Guest Blogger- Music-The Common Ground: A look at Music in Social Media and Literacy

We welcome Kyle Brazell as our newest guest blogger. He is in is second year of the Performing Arts Education Program, and he has recently taken the initiative to start a student association for music. Kyle is the president and founder of the College of Charleston Music Association (CCMA), which is a student chapter of the National Association for Music Educators (NAfME). CCMA is a music education advocacy group promoting music education in Charleston County schools. This blog  addresses the emerging concept music in social media and literacy, which is a research topic Kyle is planning to present  at a National Conference in St. Louis, MO in March 2012. We hope to hear more from Kyle about both the CCMA and about his presentation.

I find my time in this class coming to an end. In the process of this May class (one I signed up for because I had to, certainly not from a burning desire to learn), I began to learn something. It was not just useless knowledge, or facts that I would need to memorize. It was rather a critical way of thinking about issues, prevalent issues, that are surfacing in music education around the country. The class I am currently taking is Trends and Issues in Music Education, a graduate level course at the College of Charleston. And, to top it all off, this course is being taught by Dr. Bonnie Springer. She is MY ADVISER. So this is certainly not a course I could slack in, because I will be in contact with her throughout my master studies, and would not like a negative reputation associated with me. Man, I am glad I did not slack. This course has been so eye opening to me, and has caused me to analyze, critique, and contemplate so many important aspects of music. If I can walk away from this course with anything, it is that I was ignorant to the happenings of current events in education, specifically music education, and I leave with a burning desire to inquire more knowledge about it. What is more important is I have an insatiable drive to take a stand, and DO something about it. Two topics that we really hit on in this course that peaked my interest were Music and Literacy, and their connection to one another, and Music and Social Media, being Web 2.0, and all the technology that teachers now have in their arsenal. In the following paragraphs, I am going to delve into, and explore the knowledge I have acquired over the semester, and perhaps obtain a little more!

First I would like to speak on Music and Literacy. There was Seminar presented by another student in the class (Kylie), and what a magnificent job she did on explaining this topic. Literacy, to so many people, is the ability to read and write. Right? Yes, but that is such a surface definition, and to explore the concept of Literacy is so much more vast. Literacy is the ability to read and write, but is also the ability to understand that in which one reads. It is the ability to comprehend, and interpret the information you have acquired. Further, it is the ability to think critically. It is the ability to express your ideas in a tangible, purposive manner. One definition of literacy I really appreciate, for I feel it is all encompassing of the true meaning is     “In broad terms, literacy is the ability to make and communicate meaning from and by the use of a variety of socially contextual symbols. Within various levels of developmental ability, a literate person can derive and convey meaning, and use their knowledge to achieve a desired purpose or goal that requires the use of language skills, be they spoken or written. A literate person can mediate their world by deliberately and flexibly orchestrating meaning from one linguistic knowledge base and apply or connect it to another knowledge base. (Moll, 1994) With this working definition of literacy, we can now look at a more broadened scope of what music does for literacy. Promoting Literacy through Music is a great article, written by Laura Woodall and Brenda Ziembroski. The authors start off speaking of a child’s innate ability to enjoy and participate in rhythms and sounds.They state “Toddlers can begin to experiment with grammatical rules and various rhyming patterns in songs and other written text.” (Woodall & Ziembroski, 2002) In doing this, as we can see in our definition of literacy, children are not just learning to read, but rather comprehend and infer meanings to half note versus quarter notes, etc. What is intriguing about this, and something that certainly stuck out to me, is there are a plethora of parallels between one learning music, and one learning to become literate. The rhythm in children is a good example. Another example of this, from the Woodall article is “Children instinctively listen to music and try to identify familiar melodies and rhythms, just as early readers will look for words that sound alike, have patterns, or rhyme.” (Woodall & Ziembroski, 2002) To me, this is absolutely fascinating. It is something that we all knew instinctively, but never actively contemplated-at least I have not tied the connection before now. The video below shows that there are many professionals in the music education world who have realized the parallels between music and literacy, and are using music to help teach literacy. Notice in the video, they focus on helping children to not only read and write, but also develop their skills in comprehension and fluency, which are, as we defined, also major components of someone being “literate.”

Another really cool video to watch is this group of children, with the instruction of their teacher and musical guest, created a song to speak on the issue of literacy, and to demonstrate how music can positively benefit the ability to truly become literate. Note in the video how the children apply rhythms of moving to the words being said, helping them to read fluently, apply grammar and rhythms together, etc.
Awesome, right? So the question then becomes, why am I so focused on literacy and music? People can read and write for goodness sakes…..right? Actually, NO. According to the article 14% of US Adults Can’t Read, about 1 in 7 adults are not capable of reading and writing. That is over 32 million people in this country who are incapable of reading and writing with a comprehension level above that of a middle school student, as provided by the U.S. Dept of Education. WOW. I concur. This is an absolutely staggering number, in which I was incapable of even fathoming. And when we really think of this, and what it entails, it is heart breaking. These people who are illiterate are not able to help their children with a majority of their homework. They are possibly unable to fill out a job application, or even read a menu or a street sign. This thought is boggling to me. How could anyone make it in today’s society without reading? And yet some 32 million(+) do. Well now that we can appreciate the severity of the illiteracy problem we are struggling with, this article is a really neat one to look at. There is a study that was conducted between two similar classes, from Kindergarten to 2nd grade. One class was being taught music, while the other was not. Then their literacy rates were tested, measuring not only reading and writing abilities, but also comprehension and ability to infer content from the information presented. The article is titled “Music Education Improves Literacy of Second Graders.” I know; clever.

