The brainstorming web is a graphic organizer, centered around the title of a single piece, which branches out nine directions in two categories. Web branches leading to musical elements include melody, harmony, rhythm, structure, and dynamics. Conceptual elements on the web are themes, style, story, and emotions. Each branch has two further branches, indicating that the strain of thought for each element can be explored in more detail and depth. In order to show the unique nature and relationship of the two categories of elements, they are organized around the central title area and divided by a broad bar across the entire organizer.
The web was designed as an element of a more brain-compatible learning environment. The visual nature of the organizer allows students to conceptualize some abstract ideas about an individual piece and arrange them in order to view and analyze their relationships. The web also helps students explore the emotional nature of their art, involving their emotional and musical intelligences within the detailed analysis of each piece they study.
As students expand the brainstorming web and analyze a given piece, they use descriptive musical, literary, and emotional terms to demonstrate a detailed understanding of the musical and conceptual elements of the piece. The students can use the web individually, in small groups, or as a large ensemble to analyze each piece they study and make emotional and musical connections among a variety of pieces. The web is a tool that stimulates individual emotional engagement in analytical thinking activities. Other expected behaviors from the implementation of this artifact include creative and detailed expression of the thematic and emotional elements of each piece studied. When the graphic organizer is used to analyze several pieces, students are able to draw conclusions about the musical and emotional relationships among the pieces included in a program of performance, whether as observers or participants in the performance itself.
The creation of this thinking tool in order to engage students more effectively and completely in the analytical process is evidence of my commitment to their learning. By employing a visual structure to organize abstract thoughts, I have given my students a new way of thinking about music that incorporates several learning styles and intelligences. The artifact has already been applied in a variety of classroom situations, including individual, small group, and ensemble-wide analytical thinking activities.
Because of the emotional and aesthetic nature of music as a performance art, it is sometimes difficult to develop a complete understanding of a given piece. The brainstorming web was created in order to give students a unique way to think about each piece: by deconstructing the piece into musical and conceptual elements, and describing each in detail, the students are able to reconstruct the piece and make meaning of their understanding of the piece as a whole. This enhances both the listening and performance experience for the students, as they are able to make deeper connections with each piece and among both similar and diverse works of musical art.
The creation and implementation of this artifact has helped me become a more effective music teacher in a number of ways. First, the use of the web was a lesson in flexibility. The original design of the artifact was limited to a simple analysis of the emotional context of a given piece. The students in the ensemble quickly recognized the value of visualized thinking, and suggested adding other conceptual and musical elements to the brainstorming web. The result was the web starter in its current form. This transfer of thinking skills among the various musical concepts was the second lesson I learned from the implementation of the brainstorming web: the students were able to quickly implement the graphic organizer in far broader terms than I had originally intended. This allowed them to explore each piece in depth and make connections among the pieces they performed during the spring concert season.
In future applications, this particular artifact will be employed in a variety of learning situations. It functions very well as a focal point for ensemble-wide discussions about the current literature being studied, and can be applied in a simpler form for younger choirs as well. I will also give the students the option of using the brainstorming web for future individual listening analysis activities, in which they are required to demonstrate a musical and conceptual understanding of a piece they have just heard. Another tool in their “bag of tricks” for thinking about music they hear and perform will be a valuable asset as they continue their musical lives.