Tag Archives: Music

Fostering a Growth Mindset in the Arts Classroom

Guest post by Louise Campbell, Artist in Schools

What strategies can be used in the arts classroom to shift focus from ‘getting it right’ to exploring potential? Educators often refer to this as ‘fostering a growth mindset’. As an Artist in Schools, my first task in a music classroom is to use the skills students have developed with their teachers in a way that is surprising. I do this by setting up games. Games have rules, giving everyone clear guidelines that govern how and what to play, making it easy for everyone to participate, in addition to being fun.

The following is one of my favourite game pieces for use in the music classroom. It is a great start to a creative process, since long tones are a fundamental skill practiced in most music classrooms. The game starts out in a way that sounds familiar, and quickly evolves in surprising directions. Due to the process inherent in the game, the students can take the piece in any number of directions, leading them to more unfamiliar sounds and ways of playing.

Sound and silence By Louise Campbell



Instrumentation: for 4+ musicians playing pitched instruments


There are two choices of how to play:

  • a long tone( crescendo and decrescendo)
  • a silence

Long tones can be any pitch in any register on the instrument.

The long tones and silences can overlap in any way, shifting textures and timbres as different instruments come in and drop out at various times.

The next stage of this game is to consider pitch. Here are some variations, following the same rules as above. Musicians can play:

  1. An E in any octave
  2. Any note of a specific chord, such as C Major or E minor minor 7
  3. Any note of specific scale, such as pentatonic, or D Major
  4. Any note from a defined collection of notes, such as C, C#, D, F#
  5. Any note of the chromatic scale

Each of these variations sounds very different, depending on how students listen and respond to each other. The following excerpt demonstrates one version of this game as played by the Lindsay Place Music Étude students during a Culture in Schools workshop:


Sound and Silence,conducted by Louise Campbell. Co-composed, performed and recorded by Lindsay Place Music Etude students.


This is a fairly unusual sound for most students, and helps to create an atmosphere in which curiosity is at the forefront. In the event that a student understands the activity through a fixed mindset, this generally becomes evident when they point out a perceived ‘mistake’.  Hyper-focusing on mistakes can be quite detrimental to the creative process, as it can be quite limiting to what students are willing to try.

Let’s have a look (and listen) at one way in which a mistake may be identified, the self-talk that surrounds it and the way this situation was turned into creative potential.


The following audio track is a sketch I composed, played and recorded for clarinet and loop station (N.B. Loop stations repeat exactly what you play, over and over. So if you make a mistake…)

Sketch for Knitting Lessons, for clarinet and loop station by Louise Campbell. In the words of a wise woman who taught me both music and knitting, ‘If you make a mistake, do it twice. Then people think you did it on purpose. They won’t be any the wiser if you don’t tell them!’


The recording session is going swimmingly until:

ME TO MYSELF: Bah. I made a mistake.

(listens to 1:55 for a few loops and remembers knitting advice: if you make a mistake, do it twice)

Hmmm, actually that’s not bad, kind of foreshadows what I’m gonna do later.

(continues process for section, building new loop)

Now to work in that mistake…

(overdubs several loops 2:35-2:50)

… yeah, cool, that works…

Whoops! I didn’t mean that.

(listens to new ‘mistake’ at 2:50)

Actually that’s pretty cool. I wonder if I can use that…

(follows process to end)


In this case, my initial reaction to making a ‘mistake’ was frustration, as can be the case with a fixed mindset. I wanted the piece to come out the way I planned it. However, on remembering the advice to make a mistake purposeful, I was able to hear the potential in the ‘mistake’, and work it into the piece. In fact, the two ‘mistakes’ featured in this piece became ‘design features’ that are now integral to the piece. If I had stopped when I made the first ‘mistake’, I would never have found out where it would lead me. Re-contextualizing the ‘mistake’ as an unexpected event with potential allowed me to listen in a way that flipped a fixed mindset to one of growth.

This is only one example of the self-talk involved in a creative process, and resembles many discussions that come up with students in the art classroom. This was how I re-contextualized a perceived mistake for myself; listening to students and their self-talk shows the best way to re-contextualize perceived mistakes and help them see and hear the potential in unexpected events.

