Below is a blog post written by Jared Rock, a high school senior and musician from New York City. Jared volunteered at one of Little Kids Rock’s free teacher trainings and got an up-close-and-personal look at what the city’s music teachers do in their spare time to ensure that all of their students have access to the most engaging, rockin’ music lessons available!
On May 21, I went to NYU to attend an Amp Up NYC workshop in which teachers were provided with resources and training to implement the organization’s Modern Band music programs in their classrooms. There was an almost palpable excitement among the music teachers in attendance, eager to learn ways to better engage and serve their students. The teachers had given up 8 hours of their Saturday to come to the session, and the Amp Up NYC staff were not going to simply respond with a sleep-inducing lecture. Instead, they conveyed their teaching methods largely through captivating and fun music lessons in which the teachers became the students for the day, learning how to play various instruments, like the guitar, while singing along to beloved tunes.
By strumming my guitar alongside the teachers, I was exposed to Amp Up NYC’s teaching values, many of which resonated with me. As someone who has sung for nearly my whole life and taken part in numerous choir groups and musicals, I was able to appreciate Amp Up NYC’s philosophy of learning by doing.
As much as one is taught about correct breathing technique, proper vowels, and dynamics, no one will sound like Whitney Houston the first time they sing. The most effective way to learn how to act is to jump on stage and perform a scene. However, diving headfirst into any new activity can be nerve-wracking, especially in grammar school where one dreads being called out by a teacher in front of his or her classmates for doing something “wrong.” Amp Up NYC combats this cause for anxiety by stressing the importance of fostering comfort among all students in a classroom. In fact, during our guitar lesson, the instructor continually ensured us that he would not single out anyone no matter how bad he or she sounded, and he stuck to his word.
The presenter of the workshop also had a policy that no one could sit around while the rest were playing; everyone had to be involved. This rule quickly fostered a sense of community among a group of teachers that had never met. At no point was the power of music to foster community stronger than when the teachers and I had the pleasure of watching a group of grammar school students involved in their school’s Modern Band program perform. Playing in a band required them to communicate and listen to those around them, but it was also evident that each student recognized his or her importance to the group as a whole.
Regardless of whether any of those students go on to be the next Bob Dylan or Taylor Swift, I believe that the fulfilling feeling of contributing to something bigger than oneself will stick with those students even as they move beyond their Modern Band days.