How do teachers find and share ideas, worksheets, and handouts?
Prior to the 21st century, there were limited means for teachers to interact with each other. Teachers who worked in the same building as each other could talk in person. If they wanted to reach people outside their program, they could publish their ideas in printed journals, magazines, books, and leaflets. They could attend conferences, workshops, and symposia. They could call each other on the phone, or send each other snail-mail.
But, you see, this weird thing's been happening in the last 15 years or so, which has completely transformed the ways that teachers can learn with each other... and that thing is social media.
So, how can teachers find and share teaching ideas, worksheets, and handouts on Twitter?
How can we workshop materials on Facebook?
How can we use Pinterest, Instagram, Google Images, YouTube, and blogs for professional development and networking?
These are all very new, and very raw, questions. Social media hasn't been around all that long, and many academics still think that the only purpose of social media is to share adorable cat photos and dinner selfies.
My friends, social media is way more – way, way, way, way more – than just a platform for sharing photos of the world's cutest kitties.
In this blog post, I'd like to share with you the process that led me to create, and then totally revamp, a handout on scale degrees and intervals. Hopefully, it will show you just how useful and amazing social media can be for us teachers, and will inspire you to get more involved.
Step 1: Google Images
My students have been having some trouble understanding the concepts of scale degrees and musical intervals. So, I wanted to make some sort of handout to help clarify their confusion.
The first place I looked is Google Images. If you search for "musical intervals" or "major and minor scales", you'll find lots of wonderful graphics (and some less-than-wonderful graphics, too). What's striking to me, every time that I peruse Google Images, is just how diverse the images are. As I told my students in class, there are so many ways to visualize musical ideas; no single idea is the "right" one or the "wrong one," and different visualizations work better or worse for different people.
In this spirit, I took three very different graphics that I found on Google Images and put them all on a handout, as you can see below. On the front side, intervals are visualized on a piano keyboard. On the upper backside, they're written on staves, and the lower back provides a text-driven table.
I could tell you all about how I used this handout in class, and how the different visualizations caused us to probe different aspects of intervals.
But that's a discussion for another time.
What I'd like to tell you now is that despite the clarity of this handout, and despite the interactiveness of my lecture, my students were still confused.
So I began to look for more ideas.
Step 2: Pinterest
Pinterest is a search engine, kind of like Google. You search for something, and it brings up a list of results.
And like Google Images, the search results on Pinterest appear in the form of pictures, rather than text.
But here are two major differences between Pinterest and Google Images:
1) Pinterest doesn't only search for pictures. It searches for blogs and other websites that contain pictures, and it grabs pictures that (ideally) reveal something about the content of the website they came from. So if you search for "musical interval worksheets," for example, it brings up images from teaching blogs, which you can then peruse for further ideas.
2) Pinterest allows users to thematically organize images and blogs on special pages called "Pinterest boards." For example, there are dozens of boards devoted to the subject of music theory worksheets. What this means is that when you search on Pinterest for "musical interval worksheets," Pinterest will mine these pre-existing boards and send you results that other Pinterest users have already marked as pedagogically useful. It will also send you links to these music pedagogy boards themselves, which are full of peer-selected graphics and blog links.
Although Google Images had provided me with some wonderful graphics to include on my intervals handout, it had also left me frustrated. So I tried some searches on Pinterest instead: "music interval activities," "music interval worksheets," "music interval practice," and so forth. What resulted was not only a treasure trove of worksheets and handouts, but also links to teaching blogs that offered suggestions on how to use these materials in the classroom.
For example, below is a two-page worksheet that I found on Pinterest and decided to have my students fill out in class. It's from the website of Amber Staffa, a piano teacher who also wrote an entire blog post on how to teach musical intervals. The worksheet helps students visualize intervals as towers of blocks. One of the biggest challenges that my students have been facing is the idea that, for example, C to C# is NOT the same interval as C to Db, even though they both sound the same: the first is a kind of unison, and the other is a kind of second. I love the imagery of block towers in this worksheet, because it helps us to see that interval size (as opposed to quality) is based on the distance between pitch classes (A, B, C, etc) rather than pitches (A, Ab, A#, etc.)