When facilitating creativity in the arts classroom, establishing an atmosphere of curiosity and exploration is the first step to fostering a growth mindset, and lays the foundation for contextualization of ‘mistakes’ as unexpected events that provide potential for the new and unexpected. Fostering a growth mindset makes for surprising discoveries for everyone, and keeps fun and play at the center of learning, creativity and making art.



Louise Campbell is an Artist in Schools. You can read her other guest posts:

Cell Phones in the Classroom: Music education in the BYOD era
Music, Memory and Making the Most of Earworms

Cell Phones in the Classroom: Music education in the BYOD era

Guest post by musician Louise CampbellArtist in Schools

I have a bias towards living life unplugged, especially when it comes to being in a classroom with a room full of students. Despite this preference, tech is a huge part of most of our lives today, and especially of our students’ lives. The goal of this post is to give you some tips on how to use cellphones in the classroom in a way that keeps student learning and creativity at the center of the experience.

Sound technology in their pockets

What’s one of today’s most accessible pieces of sound technology? Definitely cell phones. They record. They play back. They’re mobile. And most importantly, lots of your students have them. Our challenge is to make use of cell phone capabilities for artistic and educational purposes (N.B. As we all know, cell phone distraction is a real thing. And it has history! Alexander Graham Bell refused to have a telephone in his study because he considered it an intrusion on his work. I ask students to put their cells on airplane mode so we can use them purely for their sound capabilities and minimize distraction.)

First, let’s get your students thinking artistically about what effects they can create with multiple mobile sound sources. Here is one example to get started: I first used cell phones as a sound source when I was working on a dance piece. I wanted to create the illusion of a forest filled with birds using birdsongs and calls coming from many places and moving as they would in real life. That’s a bit of a challenge if you are only one clarinet player. On a whim I asked the dancers to play a pre-recorded track of birdcalls from their phones that they kept on them while they danced. The effect was magical. The space came alive with sound with a dimensionality I usually only experience when camping. To recreate this piece with your students, cue up the following track on 6-8 cellphones, launching each cell phone at different times over the course of 1 minute:

Songbird, performed and composed by Louise Campbell for clarinet and loop station, cell phone version performed during Banff Centre Creative Gesture Lab 2017

Engaging students in composing

Now for a creative music process using cell phones with your students. Brainstorm ideas with your students of the overall effect you want to create. Is it a rainstorm? A bustling crowd? A volcano erupting? A calm meditative hum? What sounds best evoke this effect? How best can these sounds be made: using instruments, found objects or voices? As you move through the following process you and your students will start to understand what is effective and make choices about what and how to record that will best serve your artistic idea.

The process:

  1. Set all cell phones to airplane mode to eliminate unwanted interruptions during recording and play-back.
  2. Using the cell phone’s built in microphone and recording app, ask students to record 3-5 sustained sounds separated by long silences. Play a crescendo and decrescendo on each sustained sound. If playing pitched instruments, you can leave the pitch choices open for the moment or establish pitches to choose from (see this blog post for details). Mic sensitivity varies greatly from one cell phone to another, so give students time to do several recordings with the cell phone placed 1 foot, 2 feet and 3 feet away from the sound source to determine what sounds best.

Example: Cell phone cue from sound design by Louise Campbell for Waxworks by Trina Davies, directed by Glenda Stirling (CUE production, 2017)


  1. Set the track to repeat and/or turn off the advance to next track function. If neither of these options is possible, record a ten second silence after the last sustained sound to give the student an opportunity to stop the sound file before it advances to the next song on their playlist.
  2. When all of the tracks are recorded, ask students to play the recordings starting at different times.

Example: Four cell phones playing the previous example track. I was going for an eerie, wailing sound to accompany a fairly disturbing scene from the play Waxworks. Creepy! And quite different than Songbird.

  1. Repeat #4, asking students to spread out around the room in different configurations. How does it sound when students are bunched together compared to spread far apart? How does it sound when only 6 cell phones are playing compared to 26? How does it sound when the recordings are started close to the same time, compared to started at different times over the course of 1-2 minutes? What can you alter, change, do differently to best invoke your artistic idea?

