Mitchell Davis : About Me

Mitchell Davis is currently a music education student at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, born in 1997 in Sydney. Following a positive experience with music education in primary and secondary school combined with a personal interest in music as an art form and pastime, the decision to become a secondary school music teacher was naturally made.

Complimentary to studying music education, Mitchell also holds ongoing experience working casually in a youth centre in his home town of Liverpool, New South Wales. After studying a Certificate IV in Youth Work, It was here that he initially found his confidence and appreciation for working with young people to achieve positive outcomes, predominately running various sport and recreational youth programs both in local Liverpool school environments and at the youth centre’s facilities.

Mitchell’s specific area of musical expertise is in contemporary popular music. He is a guitarist and songwriter who enjoys genres such as heavy metal, extreme metal, hard rock, blues and pop. He has begun to write, release and perform his original music in order to gain greater experience in the world of contemporary music and give more value to his skills in becoming a music educator.

Mitchell Davis’ first official musical release with his band Together As One

KAME : Who you be? reflections and thoughts

This is my final post for Key Approaches in Music Education. It is based on the first six weeks of discussions we had in half of each lesson, centred around various issues of culture, inclusion, tradition and forward thinking. I will not attempt to represent exactly the work of all the fantastic authors and music education professionals we studied, although I will attempt to summarise my thoughts on the main themes.

In week 1 we spoke with Brent Talbot regarding his experiences in his music education work and his thoughts on who we are and how our personal history may influence our view of music education. From his perspective in the USA, he references Ken Elpus who highlights that American music teachers are overall less culturally diverse than the USA population is in itself, which is proposed to present issues around certain forms of music being prioritised, such as western art and western popular music. Interestingly, Talbot also states that the idea of culturally diverse and accepting music education has been reserved for only primary education, and secondary and tertiary music ed struggles to keep up. A powerful quote to summarise all of this by Talbot is : “Advocacy for our field would not be necessary if the broader population felt the work we did as music teachers represented and reflected their identities and daily lives.”

In week 2, we spoke to Anna bull, who proposes that there are 3 types of young musicians, the “bright futures”, the “masters of the musical universe”, or the “humble and hard working”, at least in terms of those young people who exist within traditional western music spheres and are passionate enough to continue making music throughout their lives. It was discussed to what extent we all felt as though we had opportunities carved out for us to pursue music as young people, with the few of us, myself included, who were able to speak from the relatively new perspective of western popular musicians new to the academic world. Personally, I mentioned to the group that I felt I had great experiences in school music classes, and despite there being no direct path to music as a future profession in any form, this did not de rail my ability to build my skills high enough to attend the Sydney Conservatorium of music.

In week 3, we discussed a poem by Nate Holder, discussing the potential for racism in music education and music in general. To summarise, a few key lines from the poem raise important topics. First, the line “I’d teach African drumming because of course Africa is a country” highlights the need to respect the history and values behind any form of music studied in the classroom, moving away from a surface level understanding. The line “after all, it’s them and us” and the noting of the trans Atlantic slave trade occurring around the height of western art music, highlights the need for a spectrum approach to musical cultures rather than a binary one that only highlights differences rather than celebrates similarities.

In week 4, We looked at some of the work by Alexis Kallio, a music teacher from Finland, who have held the number one ranking worldwide for education systems. Her article in this case dealt with the tricky topic of engaging with “problematic” musics in the classroom environment since this is a necessary part of the profession if we are to be truly inclusive. In particular, many modern forms of popular music were identified for their strong lyrical themes and sometimes anti social ideologies that are put forward, either directly or indirectly. Kallio also notes that it is impossible, and perhaps wrong, to ignore all musics that seem problematic for the classroom since these are still available to students to enjoy in their own time, with friends and in concert. I was not surprised to find many of my classmates highlighted heavy metal as problematic, with rap and hip hop also casually mentioned if I remember correct. I also provided the example of Black Metal as problematic and something I would struggle to ever include in the classroom, considering it’s early history with a handful of Norwegian musicians who engaged in severe crimes, forever tarnishing the reputation of a genre that now has provided legions of fans with a strongly positive emotional and musical outlet, despite it’s surface appearance of anti social themes.

