Incorporating Technology into your Everyday Teaching
A Modern Approach to Education
By Christopher Retschulte
 

In this day and age, with technology increasing at astounding levels, sometimes even on a daily basis, it is easy not to keep pace with our approach in education. Most of us probably still favor the pencil and manuscript paper, rather than taking the leap of faith and using a music software program to arrange our marching charts or compose our music. I still know of many educators who favor this method - those who appreciate the art form, the value of what the written music looks like on the page, the unbridled authenticity of the hand-written score.  I too appreciate that, but I believe there are other things to take into consideration. What you might be giving up could be an enormous amount of learning for yourself and your students!

For example, while I was aware of the various software notation programs that were available, it took me years before I finally took the leap and tried to write percussion music using this technology. Once I took that step, the learning curve was shallow - the biggest challenge being figuring out how to get the page to look the way I wanted it to look. But the playback was always a different story - the sounds and "feel" during playback were sub par, to say the least. I wanted my cake and to be able to eat it too. I figured, why switch to a computer to do my writing and arranging if I couldn’t hear what I wanted to hear on the page? After all isn’t that the reason to write with a computer? It seemed an important component was missing from the package.

In today's world, it is easier than ever to get your arrangements sounding as good as they are looking on the screen. Powerful tools such as Sibelius, Finale and Virtual Drumline allow the arranger and composer to see, hear and experiment with their work as never before. Personally, I use Sibelius along with Virtual Drumline 2 - and this has really benefited me as well as my students in an enormous way. It allows me to write what I want and also allow me to hear what is actually on the page, hence having the cake and eating it too! I am able to input parts into the computer and hear them back just as I do in my head while I am writing. This has many benefits for both me and the students.

Let’s start out with the pros of using one of these software based notation tools for the writer/arranger/educator:

The programs allow me to see if what I want to put on the page will actually work before I put it into the student’s hands. This saves an enormous amount of time! Rather than writing an experimental part and spending time in rehearsal trying to make it work, I know it will work before I even put into their hands! This is valuable in the time factor because no matter what you are writing or arranging for - time is always at a premium!

Another issue to consider is the readability of the score and parts. If you prefer to hand write your score and parts, in order to get the utmost clarity, a substantial time commitment is required. Clarity is the key to effective communication, and if it isn’t clear, you will find yourself wasting time explaining what you exactly want the students to do. I too am a fan of the hand-written score, but doing it this way takes an enormous amount of practice and time as well. Use of a software notation package produces professional results, and in most cases, makes part extraction and printing a breeze, creating parts directly from the score!

Check out this score of an exercise we use at Clear Brook, created using Sibelius:

Click here to view a pdf of the Stick Control score.
Click here to watch a video of Clear Brook playing the Stick Control exercise!
 
Here's another example - this from our 2005 marching band show:
Click here to view a pdf of the marching band score excerpt.
Click here to watch a video of Clear Brook playing their 2005 Opener!
   

OK, so we've determined the benefits to using a software notation package for you, the educator. But how about from the students point of view - what do they have to gain?

First and foremost, the students will have a clean score and or part which they can read rather easily.

Additionally, they will have a recording in which they can hear and observe how their part fits into the grand scheme of things in the ensemble. This is an important part of the equation. I prepare a recording for my students of each piece for them to practice with. They can hear their part first which gives them a better understanding of rhythms, tempo and feel. And of course, while practicing, they follow along in their parts. This taps into the multiple-intelligence theory, they can see the parts on the page (visual), and also hear the part (auditory), then into the actual practice part of things (kinesthetic.) Now you are tapping into a greater plane of education, and this increases their success ratio enormously.

Another benefit is student response to these recordings. As I have found through my years of teaching, students only practice what they want to, or what is fun for them to practice. So if you give them something like this to play along with, you are actually "tricking" them into practicing. It becomes fun for them which will in turn create a better individual player, and will likely lead to a better overall ensemble.

I have done this in many different instances for the students. Let’s look at some example of how this works:

Here is an example from our 2005 marching band show. Check out how authentic the sounds are! All from a computer program!

