Seeds of Culture – Overview Part 1

CultureCultureI have pushed myself this year to truly integrate the International Baccalaureate (IB) Units of Inquiry while focusing on individual musicians. In this set of posts, I plan to reflect upon the journey of the fifth grade musicians as well as my own. I would also like to challenge you to think more about the nature of the experience and less on the content area. I am framing this in the context of music, but how might this project look in social studies, science, language arts, or art?

The idea of this project came about after a long conversation with my friend and choir colleague Eve Pierre. Eve is an amazing musician, educator, facilitator, consultant, and friend. She has been my mentor and springboard regarding all things IB and Standards Based Grading.

The unit we are currently exploring is Where we are in place and time: An inquiry into orientation in place and time; personal histories; homes and journeys; the discoveries, explorations and migrations of humankind; the relationships between and the interconnectedness of individuals and civilizations, from local and global perspectives.


We began inquiring about the migration of music and what impact that may have on people in the past, present, and future. This kindled a conversation about aural traditions,  how music has been past down from generation to generation, and cultural contexts of music in different cultures. Through talking to the musicians about music, culture, migration, and bouncing ideas off of Eve, Seeds of Culture began.

Project Overview (Part 1):

  • Musicians choose a song that connects them to their culture (Part 2)
  • Create a short digital presentation of the music’s affects from the past, present, and future
  • Teach the class a portion of your song
  • Create a Seed Rhythm on a looper e.g. Looseque or DM1 (Part 3)
  • Find other musicians that share the same or similar Seed Rhythm
  • Compose and perform the original pieces at an Exhibition style concert (Part 4)

I will write posts as the musicians share each part of their projects. So far, this has been an incredible way to get to know individual learner’s personal histories, cultures and journeys. I am learning so much about their music, but most of all, strengthening relationships.

Musician’s Workshop

I am a middle school music teacher. Well, let me rephrase that, I teach middle school musicians. More and more, I am being asked to describe the “nontraditional” approach to learning music that happens in my room.  I don’t think it is “nontraditional” but I will agree it is not what most music teachers learn in their pre-service experiences.

I have spent a lot of time discussing different workshop models with my colleagues. For three years, I have even taught a summer school reading and writing program where I was able to explore reader’s and writer’s workshop with third grade readers and writers. This experience provided the groundwork I needed to frame the musical experiences learner/musicians are asked to navigate in my classroom. It is Musician’s Workshop.

Musician’s Workshop is what I will describe as a constructivist approach to learning music through problem solving. Not necessarily reading and writing music, but focused more on self-expression, creating and performing, and connecting music to cultural and historical contexts.  This way of experiencing music supports both being musically literate (reading and writing music) and musically competent (creating,  improvising, and playing music by ear). Musicians will critically and analytically listen to music, perform original music, recreate others’ music, and create composed, improvised, or arranged music. There is inherently a performance facet of being a musician, however, Musician’s Workshop focuses on other authentic processes of being a musician.

Structure of Musician’s Workshop:

  • Piece of anchor music
  • Groundwork that enables (musician’s previous experience that supports, or mini-lesson and launch)
  • Musician’s time to solve the musical problem
  • Share
  • Reflect/Revise
  • Share with a broader audience

I will do my best to open a window into my classroom.

I teach in an International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme Middle School where the 5th grade learners are preparing for Exhibition. This year’s overarching idea is How can we positively effect our community?  In the music room, we are considering How do we express ourselves?,  an inquiry into recreating someone else’s music.

Anchor Music :

The melody of the chorus was our connection to this song. We used melody as the doorway in (Wiggins, 2009) to the process of recreating another musician’s music. The key of C lends itself well to the xylophones we play as well.

Groundwork That Enables:

For this problem solving experience to be successful, musicians needed to have had groundwork provided in previous years or class experiences. This should not be the first time they are being asked to play a melody by ear. Focusing on melodic contour and notes moving by steps, skips and leaps will support musicians problem solving the melody.

Problem Solving:

This is the time that seems loud and chaotic. It is loud and chaotic. The volume and cacophony is structured. Each musician is problem solving pitch, rhythm, direction, and melody at the same time. It will get loud. It has to. Sound is our medium. The video below is what my classroom looks and sounds like when musicians are problem solving. Please listen closely to the individual musicians as I zoom in to their playing. There are many different approaches to peer scaffolding. Some play and echo, some play at the same time, some provide vocal support, and some play hand-over-hand. Whatever the support may be, it is what is best for that learner. Time to problem solve is crucial to the growth of the individual musicians. This is their time to experiment, iterate, be scaffolded, learn, and scaffold others. The gradual release to independence is where the learning happens. This is where the individual musician grows toward independent musicianship within a large ensemble.


We have an in-class performance of Home by Phillip Phillips. We then use this recording as a critical listening experience.


We used an app called Skitch, a free, lightweight screen capturing and annotation app for iPad, to support an analytical listening experience. The musicians listened to the anchor music again while annotating over the lyrics. They show the form of the song while adding “what else do you hear?” to each section. This informs the next steps in the process of our class cover. (The video is of another song we did. I didn’t capture a video of the Skitch for Home, but wanted to invite you into the process.)

We then cycle the Musician’s Workshop process again and add the instruments that we added to the Skitch.

Share With a Broader Audience:

This is most exciting part! We share our music on social media platforms such as Twitter (@MrM_MusicRoom) and FaceBook. Growing our PLN broadens our audience and creates a bigger authentic network of learner/musicians who perform and learn from each other.


Creating a network of connected musicians broadens our thinking as we become more globally minded. We are going to perform Home by Phillip Phillips and Care by Kid Rock, ft. Angeleena Presley and T.I. for 5th grade Exhibition. The extension of the whole class cover is for the musicians to split into smaller bands and iterate the process of self expression through recreating another musician’s music. I’m looking forward to watching the process unfold and watching their performances.

Wiggins, J. (2009). Teaching for musical understanding (2nd ed.). Rochester, MI: CARMU.