Who needs technique?

By José Antonio Bowen

As musicians, we all understand that some technique is essential. Yes, we are ultimately bored by someone who is only fingers, but the best musicians combine something to say with an ability to say it. The same is true of teaching.

Our content knowledge is necessary, but not sufficient. We need teaching techniques to be able to present our material in the ways that the most help students learn. Teaching and pedagogy are design problems: what situations, sequences and ultimately techniques will most motivate students to do the work that only they can do? Think of learning like fitness: only the person who does the work gets the benefit. Watching someone do exercise (even intellectual exercise) provides fairly little benefit. Teaching techniques allow us to design better learning environments, activities, classrooms, assignments and assessments.

There are lots of books full of techniques (including my own), but Claire Howell Major and Elizabeth F. Barkley (author of Student Engagement Techniques (Wiley/Jossey-Bass, 2010) have combined to write a series of excellent ones including Interactive Lecturing (Wiley/Jossey-Bass, 2018), Learning Assessment Techniques (Wiley/Jossey-Bass, 2016), Collaborative Learning Techniques (also with K. Patricia Cross, Wiley/Jossey-Bass, Second Edition, 2014).

Major is a professor of Higher Education at the University of Alabama and has a long and distinguished history of teaching and research in pedagogy and faculty development. Barkley is a Professor of Music History at Foothill College, in Los Altos, California who was named California’s Higher Education Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in addition to earning many national teaching honors. Together, they see techniques as the merger of pedagogical research and practical experience. While faculty should have a basic understanding of what we are trying to do biologically and physically to the brains of our students, none of us has the time to invest in also becoming deeply immersed in the most cutting-edge research in the science of learning. (For example, in the last decade pedagogical research has facilitated both an explosion of research and a convergence of the neurobiology and psychology work (think fMRI scans) and the practical experimental classroom data.)

In their publications Barkley and Major have distilled this vast research into a set of reliable teaching tools, and recently they launched the free K. Patricia Cross Academy online. Named for one of the most important early researchers and advocates for higher education pedagogy and former Harvard and Berkeley professor, the Cross Academy is an entirely free online library of teaching tools and techniques.

The heart of the site is 30 very short videos (2–3 minutes) of either Barkley or Major describing one of their techniques. You can sort this library by activity type (so you are looking for ideas about group work or discussion), the teaching problem addressed (cheating or lack of participation, for example), or the level of learning (according to the various taxonomies of learning). Each video has clear step by step instructions, and for those of us who still like text, you can download the same content in a written summary, often with extra material.

Barkley and Major think of techniques as recipes: they expect you will want to customize your approach for your particular students, situation and content, but they have summarized the research, outlined the steps, and given concrete guidance for how to assemble your next class session using this technique.

Think of these strategies as pedagogical snacks. In a few minutes you can not only be stimulated to try something new, solve a problem or get fresh ideas for your teaching, you can also get enough structure and understanding to implement something new today. The K. Patricia Cross Academy is an invaluable resource for all faculty, at whatever stage of teaching you are. Visit now.

Book Review: A-R Online Music Anthology

By Kendra Preston Leonard

The A-R Online Music Anthology, published by A-R Editions, bills itself as “an extensive collection of music and articles designed expressly for music history courses” and as an option to traditional music history textbooks, print anthologies, and sets of CDs. (https://www.areditions.com/information/a-r-music-anthology.html) Having both taught music history courses and worked as a professional textbook editor (and, in the interest of transparency, have contributed to the A-R Online Music Anthology), I admire the approach A-R Editions is taking with this project. As textbooks and ancillary materials become even more expensive, online textbooks that have the capacity for continually adding new material, as A-R’s does, are helpful for students and instructors alike. Instructors can request complimentary access. Student subscriptions to the Anthology cost $60 for six months of use; institutions can purchase a site license for on-campus and networked computers for $2500 a year. Students and instructors can print out individual essays or pieces from the site.

The Anthology currently offers about 600 pieces of music primarily from the Western art tradition, including works from antiquity through the early twentieth century. The same composers found in print anthologies are well represented here: there are enough pieces by Beethoven, Chopin, Handel, Josquin, Monteverdi, Mozart, Palestrina, and Schubert to satisfy any traditionalist. The Anthology also includes works for those wanting to broaden their students’ worldview, such as works by Wizlâv IV, Luis de Narváez, William Billings, John Field, Clara Schumann, Ruth Crawford, W. C. Handy, Krzysztof Penderecki, and Bessie Smith, and Anthology editor James Zychowicz is taking suggestions for and planning to include other works by marginalized composers as the Anthology continues to expand. Most, but not all, of the music is newly engraved for the Anthology and is clear and easy to read, and all transposing instruments’ lines are notated at concert pitch. However, the Anthology does not always provide sources for editions or the year in which pieces were completed, information that would be useful to include.

In addition to this collection of music, the Anthology also includes just over one hundred “textbook articles” and “textbook commentaries.” The articles are in-depth discussions of individual pieces, such as Allan Atlas’s article on Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis; concepts, like Richard Bass’s essay “Harmony and Key Relationships in Romantic Music;” and composers, including Karen Cook on the Comtessa de Dia and K. Dawn Grapes on William Byrd. The articles generally run from about 12 to 35 pages and include links to sources, recordings, videos, and pieces available through IMSLP that are not yet included in the Anthology. Textbook commentaries are shorter (1–3 pages) introductions to a specific piece. The commentaries mostly accompany pieces from the medieval and Renaissance periods, and include images of manuscripts and diagrams that help explain the concepts and materials in the commentary. Most of these are by a team of authors including Emily Lawrence, Carolyn Bacon, and Catherine Nix and provide thorough introductions to the pieces they accompany.

The Anthology’s weakness is its interface, which is clunky and difficult to read and use. I tested the site using several different operating systems and browsers. In each, the primary page loads in a window that uses only part of the screen with about a 9-point font (Figure 1). I could not find a way to expand this window or increase font size.

Figure 1. The Anthology’s landing page, shown in Google Chrome.

Fig 3

Clicking on an article leads to a new page in which the article appears in a small reading pane; enlarging the view within this pane to a comfortable reading size makes the page expand beyond the limits of the reading pane (Figure 2).

Figure 2. An article in the reading pane, shown in Google Chrome.

Fig 4

The same holds true when opening a piece of music: the size is small and the reading pane is limited (Figure 3). Pieces can be also opened in a split-screen format with the search tool.

Figure 3. Music in the reading pane, shown in Google Chrome (Ruth Crawford’s String Quartet, III).

Fig 5
Navigation also needs to be simplified. There appear to be redundant search functions and menus, which provide different results for the same search. One top-level search tool (Figure 4) offers multiple options for genre, key, tonality, et al., while the other (Figure 5) does not. It’s not clear how to access one over the other.

Figure 4. Multiple search options within the A-R Online Music Anthology.

Fig 1

Figure 5. Fewer search options.

Fig 2


In all, the Anthology is a solid resource for teaching and learning music history. As it expands, it will become even more valuable for users, especially if the user interface is redesigned to be more accessible and user-friendly and the navigation is streamlined. At some future point, too, the collection will need to include twenty-first century music and reconsider its use of labels such as “Baroque” and “Romantic,” as scholars develop new and more accurate terms.