I recently observed a middle school guitar class using one of the best forms of assessment possible, and to top it off, it also implemented one of the best student attention getters possible. The teacher had the classroom equipped with microphones mounted high on the wall above the guitar class. They were plugged into a basic mixer which was connected to a computer running a recording application. The computer was plugged into a basic PA for playback. The set up wasn’t elaborate but more than adequate.
About one-third of the way through the class time I saw the magic take place. The students had been working on some ensemble pieces from the Consonus beginning book. They ran through one of the ensembles one time, and then the teacher said, “I’m going to record us playing this piece and then we’ll listen to it.” I could hear students around me saying word like “Cool,” “Really,” and “Wow!” Before the recording began, the students were dead silent in anticipation of what was going to take place. One of the students was selected to stand up and announce the class and the title of the piece. Following his announcement, they applauded and cheered, creating the sound of a live concert with an audience. The students played the piece, and played it well. At the end, the students paused in dead silence. Then the teacher added their applause, claps, and cheers at the end of the recording. To say the students were attentive when listening to the playback would be an understatement. To positively add to the experience, the teacher added reverb to the recording for the playback. The students thought they were recording artists! They were spellbound, followed by excitement, pride, and the desire to do it again.
As educational as hearing the playback of the recording is, the real payoff of this exercise comes in letting the students assess what they have heard. Simple questions after hearing the recording like, “What do you hear? What to we need work on? What would you change?,” and “What did you like?” all contribute to, not only having the students improve their playing, but also, their awareness of what they are hearing. The vast majority (if any) of these students are not going to grow up to be musicians, but they will all become connoisseurs of music. Educators have the responsibility to train students to know the difference between good and bad music regardless of the genre. Being aware of what they are hearing is essential to discernment. Listening to themselves play allows them to be free of the physical aspect of playing the music and focus entirely on listening. Recording kills four birds with one stone. The students develop listening skills, they are aware of what needs improvement, they learn to be attentive, and it’s fun.
If you haven’t recorded your classes, I highly recommend it. I have recorded my own classes in the past at the university level and have had the same positive results. I’ve also encouraged my private students to record themselves. As they listen to the playback, they can become their own teacher.
Recording your class is easy to do and is one of the best forms of assessment (by the teacher and themselves) possible. The recordings can also be made available to the students, their friends, and their parents. This builds confidence and pride. Another benefit of recording the class is discipline. As I mentioned earlier, the students were quiet before and after the recording. This not only teaches them recording etiquette, but also concert etiquette as well.
Students listening closely, while they play, has always been an essential component of music education, but listening closely to themselves play while not playing, is even better.