Learning Through Content Creation
This is part 2 of 3 in my series focused on the new paradigm in music education.
Check out the entire class on YouTube!
Check out part 1 here
Hope for the best but move forward with the spirit of innovation and the attitude of adaptability. Waiting things out is not a strategy.
I believe in leveraging technology. It's always been a huge part of my business. I've also worked as a producer and I've been interested and engaged in music production for years both through my own projects as a writer/composer and student projects as well. As a result, content creation has always been a part of my skill set. Prior to COVID-19, my studio was so busy that I would constantly wish I had more time for content creation. Now with my entire studio online, these skills have dramatically come into use more than ever before and as a result students are flourishing. I would argue that this is yet another example of a prior trend being accelerated that is now here to stay.
What is Content Creation?
At the Simon Boyar School of Drums and Percussion, I define content creation as anything that you create to supplement and enhance your learning. It does not necessarily mean that you are uploading videos to YouTube every week or producing highly edited content although that is certainly a possibility. Content creation is one of the most powerful tools of our time and it's very easy to get started. Never before have we been able to create our own reality in such a positive way while learning. Content creation allows students to truly learn in their "best way." This is a VERY powerful thing. While there will always be things that make up the characteristics of a great education, the "one size fits all" approach is a thing of the past. Content creation carries this trend forward. This post will explore some of the basic ways that students can learn through creating content.
Perhaps the easiest and most basic example of content creation is a practice log. My students and I use Google Docs for this. I've also put together student assessments where I write their assignments each week. You can check out a few examples of student practice logs here. I encourage my students to find their own way to do this. It can be as limited or as expansive as the student feels necessary. The simple act of doing it helps the student to hold themself accountable and pivot off of their previous work. This was always important and it is now more important than ever online.
As we are all aware, it's quite easy to make a video (or audio file) these days and I will very often ask students to make me a short video of their weekly lesson assignments. This creates a very positive dynamic for the student. When the student has to take out their phone and try a few times to get a decent version of their assignment, they are setting a goal and executing. In an environment where it's challenging to meet for ensemble or even play together simultaneously, this creates real engagement and "doing." "Learning by doing" is absolutely imperative and videos help to bridge the gap. I can't emphasize this enough. Many of my students now have an entire catalog of videos that they have made over the past few months. They've documented their progress and again, it's keeps them accountable and honest which in the current environment is an extremely positive thing. I've noticed time and time again that students who regularly make videos as a part of their lessons are on the whole, having better outcomes online.
Using a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
A DAW allows you to record, edit, or produce audio files. Simply put, it allows you to make tracks. This is one of those things that I see a lot of students struggle with early on mainly because they don't equate doing something like this with learning "instrumental" music. Unfortunately, much of this has to do with the modern paradigm created by traditional music education. Students may believe that something like this is reserved only for composers or producers. However, using a DAW is actually quite common and it has a variety of uses from recording basic practice sessions to creating arrangements. There are SO MANY out there but in this post I am going to focus on GarageBand since that is what most students will be using early on and what many of my students use.
GarageBand comes with every Mac and is surprisingly easy to use. If you start to feel comfortable using GarageBand you may consider upgrading to Logic. Most students should have no problem learning GarageBand by watching a few tutorial videos online. Here's one to get you started:
If you are running a Windows computer here are a few GarageBand alternatives although I must confess I haven't used any of these myself. I've been a Mac user for years.
It seems like nearly every post I put together I need to mention setup but it's very important so I don't mind being redundant. You'll need to put some effort in to both "completing the task" and also insuring that you don't expend unnecessary energy doing it. I talk about this in previous posts. While crude, I always suggest starting out with whatever you have to make music. That is how you will learn. For example, go ahead and try to make something using the built in mics on your computer or phone. Again, it will be crude. However as you learn and improve, you'll know exactly what you need to purchase for upgrades. Definitely don't put the cart before the horse. It will take some effort and students will need to be self-sufficient problem solvers to a certain extent. This is an aspect of learning online that I constantly emphasize. You have to get the setup right and experiment but if you are committed, you should be able to get a decent sound for all of your content.
Arrangements can be a very useful tool especially for students who are studying both drums and mallets (highly recommended) or drums and piano (also highly recommended) etc. I will often have my students put together charts. A typical lesson assignment would be to have a student put together a basic chart like Autumn Leaves with a bass line, harmony (chords), melody/solo, and a drum track or maybe just specific parts depending on their skill level. Many of my students are also finding success in making their own arrangements of songs that they love. Mallet students who are learning scales and modes are finding tremendous value in putting together bass lines and chords from tunes and recording them into GarageBand. Drum students are finding that their time, groove, and sense of style improve dramatically when attempting to record drum parts for a song that they know extremely well. Putting together arrangements will increase your learning exponentially!
Drum Covers using Yamaha Rec'n'Share App, EAD10, Your Own Setup
Recording drum charts is an awesome way to work towards a goal and follow through. It's also a blast! Many of my students are using the Yamaha EAD10 to do this. Full disclosure - I am a Yamaha Drums Dealer, I carry and sell the Yamaha EAD10, and I'm a HUGE fan of it. The Yamaha EAD10 along with the Yamaha Rec'n'Share App makes playing along with and recording drum covers a very easy and streamlined process. You can then share and upload your videos. It's also an incredible practice tool. Students love it!
Here is an example of one of my student's Billy making it happen:
The EAD10 does require an investment upfront but it can be a powerful tool for drum content creation and an absolute game changer for practicing. It's by far one of my most popular selling items and for a good reason!
You can also use the Yamaha Rec'n'Share app with any of the Yamaha DTX400k series electric drum kits so it's widely used by beginners as well.
Of course there are a ton of different ways to make drum covers other than using the above tools. You'll need mics, some basic DAW knowledge, and of course the motivation to see it thorough and succeed. It takes effort but it's well worth it.
What if I'm not creative?
I completely understand that for many of you some of this stuff doesn't come naturally. Remember, it's perfectly ok to keep it simple, just use material that you are currently working on, and "make something cool." If you are learning a samba try laying down a groove and maybe playing exercises over it. Record Stick Control patterns and play grooves over them. You will be surprised where this leads. Use the tools that are available to you and you may discover that you are more creative than you thought!
I would also add (and even argue) that basic arranging and lingual skills are fundamental and necessary. It's only in our modern world that arranging, composition, and creativity became detached from learning music. If you studied music 150 years ago, these skills were commonplace. For a variety of reasons they are now becoming commonplace again. This is a topic for another post. However, I do believe that an important part of learning music should be stretching into these areas quite a bit.
Experiment! With content creation, there is no right or wrong way to learn!
As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, these are just some of the basic possibilities for students learning through content creation. There are more options and I would encourage everyone to experiment. Experimentation is half the fun! With your efforts and proper guidance from an experienced mentor, you will find that content creation will drive success and very positive outcomes in your learning. Like so many things I've been talking about lately, all of this was with us before but the trend has been accelerated and now it's here to stay. The paradigm for success has shifted and content creation is one of your most powerful tools. Use it!