Music educator shares 'composite learning'

Cary Ashby • May 15, 2017 at 2:00 PM

Lifelong music educator Craig Woodson introduced Pleasant Elementary third-graders to instruments from around the world. 

Also during Friday’s assembly, the students learned about how to create music by making instruments from everyday items. A clothes hanger with dental floss, tape and thumb tacks doubled as a viola.

Originally a drummer, Woodson learned xylophone and saxophone before learning other instruments.

“It’s so much fun to play all kind of instruments,” he said.

A world music education consultant, Woodson earned his Ph.D. from UCLA in music with a specialization in ethnomusicology, music education and musical instrument technology. For more than 30 years he has presented student programs and for 25-plus years, he has led professional development workshops.

Woodson shared with the Pleasant students about the connection between instruments and animals.

“Some instruments can make animal sounds,” he said.

The percussionist had one student use a coffee can with tape attached at the bottom to create sounds similar to a bear or lion. The original drum is called a buhai from Romania.

“It’s just a drum with horse hair,” Woodson said after the assembly.

While in Africa, he asked a local musician to teach him how to play a specific instrument. The man ended up giving it to Woodson.

“That’s the power of music — to communicate between different cultures and different people,” he said.

Woodson taught the students they can use their bodies to make different sounds. Woodson had the children clap their cupped hands and then with their palms. 

“They still use these clapping sounds in Spain,” he said, referring to flamenco dancers.

Woodson showed the students how many wind instruments require you to make a buzzing sound with your lips. He then buzzed into the crook of his arm, followed by making an “ah” sound. Doing it to the drum pattern from the beginning of the Queen song “We Will Rock You,” Woodson sang part of the lyrics in a high-pitched voice.

“You are so funny,” one student said.

Sneaking in a physics lesson, Woodson taught the students that playing a string instrument with a tighter string creates a high note and looser one makes a low note. He later said he calls that teaching strategy “composite learning” since students are learning about two different things at the same time. His father was an engineer and his mother a musician.

In 1976, Woodson founded Ethnomusic, Inc., a world music education consultancy that presents multi-cultural instrument making, educational concerts, school programs and professional development. The website is ethnomusicinc.com. Educators can download free PDFs of 16 lessons from his “Roots of Rhythm” curriculum, which is advertised as “world drumming for all ages.” That website is www.rootsofrhythm.net.

To end his assembly, Woodson had students find the third-grade teachers who led their students out of the cafeteria by forming a conga line.

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