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Applied Lesson Framework

In the fall of 2014 I had the opportunity to re envision the curriculum for a special section of Texas Tech’s Raider Ready Freshman Seminar. This course is offered to first-year students with the mission of providing a foundation of solid study skills and advice for navigating college. Our advisor in the School of Music had rarely encouraged our students to sign up, as the skills required for music often required specialized instruction. In other words, the design of the class didn’t offer much for the music student. So, with the mission of offering a “readiness” course for the music student, I began to map out their degree path. I sought out course syllabi from all of their instruction and developed a semester long course to help them along.

Teaching this course during that first semester it became clear that incoming music students did not fully understand the connectedness of their degree program. With an array of new topics and skills to learn they were blind to the sequencing in each of their classes. This blindness meant students had no access to the assistance and synergy each course could lend to other courses.

For example, it was not clear to many first year students that Aural Skills courses and Theory courses worked in tandem; with students working on the practice of singing what they discussed in their theory class. Often they had no idea, that the chord structures they were memorizing in their piano courses were identical to the ones they viewed each day in Theory.

Outside of the academic classroom setting and inside my applied lessons I noticed the same phenomenon. Students who were doing quite well in their academic courses often could not recreate or access those academic skills on their instrument. Simple questions like “what type of chord is this?” would lead to prolonged silences as their encouraging teacher led them to the answer.

What was striking about these discussions, both in the classroom and in the private lesson, was how quickly the puzzled student could become brilliant by suggesting the connection to them. In that same lesson simply saying “think about your theory class” would invariably lead to the correct answer. In the Raider Ready classroom the lightbulbs went off quickly when students were simply told of the connectedness of their courses.

With these small successes I began to wonder more about my role as an applied teacher. With lessons as a central role in the music student’s life, could I do more to help make meaningful connections between their coursework, performances, and study of an instrument? What I discovered was not only that I should do this, but in many ways doing so was the very foundation and purpose of my job and role in students lives.

To map these connections out in the classroom we began with a very simple list of what students considered to be their “classes.”

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When asked to list their course, this is typically what students will arrive at. In guided discussions with multiple sections of this course and three years of new private students, they have all omitted their private lessons and ensembles. Perhaps this limitation on what students consider to be “coursework” puts a limit on the connections they are able to make between classes and performances.

The order of these courses is my own design. In the Raider Ready course many class sessions are focused on study skills, but in musical parlance much of what students will do is considered “practice.” For instance, students will study for their music history courses, but practice for aural skills. Without consciously realizing it, the language of our courses leads us to a spectrum of studying to practicing.

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spectrum

In the Raider Ready course, and as an introduction to my first year trumpet students, we spend a good deal of time discussing what it means to study vs. practice. Eventually the discussion leads to questions like:  “Does practicing for Aural Skills class help prepare you for Music History?” “Can studying for Music History make you a more informed conductor?” All of these questions lead to the discover within the student that there is an amount of connectedness among these courses.

But is their a place where all of these topics and skills can be synthesized and put to practice all at the same time? Of course, and that’s where we find the true place of the applied lesson. After all, what is it that is applied in this learning laboratory we call a lesson?

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:There is much more to a music degree, of course. As studying and practicing musicians our students are called upon throughout their degree to present publicly performances of there work. This is yet another chance to synthesize all that they have learned, not just in the academic areas, but in their weekly lesson experience. As our music education students advance to the final stages of their degree we place them in supervised by self-directed teaching episodes. As our performance students advance towards graduation we encourage them to seek auditions and outside playing experiences. All students perform in recitals. These events must therefore play a role in the framework as well.

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The applied lesson then can become a place to synthesize not only the classroom experience, but the performance experience as well.

When viewed at this level a new spectrum begins to emerge. With the applied lesson seen as a central place for connecting coursework with performances and building a commonality to the music school experience we can see a trajectory leading students from preparation to performance itself. This creates the final framework, which I have begun to call the applied lesson framework:

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With this as a map and framework for how students can navigate their college experience connections between courses become integral. Students no longer see the lesson as an hour-long island in the sea of other things to do, but rather as a focused session that can help to explain it all. Performances and capstone projects are no longer hoops to jump through to graduate, but rather a completion of a four-year process of learning and creativity.

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