Teacher Tip: Students Select Concert Music

Ted Scalzo SMARTBoard

Music educators across the United States are using SmartMusic to engage their students in class and motivate them to practice at home. Here is Ted Scalzo’s (Bayshore H.S., Long Island, retired) story of how he asked his Wind Ensemble students to use SmartMusic to choose their concert music.

In October, I went through the SmartMusic library and selected every NYSSMA level VI in the catalog. Through the SmartMusic Gradebook, I sent the following listening assignment:

Dear Wind Ensemble member,

I am going to try something new this year and I need your help. In the attached list are 30 pieces of Wind Ensemble music that we could work on for our Spring NYSSMA evaluation. Since I believe in your skills, integrity, and ability to judge what is good music, I am going to allow you to choose the two pieces we will work on starting in January.

The SmartMusic assignment:

  • Listen to all 30 compositions.
  • Make notes for yourself.
  • Choose two contrasting works that you feel are great pieces of music that will show the strengths of our ensemble.
  • After listening to all 30 and choosing your top two, please write a paragraph or two about the work and why you think it is the right choice for our ensemble.
  • This is a long-term assignment that is not due until the last day of the first marking period. Please do not wait until the last day—30 pieces is a lot of music!

Good luck and I look forward to your ideas.
Musically yours,
Mr. S.

The Result:

  1. Students started talking about what they were listening to the day after the assignment went out.
  2. Students clearly had listened to all 30 pieces.
  3. Students did not choose the two shortest or easiest works in the catalog. Instead, they chose two of the most demanding, mature works.
  4. The essays about the works turned into a technical, emotional analysis of why we should play this or that work.
  5. Specifics about their parts and the other musicians were in each and every essay.
  6. No two students referred to the same music spots.
  7. We had so many different opinions we had to boil it down to a top five and then pick two.
  8. Attention to details has never been higher in my ensemble.

This assignment could be done many other ways—but not as easily. I now receive suggestions about music they would like to play every day. Did I mention that they were listening to great music recorded by great bands?!!

About the teacher:

Ted Scalzo is a music veteran educator who has taught at the high school and college levels. Throughout his career in the public schools, he has been an advocate of using technology to enhance and improve student and teacher instructional needs, and one of his greatest professional honors was being named an “Apple Distinguished Educator”. He currently is teaching at Hofstra University on Long Island, New York and also presents workshops on using technology in music classes. In his spare time, his creative energy is devoted to playing jazz trombone with several big bands on Long Island, and to photography.

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