In week 5 we engaged with the writings of Scruton, who maintains the value of western art music over western popular music. His target of Nirvana’s “In Bloom” makes a strong example for his thoughts. Firstly, the chord progression is targeted for it’s use of parallel perfect intervals, with “key changes unprepared” as well. It becomes clear that Scruton’s vocabulary is based in western art music and he does not have an understanding for the emotional, social value of rock or popular music which does not concern itself with sticking to rules of music theory. However, James made it apparent that despite this non inclusive way of thinking, it is in fact still a valid opinion and deserves consideration alongside the other authors we have been discussing.

In week 6, we spoke with Rachel Dwyer whose work focusses on the idea of valuing western art music above other forms in music education. Namely, how this can leave out many great opportunities for other experiences in the classroom, and even neglecting the prior musical experiences of students in the classroom. It was also noted that music education is unique in that it is not simply about “transmission of knowledge”, rather it is about a facilitating musical experiences for students. Some students may also feel “alienated” if they are taught that music is about valuing a narrow set of knowledge and experiences, rather than embracing a range of these.

KAME contemporary pedagogies weeks 10-12

The first of two final contemporary pedagogies was presented to us by Isabel Rakuljic, a past Conservatorium music education student (Hopefully her name is correct here!). Her topic of discussion was culturally responsive pedagogy. Importantly, it was acknowledged that this concept can not simply be learned from a book, it is something that requires experience, communication and working together with students, teachers and the community. An interesting complexity highlighted was that of “otherness”, which can be an easy trap to fall into. Rather than viewing your own experiences and that of students with various backgrounds and musical experiences in a binary form, it is much more useful to view this as a spectrum, where similarities and differences can be explored and celebrated, rather than focussing on the differences in order to tick a box of ‘cultural diversity’. Similarly, Isabel also mentions that not all students are going to be passionate about their background or the associated music. Including music from cultures all around the world will certainly help to create a stronger music classroom, and it is the personal/experiential skills that I definitely need to develop and reflect on before biting off more than I can chew.

Second, pluralism in music education relates to finding a place for as many musical cultures as possible in music education. James made it clear that this does not mean to completely mix everything together and destroy a nicely planned unit/lesson/pedagogy, but rather to find a balance between as many musical styles and cultures as possible and appropriate. Repertoire choice represents one aspect of pluralism in music education, although music teachers must also consider how new styles of music can inform the experiences and lessons they create for students. Should a piano concerto be represented by the Nashville number system? should a twelve bar blues activity require a transcription exercise including details of time signature and key signature or should it be a performance activity? It becomes clear that new music in the classroom is not only for diverse listening purposes but also by “embracing the widening conception of musicianship made possible under conditions of pluralism” (Webb and Seddon, 2012). James has also mentioned to us that as music teachers it is often necessary to study the vocabulary behind various forms of music. One example he provided was a two part analysis of a performance by a DJ/EDM musician. First, he analysed the performance using the vocabulary common to most western art trained musicians, and second analyses the performance in terms of the actual technology that has gone into the making of that piece/performance, going into details such as “triggering samples and using filters/reverbs”.

KAME Week 12 ukulele post

Final post for ukulele studies in Key Approaches in Music Education. Our final class consisted mainly of sharing and performing the tracks and chord progressions we had chosen, containing certain chords from the list required for our exam that we had not yet covered in class. As mentioned earlier, my choice was Help The Poor by B.B. King, a D minor blues with a nice grooving harmonic rhythm throughout. It covers the chords A7, Gm and Dm.

