Instruments of Learning: Music Students Take -- and Make -- Notes | Edutopia
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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Instruments of Learning: Music Students Take -- and Make -- Notes

In Bay Shore, New York, technology tools help students understand music theory and compose pieces of their own. Read the article.
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Teacher: One, two, sing strong. Go.

Class: Listen to the water, listen to the water, rolling down the river. Listen to the water, listen to the water-

Narrator: It begins in the first grade, and continues in middle school.

Teacher: What's the mood of this music?

Narrator: It culminates in high school bands and orchestral groups, infusing the entire curriculum of the Bay Shore school district on New York's Long Island. Here students learn to read, write and revel in the medium of music.

Evelyn Holman: You're not educated if you don't have the arts. Even in difficult times, we try to make sure that our students have access to the arts. It's part of the air we breathe. We're so close to New York and we have access to so many wonderful cultural opportunities here and we want our children to have those opportunities.

Teacher: You have to know how to harmonize "Jingle Bells." You start on E and use your ear.

Narrator: The district has been providing musical opportunities to all its students for decades, and has been recognized as one of the country's top music programs by the Grammy organization.

Class: One little, two little, three little robots.

Narrator: Children begin to benefit from an exposure to music in the first grade.

Student: Ta. Tee, ta, ta.

Carol: That's it.

I think music is really important in all areas of their development. When we work on movement, it helps in the area of PE, and the gross motor skills. Rhythms help them with coordination, playing the instruments also. We work on singing. We're doing reading, because they're reading the lyric charts. They have to read from left to right. All kinds of different skills that generalize into other areas of their academic schedule.

Narrator: At Bay Shore, every third grader gets to choose an instrument and take five weeks of free summer lessons. And all students take a general music class, where they learn to appreciate the classics and the basics of composition. Technology also helps high school students pursue their passion for music.

Teacher: This is an advanced composition class, and the final projects for the end of the year is a requirement that they submit a major work.

Terry: Computers have turned out to be an extremely powerful and extremely flexible tool for creativity. And it's really not about the computers or the software or the gadgets. It's really about the creative process.

Teacher: We'll talk about voicings. Like right now, this is kinda muddy, but if you take these notes and you move them up an octave, now you can clear your voicing. So now we're talking about orchestration. And it's instant. Now they can hear it back and forth, you know, as you're demonstrating it.

Narrator: In addition to conducting the advanced musical groups, Ted Scalzo teaches classes in music composition and multimedia production.

Ted: What makes multimedia unique is the empowerment. First of all, they're given projects where they realize they're high profile. Someone's gonna look at this. Somebody's gonna be using it. Someone's maybe gonna need it some day and I think when you set that high mark, that this isn't just a class, we're treating you like pros a little bit, you gotta produce something that, when it goes out into the public, it's consumable.

Narrator: Students use their own musical compositions to complement their personal productions.

Molly: This is my final film for my film studies project. I know a lot of schools don't have these programs and I'm very privileged to be part of Bay Shore High School and having these programs, such as multimedia and our music department.

Narrator: Every year in June, Bay Shore puts on an arts festival, which helps raise money for the music programs this community has come to embrace. For the student musicians, this is the final exam they relish.

You know, that feeling of getting on stage. This is the moment. There's no going back. There's only forward. You're gonna produce something, and what you produce is going to either communicate or not communicate. You're either gonna move or you're not gonna move an audience. So they learn about pressure, they learn about putting themselves on the spot. They learn about preparing and training for the event, very much like an athlete in a lotta ways.

Terry: I think music and all of the arts benefit children in many, many ways. The aspect of discipline, of studying really hard, focusing on achieving something. There are cognitive benefits, decoding skills. Everybody's part is important. You can't just have one or two great players. Everybody's gotta play the right note at the right time. Once you expose children to music and the arts at an early age, they take that with them for the rest of their life. And what I love about it is that everybody wins.

Ted: Oh, let's do that ending again.

Narrator: For more information on what works in public education, go to

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Video Credits

Produced, Written, and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis

Associate Producers:

  • Ashley Ball
  • Leigh Iacobucci
  • Miwa Yokoyama


  • Karen Sutherland

Camera Crew:

  • John Kelleran
  • Matt Sutton


  • Kris Welch

Additional Footage Provided by

  • Bay Shore High School Multimedia

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