Teaching Orchestra and Band in a Digital Space: Day 13

Live sound in a virtual space:

Now that things are settling into what seem more and more a regular routine, I started to ask some fundamental questions about the user experience within my virtual platform. 

  • How is the sound of my voice received by my students? 
  • When I speak or demonstrate on my instruments, what exactly are my students hearing through their speakers, earbuds or headphones?

After recording myself using the USB microphone mentioned in a previous post, I figured out the mic I am currently using works better for speaking into and not prolonged playing into through my digital classroom. For recordings a Soundtrap track or a live performance situation in Microsoft Teams, an audio interface with another microphone really works better for the those circumstances. 

In my case, plugging in a Scarlett 2i2 and using an MXL 770 condenser mic worked wonders for controlling the sound I wanted my students to hear, as I demonstrate in virtual classrooms. However, when ever I need to speak, the USB-mic works much better for me. Switching back and forth was just a toggle of a button in Teams and each situation felt better to my ears.

It’s been three weeks of teaching band and orchestra in a digital space, and I still working out the kinks. 

Teaching Orchestra and Band in a Digital Space: Day 6

Project based vs. and Performance based curriculum:

Over the years I’ve gone back and forth between teaching a project based curriculum versus a performance based curriculum. At least for me, taking a deep dive in performance meant having students work on a challenging pieces of music and pulling curriculum from the practical application and the process of learning music for a performance. By contrast, when I’ve set a term or unit as project based learning, I give students a larger concept and have them create based on the theme. For these projects, I tell student “the answer is yes (for what every they want to propose doing), but do you have enough time to do and do it well?”.

With both options I tend to think backwards from a presentation to the introduction. The question “What would it look like if…?”, pops up often when I do this kind of thinking. It’s part of my process for teaching music in the school I am currently teaching.

Since we are in this moment working in virtual spaces, it’s only fitting to have students operate and be creative artist in these spaces as well. But with the uncertainty to an end for our remote learning environment, it seems fitting to combine the project and the performance based curriculum to test the limits of both within these spaces.  

Currently I am toying with the idea of having students do both, by taking them step by step through a design cycle in which they learn to use digital tools (DAW), that serve our performance needs as an ensemble. This seems like the only choice if students are to continue to be performers on their instruments. Especially in the event we get to meet in person back in our rehearsal space and have a few week to put together a performance. I’m certain it seems unreasonable, but that’s where I’m at as a music teacher whose class is based around a public performance and presentation. 

In making this decision for my classes, I have moved into a space where I need to bring several elements of music education together sooner that usual for me. For example, their performance assessments will be tied to theory assignments. The assessments will need to be recored and submitted online. In the past I would have student do all this work in person and do it all one step at a time. When I do it this way, it seems that piecing those elements together, berfore a performance (about 3 or 4 weeks), is a good way for the bulk of my students to gain a deeper understanding for both process and product. For many of my students that is usually the “aha moment”. The point where all those random exercises and assignment line up in their minds, and, it seemed as if it was logically constructed all along to the process of making music.

Perhaps this is my “aha moment”, as we continue working in this unprecedented time and space.

Teaching Orchestra and Band in a Digital Space: Day 5

Breakthrough Day:

Today was full of meetings (non-instructional time) and grading assignments. However, my last class of the day offered signs of encouragement. I met with the beginning band students and we started working with their instruments in an interactive space provided by the company which publishes the text books my students use. The sign up process took a bit of time, but eventually most of my students got on to the system and were using it successfully.

The class met with me in a general channel for a group activity around posture and the importance of breathing for performance with wind instruments. After completing a short assignment, students were given instructions in our class channel to sign up for the interactive space from their text book. Upon getting most of the students signed up successfully, they then transitioned into their perspective virtual practice rooms. The assignment within this virtual room was to practice, and optionally, record and upload their individual performance of the exercises.

Some students did manage to record their practice sessions. However, the heartwarming part was when I entered one of the virtual practice rooms to find a student sharing their screen and leading the rest of the group through the exercises. This experienced player demonstrated leadership beyond my instruction, and made me proud of all of my students as we adapt to this new normal.

In the words of the notable thought entrepreneur, Today was a good day.” – Ice Cube

Teaching Orchestra and Band in a Digital Space: Day 1

It’s hard to imagine how someone could remotely teach an interactive music class like an orchestra or band, but given the current situation, with Seattle being the epicenter of the Coronavirus, this is now my new reality as an instrumental music instructor. This week starts our three-week (or until further notice) experience teaching and learning in a digital space. The concept of remote teaching isn’t new;  in fact, in music, students and instructors have been connecting digitally for decades and in real time. However, with less than a week’s notice, I had to think about, and then quickly become, a virtual orchestra and band instructor.

Fortunately, today marks the start of a new term and all that comes with starting over. Somethings are familiar, like the online portals for assignments and grades. Attendance is taken and I still have to manage the class the same way I would as if I were physically in the same room with students. I’m finding out that by already having set the expectations at the beginning of the year in my physical classroom, students are naturally carrying these over into the digital learning space.

Although there was a lot of prep to get this virtual teaching endeavor going, I think picking out the right tools and setting up both my physical space and digital environment will pay off. In the weeks to come I’ll try my best to document what tools worked for me and what tweaks I end up making along the way.

