Writing about Music Lesson Plan: Musical Auto-Ethnography

Lesson Plan on Musical Auto-Ethnography
Emily Wilbourne, Queens College, CUNY, Music
Music 121 or 122

Lesson objective(s): For students to connect a musical “work” with a rich emotional and semantic context in their own lives.

Total estimated time: 25-30 mins.

Additional outcome(s): Ideally the act of auto-ethnography will lead to a richer understanding of the complexities of musical signification. This will have an impact on all future writing for the class.

Course work or assignment underway: A major piece of writing (any).

Work and/or reading completed before class: This exercise is designed to be undertaken early in the process.

Sequence of Classroom Activities:

  1. Students should take a piece of lined paper and a pencil (or pen). Number the page from one to ten down the left side. Generate a list of ten pieces of music that were important to you in high school (or middle school). Do not worry about what the pieces are, just write down the first ten that you can think of. (3 mins).
  2. Choose the piece of music from you list for which you can remember the most vivid experience. Imagine that you are having that experience again. Describe what you can see in front of you, describe what is behind you, describe what is to either side of you. If there are other people there, describe what they are doing and perhaps what they look like. Do not stop to think too closely about what you are writing. Do not let your pen stop moving. (7 mins).
  3. Describe how you felt at that moment. What relationship did the music have to that feeling? Did it intensify it? Contradict it? Were the words important? Were you listening to the music? Were you performing? Was the music playing in the background? Were other people paying attention to it? (7 mins).
  4. How did that event change your relationship to that particular piece of music? To other music? To other people? (5 mins).
  5. Re-read what you have written. How many words did you write in this time (19 minutes of actual writing)? Pick out the sentence you like the most of what you’ve written and underline it. (3 mins).
  6. Return to the group for a discussion of the exercise. (10 mins). Have students volunteer to read out their favourite sentences. Discuss the deeper questions about music and context that the exercise brought to the surface; discuss this process of generating writing in the context of the larger essay that the students will produce later in the semester.

Reflection on the lesson’s success or alternative approaches:

This exercise borrows from the generative techniques of Lynda Barry, What It Is (Drawn & Quarterly, 2008).

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