BU Today feature: Teaching Music Teachers How to Rock

BU Today feature Teaching Music Teachers How to Rock

Jay Dorfman (right) gives Michael Soo (left) and Aidan Linden some quick instructions before they run through a song at a Rock Band performance & Pedagogy class. Photo by Jackie Ricciardi

Alice Cooper got it wrong: forget “School’s Out”—this summer, school was in at BU for teachers who wanted to learn how to rock.

Many junior high and high schools include the basics of rock ’n’ roll as part of their musical education. And while some music teachers know Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” backwards and forwards, many others come up through orchestra or jazz band or chorus and don’t know a Stratocaster from a Les Paul or Eddie Van Halen from, well, Les Paul.

The latter group is the target audience for Rock Band Performance & Pedagogy, a College of Fine Arts Summer 2 course taught by Jay Dorfman, a Kent State University associate professor and coordinator of music education, and his friend Kevin Coyne, a music teacher at McDevitt Middle School in Waltham, Mass.

“I started a rock band camp about 15 years ago with a friend who was a drummer, with my guitar students and his drum students,” says Coyne (CFA’21), who’s working on a doctorate in music education. “It took off. I ran it for about 12 years, and it’s still continuing without me. And in the process of doing that I became friends with Jay, who suggested doing a professional development class for teachers who wanted to do what we did. It’s not something that a lot of teachers get formal training in, in music education.”

“I was a music education faculty member here at BU for eight years,” Dorfman says. “I had been becoming more and more involved in the movement of bringing rock bands to schools, which is really a national movement at this point, or international. And it’s always more fun to teach intense workshops like this collaboratively.”

The course, offered every other summer, consists of five days of history, theory, and pedagogy, taught mostly in the mornings, followed by rock band practice in the afternoons. The week culminates in a performance for family and friends at BU Central.

The 11 students in this year’s class included 9 music teachers from different grades and a couple of ringers who had personal reasons for wanting to rawk. Many were grad students in CFA’s music education program. They spent a lot of time learning such things as the difference between guitars like the Fender Stratocaster and the Gibson Les Paul and the history of rock ’n’ roll and how it emerged from forms like the blues.

“Many of us are classically trained musicians, and we did not have a lot of experience playing rock band instruments,” says trombonist Burton Hable (CFA’23), a doctoral student in music education who has taught music to middle- and high-school students for more than a decade.

Learning requires being willing to make mistakes, and Coyne and Dorfman had hopes that their own fledgling drum solos and possible headbanging would help their students overcome any self-consciousness.

For teachers with rock experience, learning rock-specific pedagogy is more important, from helping students figure out the right instruments for themselves to picking tunes for class or lessons.

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