This worksheet helped a lot, but it still wasn't enough. After all, it's just one worksheet, and a rather simple one, at that. I needed some sort of academic handout, with lots of depth to it, which could accompany an interactive lecture.
You see, what I really wanted to teach my students is how to navigate the intervals between scale degrees. In major, scale degree 6 is a whole step above 5, but in minor, it's a half step above. In both major and minor, 4 is a whole step below 5, and in minor, 3 is a whole step below 4... but in major, 3 is a half step below 4. You get the idea... if my students could understand how to navigate scales in this way, then it would be so much easier for them to sight-sing, notate, and understand tonal melodies.
But nothing that I found on either Google Images or Pinterest focused explicitly on that goal.
So I decided to make something myself.
Step 3: Workshopping my Own Handout on Facebook and Twitter
After a good half-hour of sketch work, I put together the following handout, which is unlike anything that I'd found via Google Images or Pinterest. Of course, not everything that is unique is good, and I think that my students may have found it more confusing than illuminating. (For the record, one student came up to me after class to tell me how much it helped!) In fact, despite how much thought I put into this, I myself couldn't make heads or tails of my own handout when it came time for the lecture. I handed it out, scratched my head for a minute trying to remember why in the world I thought this was useful, and then just moved on with something else.
This is where Facebook and Twitter come in. I wanted to know what other music professionals thought of this handout and how I could make it better. So, I posted my handout with the simple question: "Does it make sense?"
Within a few hours, I had some fabulous responses from total strangers. Several people found the color scheme confusing, while others were concerned that some scale degrees looked "bigger" than others. On Facebook, a few people began offering specific ideas for revision:
It's strange that the second scale degree "D" appears "larger" (wider) in major than in minor, when really it's the *distance* from ^2 to ^3 that's larger. I wonder if the "bars" could be made into color-coded intervals (M2 vs. m2, one color for each), and the letter names themselves appear at the junctions between each... That would probably just invite more confusion; I'm no visual designer.
it would be neat if you could illustrate how there is a transition of half step down for major to minor!
perhaps, keep the major scale in one color and then the differences would be more evident. Then again, the 3 and 6 are minor chords, but so is the 2 and the 7 is diminished. So, I think it would be best to leave out the white on the major scale and then show the changes for the minor scales by using the white? Interesting idea.
In Yiddish, we say "gezogt un geton" – said and done. After considering this advice, I totally revamped the worksheet and posted it again:
This time, not only did people offer further critique and ideas; some of them even made their own graphics in response to mine, and posted them as alternatives!
After more discussion on both Facebook and Twitter (which you can read, if you're interested), I came with a third revision – which is actually a whole series of graphics that capture my initial ideas and goals SO MUCH BETTER than my first attempt:
This, of course, led to even more discussion (which included a pretty cool Venn diagram idea), but I'll spare you the details. Again, you can read these public discussions if you'd like: here's the conversation on Twitter, and here's the one on Facebook.
My point is this: I could have done things the old-fashioned way, by throwing together a handout and then asking a couple friends for their feedback. If my friends had time, I'm sure they would have given me some good advice – perhaps right away, but more likely the next day, or maybe a week later since we're all so busy. But instead, I embarked on a whole journey through Google Images, Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter which almost certainly gave me far more feedback and far more ideas than I would ever have gotten otherwise. As well, it was fun to interact with total strangers in a back-and-forth, real-time discussion on music theory pedagogy, and I do hope to engage in further such discussions with them in the future!
And my bigger point is this: you can do this, too! If you find the right people to follow on Facebook and Twitter, you'll be amazed at the conversations, collaborations, and new ideas that can arise. If you're not sure whom to follow, feel free to ask me, and I'll be happy to connect you! And I encourage you, if you haven't already, to explore music theory materials on Pinterest and Google Images. These are fantastic resources, but they are so little-understood and so little-appreciated in academia.... which is basically why I started this blog.
As always, I'd love to hear from you! Feel free to comment below, tweet to me @SocialMediaMus1, or send me an e-mail at SocialMediaMusicTheory@gmail.com.
Cheers from Jersey City, New Jersey, where I'm visiting a cousin I haven't seen in YEARS (hooray for reunions!)
PS - If you'd like to download a PDF of my handout, you can do so by clicking "download file" below!