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Random Access: your upcoming summer "sabbatical".

Summer is a great time to get out of our usual habits, cast off the mantle of daily lessons, focus our musical energies on our own needs (as opposed to those of our students) and enjoy a period of musical rejuvenation. Unfortunately, not all readers of this magazine are full-time college or K-12 faculty who can look forward to a three-month summer teaching hiatus; many of us must still teach during most of the summer. However, creative teachers who keep their studios open during the summer usually try to treat this time of year somewhat differently than the other months.

Some teachers use the summer months as a way to provide different musical activities for their students. Often, the perceived need to do this is born out of necessity. For example, our students' family vacations may disrupt the normal rhythm of our teaching. In other cases, we may have to get really creative in order to attract our students to the indoor activity of music making. Although school is not in session, swimming, outdoor sports and other summer activities can provide stiff competition for what music teachers usually offer.

Given these circumstances, the question I pose is this: if you plan to teach this summer and are looking for creative ways to keep your students engaged--especially those that include group projects, have you also considered how you can use your summer teaching to move your personal musical objectives forward? Is it not possible to be creative on behalf of both your students and yourself?

New Technologies Knocking at Your Door

If you are going to be creative about meeting your needs as well as those of your students, let's start by looking at yours. Many teachers tell me the pace of technological change makes them feel like they are being left in the dust. Yet, these same teachers tell me there is no time during the school year to learn anything new for themselves.

So, let's take a look at some tools of the contemporary music teacher and find ways to start using them this summer! At the same time, let's also examine ways students can put these tools to work immediately in rewarding summer projects.

A Couple Practical Suggestions

As you plan your summer activities, consider giving yourself a few days off from teaching--maybe even a week or two--between the end of the school year and the beginning of your summer session. This will give you a chance to reorganize your studio, organize your new toys (oops--I meant to say "tools") and get a few steps ahead of your students.

Keep in mind you only need to keep a few steps ahead of your students. The creative teachers will let their students discover how to use some of the new technologies and will learn by watching or interacting with their students!

Burning Audio CDs

Wouldn't you like to be able to burn audio CDs easily and conveniently? You could use this ability to record lessons, recitals or special performances. You also could keep a cumulative audio history of your students' progress--a history that can be enjoyed by the students, their parents and their extended family and friends.

No matter what special activities you have planned for your students, you can find all sorts of reasons to record their progress onto CD. Here is a sample project idea:

* Each student plans a complete musical album to be recorded incrementally over the summer.

* Students learn the art of recording by recording each other. In other words, each student gets an opportunity to be a recording artist and a recording engineer.

* Students recreate and print their own covers on the computer using their own art, scanned materials and so forth.

For directions about burning CDs using a computer or a stand-alone CD recorder, refer to Smokin' Technology for Your Studio in the August/September 2003 issue of AMT. Note: Since that article was written, Roland ( has released a low-cost, stand-alone CD recorder called the CD-2.

MIDI Keyboard

There are so many things teachers could do with a MIDI keyboard if only they knew what all those buttons were for, as well as how to connect it to a computer. Now you have a chance to learn how to set up a technology corner in your studio. What you need is:

* Personal computer

* MIDI keyboard

* MIDI interface (unless the keyboard has a direct USB connection)

* Two MIDI cables (unless the MIDI interface has the cables permanently attached)

* Useful MIDI software Project ideas that use these resources include:

* Notating student compositions on the computer

* Creating MIDI arrangements on the computer (using a variety of MIDI voices)

* Setting and meeting summer ear-training goals

* Practicing independently with computer supervision

Setting up a technology corner for your student lends itself nicely to the idea of teaching one student while one or two other students work independently at a computer station.

If you don't already have a MIDI keyboard or music software, start by coming up with creative project ideas. Once goals have been established, it will be much easier to choose the appropriate tools.

Practice and Performance with Virtual Ensembles

If you teach a string or wind instrument, you know your students spend a lot of time practicing incomplete pieces. The student plays just one note at a time and has to imagine what the rest of the piece sounds like. If you teach piano, students encounter a different problem: they rarely experience what it is like to play in an ensemble.

Both cases provide many good reasons to explore the wealth of MIDI accompaniments available both commercially and as free downloads on the Internet. MIDI accompaniments are small files one can play at any tempo and in any key. They can consist of a single track (like a piano accompaniment for a clarinet piece) or may include multiple tracks that simulate a small ensemble or large orchestra.

To play MIDI accompaniments, one of the following is needed:

* A standalone MIDI player that contains all the necessary voices

* A personal computer with a MIDI playback program (Many free and commercial programs are available to choose from.)

* A MIDI keyboard that has a floppy drive or a USB media port

Finding useful MIDI files is not that difficult. For free files, try an Internet search at, using key words such as: Schubert flute MIDI. You will be amazed at how many files you'll find. Some files will not be so good, musically, and others will be very useful. Don't forget to check out the published MIDI files available for many methods, such as Suzuki violin, most major piano methods and so forth.

If planning to add a fun, popular music component to your summer activities, keep in mind that MIDI files can add a very exciting dimension to the practice of pop music because the MIDI files often include instrumental tracks that sound similar to the original recordings.

Using the Internet as a Research Tool

Although one can't trust all the information found on the Internet, the Internet has become an amazing library of text, audio, graphic and video information. Have you learned how to do an advanced search at Have you learned how to direct students to fruitful Web-based resources?

Almost any summertime project designed for students could benefit by the appropriate use of the Internet as a research tool. This summer is a great time to learn how.

Video Conferencing

Although video conferencing will not replace the wired phone or the cellphone any time soon, video conferencing is quickly becoming a popular form of communication that offers benefits in terms of long-distance instruction (even if that means nothing more than briefly checking up on students between lessons). Video conferencing also is a great way to keep in touch with out-of-town family and colleagues.

Although teachers may not know it, they already may have all or nearly all the necessary components--modern computer, broadband Internet connection, free video-conferencing software and digital video camera. Check out I'll See You Later!: Teaching Long Distance, Star Trek Style in the December/January 2003-2004 issue of AMT.

One Crucial Piece of Advice

Make this summer a great one!

George F. Litterst is a nationally known music educator, clinician, author, performer and music software developer. He is co-developer of the intelligent accompaniment software program Home Concert 2000, from TimeWarp Technologies.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Professional Resources
Author:Litterst, George F.
Publication:American Music Teacher
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2005
Previous Article:Polyphony: the rhythm of musical development, the music lesson and the academic year.
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