Music Education Majors: Stifling The Little Voice

Shadow of a Doubt - S5isShadowDoubt

Over the years I've known quite a few music education majors, whether they were students in my college philosophy class, former public school students of mine, or student teachers that I have mentored. One thing I started to notice was that most of them experienced a phase during college whereupon they would be giving serious consideration to abandoning their career before even giving it a try. They had somehow determined that they should do something (anything?) else. There is a powerful wave of doubt that creeps into their thinking, sometimes resulting in drastic changes like dropping out of school or changing their major to something completely foreign. I've dubbed this wave of doubt the Little Voice, although that can be misleading because the Little Voice is not so little. Where does this doubt come from?

It comes from fear.

When it comes right down to it, being responsible for educating hundreds or even thousands of children over a career can be a scary proposition. Music education majors are so busy taking so many classes (for so little credit) that the future isn't something they have had much time to think about. So I believe that there are periods of anxiety that arise whereby entering the profession feels completely wrong. We all went through it, in fact I've started to think that the more you've worried about it, the better teacher you might become. It's ironic to say the least, but sensing the responsibility can seem too much to bear, yet being able to sense it is integral to becoming an effective teacher.

When you are a student, it's all about you, so conversely when you become a teacher it needs to be all about the students. The problem is, that is a completely counter-intuitive mindset for education majors, and when it hits them, it hits hard. Education majors like being students. The thought of leaving the student role one day and being responsible for students the next day is both uncomfortable and frightening. Logic has a way of going out the window at times like these. Even though these students have been preparing for this career for years, and been musicians for half of their lives or longer, leaving the comfort zone of being a student can be paralyzing. As a result, going into an entirely unknown profession can now seem like a rational decision. Or suddenly teaching 60 private students a week for the rest of your life rather than standing in front of an ensemble sounds like the better alternative. Like I said, the Little Voice is very, very powerful.

The Little Voice starts its attack at different times. It might be during an observation, during practicums, or just prior to student teaching. The Little Voice starts telling students that they aren't good enough, aren't fully prepared, really shouldn't be doing this. The Little Voice tells them that they've "lost the passion to teach" and kids "don't deserve to have someone in front of them who isn't passionate." Then, even more insidiously, it starts to tell them that they would be really good at something else. The next thing you know they are looking to transfer or "take some time off." If they get that far, it's probably over. Another potentially great teacher lost to the Little Voice.

I don't think a year has passed within the last decade where I have not had a "Little Voice Discussion" with one or more college students. More and more I'm initiating the discussions as I've learned to see the telltale signs. It's important to have the discussion before these students make drastic, often completely illogical decisions about their future. What do I say to them in this quasi-intervention?

I tell them to stifle the Little Voice. I help them to realize that abandoning something they have been working towards for so many years makes no sense whatsoever. I try to help them to admit that it's not about losing the passion to be a teacher, it is about simple fear. If they can admit they are afraid, they can start to realize that fear makes you do stupid things, like give up on everything you've worked towards. It also helps them to hear that so many education majors go through this. It's OK to worry, what isn't OK is throwing everything away before you find out if you can do this.

The Little Voice has a crafty way of making you think that people who are cut out for the profession have no doubts. That just isn't true. We all had doubts, and overcoming them is part of the process. Student teaching is a time where you realize that you can do this. The challenge is shutting down the Little Voice so you can get to the student teaching experience. And no, it isn't the same as practicums and no, it isn't the same as some bitter and burned-out teacher you observed. Stick it out, you'll see. And if I'm wrong, well at least you know based on some actual teaching experience.

So for all of the music ed. majors out there whom I have not had the pleasure to know, please learn to recognize the Little Voice for what it is, and stifle it. You have worked too hard to give up now. I'm not saying that everyone is ultimately cut out for this profession, but I am saying that almost nobody under the age of 22 has any clue if they are cut out for this profession until they get in there and find out. See it through, you owe it to yourself, and frankly your future students need you.