In preparation for the final task, I have been giving myself the small extra challenge to not look at my own self made chord box chart and run through all the root notes in all chord forms, including major, minor, dominant 7th, major 7th and minor 7th. It has also occurred to me that I can make my life so much easier if I focus on running through these chords only the 7 root notes we have been asked to learn, rather than the entire 12 note system. Even though I’ve been taking that extra step so that I can confidently learn to play any of these chords from any root note, it’s a little much to cram this info for this task. Once again, I won’t awkwardly shove a screenshot of my chord box chart into this post, but suffice to say I am confident without those training wheels so to speak.

Stay tuned for my last two posts on the last few contemporary pedagogies and a post on the who you be campaign of content in the first half of this course.

KAME week 11 ukulele post

As we wind down this semester into the period of stuvac leading to exams, there is admittedly less cool content to talk about this week (at least on my end anyway). Once again, I should mention that my days of using these posts to take screenshots of my chord fretting chart are long gone, tucked away in the history of six/seven weeks ago. There are several chords on the list which I am aware of two positions to play in, considering the change I made not too long ago regarding the use of more open shapes rather than barre shapes higher up the neck, which cut off string resonance and vibration, destroying the tone of the ukulele.

Our main activity this week was three songs with various chords that James had given us in the wrong order, so that our job was to listen and work out the order. The universe gave me a pass this week in Kame, since I chose the Ben E King song “Stand by me” which I did not realise would be the easiest to work out. A beautiful song with a I vi IV V based progression in A major. The harmonic rhythm, instrumentation and texture of the track compared to the other tracks (Is this love by Bob Marley and Happy by Pharrell Williams) made it the easier choice.

Our homework this week was to choose a song that contained at least one chord from the list of chords on our list in the assessment that we had not played in any class songs as of yet. My choice is “Help the Poor” by B.B. King, a mid tempo, grooving D minor blues track. It is based on a twelve bar blues progression, although it is actually a 16 bar progression that underpins the track. It contains Dm, Gm and A7.

KAME week 10 ukulele post

This week was rather interesting on the ukulele front. There are two key points to discuss, first is the Key approaches class activity we did and second is the unexpected exam practice I managed to get thanks to this week’s Children, Music, Educational Settings class.

The Kame class activity this week was on “Under the boardwalk”. The chord progression was rather simple, using I IV and V in G with a sneaky dominant 7th on the tonic, and a looping interrupted cadence as the chorus, vi to V (Em to D) Those harmony classes paying off eh? More importantly, James directed us to focus on aspects of the performance including harmonic rhythm and accents of the chords, listening to the walking/arpeggio bass line (in which we decided not to use my ukulele version which is either two or three octaves up and sounds rather hilarious), and listening for the backbeat (accents on 2 and 4).

The children, music, ed settings class activity was part of our recent intense 2 hour classes with Jim Coyle who has been walking us through ideas and approaches for teaching music to various stages of primary school students. This week, the third in person class we’ve had, we looked at teaching year 6. One of the instrument choices was ukulele, so I took the opportunity to get some more practice in. I can remember being part of a group of fellow students and doing a cover of “that’s what makes you beautiful” by one direction (apologies if that is not the actual song title, I don’t want my Spotify thinking I am into one direction…). Interestingly, I was able to look at the chord changes of the guitarist (Montanna!) in our group and follow along with the ukulele. It was a simple I IV V progression in C with a nifty little pattern of on and off beat accents, to which I was using short chord stabs (or staccato block chords) to add a texture that both followed the chord progression and the rhythmic ostinato. The activity facilitated by Jim was to choose a pop song with only three chords and to create an arrangement that year 6 would be able to achieve.

Stay tuned for a secondary post on contemporary pedagogies (weeks 10-12) once weeks 11 and 12 are done, and a post reflecting on the first six weeks worth of issues and concepts we discussed.

