Teaching Effectively: The secret to keeping the attention of students studying the Blues is simple. Catch them where they are musically then take them where you want them to go. This is important because in order to teach effectively you have to know the subject matter your are teaching inside and out, and you have to connect with your students. By connecting with them you will demonstrate an interest in what they deem as being important.
As a child on Saturdays I’d watch cartoons and play the guitar along with the groups on American Bandstand and Soul Train. While reflecting on my youth, I was about to unfairly compare my glory days with those of the students I teach today. My students have VH1, MTV and BET, but a notable difference between our generations is that today’s kids lack exposure to live musicians. Without getting into a one-sided debate, much of the music that the students we will service listen to is generated by computers, MIDI keyboards and drum machines. Today, a song can be written, arranged, produced and performed by one person digitally, whereas in our day that same song would have taken an entire band plus a team of engineers and producers to create. Knowing this, we have to do three things to be successful in our efforts to promote the Blues in our classrooms:
1. Assess where our students are musically.
2. Incorporate what you want them to learn with what they already know musically.
3. Reference similarities between songs they know with the ones you are teaching.
American music has been a soundtrack to the world for over fifty years, and the Blues is at the core of its molecular structure. When most Americans think of this music stereotypical images of Southern African American musicians appearing to have taken an oath of poverty, while playing off-brand guitars in smoke-filled rooms will undoubtedly come to mind. The last thing some might ever think of when discussing education on any level is the use of the Blues to help improve literacy. Today, we live in a global village where we can communicate with friends and family across the world in real time via the Internet. This is why we have to embrace technology and use it purposefully and responsibility. Unfortunately, some school administrators view the arts as senseless, dispensable, extra curricular activities instead of forums where students can express themselves. President Obama said, “Part of what arts education does is it teaches people to see each other through each other’s eyes. It teaches us to respect and understand people who are not like us, and that makes us better citizens, and it makes our democracy work better. That’s something that I believe in” (Campaign Speech).
In my 30 + years as an educator I’ve had the opportunity to train administrators, teachers and students (pre-kindergarten through college) throughout the country on how to use the Blues as a tool to improve literacy through my Blues Learning and Understanding Education Systems (B.L.U.E.S.) via the Blues Kids of America program. Any educator will tell you that the most effective teachers are the ones who teach the subjects they are most passionate about. How passionate are you about teaching the Blues to your students? Let’s face it, learning something new in some cases can be as boring as watching paint dry. Something I started doing at four years old has given me a career.