J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement

The president of Harvard indicated that J.K. Rowling was invited to speak because of the way she inspired so many young people "to experience the excitement and sheer joy of reading." Implicit in that statement is the creativity she possesses. Young people (and old, by the way) did not embrace reading so much as they embraced the story of Harry Potter.

Persistence and commitment to the creative process is the future. I wonder if the president of Harvard caught that.

Send Group Messages via Email, SMS, or Voice Phone for Free | SendGM

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This morning I was doing some searching for sms-based online polling (clickers are too expensive and oh-so-20th century). PollEverywhere looks great, but I also happened to stumble on this notification service called SendGM. It does basic polling, but its real forte is notification.

You enter contact information into your account, and from there you can assign the contacts to any combination of groups. The real power comes in the types of notifications that SendGM can provide. It will send any combination of email, sms, and text-to-voice notifications based on the contact info for each person. You can also request replies from the contacts (hence the polling feature).

The free account handles up to 25 users, but the next level (100) is only $79 per year. Not bad. I like that it is a more private, controlled, and flexible system than Twitter. This could be the ultimate school group notification system, especially for travel.

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E-MU PIPEline: Wireless audio with low latency

Recently I wrote about the Sony Blutetooth receiver/transmitter. One thing that I don't like about using Bluetooth is the latency. For example, I have a midi keyboard as part of my teaching station and I really can't use it to play in time because the Bluetooth is delayed. Audio is therefore also out of sync if I project videos from the LCD projector that is on my cart.

This solution does not use Bluetooth so you can't pair your iPhone or Touch to it, but if you use a recording/teaching cart and want to funnel the output of your D/A converter wirelessly to your stereo, this looks like a great solution. It was designed for allowing guitarists to go wireless, as well as an in-ear monitoring system, so the latency specs (under six milliseconds) are excellent. These units can also run off an internal rechargeable battery for about five hours. $99 bucks, and you'll need two. Range of almost 50 feet, so better than Bluetooth in that regard as well.

Don't watch this if you don't want to improve your teaching

This video from Harvard physics professor Eric Mazur will take just over an hour of your time. When I think about concepts like key signatures, rhythm, and even something as fundamental as how an ensemble/conductor relationship "works," I'm left with little choice but to reconsider age old assumptions and practices. Set aside the time to watch this video. His candor and self awareness is refreshing.

What is and why should I care?

A few months ago I heard a rumor that Apple was thinking about buying a music streaming site called Well, I had never heard of it, so I spent the next few days checking it out. They have since acquired it (mainly to get the talented programmers folded into the iTunes team) but it is still up and running.

You need to check it out too, and I'll tell you why. Do any of these things interest you?

1. You can put your entire digital library online for FREE and listen to it from any computer.

2. You can preview new music in its entirety rather than just a 30 second clip.

3. You can buy streaming rights (they call it a "Web Song") to new music for one thin dime and listen via the web whenever you like.

4. You can also download songs for 89 cents. 79 if you already own the Web Song.

5. You can link to your friends and get/make suggestions about different music.

6. You can make a playlist and embed that list onto any website where people can listen to the entire list (once) for FREE.

Sound unique? It is, and clearly there are some ideas here that interest the likes of Apple. Who knows what Apple will decide to do with their new acquisition, but I decided to dive in.

I have to tell you, it's great having access to my entire library online. Lala has an app called the "Music Mover." Basically it looks at your collection and matches it to its licensed catalog. Anything they already have is linked to your account, and (here's the cool part) anything they don't have gets uploaded and hosted. No limitations, no cost. That is pretty sweet.

The embedding feature is great. Recently my colleague and I embedded some recordings of pieces we are starting to work on in our rehearsals (example above). You can see the embeddable players on our website. This is a great way for the students to at least hear the music one time (after the full listen, they get the traditional 30 second clip). And of course if the kids want to purchase, it's only a dime for the streaming version. If you've been trying to convince your students to "do the right thing" by purchasing the recordings of the music you are working on at school, purchasing streams at one tenth the cost of mp3's is a pretty nice alternative.

