Peer to peer learning has been one of the greatest learning tools for us recently as our homeschool music project comes to life through the Pacific Youth Rock Orchestra in Portland, Oregon, and recently Seattle, Washington.
In our last post, we shared the process of how we created music arrangements specifically for each student musician of the Pacific Youth Rock Orchestra (based off of our original compositions for Ludwig the Platypus comic book series). As we went to practice the piece with the student musicians, the results of the first practice were more surprising than we anticipated.
Learning Through Practice
At the beginning of this project, we decided to arrange one of our songs that had the simplest melody. We chose the song, Rise of the Croc-Bots. This song is based on a metallic robot crocodile army called Croc-Bots, that are marching into battle against the four heroes in our upcoming comic book series, Ludwig the Platypus. While arranging the song, we imagined how the musicians may play their part on their instrument, and after simplifying our work to personalized arrangements, we printed the music and brought it to practice.
When we presented Rise of the Croc-Bots, we were surprised at how difficult the song seemed for some of the student musicians. As it turns out, a lot of the musicians in the Portland group have learned music mainly by ear. In fact, some of the students don’t even read music! Since the students had never heard our music before, we ended up creating individual audio files of the arrangement and their specific part for the students to listen to at home. After a few practices, they had good grasp of the piece and we even saw them really getting into the music as they played along.
By attending the practices as both musicians and composers, we are able to work directly with the student musicians and learn through their experience on their instrument. What we originally thought would be easy on an instrument was sometimes complex for the musician. Since some of the students struggle with reading written music, initially it made it more challenging for us to communicate what we wanted them to play - especially if we didn't know how to play their particular instrument - like the drums.
The most challenging instrument to learn to compose for was the drums. In our three years of composing, percussion has been one of our weak points. At the beginning of this project, we initially began composing drum beats that were more melodic, rather than consistent and rhythmic. Over the course of the past few months, we have been able to work directly with the student drummer and a parent mentor who is also a long time drummer. Both have helped us a lot when it comes to understanding drums. Both drummers told us that the best drum beats are consistent, with fun fills in transitions of the music. Thanks to their help, we have been able to advance our knowledge with composing for percussion, and improve our music compositions.
Learning Through Real-World Application
While we could’ve learned percussion purely through music theory and composition lessons, having a real-world experience to draw from has helped to advance our understanding of percussion. This lesson applies to most of the other instruments in the orchestra as well. We have even altered our arrangements based on feedback from the student musicians. Participating in nearly every practice has advanced our understanding of orchestra arrangement in ways we never even imagined. We are incredibly grateful to have this real-world learning experience.
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for more updates as our homeschool music project comes to life.