KAME Week 9 ukulele post : beyond theory and into practical, expressive playing

The critical learning point for ukulele this week was the song “happy place” that we learnt (or taught ourselves) in class. This was tied into the ‘informal learning’ contemporary pedagogy theme of the week which looks at the ways in which modern popular music musicians learn, perform and convey musical ideas, namely through listening, learning and imitating. After learning one song as a class, James directed us to teach ourselves “happy place” which utilised mostly the same chords as the first song we had learnt. It became clear that by allowing us to learn a song on our own after learning another song with similar chords, James was demonstrating how a music educator can be a facilitator rather than strictly a teacher. 

As I have spoken about in my last post, by teaching the song to myself, I was able to proactively absorb the music and learn the details of the structure, chord progressions, strumming patterns and even the expressive technique of muted strumming used in the verses. All of this information made a greater impact on me since I had actively paid attention to the song to work it out by the quarter to 10 deadline James gave us to learn the song and play it with the class. In terms of learning the chords and choosing shapes, I also further consolidated my recent decision to stick to shapes that are as close as possible to the headstock, not going too far up the frets as this cuts off a lot of resonance and the closer together frets require more accuracy to avoid awkwardly fretting a note incorrectly. For my semi big hands this is especially important.

KAME Week 8 (little late!) ukulele post

This week was a quiet one. This week’s class was tied into the comprehensive musicianship theme which I spoke about in the most recent prior post here. We learnt a song by an Indigenous Australian musician which wasn’t revealed until near the end of class. It was a strong example of the comprehensive musicianship theme as James spoke to us about the issues of cultural appropriation and using music with strong themes in the classroom, in this case of protest and social issues etc. 

As is the case so far, each week we learn a new song or two and discuss a few ideas related to that week’s contemporary pedagogy, and each week I have built a more practical approach to playing the ukulele. In particular, just using chord shapes that are physically achievable. It escapes me in which week I learnt this, but I did show James an incredibly complex shape for a G dominant 7th chord and he explained to me that you can simply take a major shape (in this case we were using a guitar D chord shape) to play the G, then ‘inverting’ it to replace the tonic with the flat 7th. After exploring this shape I realised that the fretted notes did not include a tonic. However, it occurred to me that in the context of an ensemble, a high register instrument does not necessarily have to hold down the tonic. I won’t bother posting a screenshot of my new chord chart, but suffice to say that some of the shapes for the various 7th chords don’t actually include a tonic, only the third, fifth and seventh.

KAME – Contemporary pedagogies part 1 : weeks 7-9

It is currently week 9 in Semester 2 of 2020. This entry will be solely on the contemporary pedagogies we have looked at in weeks 7-9. I will attempt not to turn this into a boring essay, instead I will make some simple points as a way to consolidate the important parts of these topics. Although there will be much greater detail available in research and in the academic world in general, this is simply for my own reflection as a future music educator.

Week 7’s contemporary pedagogy was the “creative music movement”. Some of the key names mentioned here were Brain Dennis, Murray Schaffer and Richard Gill. What I took away from this was that composition and experimentation are critical to music education, as it is the first and simplest way to actively engage students. This can be achieved by viewing one’s teaching role as less of a dictator and more of a facilitator of music. In class we have also mentioned that perhaps the division of time between performing, composing and listening is not always as even as it could be, and perhaps even some those areas are not fully explored in music education. Another key point which pops up time and time again, is the importance of removing status and hierarchy of various musics, instead viewing all music as significant to human kind and culture around the world.

