February 25, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Urban Arts Partnership Brings Music Production to Maker Spaces

So you want to add music production to the maker space in your library, but you’re not exactly Quincy Jones or P. Diddy.

Well, one of the men behind Urban Arts Partnership says that doesn’t matter.

In fact, he says, you don’t even have to be cool.

James Miles

James Miles

“You can be the least cool person in the world and still make a really engaging, fun maker space,” says James Miles, the director of education at Urban Arts Partnership, a New York City organization that uses the arts to inspire and teach students at underserved high schools.

He also says you don’t need to know how to use GarageBand, the popular brand of music-making software. “It helps to be technologically literate, but you don’t need it,” said Miles. “If you can play piano or have two pencils and can play the drums on your table, you’ve made a maker space for music production. It’s really about the facilitation more so than about the technology.”

Chenits Pettigrew echoes that sentiment. He’s the manager of music technology for Urban Arts Partnership. “What I’ve found is with the most basic instruction, [students’] dexterities for technology are beyond most educators’, so once you give them a little bit, they’re able to take it and run,” says Pettigrew.

To develop a maker space for music production, Miles says you really need only two things to get started: a supportive administrator and, ideally, a dedicated space.

As to musical genre, Urban Arts Partnership often uses hip-hop to reach students.

Chenits Pettigrew

Chenits Pettigrew

“We like to meet students where they are,” explains Pettigrew. “It is important for educators to have some sort of cursory knowledge about hip-hop and hip-hop culture and what students in their class may be listening to at the moment.” But if a teacher or librarian is unfamiliar with the genre, Pettigrew says there are several resources that provide a primer on the subject. Universities like Harvard and Cornell are compiling archives of hip-hop materials, and there are tons of online resources. Pettigrew recommends Rap Genius, which annotates rap lyrics. He says educators can use it to search for rap songs dealing with specific topics that they may want to address with their students.

Of course, using music in general and hip-hop in particular to teach students lessons is nothing new. Over the past year, teachers have been using the soundtrack of Hamilton to teach students about the American Revolution. In addition, through the maker movement, students are taking a more active role in their learning.

Recently, Pettigrew’s students in the Fresh Education portion of the Urban Arts Partnership created a whole hip-hop album of academic-based and Common Core-aligned music about social studies and English language arts. The students also made animated music videos to go along with the album, and from there they created mobile and online apps so students could interact with the music they had created.

“All of the songs had the necessary vocabulary, all the necessary concepts, all the content that reflected what students needed to learn in specific units,” said Pettigrew. “That is the future. I know it is because of the way educators respond whenever we expose them to it. They say, ‘This is exactly what my students need.’”

But what if you’re more into the Beatles or Eric Clapton than Chance the Rapper? Miles says you have to put the students’ interests first. “If you’re trying to do a maker space around music production of Beatles music, and you’re serving students who have never heard of the Beatles, it’s going to be culturally ineffectual,” says Miles. “So it’s always important to know that if you’re with students who love hip-hop or love country or love Klezmer music, that’s the kind of maker space you should be…engaging in, whether or not that’s your music preference at all.”

Both Miles and Pettigrew are presenters in Library Journal and School Library Journal‘s Maker Workshop, an online course, which kicks off on January 31.


marva_head_shotMarva Hinton is a contributing writer for Education Week and the host of the ReadMore podcast, a show that features interviews with authors including Nicola Yoon and Daniel José Older.

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