Supercharge Your Music Learning
What makes a music student suddenly rocket to the next level? It happens all the time. Musicians usually refer to these leaps as a "breakthroughs" and they can feel almost magical. Most music students just sort of accept this phenomenon — that the learning process is a series of long plateaus followed by these unexplainable, epiphanal leaps. But what causes these leaps? How can one capitalize on this process?
We have an answer: Perform! Often. Sure, the thought of performing on stage in front of an audience can be stressful, but it's often just the thing that will push a student into new and enlightening territory. Why is this? It’s because a performance facilitates three power-packed stages of super potent learning: Preparation, Performance, and Analysis. At Music House, we like to design ways to get the most out of these three stages. Last month's big Battle of the Bands show was a perfect example of this.
A Performance Designed For Learning
No, you can’t “win” music. It’s a collaborative, community-building art form. But a little structured competition can turbocharge the learning process. This is where our annual “Battle of the Bands” becomes an incredibly effective educational tool. This year, eight of Music House’s top bands performed in our packed auditorium and were judged by a panel of professional musicians. Even more important, they were given the criteria the judges would be following to make their decisions.
The fact that all of the bands knew what the judges would be looking for was a game changer. It motivated the students to focus on very specific elements of musicianship, originality and stage presence. All of these topics are regularly discussed in rehearsals, but according to Becca Kephart, band teacher for the bands Space Jam and Control Alternative Delete, the element of competition added an intensity that drove the students to new heights. “I think sometimes students just need an excuse to really work on stage presence,” says Kephart. “Since they knew the judges would be looking at this, they became motivated to work on it. It also helped my bands to focus on putting together a show, not just a performance.”
Amanda Johnson, band teacher for Study Session and Bed Soul agrees. She says she was thrilled to see her students pull out all the stops when preparing for the big show. “Each member stepped up their practicing in order to be confident with their parts,” says Johnson. “Especially on a difficult song like ‘Steambreather,’ where there were changes from half-time to double-time feels, fast harmonic minor scale passages, and pushing the singing range.”
The performance itself can be a transformative experience. Nothing is more affirming than connecting with an audience full of adoring fans. More than one parent was heard to say “That’s the best I’ve ever heard them play!”
Some of the bands have even started to develop a fanbase. "My band Space Jam,” says Kephart, “has a bit of a following now from friends and family. It’s neat to hear them talk about how their friends tell them that Space Jam is their favorite band. I’m sure that’s encouraging for them to improve and record more.”
Each band also got a chance to see what their peers are capable of. They had some big takeaways from watching the other bands perform. They got ideas for new songs to learn, saw innovative ways to approach a song, observed the stage presence of the other bands as a mirror to their own performance, and it got them thinking about what makes a band the complete package.
After the show, the learning continues. Every teacher of every band encouraged the students to reflect on their performance. Feedback from the judges helped them to stop and think about what they did well and how they can improve for future performances. Kephart says her students came away with a new appreciation for some of the more subtle markers of musical success. “They really seem to be learning,” she says, “that there’s a lot more to it than just getting through the song.”
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