Week 8’s contemporary pedagogy was “comprehensive musicianship” which is at once something that I am often considering the possibilities for in my upcoming future profession, and something that seems a little elusive, although perhaps it’s not as complex as I think it may be. A key academic that was mentioned by James is T Heavner, who is advocating for music education that encompasses a complete and integrated understanding of the music being taught. This relates to not only listening to the style of music in question, not only playing it, not only dissecting the music theory that is common language in the style, not only the social and historical aspects that informed and influenced musicians to create the style, but all of these together. Heavner puts forth that comprehensive music education can and should include music theory, history, literature, ear training, composition, improvisation, performance, conducting and aesthetics. Beyond this, another key part of this topic was a discussion on the concepts of music. Two key points arise here, one being that the concepts should not be the actual focus for lesson plans or units of work (how frustratingly boring would that be… for everyone involved). The concepts should instead be used to embellish on the learning of a certain kind of music or piece, as a method to look into the details in the music. However, the second point here leads off that last idea, which is that using the concepts to dissect music can often lead to a very face value and generalised understanding of certain musics. Certainly I remember doing a non western transcription task in Aural training class last year and attempting to describe the didgeridoo playing in terms of accents and rhythm, without having the knowledge or adequate time to research if that’s even how that instrument functions within that style. In class this week we also learnt parts of a song by an Indigenous Australian musician and James discussed with us whether or not it was appropriate to use songs with potentially strong political, social or other kinds of themes as a teaching tool. Not only could it be considered cultural appropriation, it could be skipping over part of the historical and cultural value of the music, linking back to Heavner’s ideas. I certainly plan on learning more about using music appropriately in the classroom (James if you’re reading I plan on asking you more about this!).

(That was a long one)

Week 9’s contemporary pedagogy was informal learning. An Academic named Lucy Green was mentioned for her work in considering the value of how modern day musicians in popular music spheres learn, perform and create music. Namely, it was found that learning by ear and memory is significant for modern musicians, instead of notation and formal training. This research eventually led to the musical futures movement around the world, which aims to engage students based on the music they enjoy and methods of learning that are far more common to the youth of today, and even many professional musicians at large. I won’t go into great detail on the specifics here as to not misrepresent their work, but suffice to say that it is indeed tapping into great potential and represents a massive step forward in engaging with music as a true art form of cultures and communities around the world who create and perform popular music. Linking back to week 7, the teacher in this method is also seen to be a facilitator rather than a dictator. In class, we learnt a song called happy place. After we had a warm up song to learn as a class, James led us to learn the song on our own (just to work out the chords on our chord instruments). By learning the song on my own, I was able to learn not only the chords, but the structure by listening to the dynamics of the track, the strumming patterns and the expressive techniques of muted strumming and so on. By learning all of this personally, having been led to this by our teacher, it made a greater impact on my ability to discover something and retain the information, as well as absorbing it in a way that is valuable to me. I guess this pedagogy works then?

More posts on learning the ukulele incoming soon. No more chord chart screenshots I promise (although it has changed about two or three times again anyway!)

KAME Chord task Week 7 : He did it!… the crowd goes wild!

Prior to explaining why I have made a breakthrough that will change the face of chord playing instruments for all mankind (or not), let’s catch up on where we are now. As I am writing this KAME has had it’s first in person class for the semester, which was the first dedicated class to the chord instruments we have chosen. These activities are supplemented with “contemporary pedagogies” work to be done in our own time, to give us even more scope for our future profession, mainly in terms of exploring the work of notable music educators who have pushed the boundaries for our profession. This also reminds me that I will have to write a post dedicated to the first six weeks worth of discussions (that supplemented the introductory Kodaly course in the first half of our KAME classes.

