 1999, we were not sending ensembles internationally to perform and record. The last time a large ensemble had toured outside of North America was 1992. In 2009, we’ve sent every ensemble on an international tour in the past 7 years, including tours to Armenia, Romania, Germany, Thailand, Australia, Korea, and Italy.
  12. In 1999, we offered no senior thesis course. In 2009, we have a dedicated Senior Seminar in Music Ethics.
  13. In 1999, we offered no artist certificate program. In 2009, we have 15 students in that program, where they study technique and literature in their instrument intensively and exclusively for a year. Students studying piano and strings in this program place and win at international competitions regularly.
  14. In 1999, we offered no graduate scholarships. In 2009, we award almost a quarter of a million dollars a year in graduate scholarships.
  15. In 1999, we didn’t offered a graduate degree in composition. In 2009, we have our first class of students working toward a Master of Music in Composition.
  16. In 1999, our program was accredited only as part of our university, not independently. In 2009, we have full accreditation through the National Association of Schools of Music. In a very rare move for the NASM, they bypassed the normal provisional membership stage, and inducted us as full members at our first application.
  17. In 1999, we offered no international study for music students. In 2009, we just welcomed back our first group of students from Heidelberg, Germany, where they studied for a semester. We are one of the only Schools of Music in North America to offer this kind of opportunity, where students go internationally for a semester in a program designed specifically for music, study with local instructors, perform in local ensembles, and learn about the history and culture of the place from resident scholars. We heard the report back from those students this morning, and they uniformly agreed that it was a life-changing experience.

I hope that I never take for granted the blessing I’ve been given, to teach at a place like this. It’s wonderful to look at this list, and to think, “I was part of this, I got to help build this into what it has become.” I can look at this list and see specific things that I had a hand in. It’s humbling to think that I have a part in this, and more than a little overwhelming to realize the awesome responsibility that comes from shaping the future of the program.

God is at work in our little corner of the world. Today was a great reminder of that.

100, 101, 101, 100, 99, 98, 99, 100

Well, the results are in. I’m never going back to the old way of teaching.

I’ve just finished grading Intro to Music Tech mid-term exams from the inaugural class of the new “Joy First, Theory Second” teaching method. The results were … staggering.

First, a little orientation. In this exam, the students walk into the room, I hand them a piece of music that looks like this:

They have 60 minutes to reproduce everything on the page, exactly as it appears, using Logic Pro notation software. Any of you who have tried to get Logic to spit out a basic worship chart can appreciate just how difficult some of the things on this page are. After 60 minutes, they email me a PDF file of their work.

In previous semesters, the average grade on this exam is about a 76%. This semester, the average grade was a 95%. I had one entire section (the best section, you guys know who you are) that averaged 100% – AVERAGED!! The lowest grade in the class was like a 94, and everyone else nailed it, including the extra credit.

Alex Wen, my impossibly awesome TA, deserves a huge chunk of the credit. He grades most of the projects leading up to the exam, and his corrections are very pointed, and help the students figure out how to correct their errors.

We also made a pretty substantial shift in the level of training for the lab techs, and made them more readily accountible and accessible in the lab, to help students with their projects.

Finally, this is a pretty unique group of students coming through the class. They are almost all freshmen, and they are very much on the ball. The next few years in the School of Music are going to be fun, if this crew is any indication.

When you add all of those factors up, whatever remainder there is between that and the outstanding test scores, I’m chalking up to the shift in teaching method. I love how effective it is in getting students deep into the content, and meeting them with instruction at their point of interest.

Next semester, I’m going to find a way to adapt this philosophy to my other courses, and better integrate it into the second half of my Intro to Music Tech course. I’m hopeful.

Joy first, theory second.


Stanford has taken their school of Engineering to the world. They join MIT, and a host of other universities in giving away their content for free.

Of everything that the internet has brought us, I’m the most thrilled with this revolutionary new mindset, that knowledge is the province of all of humanity, not a scarce resources to be hoarded and doled out in strict hierarchies of authority.

I’m excited for what this means for the role of the teacher in the coming generation. In addition to being experts in our field, we will need to become more adept curators of knowledge, organizing and presenting it in a compelling way. We also need to become more adept at modifying and evolving our teaching in improvisatory way, as student curiosity and awareness changes. The experience of being in the room should be different, based on who is in the room.

