Musicianship Resources

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Introduction to the inverted musicianship course

The Musicianship courses at CSU are inverted or flipped courses. In a nutshell, that means little-to-no lecture in class meetings, but instead a focus on individual, small-group, or whole-class activities. The rationale behind the inverted course model is that class time is too valuable to be spent doing things that can be done easily outside of class. Those precious few hours per week in which students are surrounded by their peers and in the presence of their professor should be spent doing the things that make best use of that environment. Information transfer (transferring information from the instructor's notebook to the students' notebooks) can happen just as well, and sometimes better, outside of class at the student's own pace. On the other hand, facilitating deep understanding of the material and enabling students to apply knowledge or skills in new contexts can be difficult to accomplish when working outside of class in isolation. In fact, a number of studies on student learning have demonstrated significant advantages to in-class work that focuses on exploration and application, rather than the delivery of information. Thus, we will primarily use individual and collaborative tasks in class that will allow you to explore concepts and begin to develop skills, while you are in the company of your peers and your professor. When raw facts need to be communicated and/or memorized, that will take place primarily outside of class.

Because in most university courses information transfer typically happens in class while application typically happens outside of class, we call a course that inverts, or flips, that pattern an inverted or flipped course. In these inverted courses, then, information is gathered, absorbed, and memorized largely outside of class, or as a secondary result of other in-class activity; knowledge is assimilated and applied, and skills are developed, in class.

What does the inverted musicianship class look like?

When you walk into the classroom for the first time, you will see the design of this class quickly. For starters, the room has no regular chairs. You will have no chair backs on which to rest (i.e., sleep). You will have no slide-out tray on which to take notes. Instead, you will sit on a piano bench in front of an electronic piano keyboard, possibly with a computer attached (if not, you can bring a laptop). In this class you will be doing things—making music, playing with music, picking music apart, and putting it back together.

You will also notice that the piano keyboards are arranged into groups of four, so that two students sit side-by-side facing two other students side-by-side. There are also white boards on multiple walls. There is no front to the room. Even the instructor keyboard and the projector screen are on different sides of the room. This room is not designed for one person to spout information to the rest, but for all to be at work simultaneously. Sometimes that work is in pairs, sometimes in your groups of four, sometimes as individuals (each keyboard should have its own pair of headphones). And there is room for me to walk around and engage you as individuals, pairs, or groups. Even when we do have whole-class activities, they are just that: activities (not passivities). You will be busy!

Specifically, we will do things in class like performing (mostly singing, but also some keyboard playing), listening (both to dictate what we hear onto the musical staff and to analyze what we hear for its structure and meaning), discussing, composing, transcribing, and writing. While you will still do many of these things outside of class time as well, I will rarely ask you to engage in such activities without having practiced them in-class first, where you have the benefit of your professor, your peers, and your piano.

What you do outside of class will also look very different from a typical lecture-then-homework class. But before I walk you through that, let me take a step back and give you the general model of how we will do things.


My three-year-old son repeatedly asks my wife and me, "Why is the sky blue?" He asks this because he has seen the sky and learned that it is blue, peaking his curiosity as to why. And this is a natural way to learn. Children do not sit inside waiting for someone to explain to them what "sky" is, that it is blue, and why, before they go outside and see it for themselves. They see it, make observations, and those observations lead to questions. A good "inverted" class follows this natural pattern: explore first, which leads both to learning and to questions, which lead to more learning.

Ramsay Mussalam, a science educator and education researcher, has developed a model for this kind of learning that he calls "Explore–Flip–Apply." The main idea is that students explore a topic first. This exploration leads to questions about the topic and leads to organic learning of facts and concepts along the way. This is followed by the instructor providing information to fill in student gaps and answer questions (flip, a term that has become synonymous for many in the flipped-class movement with making videos that substitute for lectures or textbooks), and then activities that help students solidify their learning by applying knowledge in some task.

Our course will follow a similar model: Analyze–Access–Assimilate–Apply.

Much of our study will begin with analysis: look at a piece of music, or a collection of pieces, make observations, ask questions, dig into them, try to figure them out. Performance plays a big part in this analysis, both so you know what the piece sounds like, and so you can feel how it goes and commit more of it to memory. While I may assign you some pieces to listen to, with or without a score, before a class meeting, this analysis or exploration will largely take place in class in collaboration with peers. It's important that you exhaust the analysis process first, figuring out as much as you can from tinkering. Once you are stuck (or think you have it all figured out!), we'll connect as a large group (in class, or through writing) to share and solidify our findings.

Once we have analyzed, made observations, formulated questions, sought answers to those questions in the music, and come up with an initial understanding of the music, we'll move on to access. At this point, I will assign out-of-class work in the form of readings, listenings, or videos that will correct misconceptions, clarify vague understandings, and fill in gaps. Some of this will come from course textbooks, and some of it I will make myself. As much as possible, though, I will try not to make these "canned" assignments, but to react to your analysis. Through me, you will seek to access the knowledge that you were unable to come up with on your own. Remember, many experts have been spending years formulating these ideas! I'm your gateway to that material.

Of course, I'm not the only gateway to that material! There is a wealth of material online and in the library. You are free, and encouraged, to pursue access through channels other than me. And in this course we will also work on developing the all-important skill of filtering out the good and the bad information that exists out there.

After the analysis and access stages are complete (well, they never really are, but we have to move on at some point!), we proceed to assimilate the information. That means moving from "I remember" to "I understand." Assimilation involves turning facts about something you've already analyzed into concepts that can be applied to something you've never seen before. This is where the hard work is, as well as the need for your peers and professor. Thus, while some assimilation will happen naturally outside of class, it will be a significant—and possibly the most significant—focus of in-class activity and my efforts as your instructor.

The last stage in the process is to apply the conceptual knowledge that has been assimilated. This will come in the form of writing an analysis of a piece you've never seen before without the help of your peers, composing a piece in the style of a particular composer or genre, or improvising according to the norms of a particular style. This is the bulk of the work that will be assessed by me. If knowledge has been learned incorrectly, or has not been sufficiently assimilated, application will be a tough road with little reward at the end. But if we have all done our jobs well in the preceding stages, it should be the easiest and the most enjoyable part of the process.

Early application work will typically be practiced in-class, often in groups. However, final assessments will come from projects conducted independently. While I will give you some class time for independent projects while I and your peers are available for appropriate consultation, most of the application work should be done outside of class.

What does this model require of the student?

As the student in this class, the responsibility for learning the course material and mastering the concepts will be yours. I am your resource and your guide. This means that in class, you will not be passive recipients of knowledge, but active analysts and creators. That's what you're training to be anyway. Might as well start now!