Click here to hear an mp3 of the 2005 marching band show.
Here's another example, this time from our 2005 indoor percussion show. This technology helped us capture the WGI Scholastic Open World Championship!
Click here to hear an mp3 of the 2005 indoor percussion show.
But the benefits aren't just limited to show music. Here's an exercise that uses the same technology. (Note I've included the "tap off" so the student has a clear indicator when the exercise begins!)
Click here to hear an mp3 of the Stick Control exercise.
Also I have created some grooves in which the students can practice to sounds other than the "Virtual Drum". I have created a tabla groove to accompany our "Stick Control" exercise that is the same number of measures and the same tempo. If you listen close the battery parts are still in there, just turned down a bit in the mix.
Click here to hear an mp3 of the Stick Control exercise with tabla accompaniment.
Another example is our “On-Field” Warm-up, which the battery plays before a show or performance. This year our “On-Field” Warm-up is called Single Triple Double. Again - check out the amazing life-like sounds!
Click here to hear an mp3 of the Single Triple Double exercise.
Click here to watch a video of Clear Brook playing the Single Triple Double exercise!
BONUS! Check out Clear Brook's 2005 percussion feature!
   

Moving beyond marching band, this same concept can be applied to other pieces, for example, your region or district audition music or your concert band music. The same concepts of using the recorded parts as a practice tool apply here!

Another added benefit to using this technology is the flexibility it gives to practice techniques. I am able to input the parts, play them back at different tempos with a "click track" (slower to faster,) burn them to a compact disc and pass out to the students. They then can take it home, put on some headphones and practice at home with their CD player or stereo. So while some students are stuck on the practice pad with just the chirp of their metronome - mine are playing along with a fully orchestrated recording, working on ensemble listening skills at the same time. This is HUGE! They are working on individual things all the while hearing other parts related to the big picture. This saves time when we get to rehearsal and put things together. They have already heard other things in the ensemble and know what to expect when we get there - key ingredient to the success of any ensemble!

Rehearsing with the Score
Now that the students have the score or their parts written out on a clean clear score, and a CD to play with, it is important for them to know how to use this in the most efficient manner. I will pass out a full percussion score as well as their individual part, and a CD with recordings of the exercises and the show. By giving them a score, they are able to see how each of the other parts of the ensemble fit into the big picture. We will go over the score as a group, and I will explain which parts are more of a primary or secondary part in the ensemble. This is important so they know where the focus should be from the arranger’s point of view. When they understand that, then it is easier for them to recognize this when they are practicing or performing; Knowing what to listen to and where the focus is makes rehearsing much easier, which in turns should make the performance easier for them to perform.

Some of this may seem like a lot of work on the educator’s part, but the more you can do for the students, the fewer things they have to worry about. The less they have to worry about the better! I hope I've given you some ideas and inspiration towards incorporating technology into your own teaching. Its certainly helped me and my students in our quest for excellence!

 

 
Chris Retschulte is currently the director of percussion activities for Clear Brook high school in Friendswood (Houston), Texas - the 2005 WGI Scholastic Open World Champion.

Christopher holds a master's degree from the University of Massachusetts, as well as a bachelor's degree from Eastern Kentucky University.  He was a member of the front ensemble of the Star of Indiana Drum and Bugle Corps in 1993 and has gone on to instruct numerous drum corps including Star of Indiana Brass Theatre, Troopers, Boston Crusaders, Cadets of Bergen County, Blue Knights and the Santa Clara Vanguard.  Additionally, he has been on staff with the University of Massachusetts Percussion Department, the University of Massachusetts Marching Band, and Thom Hannum's Mobile Percussion Seminar and has also taught and arranged for numerous high school programs such as George Rogers Clark High School, Blackstone-Millville High School, and King Phillip High School. Chris is also an active composer and arranger, and is published through Keyboard Percussion Publications. He is an endorser of Vic Firth sticks and mallets, Remo drumheads and Pearl drums. Chris is also a member of the Vic Firth Education Team.