Monday, February 29, 2016


Encouragement for New Directors | Warehouse Progress

A New Spin On General Music Class
by Kirby Swinney

Budget cuts in public education are a reality these days and many school districts are experiencing financial difficulties. With those struggles administrators are looking for creative ways to save money by serving more students with existing staff. For some band and orchestra teachers, this may mean teaching the dreaded "humanities" or "music appreciation" class. Often times, classes such as these become dumping grounds for students that have nowhere else to go. In addition, these classes are created without a structured curriculum, study materials or funds to acquire them. If you are in this situation, you might want to read what two Oklahoma band directors have done to make their general music classes more practical and appealing to their students. Nick Noble of the Dale Public Schools and Don Wilson of the Wellston Public Schools are using their classes to teach an instrument currently growing in popularity; the Ukulele. "I wanted to try to find an approach to capture and keep the interest of the students while teaching them some lifelong skills," said Nick. So far the experiment has been met with enthusiasm from the students and teachers alike.

As it is in most cases, the class in Nick and Don's school are open to any student that wishes to enroll in it regardless of musical background. While a certain type of student finds playing a traditional band instrument "not cool," playing the Uke is different. The kids view it as a cool and fun thing to learn and look forward to learning how to play it. The class tends to attract students that would never set foot in the band room but leave with a greater understanding and appreciation for music. "Many students take the Uke home each evening and have even explored different songs they find on online sites such as YouTube," said Nick. "By doing so, they have also been enlightened to the simplicity of some of the music they like to listen to." One of the advantages to creating such a class is the affordability of the instrument. For example, Nick was able to purchase 15 soprano Mikayla Ukuleles for $39.99 each. He purchased a tenor for himself for $150. The tenor and soprano Ukuleles are tuned the same; the tenor is just larger and easier to play with larger hands. Students who really get into playing the instrument can easily find an affordable one to purchase for themselves. Don also offers the option of learning guitar. Many students either already own or have access to one or purchase an inexpensive/used one.

Since most of the students enter the class with limited or zero musical knowledge, both Nick and Don recommend that you spend a week or so on basic music theory/notation such as note names and values, time and key signatures, etc. Making the passing of such a skills test a pre-requisite to actually playing the instrument can be used as motivation in getting this accomplished quickly.

Textbooks are available, but there are also numerous free resources and sample lessons available online that will give the students some basic instruction. As you learn yourself, create files on your computer that contain basic strumming patterns, chords and simple 2-3 chord songs for future use. Start out learning some basic chords such as C, G7 and F with various strumming patterns while working to move quickly between the chords. As soon as this is accomplished, Nick and Don recommend that you starting learning and even singing simple songs. Many folk songs consist of only 2-3 chords and work well since most students have heard them or learned them in a previous general music class. While things should be fun, you can still utilize some of the standard teaching methods used in a normal band class such as counting rhythms, air play and playing exams as a way to reinforce skills and keep the students engaged.

For Nick and Don, the opportunity to teach music to the general school population through performance rather than a textbook has been a huge positive. "I feel the greatest part of this class is that students are not just talking about musical concepts, but they are putting them into practice by learning and performing," said Nick. Don echoes those sentiments. "It is imperative that kids learn to read music so they can talk intelligently about it and there is no better way to do so than through a hands-on experience," said Don.

So what are you waiting for? Start channeling your inner Tiny Tim!

Kirby Swinney
Palen Music Center Educational Representative, Oklahoma City, OK
[email protected]

Kirby Swinney graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1982 with a degree in instrumental music education and retired in 2014 after teaching band for 30 years in the Oklahoma communities of Weleetka, Dewey, Choctaw and Shawnee. While at Dewey and Shawnee, both band programs earned their first ever OSSAA sweepstakes award and in 2013 the Shawnee Band Program earned its first ever double sweepstakes award when both concert bands earned superior ratings at the state level contest. Kirby's marching bands were consistently rated superior at regional competitions and were also consistent top twelve finalists at the OBA State Marching Band Championship Contest. Kirby has served as secretary of the OBA Board of Control and also served on the OBA Board of Directors as secretary and president. Kirby has served as band chairman for the Oklahoma Music Educators Association and also served on the OMEA board as band vice-president. He is a member of OMEA, OBA, NAfME and Phi Beta Mu. Kirby has two children. His son Adrian is a recent graduate of the University of Oklahoma and is teaching English in Japan. His daughter Caitlyn is currently a pre-nursing student at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.


Progress on the Warehouse

We are excited to have the warehouse project nearing completion. The large addition to the back of our Springfield headquarters location will allow us to stock surplus inventory, giving us the opportunity to replenish all PMC locations more quickly.

Contact Your Local Palen Music Center Representative

Can we assist you with anything? Please contact your local Palen Music Center school road representative for all of your music education needs.