So really think on this. Literacy is a problem that is truly plaguing the United States, and the entire world. Music, however, shares in so many parallels with literacy. Music is a key tool, which has been proven continuously to work as a vehicle guiding techniques needed to instruct children on how to become literate; how to read, write, comprehend, develop critical thinking, and teach them all the tools necessary to further their education, and improve their qualities of life. I can say with complete sincerity, that after researching this topic, I will advocate the idea of music and literacy, and I will do my part to help see that the peoples of this country, and the children in our schools are offered a better quality of life through being literate. And I am confident that music is the key to this missions success!!!!

And now, on to another topic of interest for me, and I hope you! SOCIAL MEDIA. We all hear this term, and like literacy, it tends to be interpreted loosely. I would like to start by really defining social media, as it relates to music education. Social media, in its barest form, is that media which is used as a social medium for communication. So as you are probably asking yourself, as I am sure I did, how can this be used to promote, define, and help educate others of music. There are a multitude of ways, but I am going to let our friend, Eric Whitaker, show you one amazing way he has used the internet, and more importantly YouTube, to explore and innovate a Virtual Choir.

I concur, that is amazing, and what a wonderful concept! But does it/can it work is the question. Let us watch and see.

Hundreds of voices, 12 countries. I do believe this is a way that social media is being used to bring music and the world together. To me this is absolutely what it is about.

So the question begs, does social media have a place in the classroom. And that is a question that is being researched, but still has no definitive answer. What do I think? ABSOLUTELY! Music and media are such a harmonious pair. Why should teachers not utilize YouTube to offer a class assignment, or call upon to demonstrate, visually, a point they are trying to make. The research, sadly, has not proven one way or another yet, for Social media is a new and innovative tool for teachers, and a mass of research has not yet occurred. But there are testimonies from teachers and organizations all over the internet stating how they use social media in their classrooms, from researching choral videos and writing blogs, to using social mediums to share ideas and lesson plans.  Dr. Pisano, an associate with NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants), in his article, FOCUS ON ADVOCACY: Are You Using Social Media Yet to Support Music Education?, speaks to this topic. Dr. Pisano asks all the right questions when he states, “Imagine a resource that is always available, 24/7, to music educators and advocates. Imagine a global community that is brimming with the best, most creative, and brightest musicians, teachers, parents, students and community leaders, all sharing information with each other. Imagine a resource that is continually updated, and a living, working database where all types of questions may be asked and pertinent answers are received in an efficient and timely manner.” (Pisano, 2011) Imagine (not a John Lennon reference) that all these powerful tools for communication, instruction, and development are at your fingertips. WOW. Another good read is the article,Social Media as a chance for a pedagogical change in music education,  written to research social media in the classroom, and its ability to transform the pedagogy of music using mediums that were not available 15 years ago. And last, but not least, is the website This is a great one. It’s an advocacy website for social media in education. They offer all the latest research, workshops for infusing social media into your classroom, etc. It is really an invaluable tool to have at your disposal!

So wow. That was a heavy read, I understand. But how stimulating to one who finds themselves deeply rooted in music, education, or the overall betterment of our societal youth. I find myself sitting here, listening to the King’s College choir perform Lauridsens’ “O Magnum Mysterium.” And I really wanted to see how the choir practiced, so I searched in Google, and then YouTube. And I found practicing techniques for choir, and vocal break downs for this piece. And then it hit me- LIGHT BULB. This is music and social media. It is the sharing of knowledge and ideas to the populous in order to help ensure everyone has access to as vast a knowledge base as possible. To think, in 5 minutes I was able to listen to a piece, learn the break down of it, vocally, and blog about it. That was not feasible 15 years ago. I would love to tell you that Social Media is a “Godsend” to the realm of music education, but I could only offer that statement as my opinion. What I can tell you, with a finite confidence, is that social media sources have an abundance of untapped potential, and when I am in my classroom, it is certainly something I will call on for assistance. In the course of my masters studies, I have gleamed this little bit of knowledge; at the end of the day, whatever we do, we must do it to benefit the students we teach. We must ensure we act ethically, and professionally. And we are being introduced to knowledge and techniques that are undeveloped so that we may be well-rounded, and have these tools at our fingertips, should we ever need them. So thank you for taking time to read my thoughts, and my exploration through this field. I hope you feel as enlightened, and unaware as I have. And more importantly, I hope you feel inspired to take action. Research and learning is great, but this field requires innovators and people who act. Music Education is a vast field, and should not ever be taken lightly. It is something that has changed billions of lives, and as long as we fight for it, and demonstrate its profound impact on children, and their overall educational development, we can be confident that we will see it in the lives of the masses!


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