Week beginning 2 Feb 1998.
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The Other News consists of a selection of articles on whatever subjects find their way to the top of the pile on the week in which it is written. Whilst some of it is intended to be serious, quite a lot is just a bit of light reading (or heavy, if you are a certain type of person), and intended to keep you amused, and cause people to question some of the assumptions of life. Most of the material here is written by the editor, but no single article necessarily reflects the views of the editor or anyone else who writes here. They only might.
Nothing this week
MY EXPERIENCE OF THE THE CLASSES at our college (note I still call it ours) is that they are generous and friendly little communities of people all doing things for each other and enjoying themselves. The classes don`t start with the bell, and they don`t end with the bell. They are ongoing all week, in that the students and staff are in contact with each other outside class hours. Furthermore, when a student wants to know if there is a certain piece of equipment available they say `have we got ......` not `can I use ....?`. I think that tells me they know they are welcome better than any declaration of intent.
This may not necessarily continue to be the case because it is not what you would call well-organised. That is, you can`t necessarily tell what people are learning, and so if you are the kind of person who could use a bit of psychotherapy you might decide that this is pretty inefficient - the people might be doing nothing, and then where would you be? Unfortunately, most people of this frame of mind strive particularly hard for positions of power in their lives, and thus quite often become administrators.
So it has been decreed by those who think they know all about education that the teaching staff must be able to show how much a person has learnt by keeping records of progress. This means, in the case of upholstery, have they learnt to tie all the necessary knots? yes, have they managed to identify different types of fabric? yes, and so on, and in woodwork can they sharpen an `edge tool`? yes, can they saw straight? yes, etc., and in cooking can they make bread? yes, and in maths can they count to three hundred, etc. (Let`s not waste any more time on that).
And so it drones on. There may be some areas where this kind of activity might be useful (though aside from asking students to try exam papers if they are taking exams, and then helping them to fill in any missing bits of knowledge, exactly where I don`t know), but for the great majority of students the question is `am I enjoying this?` and they don`t really care all that much if they are learning anything. They do learn, of course, but that is because they are enjoying themselves, and it has nothing whatever to do with `assessment techniques` or any other execubabble. It is a by-product of enjoyment, like my ability to play and write music.
The colleges are anxious to sell places in their classes, but those who do the selling are those who administrate, and those who administrate are obliged to believe in `Investors In People` (I I P), assessment, `centre of excellence`, `charter mark`, and so on, so that instead of trying to facilitate the freedom of the deliverers of classes - the teachers - to do their own unique thing and thus maintain a good body of interested students (show me a teacher doing just the same as another teacher and you`ll be showing me a dead class) they have to interfere and (if nothing else) attempt to get people to go to `staff development meetings`, fill in forms and read `in-house magazines` with names like `Team Talk` and `Go For It`. (I made the mistake of asking the principal the other evening to explain to some assembled lecturers the meaning of some of these things, and I had to cover my face whilst I heard the answer to avoid revealing my contempt. The poor man obviously doesn`t believe a word of what he`s saying, but must know that his job relies on saying it - a bit like a religion, really, where certain sentences are the standard dogma.)
This satisfies their statutory duty to do their job as directed by the ministry or local council, but it can quite badly get in the way of providing that which the students (they are the customers) want. If somone is trying to keep up with the record-keeping, filling in registers, reading the magazine, `liaising with other staff to agree on ways to turn the college into a centre of excellence`, checking the fire extinguishers, doing fire drills, making sure the first aid is up to date, organising the car-park.........there isn`t a lot of time to do any teaching.
And by the way, as far as I am concerned, my classes and those of the other staff I know are as excellent as we can make them.
That is not to say that I (not sure about the others) wouldn`t listen to ideas to improve them, but I want those ideas coming from the students not the administrators, and I might pass those ideas on to the administrators (who would then, if they thought them useful, use them to be a pain in the arse to some other unfortunate lecturer whose style is different to my own. I don`t think they ever learn - if they did, they would still be educators).
In adult education (and for that matter in any education) what we really need is not the advice of a civil servant who has never done the job, or someone who has been kicked upstairs because they can`t teach but are too heavily `qualified` to sack, or some wally from Sainsbury`s. We need people to accept that the only way to get the skill of teaching is to be there doing it and learn to respond to situations as they arise.
