Using Podcasts Effectively: Advice from Jan Miyake, Associate Professor of Music Theory

In Fall 2013, I taught a four-day-a-week Music Theory 1 class. In this class, I worked with students entering the Bachelors of Music program at Oberlin who had less preparation (or access to preparation) than their peers. This experience was incredibly rewarding.

The students had a great attitude, were not afraid to be wrong, happy to ask “stupid” questions, willing to be put on the spot, open to peer teaching, and interested in pretty much whatever I asked them to do (or at least really good at pretending!).

Music Theory 1 started out with a lot of basic rudiments: key signatures, flavors of minor scales, flavors of triads, flavors of seventh chords, and inversions of those chordal flavors. And, helping students build fluency with core skills was a perfect opportunity to use podcasts.

I assigned podcasts, which I recorded myself, as homework in two contexts: 1) to summarize a topic after I presented it in person, and 2) to introduce students to a topic that I would quiz them on in class the next day. I also implemented two five-minute quizzes a week.

The assessments showed that learning was not dependent on the method of introduction; whether new information was presented through an assigned podcast or through an in-class mini-lecture.  I did not use the course management system to track student use of the podcasts, although I perhaps should have done so in order to get a better sense of how often students reviewed class materials.

From this experience, I feel comfortable sharing a short list of strategies for making podcasts effective:

  1. Brevity is essential.  The longest podcast I used was 5 minutes and 20 seconds.  If I can’t fit what I want to say into 5 minutes, it’s too complex to be done with out the visual aid of videotaping myself as I annotate concepts on a piece of staff paper. (That extra 20 seconds contained things like “good luck,” “thank you,” and “see you tomorrow!”)
  2. Hold students accountable for information from the podcasts.  Five-minute quizzes at the beginning of class on basic skills (add accidentals to these triads, label that seventh chord) encourage students to learn the information in the podcasts before I presented it during class.
  3. Remind students that listening is usually passive. If they are struggling with material, they need to take notes while they listen.
  4. When possible, connecting student listening to images (from websites or from a scanned handout) helps to facilitate learning.

Recommended links for teaching the rudiments of music:

Musictheory.net
EMusicTheory.com

This blog post has been adapted from a post which originally appeared on Jan Miyake’s blog, Teaching Matters, on September 17, 2013
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Jan Miyake
Jan Miyake is an Associate Professor of Music Theory at the Oberlin Conservatory. Her pedagogical goals include cultivating the skill of asking musical questions that lead down paths of inquiry requiring nuance, concentration, and attention to detail. Her current research explores issues of sonata form in late 18th- and early 19th-century works of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. She has presented her work at numerous regional, national, and international conferences, and is published in the Journal of Schenkerian Studies, Theory and Practice, and Essays from the Fourth International Schenker Symposium.

6 Comments

  1. Scott Watson June 7, 2015 Reply
    • Jan Miyake June 8, 2015 Reply
      • Scott Watson June 10, 2015 Reply
  2. Alisa Gross June 8, 2015 Reply
    • Scott Watson June 8, 2015 Reply

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