If you and your students are interested in creating something more like a ‘song’ either by one person or a small group of people, the process we just used is a hop, skip and a jump away from doing just that. Again, cell phones are an accessible way to go about it. Check out free and low-cost looping apps. The app Loopy is quite flexible, has good on-line tutorial videos, and is available for both iPhone and Android. From there, understanding how a looper works is the easiest thing in the world, because what a looper does best is repeat itself. Over. And over. And over. Ask one student to make a sound into the looper and I guarantee everyone will understand how it works. This element of looping is very helpful; it allows people to instantly hear what they played. Most people are quite refined listeners regardless of their experience in making music; they know right away if they like what they hear or not!

Student process : Nikola’s story

This was certainly the case with Nikola, a violinist in his first year of playing and the first student to use my looper after the demonstration I gave in class. We had the advantage of having completed two workshops on improvising in the Game genre, in addition to the excellent musical training he receives from his music teacher Karine Lalonde at École secondaire Pointe-aux-Trembles. Beyond that, I can take no credit for the following sound samples: I explained how looping works and Nikola took it from there. After a few trials, here is the first loop he made:

Rhythmic loop by Nikola, delay setting equivalent to mm=120

During the recording of this loop, Nikola wasn’t satisfied with a high, sustained sound and wanted something a little less piercing. Karine, a very fine violinist, showed him how to play a touch-fourth harmonic, which created exactly the kind of sound he was looking for.

Since Nikola’s first loop was rhythmic and droney, I suggested he do something contrasting using glissandi. Here is his second loop:

Glissandi loop by Nikola, delay setting equivalent to mm=120

After class, I wanted to show Nikola one example of what could be done with two contrasting loops. Here’s the result:

Loops by Nikola, arrangement and mix by Louise Campbell

What I would really like to hear is what Nikola would have done with his two loops. Again: free and low-cost apps can give students the tools to record, create and mix their own loops with a minimum of gear. Ask your students what they already know and do: chances are a few already make their own mixes. Use their favourite app, and you’ll have an expert who’s excited to share what they know with their newly plugged-in counterparts. Harness the excitement around tech, and the teaching and learning can go in countless directions!


Louise Campbell is a Montreal-based musician who specializes in participatory music making for amateurs of all ages and abilities. Her most notable work includes music improvisation and composition with elementary and secondary school students as an Artist in Schools (Playing the music game: Unplugged, Répertoire de ressources culture-éducation, Culture in Schools) and for disadvantaged youth (Les bonnes notes, Culture pour tous). For more music games and activities such as this, visit Louise’s blog at louisecampbell.ca

Music, Memory and Making the Most of Earworms

This is a guest post by music educator Louise Campbell.

Memory is trained less and less in our everyday lives, with major impacts on students’ ability to understand and master subject matter. Assuming there are basics of information you want your students to learn by memory, what are some strategies for getting that information well lodged in students’ heads?

Ever got a tune stuck in your head? And couldn’t get it out?

As Oliver Sacks discussed (Musicophilia, 2008), ear worms are songs that repeat over and over in your head. The jury is out on how and why this happens: but we’ve all had the experience of that tune going round, right round, baby, right round-round, baby, round like a record, baby….

You get the idea! Let’s use this funny brain hiccup to help you and your students create a memory game embedded with the information you want your students to know inside out and backwards.

The game: Fruit Salad is a rhythm game that features word-based chants. The chants are repeated and layered an indeterminate number of times. I composed the following score using rhythmic chants of different lengths: 3, 4 and 5 beats long. When layered, the chants phase due to their different lengths.

Fruit Salad
Game by Louise Campbell

How to toss the fruit salad:

  1. As a class, learn each chant by heart. Loop as many times as necessary until comfortable.
  2. Drop a word(s) from the chant and replace it with a rest(s). See boxes in the score above for suggestions of what to drop.
  3. Add a word(s) back into the chant.
  4. Find a way to add/drop words on the fly.
  5. Divide your class into 2-3 groups and assign one chant per group. Ask each group to practice the chant until they can loop it easily and add/drop words on the fly.
  6. Bring the class back together and loop the chants at the same time, adding and dropping words at will.

On the level of memory, participants learn the chants by rote, and then challenge and integrate memory through the game of keeping their place in the chant as words are added and dropped. The result is a groovy group rhythm in which different words from the chants pop out at different times. The game itself is fun to play, and has all kinds of interesting musical possibilities.

