Posts filed under Teaching

5 Fatal Mistakes Students Make When Taking a Gen Ed Course and How to Avoid Them

I'm teaching a gen ed course at Central Washington University this term, called History of Jazz. As I was preparing for the course, I thought back on all of the mistakes I've made in taking courses like these, and mistakes that I've seen my own students make over the years. So I thought I would put together a video for my future students to help them avoid making the kinds of mistakes that can derail their progress early. Are you a student who has struggled with gen ed courses in the past? Are you a teacher and wish someone would advise your students on the unspoken expectations of your class? If so you might find this video beneficial to you. Inside I'll tell you:

  • How not all slacking creates equal consequences—I’ll tell you the worst possible time to slack off in a new class.
  • The one technique that will help you avoid distraction and be twice as productive as a student.
  • An exercise that you can do right now to fight boredom and make any class interesting.
  • The truth about how your mindset can lead to failure… or put you on the path to an "A."

PDF Summary of 5 Fatal Mistakes Students Make When Taking a Gen Ed Course and How to Avoid Them.

Learn one new high-value skill this term in each of the following areas: reading, note-taking, and studying. Here are some resources to do this, as promised:


  • Level-Up! Reading Course. You can watch the first session of my video course, "Level-Up! Reading" here. I made this for my music history students specifically, but everything applies to college reading in general. This session teaches you the myths, mindsets, and techniques to complete your reading assignments in half the time, while understanding more than you ever have before.



Posted on September 17, 2015 and filed under Teaching.

Use a “Pre-Mortem” to Help Your Projects Succeed


In the theater world, there is a practice called the post-mortem, or “post-mort,” in which the team gathers after a show to discuss what went well, and what areas could be improved (read: what failed miserably and can’t happen again). In music, we don’t do this as regularly, but it does happen after some concerts or major events.

The end-goal of a project is often obscured. Use a “pre-mortem” to clear away the clouds and face up to a project’s potential disasters .

The end-goal of a project is often obscured. Use a “pre-mortem” to clear away the clouds and face up to a project’s potential disasters.

In this post, I want to introduce an idea that I found in Chip and Dan Heath’s latest book, Decisive, called the pre-mortem. This is an activity for an individual or team to think through all of the events that might make a project go wrong before they happen, and ultimately develop strategies for avoiding these pitfalls.

I am part of an entrepreneurship education group at Millikin University, where we share and develop resources to use in our arts entrepreneurship classes, and across the curriculum. For our latest meeting, I wrote up the pre-mortem activity that I have provided below. This activity can be used by teachers or students:

  • Teachers: Use it in any class where there is a major project, such as a research paper, presentation, or group assignment.
  • Students: You can take it upon yourself to run a pre-mort for any major project to help you plan. Imagine running a pre-mort for your senior recital, an important presentation, or your dissertation defense.

Activity: The Pre-Mortem


Often times, we do an exercise after a venture fails, analyzing what went wrong and fixing it for next time. This exercise allows students to perform a “premortem,” a thought experiment that helps them identify the key points of potential failure in the project, then to design strategies to avoid those problems.

Usage Suggestions

This exercise would be appropriate for undergraduates, graduates, or business project teams. This exercise assumes that there is already a defined project in place that the team is working on.

Learning Objectives

Identifying potential failure points for a venture or project.

Materials List

Pencils and paper; whiteboard and pens.

Pre-Work Required by Students

A somewhat clear understanding and vision of a group or individual project.

Theoretical Foundations

Chip and Dan Heath, Decisive (2013), 202–206. Gary Klein, Streetlights and Shadows: Searching for the Keys to Adaptive Decision Making (MIT, 2009)

Suggested Time Plan (time)

  • 5 min.: Brainstorm the following prompt in teams of three or four: “Okay, 15 weeks from now your project was a total fiasco. It totally failed to meet the requirements of the project, and did not achieve the desired results. Why did it fail? List 20 reasons.”

  • 10 min.: Share with entire group the reasons, capturing all of them on a white board. Include tick marks for doubles.

  • 15 min.: Assign each group one problem to solve, using the top four reasons from the sharing time.

  • Have each group prepare outside of class their presentation of the solution to the problem, to be delivered in the next class period.

How do you think a pre-mortem might help you develop strategies for success in your projects? Are there other strategies that are especially helpful for you? Share them in the comments.

Posted on April 8, 2015 and filed under Arts and Entrepreneurship, Teaching.

A New Visualization of Musical Rhythm

John Varney and Ted-Ed teamed up to create this interesting and effective way of visualizing rhythm. The idea of visualizing rhythm as a circle is not new, but this explanation and animation are excellent and useful. A student of mine shared it with me recently, and you might find it interesting as well.

Posted on January 15, 2015 and filed under Teaching, Design.

What Is Your Favorite New Teaching Trick?

It’s course prep time again. That means it’s time to review all of the harebrained pedagogical ideas I’ve had over the last year, and start making the decisions as to what’s in and what’s out. 

But one person can only have so many ideas, and they are certainly not all good, or at least not as great as they could be. That’s where community comes in. So tell me, what are your ideas for teaching music history (or other courses, music or otherwise) this year? Have a brilliant idea? Have a half-baked one? Share them in the comments, get ideas from others too, and let’s have our best year of teaching yet. Picture comments supported!

Posted on August 14, 2014 and filed under Teaching.