We will then have classes that are as unique as the people who run them, and students who feel like they count, and visible enthusiasm in abundance for statistics collectors to come and look at. We won`t need IIP, chartermarks or centres of excellence. We will be excellent in a way that nobody else can dictate someone else to be.
But the problem is we have these administrators and people.......
The Green Adventure gig was fun, and I have to say we played well considering the amazing echo. The pity of it is that unless we pull our fingers out we don`t have another for a bit. If you are in a LETS somewhere and would like us to play to you, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The difference in pitch (`height`) between one note and another is called the `interval` between the notes, whilst the height or lowness of a note is it`s pitch.
The way that we are able to hear sound is that the air vibrates and our ears sense and `measure` the vibration (the faster the vibration the higher the note). As it is possible to detect speed of vibration electronically, it is quite easy to get a `tuner` that counts the number of vibrations per second and will tell you what note it is hearing.
As the named notes are half a tone or more apart (that is, we don`t normally use quarter tones or smaller intervals), one can say that a note that is a bit higher than it should be is `a bit sharp`, and a note that is a bit lower than it should be is `a bit flat`.
The distance between two notes a half tone apart is usually divided into a hundred divisions called `cents`. Thus my tuner, if I played a C and then gradually sharpened it would show C plus so many cents, and eventually would decide I was actually trying to play C sharp but not playing it high enough, and would tell me it was C sharp but so many cents flat.
The agreed international standard for one of the notes of A is 440 vibrations per second, and from this we tune all the other notes. Those who like a bit of science might like to try calculating the vibrations for other notes, but the data available to do this is not available to me at this moment. Try a science book.
So when I don`t push the mouthpiece onto my saxophone it sounds flat, everyone can hear it is flat, and the tuner can tell me how much. I can then push it on a bit more, and with a bit of lipping (all saxes need this) can get most of the notes, and sometimes all, to play in tune (I am talking fine tuning here).
The smallest interval available in European music is the half tone, about which we learnt last week.
The next smallest is (you guessed) a tone.
We could go on and talk about so many tones and a half, or whatever, and that would be fairly good, but it is more commonly done by referring to notes in a `major scale` (another subject). If you play all the white notes on your piano from C to the next C (it mus be C, not another note), you get a a scale of C major - a major scale. This is the scale that almost all of us know intuitively.
Using the C scale as our reference, I can now describe to you some other intervals by naming them according to how far up the scale you would have to go to make them.
C to D is a second. C to E is a third. C to f is a fourth.......C to A is a sixth.
Does that seem OK? They are named after how far up the scale they are.
Then we come to C to B, which is called a Major seventh instead of just a seventh. This is because for a long time (and only in some circles) the note of B flat has been called the seventh with reference to C chords (another subject.)
All we need now is a name for the black notes (in the case of a C scale, but not necessarily in the case of another scale).
We call the black notes such things as Flattened Fifth (the same as a Sharpened Fourth), but we also use Minor Third (which could be called flattened third or sharpened second - have a look).
We now need to look at what happens if we start our journey up the keyboard from a different note. For simplicity I will suggest we start on G - go straight up the white notes from G to G an octave above.
Something wrong, I think you will agree.
If you compare the intervals with those in C you will see it. In C the last hop is only half a tone, whilst in G your last hop was a tone.
This means that in addition to that the last but one is a tone and not a half-tone like you are getting in G.
So now change that one note by playing F sharp instead of F (Natural, they call that one) and you will get the `correct` scale.
This excercise can be applied to all the scales if you like (try one starting on F sharp, for instance), but it may interest you more to only apply it to the scales you are currently trying to play, because in due course it will come quite naturally to you to make these adjustments as needed.
I hadn`t realised how much there was to say here. Fully treated, the subject would go miles beyond my ability and would almost carry the total maths of music. It would probably occupy a goodish book telling you things that will become self-evident to you by trial and error.
I hope I`ve given you enough to get started, and hopefully next week I will begin to talk about the subject of chords (not as daunting as you think).
The college want more excellence (see `education` above), but seem to want to do it for less money, and we the negotiators have agreed that we have to address the subject of morale during our negotiations. There is little point in having a college that costs next to nothing to run but doesn`t suit the students.
Nothing this week.
Some different small ads.
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