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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Spotify as an Educational Tool

Andrew Hitz

When I heard this past summer that the music streaming service Spotify was finally coming to the United States I was very excited.  Friends in Europe had already been enjoying it for a couple of years but those of us in America had to wait a little while longer.  I signed up for an invitation to use the free tier to check it out.  Within two hours I upgraded all the way to Pro and it is currently the best $10 I spend a month. (If you are not familiar with Spotify, here is a great write-up by my friend Parker at the great music website Hidden Track).

Within the first month I listened to more music that was new to me than I probably had in the previous year combined! Suddenly my twitter feed and other social media outlets were places of musical discovery.  If someone I knew and respected mentioned a recording or a band I'd never heard before I would immediately search for it on Spotify.  The vast majority of the time it was there and I either heard it instantly or saved it for later.

The copious amounts of musical discovery that I made almost overnight made me realize that a service like Spotify could be used as a very serious teaching tool.  Arnold Jacobs always spoke of playing two tubas: the tuba in your head and the tuba in your lap.  I always tell my students that all music they hear, the best, worst and everything in between, is all data.  It all helps hone the idea of exactly what you want to sound like.

So I decided to make a studio project out of it at one of the schools where I teach, George Mason University.  It is called the Studio Listening Lab.  Every week, two students in the studio are assigned to create a playlist based on a certain theme.  The playlist, along with their comments about the songs they've selected, are posted to a blog every week.  Each student is then required to listen to both playlists and post comments of their own.

The themes that we have used so far include Groove, Tension & Release, and Tone & Blend.  Here's a recent playlist by graduate euphonium student Nathan Galloway using the theme Emotion.  Each student is encouraged to interpret their theme any way they'd like.  Their playlist can be filled with tubas and euphoniums or can have none at all.  It has been a great way for all of us to get to know each other better through our different tastes in music.  Every one of us has heard a significant amount of music that we might never have been exposed to otherwise.

This project has been such a success that I am planning to keep it going indefinitely.  Check back in often to see what new music the studio uncovers and please feel free to add your own comments to any of the posts.  Now I've got some listening I have to do!

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If you are interested in obtaining information about the George Mason University Tuba/Euphonium Studio you can visit the school's website or send me an email at ahitz@gmu.edu.