My authority to teach no longer comes from my ability to take money and dispense knowledge – anything I can teach my students, they have ready access to for free online. My authority to teach (if I have any!) comes from my ability to create a compelling environment in which to learn, and to bring to my students attention new ideas in a way that meets their development in a timely manner.

I’m often puzzled by profs here at APU who don’t record lectures, don’t publish their notes, don’t push content out in ways that students can access on demand. They are trapped in a protectionist mindset, concerned that if they give away their content, they will make themselves obsolete. Students won’t attend classes if they can get the content off-line.

If the only reason my students attend my class is because I am holding information hostage, I’m violating one of my fundamental obligations as a teacher. If I can’t give them some other compelling reason to be present in that room, then why shouldn’t I be replaced by a bikini-clad supermodel reading straight from wikipedia?

Mr. Stick Goes To University

So, our very own Mr. Stick has accepted a teaching gig. Once a week, he trucks down from his mountain retreat to mold the young minds of the flailing music students at William Jessup University. Apparently, they’re so desperate for teachers that they overlooked his obvious character flaws and total lack of competence, and let him loose on the topic of “Audio Recording.” Pfffft. Like Stick has any experience to bring to that class. He’ll probably just lecture straight from the book, with no practical application at all. Probably.

So, anyway, congratulations Stick. I believe classes start this week. I thought we could use this post to give the new professor some really, really bad advice to get him started off right! I’ll start:

Most students mistake weird for smart. If you can’t inspire through overwhelming mastery of the subject, inspire through eccentricity. The end result is the same. Mostly.

Best of luck, Stick. Advise on, my fearless roadsters.

Seasonal Affective Reordering

I love these kids.

These bright eyed recruits, fresh to the craft, newly minted and unpolished, these old and young all-at-once, these boundless excesses of energy, not yet stunted by perspective.

They are as unafraid of questions as any group I’ve ever seen, setting their frame-of-reference up against everything new and ready to see it changed and stretched and grown. They are wolves, and every new thing is their prey. Knowledge, experience, fear, wonder, they hunt it down with precision and abandon.

I sit down to eat with one of them, and hear confession. They are uncertain, and afraid, but they are undaunted. They are ill-at-ease with their received faith, with simplicity and steps and a church reduced to social gatherings, and are looking for some way of meshing old truths with the complexity of the world as they are coming into it. This is the very meaning of courage, to me, to lay aside old comforts in order to take up greater things.

UCO rehearsal campIn these days before the start of classes, there is the luxury of unhurried time, and a kind of egalitarianism. I am not yet their Professor, they are not yet at the mercy of my gradebook, and we can talk freely. We can be friends, for a few days more, and we can talk about ideas and their consequences. I think sometimes that I get to do my best teaching in these last few days of summer, when the campus is full of eager students, and my time is unbounded by lectures and grading.

I love this place, and these kids, and my place here with them.

Student Projects (or, Why I Love Teaching)

So, today is the end of the Spring semester at APU, and I’m in the midst of grading final projects for my students. Today is one of those days where I realize that I could do this for the rest of my life.

I teach Music Technology, which is ostensibly about teaching students how to be mini-geeks, but in reality, it’s a clever ruse for me to get to teach them about composition, orchestration, physics, philosophy, production, collaboration, asthetics, and how to use their brain in sticky ways.

Here’s why I love today. I get to see how they take everything I’ve taught them, and put it all together in one project. They write original music (or do take-downs of existing pop songs), and create full demos of them, with audio tracking, editing, mixdown, the whole deal. I was blown away by the maturity that these 19-year-old students are already showing in their creative work, and so, like a proud teacher, I’m going to brag on them a bit.

You should head on over to this post on my course site, and listen to the Hall of Fame, the best projects from each class as voted on by the students. Remember that, for most of them, the first time they touched Logic Pro was 4 months ago.

I think they would be thrilled if some of you wanted to stop by and listen, and maybe leave some feedback in the comments section.