Now, time to get real. After sitting down with my ukulele this week, I rolled my eyes and thought how can I possibly come up with a practical and foolproof system (or in this case me-proof) for ukulele chords in time for the performance day? Sometimes in life it is these challenges that lead to breakthroughs, whether they are great or small in scope. I have in fact managed to create an excellent system for myself; in essence there are still inevitably several physical chord shapes to learn, yet they follow a perfect pattern by which the patterns change through the twelve note system based on what would be the relative minor notes! (meaning the patterns change at the same time according to relative minor tonics… if that makes sense). C to E major, dominant 7th and major 7th chords each have one parallel pattern (mind you i managed to find shapes for these chord types that remain mostly the same with one note alterations here and there based on adding 7ths and such). F to G# of the same three types have parallel patterns, then A to B all have patterns. If you shift those note names/ranges all down by three semitones (to the relative minor tonics… see where I’m going with this?) then you have parallel patterns for all minor and minor 7th chord shapes. As mentioned, there are still the physical chord shapes to learn, and no direct relation between the major and minor shapes, but all the shapes change based on this pattern of relative minor/major root notes, with all three types of major chords staying in one position and modifying one note as needed, and the two minor chord types for each root note staying in the same basic shape but one note changes whether it is a triad or a 7th chord (even though I’m just using root, 3rd, 7th for minors). That’s about it for this week, I’m just glad that I could figure this out once and for all, and that seems to be achievement enough, the chord shapes I’m using now are both logically organised and sound musical. I should mention that this process was inspired by the first chord instrument class we just had this week, with my own mathematical spin on it to find a system that works for me : (hopefully the last time I post a boring screenshot of this chord chart, this is THE one I will be sticking with)

KAME Chord task Week 7 mid semester break S2 2020 : more chord patterns and AC/DC’s Highway to Hell as a 4 chord exercise with some musical considerations into breaking my own rules

I’m going to be honest here; I think I have begun to enjoy the ukulele a little more now in the past week or so, given my updating of my chord chart to learn table. Here is another updated version with some new columns which are currently unfinished although I am going to task myself to finish those by next time you hear from me :

The two new columns are for major 7th and minor 7th chord shapes through the 12 notes, beyond just the dominant 7th shapes. Last week it became apparent to me that my laziness in simply playing a C major chord without the third fret note on the high string, opting for a lovely and simple 0 0 0 X chord shape with no left hand fretting required opened up some possibilities. I am aware that in James’ (Humberstone) ukulele diary he learnt C major with that high note, so I played it and realised it is simply a doubling of the root. Shortly after I realised this means I can shift this high note around to add notes to the triad, namely the major 7th interval by moving it down from 3 to 2. Simultaneously, it occurred to me that I had basically already used this method when deciding on my Dominant 7th shapes to use (eg. C major dominant 7 is 0 0 0 1). The minor 7th chord shapes I landed on happened even easier than that. By recognising that the majority of the minor chord shapes I am using are parallel patterns on the higher 3 strings, this leaves behind the lowest (in space) string. This lowest string is a whole step below the highest string (the root note string for the minor chord shapes) meaning that a minor 7th for any root of A-E can be achieved by simply playing the same fret on the low string (eg. A min is X 0 0 0, A min7 is 0 0 0 0). I may or may not have mentioned last week that this mathematical and pattern based method of creating chord shapes for myself comes from not really enjoying the ‘all over the place’ style employed by a lot of the online ukulele lessons, despite that quality of instruction by instructors such as the fantastic Justin Sandercoe (not sponsored by the way!).

Moving on, I decided to learn a constant personal favourite and surely the greatest songs ever to just have a riff, a one chord vamp for a pre chorus, and a chorus which uses the same chords as the riff; Highway to Hell by AC/DC. Although it was less than two minutes to work out my shapes and use my chart for assistance to play the A, D and G chords, I decided to be proactive when I encountered a problem. The D to G change in my system requires a sudden move from the second fret barre to the seventh fret. In heavy metal this wouldn’t be an issue, but on a ukulele, it sounds rather strange and does not translate to this adorable unplugged instrument. I chose to keep the 222 D chord and opt for use a G major shape of 423. I was able to work this out based on the fact that my G# major shape is 534, so moving down one step resulted in G that is appropriately close physically and musically to the D chord. The pre chorus on E is awkward considering that a guitar’s E chord is meant to be lower than an A chord, but hey, you can’t win ’em all.

It’s also great to be able to play Highway to hell and not have to care that Mal and Angus recorded their guitars tuned somewhere between E and Eb, because the octave difference with the ukulele makes my ear oblivious to the difference. Imagine being Bon Scott and learning to sing along to guitars and bass that are technically microtonal… RIP Bon Scott.