Standard #4: Content Knowledge
The teacher understands the central concepts, tools of inquiry, and structures of the discipline(s) he or she teaches and creates learning experiences that make these aspects of the discipline accessible and meaningful for learners to assure mastery of the content.
Content Knowledge is by far the most important principle for any educator, because one needs to have a thorough understanding of his field if he intends to effectively communicate the content to his students. The teacher must be able to present concepts in a way that students can comprehend. This is done through scaffolding information, using questions that guide students’ answers and understanding, and promoting meaningful learning experiences. The teacher's procedure can help students access and master content knowledge. For example, if I were teaching rhythm to a beginning instrumental music class I would choose to begin by chanting a rhythm such as “run pony, jump pony” and invite the students to join in. Then, I would demonstrate the rhythm on my instrument and have the students echo it on their instruments. After that, students would use rhythm syllables (such as ta ti-ti ta ti-ti) and counting to decipher the rhythm. Finally, I would introduce students to a melody or recording featuring that rhythm. At the beginning of this procedure, I started with a basic rhythmic phrase that was accessible for the students, and guided their learning towards understanding and mastery of the inherent rhythm.
Though a well-planned procedure can help students achieve mastery of content knowledge, the teacher must also be able to demonstrate his own knowledge and expertise. One way I do this is by playing or singing for my students. If I am teaching music theory to an instrumental ensemble, I would demonstrate the scales, intervals, or chords on various instruments such as piano or trumpet. For students that are also enrolled in choir, I would sing the scales in solfege using the appropriate hand signs. If I were teaching the rhythmic hierarchy to a class, I would draw a rhythm tree on the board beginning with a quarter note, breaking down into eighths, then sixteenths, and so on. Then, I would set a metronome and play these rhythms in sequence to demonstrate the note values. Finally, I would identify examples in the students' music and ask them to discover their own. Performing, conducting, and modeling in class are all excellent ways for the teacher to demonstrate his content knowledge to his students.
Music is a cyclical subject, one that is best taught through a spiral curriculum. Linear or modular teaching, such as in mathematics, in which students move from one step or tier to the next, measures progress by the number of steps taken. Music, however, necessitates that the student and teacher return to the fundamentals consistently, delving deeper and deeper and ingraining the knowledge for each cycle. Professional musicians may have a depth of knowledge that beginners still yet to access, but both experts and amateurs alike need to warm-up before they play. New concepts present opportunities for teachers to activate students’ prior knowledge, which encourages a meaningful learning experience. For example, when I was teaching major and minor chord quality to my students during my LAMP, I had to review scale degrees and basic intervals with my students first so that we could construct, analyze, and play the chords. To make this content more meaningful for my students, I also sought various ways to apply what they were learning. I had my students experiment with melodies in their method books and excerpts from their concert repertoire and change them from major to minor or vice versa. I also had students interested in hearing pop songs in different keys, so I found videos that implemented similar alterations from major to minor that we were working on in class. The teacher can afford, and is encouraged, to tap into students’ curiosity, even if this means straying away from the lesson plan for a moment.