Inspiring creativity in every Music Student

JP Case Middle School is nestled in the town of Flemington, NJ - about halfway between New York and Philadelphia. Music educator Dan Schultz has been teaching there for the past 12 years, and has taught band, orchestra and general music.

For the past 4 years, he has focused more on orchestra and general music – including a former piano lab that was converted to a state of the art 30-station music technology lab back in 2008, paid for by fundraising efforts.

Heather Faherty and Rose Nagy, his chorus colleagues, each share in. With nearly 400 students cycling through his program, using a 4 period block schedule, Schultz teaches one block of ensemble, one tutorial lesson group, and one general music class each day.

The general music classes are divided into 30-day trimesters – meeting every other day for 77 minutes. With so many students and such precious class time, Schultz turned to MusicFirst last year to try to expand the reach of his classroom and get his students composing at home, on their own time. He purchased licenses of Inside Music, Noteflight Classroom and Soundation4Education and has been using them nearly every day with his instrumental and general music students since last July.

The results have been truly extraordinary.

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Schultz has his orchestral students do a number of innovative things with both Soundation4Education and Noteflight, including having his students record themselves playing etudes from their method books along with accompaniment files that they have generated using the included loops. Students like this type of assessment more than live assessments because performance stress is taken away.

“Students engaged in an inventive musical classroom find a unique voice beyond the performance of their instrument, allowing them to build digital music portfolios,” says Schultz.

He also has his instrumental students compose their own music using Noteflight – especially those who are not the greatest players. Providing students with alternative music outlets has really been a powerful addition to his music program. I asked Schultz how he finds time to have his strings students compose – especially given the limited rehearsal time that most middle school music educators have to deal with.

“We all struggle with having enough time to prepare for concerts,” says Schultz. “The curricular instruction modules in My Inside Music allows for a “flipped” classroom environment, where students can learn to compose at home. Some students are creating arrangements of songs they prefer to play, while others are creating original compositions for our orchestra to perform. Composition instruction need not be limited to general music environments.”

One amazing product during the first year of incorporating MusicFirst tools into his curriculum was the recent premiere of a student composition. “The experience of premiering a student composition in a school concert is personally unrivalled with any performance experience in my 25 years of teaching,” said Schultz. “It’s exciting to see middle school orchestra students demonstrate a greater personal ownership of their musical repertoire, demonstrating abilities previously unnoticed. I feel like I'm teaching kids creative thinking.”

One student, Rishub Thaper, wrote an incredible piece for full orchestra, recognized as the only middle school finalist for the 2014 NJMEA Young Composers Contest. Schultz gave him access to Inside Music and Noteflight over the summer. Thaper went straight through the curriculum then wrote 2 overtures for the orchestra – much too difficult for any middle school orchestra to play. With some guidance from Schultz, he wrote his Symphony No 3 in the span of two weeks.

“If Mozart went on a carnival ride – this is what it would sound like,” laughs Schultz. Several additional students have written pieces for orchestra, and every piece composed gets a thorough reading in rehearsals. Teaching composition in instrumental ensembles teaching truly taps into a child’s creativity, and raises the level of ownership in our ensembles in a highly personal manner.

With the support of his Technology Supervisor Michael Mitchell, Principal Bob Castellano, his fellow music teachers and the PTO, Schultz has built up the music technology aspect of his general music program over the past 5 years. His students do amazing things in a short span of time, including a rigorous piano unit (complete with a series of tutorial YouTube videos to help students learn the piano), a note-reading unit, composition, beat-boxing, popular music history, recording techniques, film scoring, and a culminating project where students create their own radio show based on a chosen musician.

When I asked Dan how MusicFirst has impacted his music program he said without hesitation:

“Our world needs students prepared to transform and innovate” says Schultz. “The arts have a unique value in education, and creativity should be our strongest suit, while the testing-crazed culture look for uniformity and search for a singular ‘right answer.’ Creating music in Noteflight, Inside Music and Soundation4Education provide a divergent cognitive remedy for anyone tiring from a focus on skill development.”

To learn more about the music program at JP Case Middle School, visit the music department homepage at