I think this Web Song idea has some promise. Think about it, for 100 bucks you can get 100 songs from iTunes, or you can get 1,000 Web Songs. Sometimes you might want the download, but I think the streaming version can be a great (and extremely economical) option. I don't know if Apple will keep the feature (or the site for that matter) but for now I'm finding it to be really helpful.

Anyway, head on over to and check it out. I'm "Brian W." on lala if you want to look me up.

Have an iPod Touch or iPhone? You can stream from the podium with Bluetooth

Is the stereo in your rehearsal room located too far from your podium? If it is you probably don't use reference recordings and a rehearsal metronome as often as you should. Well if you have an iPod Touch/iPhone and about fifty bucks, you can stream music and metronome from your podium to your stereo. All you need is this device from Sony: The HWS-BTA2W ... catchy name, very easy to remember.

This little device (only about two inches high) is a Bluetooth receiver. Simply plug it in, connect the audio output to your stereo, then "pair" it with your iPod Touch/iPhone. Pairing works just like pairing a Bluetooth ear piece. Just like that, you will be able to stream the audio output of your iPod/iPhone from just about anywhere in the room. No time wasted walking over to the stereo. You can stop/start the metronome instantly (I like "Tempo" or "Dr. Betotte"), or pull up a reference recording on the spot. Pretty cool right?

Another nice feature: You can also transmit audio with these Sony devices, and they will pair with one another. So with two of these (one set to transmit, and one to receive) you can send audio wirelessly from anything that has a headphone jack, so you're not limited to devices with built in Bluetooth like the iPod Touch/iPhone. The only catch is that the Sony device is not battery powered, so you would need AC at your podium if you wanted to use one as a transmitter.

Bluetooth has a range of about 30 feet, so it's not the solution to everything, but for those of us who have multiple rehearsal setups in the same room, this can be a real productivity enhancer, and it sure beats running a long audio cable across the floor.

Update: I forgot to mention that this can also be a nice way to stream from your Mac too, since Macs have Bluetooth audio profiles built in and you can easily pair it with the Sony. Comes in handy when your computer is not near the stereo. The Sony will pair with up to seven devices.

Twitter makes phone trees a thing of the past

Last spring as my wife was preparing to take her college choir on a trip across Europe, we were discussing how to keep in touch with the whole group easily. It is always a little nerve wracking when students are spread out across an airport terminal or sight seeing in a foreign country and the need arises to reach everyone. Time can really be of the essence in those situations, especially if the itinerary needs to change on a moments notice.

It occurred to me that Twitter might be a viable option for a mass contact tool. If you don't know much about Twitter, I'll explain it briefly as a service that people use for posting information, thoughts, or status updates. So it is basically like the status box in Facebook for those of you familiar with that feature. Twitter does a few other things, but not much. It really is focused on these brief 140 character updates, which are fondly referred to as "tweets."

Well, one of those "other things" that Twitter does is allow a user to receive updates from someone as a text message on their mobile phone. It was this feature that appealed to me, because it seemed to me that my wife could post one "tweet" and, provided all the students were "following" her, they would all receive the tweet instantly as a mobile text. We decided to try it. Over the next few weeks the students registered for Twitter, requested to be able to "follow" my wife's updates (which were set to private), and checked the box for receiving tweets from her via sms. Twitter sends a quick verification text to your mobile phone and then you're all set for getting tweets as sms. The whole process from registration to verification takes just a few minutes once you know the steps.

After a few tests stateside we were set. She ended up using this tool quite a bit, both in the various airports and across France and Austria. Any changes in plans were easily and instantly communicated to everyone. Worked like a charm, and sure beat trying to use a phone tree. If your groups travels a lot, it might be something you want to consider. If you students are younger and having Twitter accounts isn't a viable option, you could at least use it to communicate with your chaperones. It could also be a nice way to keep parents back home up to date as well. For example, you (the teacher) could have an account for communicating with the students and/or chaperones, and one chaperone could have an account for trip highlights that parents could subscribe to. In any case, let me know if you have any questions, I'm happy to help if you want to give this a try.

UPDATE: I now recommend over using Twitter for mass sms.