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Release: Feb. 16, 2000

Rollover, Beethoven: Aspiring teachers learn composition of another sort

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Aspiring teachers in one University of Iowa professor's methods course will spend part of this semester learning about music education. But don't expect to find any triangles or wooden blocks lying around his classroom.

Instead, assistant professor Carlos Rodriguez will teach his 20 undergraduates how to compose their own music with the help of computers, synthesizers and MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) technology. While no one in the class expects to become a Beethoven or Bach, Rodriguez says his students will learn how to teach music appreciation to children in an unconventional -- and, he hopes, more exciting -- way.

"In the past, teachers learned how to lead students in listening to music, playing instruments or singing," said Rodriguez, who teaches music education in the College of Education. "With computer technology, these prospective teachers can do the ultimate fun thing in music -- composing. When I was in school, the only people who composed music were composers."

Students in the Methods and Materials for the Elementary Teacher course, many of whom have no musical background, will begin the unit by familiarizing themselves with some of the features of the synthesizers, which are capable of mimicking hundreds of instruments and natural sounds. Then they'll begin recording and mixing tracks -- drums first, for example, followed by bass, guitar and maybe keyboard.

"We ask them to explore," Rodriguez said. "After they write their beginning melodies, we try to instill some musical sensibilities in them. We ask them, 'What do you think of this? Do you use repetition? Does the piece have variety? Does it generate interest in your listeners?' We talk to them the way we would want them to talk to their kids in nurturing them to learn music."

While students will work largely on their own in composing the pieces, using headphones and individual keyboards, Rodriguez said they will also be encouraged to give feedback to one another. The compositions also will be graded.

"It's very scary for some students, but also very rewarding," Rodriguez said. "Some people who come into the class say 'I can't do this.'"

Students quickly rise to the task, however. Some who have taken the class in past years have been inspired to explore music further.

"The class encourages students not just to hear, or listen, to music but to communicate musical ideas," Rodriguez said. "The emphasis isn't on technology but on creativity and encouraging a more child-centered approach to music education."