Guest Column – Making Connections with Music Students

Kristina Lindstrom
Harrah Public Schools
Harrah, OK

I am super excited to share with you how I use the TeachRock Curriculum in my classroom.  I first discovered TeachRock a couple of summers ago when I was hired for my current job.  I teach at a mid-sized high school/middle school in a rural suburb of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  I am the band director but was told I would be teaching a course in Music Appreciation.  The problem was that there were no text books or other resources and no money to buy anything. So, I could make it anything I wanted to as long as I created it all myself.  As I went online to see what was out there, I knew I wanted to incorporate the history of rock and roll somehow.  The first thing I found was TeachRock and the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation.  Score!!!

My first year I used it entirely as it is published on the website.  I started at Chapter 1 and only made it all the way through The Beatles.  What I found each day is that so many of my students had no point of reference for music further back than about 20 years or so, if that, so we had to really slow down in order to bring them up to speed on the basics.  Their parents had definitely not done their job and shared with them some of the greatest music and artists of all time.  What??? How could they not?? Of course I am kidding but, you know it is going to be a challenge when you ask a question about the Fab Four and several kids say, “Who are the Beatles?”  Because of this, and a serious lack of seeing hardly any “classic” movies, so many pop culture references were totally lost on them.  I had a big job to do, so I rolled up my sleeves and began to “educate” them on all the cool stuff they had missed out on.

Toward the end of the year my principal called me in to discuss the Vocal Music part of the department.  Yup you guessed it, this year I am teaching the High School Choir and had to drop my music appreciation course.  A little bummed, I needed to figure out how to continue to use the TeachRock materials somewhere.  The only group that made sense to me was to incorporate some chapters into my beginning band lesson plans as supplemental enrichment material.  I use a chapter about once every two weeks or so at present.  At first, the students were not completely on board as all they wanted to do was play their instruments (this is not a bad thing).  It was slow going at first, but I knew I had won some of them over when something really cool happened.  One day, shortly after introducing them to some of my favorite bands, one of my beginning alto sax players came in and wanted to play something for me.  He was so excited, he had gone home and learned the iconic lick from Smoke on the Water!!!  And what was really funny is that I had actually not even mentioned that song in my talk, let alone that it was one of my all time favorites.  The kid’s got game!!

So how do I use the material with them? I typically start near the end of class on a Monday with a little teaser.  Sometimes a video or a short article they have to read, or just a talk I create about whatever topic I want to introduce them to.  I will usually give them a short detective project that night where they have to search something out on the internet about our topic. Then I split the material up over 2 or 3 days so we can also play each day.  This method also leaves them curious and wanting a little more each day.  Some the chapters and Lesson path collections I have used are… General Music Lessons, Music and the Social Justice Movement, What the Kids Are Listening To, and of course The Beatles. With over 100 well-constructed lessons to choose from, the possibilities are endless.

TeachRock has definitely become my go-to online curriculum to quickly engage students to music with which they can easily connect. So many of the students have come back and shared with me the interesting conversations that have begun with their parents and friends as a result of introducing them to this era of music. They also now have begun to recognize some of the music in the movies and television shows they watch, which for 6th graders is a big thing. As an educator who is trying to teach life and not just “music”, this is something that makes me very happy. There is nothing better than when a student is able to make new connections and you realize they really are listening to you. But of course we all know music and Rock and Roll is probably the coolest material we can teach. I mean, just look at all those life lessons we can touch on!