Teaching and Improvisational Music

by mrsapia

I listen to music.  I listen to music A LOT. I consider music to be the fuel that drives me on a daily basis.  Depending on my mood, I have an artist or genre that fits my specific needs for that moment.  Going deeper, the genre of improvisational music really tugs at the soul and inspires me.  I admire artists who create musical conversation on the spot with their bandmates, knowing full well it may not produce the greatest outcome.  But let’s face it, when you have an adventurous spirit, anything can happen.  The moment when a band locks into a groove that abandons the theme or  central chord structure of the song is when the magic happens.  Of course, these moments can lead to inspiring musical interplay that maybe would never have seen the light of day if the band had not pushed themselves. Through audience and band interaction, it becomes part of their historical lure.  Taking chances when improvising can also lead to flat, uninspired moments.  Let’s face it, it’s the risk you take.  How does this all related to teaching, you ask?

Improvisational music has helped mold my teaching style. I enter the classroom everyday with an idea about how’d I’d like to see the day progress.  All academic areas are intertwined to form a cross curricular environment that uses every second of our precious day purposefully. Materials are gathered at a rabid pace to ensure all students have an opportunity to be successful.  As we all know, even the best laid plans don’t always get executed, and sometimes we need to seize that improvisational, teachable moment.

The bell rings and I wait outside your door to greet their smiling, eager faces.  Everyone is settling into the day and the lessons are progressing as planned.

In Social Studies, my students are currently studying Colonial American children and their roles and responsibilities. A question from a student begins to spark some deep, meaningful conversation.  The conversation continues for a few minutes and I begin to realize  I am clearly delineating from the plan.  My mind begins to race, and I know deep down the conversation being had is meaningful for students.  Do I “Let go?” Do I seize this moment of improvisation and become a facilitator?  Do I enable students the opportunity to explore content based on questions they’d like to know the answer too? Of course! I begin to quickly reflect and realize that my plan for the lesson was not deep enough for students because they were craving more.

Cue the spirit of  my improvisational teaching pedagogy. Students began to seek out more information about colonial children in groups.  I watch as 24 students become groups of three, each with a very specific task. Slowly, these smaller microcosms pool together resources from around the classroom, internet, and various iPad apps.   The laser like focus in their eyes, the purposeful nature of their conversations, and the smiles on their faces radiate one of excitement and passion.  I could not help feel the magic and adventurous spirits of the children taking over the classroom.  Chills run up and down my arms, as I take a moment to just “sit-back” and watch.  I begin to think about improvisational music and how this moment would have never happened if I stopped the questioning from students and did not have an environment for purposeful student exploration.  What started as a read aloud, has now blossomed into a collaborative, improvisational “arena” where students took a risk and true ownership of their learning.  Students become the “band” and I was the “audience,” encouraging them at every turn. The outcome of this activity become such a positive learning experience for the students, as well as myself.

That night, I received two emails from parents telling me how excited their child was when they arrived home because of this activity.  As if watching their faces as the magic unfolded was not enough, the emails assured me that students will develop a love for learning when given the chance to have a voice and a classroom to take risks and improvise.