Day 1 down…more to come.

NBA Playoffs and Trumpet

Once again, I find myself multitasking during the NBA playoffs and somehow settle on a practice routine while watching games. This year it’s been four books, the Max Schlossberg Daily Drills and Clarke Technical Studies, Charles Colin Advanced Lip Flexibilities and finally any variation of flow studies.

The first quarter involves mouthpiece buzzing of Schlossberg Long Tone exercises 1-3, then played on the trumpet. Numbers 8 and 9 on mouthpiece then on the trumpet and eventually numbers 31 and 32. All of these exercises played with a metronome running at 72 beats per minute.

The second quarter is when players off the bench start to contribute, this is Clarke Studies time. I like to either pick a key and play as many exercises in that key as possible, or I pick one of the studies and work through those exercises and end with the Etudes.

Half time is snack time and rest time.

The third quarter is for Lip Flexibilities. I’m a fan of Vol. 3 for this part of the game. Play and rest are key, these exercises can be taxing.

For the 4th quarter, flow studies like the Snedecor Lyrical Studies or Concone Lyrical Studies. 

The Composition Game

I was recently asked to participate in a pilot program connecting me with an artist of the same discipline to work with me and coach me achieve an important next step in my career. My peer mentor and I talked about using music composition as a way of stretching out to meet some artistic goals. The other goal was to get me to work around my writer’s block.

The game was to set aside an hour every day for the month of July to compose and explore ideas. There is no restriction about what I need to write, nor barriers to whom I was writing music for. The only stipulation was to set aside time to write music. By the end of the month, I would share with my coach about my process and some of the work created.

There was no stipulation that I would share any of this work publically, but I guess I need to put something out into the world. In any case here is one of the drafts I came up with. (forgive the MIDI sounds) This piece could still be orchestrated for any number of ensembles.

All of the pieces I started during this game used a 12 tone matrix. I gave myself this obstacle as a structure to help foster ideas.

 

Trumpet and Basketball

Sometimes multitasking can go to far. For me lately, my practice habits have been lead by the NBA playoffs. I settle in to watch a game but feeling guilty about not practicing my trumpet. So I decided to create a practice routine around the game.

I tend to think of this kind of practice as maintenance. More like stretching or breaking a sweat, and not a full blown workout on the horn. This should be be done with exercises you are familiar with, not exercises which are new to you.

The routine is centered around Herbert L. Clarke’s Technical Studies. I keep the volume low on my T.V. and practice with a practice mute sometimes. Some of the game go late into the evening.

I practice the first study in the first quarter of the game, then play Etude 1 during the coaches interview between the 1st and 2nd quarter. Then do the same with the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th studies and quarters.

I have used other books as well. That said these other books are related to the Clarke Studies, like the Vizzutti’s Trumpet Methods or Robert Nagel’s Speed Studies.
 

Talking

This time of year has traditionally been a time of reflection on the year which had just passed. Sometimes I even look through some old journals just to see what I was on my mind previous years. Recently I had opportunity to participate, prepared and give a TEDx talk. The process of putting it all together offered a level of self-reflection which I was not really ready for. However by the end of this undertaking I felt the message in the talk represented some of my journey as an artist. The self-doubt, the persistence, the tension, and the development.

In the end, I would not have done this with out the help and encouragement of the TEDx coaches, my wife, my family, the other TEDx participants and ultimately the my friends.

Quick Warm Up

Having a quick warm-up at my disposal has been a very useful to me. Somedays I have 40 minutes to get my face ready for a day of playing. Unfortunately too often I get only 10-15 minutes to play in the morning. And that’s it!no-time-480-300x300

So when my private student informed me that they didn’t have much time to get in a good warm-up, I decided to help them and me with that problem. Here’s what I came up with…perhaps it might be useful to others.

Castro Quick Warm Up

Waiting Rooms Ramblings and Trumpet Routine

Having a few opportunities to sit and think while waiting for my kids appointment to end, I have become accustom to letting my mind wonder about all sorts of thing. There is always something that needs to be done, like grading papers, lesson plans, practice mouthpiece buzzing, stick in a practice mute and pray it’s not a distraction for my kid. Sometimes it’s even simply lining up the next appointment or any number of parent related tasks.

Lately, I’ve taken to learning some new skills from several tutorials. A few I’ve downloaded on my laptop and some show up on Youtube. In any case I can’t figure out how many different ways to occupy my brain during these times. Games, podcasts, work related stuff, call my mom and dad…the list goes on. Either way I am frustrated and am now choosing to blog about a feeling I can’t put into words.IMG_3778

For now I’ll just look into the bell of my trumpet and wonder about what’s coming out of it. Conicidently, my latest practice routine has me working through:

  • Irons 27 Groups of Exercises
  • The Gekker Articulation Studies
  • Vincent Chicowitz Flow Studies
  • Verzari exercise.

Pick one group from the Irons then a set from the Gekker. Followed by one of the flow studies and etudes tongued and slurred, and finally closing the session with a Verzari exercise. The routine can take from 15-40 minutes, depending on how much time you have in a waiting room.

IronsGekker-Articulation-Studies-600x800 Front-Cover-VC-Vol-2-231x300Verzari_TPT_Exercises-detail