Now, imagine how you can make this game work for you and your students in terms of memory – say you use this game when teaching your students about nutrition. Chances are that if you ask your students on a test to name a number of fruits, they will come out with the fruit in the chant they learned. What if you and your students made up a chant with examples of each of the major food groups? The information will be even more committed to memory if students come up with the chants themselves.

A chanting game can be made out of any material you want your students to memorize. Pick a topic and ask your students to brainstorm words associated to that topic. Then, ask students to play with the words as rhythm, by dropping and adding, arranging and re-arranging the words to be as groovy as possible. For best results for memory, the chants can be made to represent a ‘chunk’ of information, where one chant is dedicated to a specific food group.

The key is to boil it down to the essentials – words and rhythm – to make the chant rhythmic and catchy. In the process of playing with the words, your students will be committing the chant to memory, building their own earworms out of information needed to master a subject. Who knows how far you and your students will take it – want your students to memorize the Periodic Table of Elements? It has some fabulously rhythmic words that would make a great rap!


Louise Campbell is a Montreal-based musician who specializes in participatory music making for amateurs of all ages and abilities. Her most notable work includes music improvisation and composition with elementary and secondary school students as an Artist in Schools (Playing the music game: Unplugged, Répertoire de ressources culture-éducation, Culture in Schools) and for disadvantaged youth (Les bonnes notes, Culture pour tous). For more music games and activities such as this, visit Louise’s blog at louisecampbell.ca





Singing the Grade School Blues

Rob Lutes singing the Blues.

When I was about twelve years old I was flipping through my parent’s record collection and came across B.B. King ‎– Live In Cook County Jail, an album cover faded and textured like prison denim.

From the moment I put the needle to the record I was transported by the sounds of inmates laughing and booing in response to introductions of the prison director and chief justice of the criminal court.   Then comes the introduction of B.B. King who immediately kicks off with “Every day I have the blues”. It was at that moment that I understood how the blues easily communicates loneliness, sadness and hardships of life to an audience.

As B.B. King says “Blues don’t necessarily have to be sung by a person that came from Mississippi as I did, because there are people having problems all over the world”.

There is power in playing blues music to a group of people that seemed to have lots to be blue about. There is power in teaching students how to express their emotions through lyrics and music.

This post is not meant to be a total downer, but rather a chance to introduce Rob Lutes, an accomplished singer songwriter who has been providing a blues songwriting workshops for students in Quebec, across Canada and in Europe. What he does is work with students to learn about the intersections of history and music. The workshop shows how the blues was a vehicle to comment on important societal issues, personal feelings and emotions.

Rob starts his workshops with the story of the blues as rooted in the history of slavery in North America and extending through the African-American experience of racism, segregation and discrimination. Reflecting on the history of music in North America, he quotes the Willie Dixon line “the blues as the roots, the rest is the fruits” crediting the blues as the basis for much of the modern music that we enjoy today.

The second part of the workshop is where the real fun and learning begins. Students engage in writing and performing a blues song in 20 minutes. Rob works with students to brainstorm subjects, vote on a single topic and then facilitates the writing of a collective song using the Delta Blues style following the traditional AAB rhyme scheme. This style and the songwriting portion of the workshop as a whole is successful because “creativity flourishes within constraints”.

Some might say it’s impossible to write a song that fast!  Let me try one real quick.

Writer’s Block Blues

I don’t know what to write

I don’t know what to write

I’m begging please, don’t let it take all night

During my conversation with Rob, he tells me that he is pleasantly surprised to see students typically disengaged throw out lines that get the whole class enthused, building off each other. Encouraging students in this way has potential to provide valuable opportunity for student voice. Opening a space for students to write about issues in society or realities in their community.

Last year Rob brought his workshop to three schools in the Gaspe. Talking about important community realities (or at least the reality of 16 year-olds), the secondary 5 students collectively came up with a song called the “The Lifted Truck Blues”.

Last summer, grade 4 students at Clearpoint Elementary School wrote The Bad Dream Blues as part of the Montreal Folk Festival’s inaugural Artists in the Schools program. You can hear their song here.