Why You’re Not My Favorite Student

Yes, I do have favorites, and no, you’re not one of them. This is why:

1) You ask bad questions. You ask questions designed to make you look smart, not to advance your understanding. You ask questions that have nothing to do with the subject at hand, simply to let other students know that you’ve already mastered these petty concepts, and are ready for something more challenging. You use big words that you learned just this morning, because you think it projects intelligence. It doesn’t. It makes you look like a pretentious jack-ass. I’m not smiling because I think you’re smart; I’m smiling because you just used that word wrong.

2) You are lazy. You ask me things that you could find by reading the syllabus. You turn in assignments with spelling errors. You leave out those segments of the project that are designed to make my life easier. You do this because you survey the world with lazy arrogance, and assume that the 3 minutes it would take you to format the project correctly are more valuable than the extra hour it takes me to grade 60 projects that ignore the formatting. You email me to ask for special treatment to accommodate your uniquely difficult circumstances, which look amazingly similar to the difficult circumstances of every other first year student at a University.

3) Your knowledge is bounded by your bigotry. I get it. You’re indie. You hate everything that reeks of formalism and conformity. You like bands with names like “The Decemberists” and “A3”, but you will immediately stop liking them as soon as you hear that I know they exist. Every time I give you an assignment like writing 4 part choral harmony, or programming a funk drum part, you have to protect your indie cred by informing the entire class that this type of music sucks, and that you don’t need to learn how to do this, because your own unique artistic voice will always only consist of poorly played guitar riffs layered 50 times and washed out in reverb. Two things: first, the fact that you think Coltrane sucks does not, in fact, make Coltrane suck. It makes you a narcissist with a myopic range of cultural influences, which is basically the exact opposite of people I like. The second thing is this. Your parents are spending $30,000 a year to send you to this school, where you chose to study music in a formalized setting, from people who make their living in this industry, and where a significant portion of your education will come from imitating the artistic masters who came before you. I don’t know what indie cred is, but I’m pretty sure that you lost all of it when you chose this path. Wanna be indie? Drop out, move to Silverlake, rent a room from a cross-dressing coffee shop owner, work at an organic grocery co-op in NoHo for minimum wage, and practice your instrument 9 hours a day. If you want to be the thing, be the thing, don’t just wear the clothes.

4) You only care about your grade in the last two weeks of the class. Here’s the thing. If you don’t care about grades, and just want to drift in and out of class to absorb the knowledge when it suits your whim, I can respect that. I honestly don’t mind it. But if that’s your mode, don’t come to me two weeks before the final and ask what you can do to raise your grade up from an “F” to a “B”, so that you won’t lose your scholarship. The answer is nothing. There’s nothing you can do. I’m not going to grade 15 projects that you turn in on the last day of the semester for late credit, and there aren’t enough points in the final to move your grade that much. I do sometimes allow students extra-credit assignments, but I reserve it for students who have worked their asses off all semester long, and need 1 or 2 percentage points to bump up to the next grade. I like students like that. I don’t like students like you. If getting an “F” in my class means you lose your scholarship, there’s a damn good chance that you shouldn’t be here on scholarship.

5) You assume that your approval is important to me. It isn’t. I don’t need your approval, or encouragement, I don’t need to be hip in your eyes, I don’t live or die by how you rank me on www.ratemyprofessor.com. I couldn’t care less what you think of me: I have friends for that. When your response to my policies, assignments, teaching method, whatever, is “that’s so uncool”, I silently laugh inside at the idea that you think I might care. I’m 30. I teach at a University. I’m a dad. I listen to Jazz. I’ve played keyboards on songs for Radio Disney. I’m the opposite of cool. And guess what? I’m at peace with it. My job isn’t to make you like me. In fact, sometimes my job goes better when you don’t like me. Sometimes, there are students who get that, and they respect it, and we end up being friends after they graduate. I think that’s cool.

Please, be assured that none of this will affect how I teach you. I’m quite adept at swallowing my own bile and doing unpleasant tasks. I also realize that sometimes, my least favorite students end up maturing nicely, and actually become decent human beings. Here’s to hope.

Until then, please stop IM’ing me at 2:30 in the morning to ask when the next project is due. It’s due tomorrow. And no, you can’t turn it in late.