Music teaching revolution

First year USQ music students with their team of lecturers (from left) Dr Phillip Gearing, Alison Riethmuller and Melissa Forbes.
First year USQ music students with their team of lecturers (from left) Dr Phillip Gearing, Alison Riethmuller and Melissa Forbes.

MUSIC teaching at USQ is being revolutionised by the social media and a new team-teaching approach which helps students to collaborate with their colleagues and to work with professional musicians.

The new teaching technique is the brainchild of Toowoomba-born singer and music lecturer Melissa Forbes, who abandoned a legal career to do what she loves - perform and teach music.

After working as a lawyer for seven years with one of Brisbane's top law firms, Mrs Forbes left to study jazz singing.

Graduating from the Queensland Conservatorium, she embarked on a singing career, recording a CD "No more Mondays" and performing around Australia and overseas.

She returned to live in Toowoomba in 2008 and started teaching song-writing and contemporary singing part-time at USQ.   

"The new teaching approach emerged from the second year song-writing class," she said.

"The students needed to learn how to collaborate, be more flexible, and to better communicate musical ideas."

"Most of our music graduates become school classroom music or instrumental teachers, so as they learn in a collegiate atmosphere, they are also learning how to teach and how to encourage creative group learning," she said.     

Mrs Forbes said the course was evolving organically and has incorporated the use of social media such as YouTube where students see and hear their favourite performers.

"The students seem far more interested in acoustic covers of songs rather than the song as sung by the original artist with the million dollar music video. They want to see someone who's like themselves, who is really good at playing the song on an instrument," she said.

"Some of these cover artists are so successful they're doing tours of the USA on the basis of what they've uploaded to YouTube."

"Copyright is a problem for uploading existing songs to the internet but the students are learning to write their own songs, perform them and use social media to upload their work to the internet," Mrs Forbes said.

One of Mrs Forbes' covers of Michael Jackson's song "Don't stop 'til you get enough" from her album "No more Mondays" is on YouTube.

"We also use our own in-house social media platform ePortfolio so students can share their work in a multi-media environment," Mrs Forbes said.

School of Creative Arts music co-ordinator Dr Phillip Gearing said the results of the new teaching method in the Bachelor of Creative Arts will emerge over the next few years however he will collate preliminary results from the first semester using the new teaching techniques and present them at an international conference in Liverpool, England in July.

In the new teaching format, students gather each week for two-hour workshops which address different musical topics where, for example, the lecturers demonstrate how they work together from the moment they pick up a new score, through the process of learning a new work to putting the finishing touches to a professional arrangement and performance.

Instrumental technique is also developed through weekly instrument-specific classes.

The music practice classes are taught in a team by Mrs Forbes, Dr Gearing, clarinettist Martin Crook and pianist Alison Riethmuller who demonstrate different aspects of performance, teaching students about the musical elements of rhythm, melody, harmony and intonation in the context of rehearsal and performance.

The effect of the team teaching classes is to hot-house the learning experience by combining the enthusiasm and musical skills of the lecturers and inspiring the creativity of their students.

Professional musicians are also invited to classes to perform and to talk about how they work together.

The workshop-style classes have proven very popular with the students notching up almost 100 percent attendance for the 22 first year music students.

Creative Arts head of school Dr Janet McDonald said the huge increase in the number of first year music students this year from throughout the state was a positive response to the updating of the University's popular theatre, music, visual arts and creative media degrees.

"Students can study combined degrees across the creative arts, making our graduates versatile creative artists who will be ready for workplaces that have seen rapid change in the past few years," Dr McDonald said. 

Topics:  education music social media toowoomba usq

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