The Bad Dream Blues

I went to sleep, I saw a shadow in my room

I went to sleep, I saw a shadow in my room

The shadow had eight arms, it was flying on a broom

I thought it was a ghost, so I called the ghostbusters

I thought it was a ghost, so I called the ghostbusters

They showed up right away with a big duster

Something woke me up saying you got to follow the rules

Something woke me up saying you got to follow the rules

It was my Mom saying it’s time to go to school

I got The Bad Dream Blues 

If you are interested in organizing a workshop or talking about education and the blues you can contact Rob at roblutes33@yahoo.ca

Rob Lutes Blues Playlist
Diddie Wa Diddie – Blind Blake
No Love Today– Chris Smither
It’s Tight Like That – Tampa Red and Georgia Tom
Fishin’ Blues – Taj Mahal
Tight Money – Bobby Rush

Burgundy Jazz: Exploring Black History Within a Local Context

February is Black History Burgundy JazzMonth, a time to learn, honour and celebrate the achievements of black Canadians. An interesting entry point for you and your students to explore black history is Burgundy Jazz: Life and Music in Little Burgundy. The Curio.ca site describes the Burgundy Jazz project as “a multi-platform web documentary about Montreal’s incredible contribution to jazz through the legendary Black musicians of Little Burgundy.”   It is a springboard into learning about black history in Montreal, particularly around the middle of the 20th century. The focus of Burgundy Jazz is not just about jazz but also about the life of porters and the kind of employment opportunities that were available, the role of the church in people’s lives, as well as other issues faced by Montreal’s black community. From there it is easy to make connections to other topics, relevant to Black History Month, such as the underground railway, slavery, civil rights.

The Burgundy Jazz project includes an excellent Educator’s Guide available for free in both English and French (see links below). The guide contains five teaching units, each emphasizing different curriculum areas (social science, language arts, the arts). While there is an app, an eBook and a CD of music connected to the project, none are essential to the units in the guide. You can pick and choose from the units and the videos to suit your classroom objectives. The use of technology is encouraged throughout, in a seamless and purposeful way both in exploring the issues and in a final production.  Students are encouraged to work collaboratively to demonstrate understanding through the planning and production of videos, podcasts, photo montages, digital stories, digital maps, even websites. These units can be an inspiration to you, to use similar techniques in a variety of other contexts.

Curio.ca, a fee-based service, is an initiative of CBC and Radio Canada. Some teacher guides can be downloaded for free but the videos and audios can only be streamed by educators with a subscription. Check the curio website to see if your board has a subscription. Fortunately, the Burgundy Jazz project is open to all.

What we find particularly compelling about Burgundy Jazz, is that it addresses local issues, uses primary source documents (interviews, song lyrics, photographs, maps) and invites teachers and students to take on the role of local historian by ultimately asking the questions: What makes my community unique? How has my community changed over the years? How does Little Burgundy, historically and currently, compare to the situation in my own community? How is it the same or different now?

The web doc, which is comprised of fourteen video capsules, is a central part of the project and includes photographs, narratives and interviews which capture the essence of the time. Attached to each video are photographs, audio extracts and an additional video capsule. These are rich resources to explore.

For those who want to investigate other aspects of black history, there is a historical timeline which gives you a sense of the major events of the times. If music is your focus, there is a list of musicians with short bios as well as numerous audio examples of music of the era. One of the units looks at how black music has evolved. Students can be inspired to create their own hip hop music or spoken word poetry.

To learn a little more about the project, watch the video below.

According to the Educator’s Guide the content in Burgundy Jazz is appropriate for students from grades 6 and up. The units do, however, include some mature topics such as prohibition, drug use, burlesque dancing and prostitution. Viewed in context and deconstructed with the guidance of an educator, the videos can help students come to understand why this was a part of the jazz scene.

How have you approached Black History Month in your classroom? What connections have you made to the curriculum? How have you made it locally relevant to your students? Please share with us in the comments section below. And let us know if you are using the Burgundy Jazz resources in your classroom.

English resources:

Burgundy Jazz Site

Burgundy Jazz Educator’s Guide

Celebrating Black History Month (for curio.ca subscribers, a fee-based service)

Ressources en français :

Site Jazz Petite-Bourgogne

Guide pédagogique Jazz Petite-Bourgogne