DEARING - When Jim McGaw was trying to develop a new way to teach musical composition to Dearing Elementary School pupils, he came up with an original idea.
Teach music backward.
More than 11 years ago McGaw, who's been the music teacher at Dearing Elementary for 18 years, thought that pupils would be able to learn the aspects and nuances of musical composition more effectively if they wrote and recorded their own musical pieces, while learning the more technical side to musical theory along the way.
So began Dearing Elementary's Discovery Composition program, which allows interested pupils to work with McGaw individually during the final period before buses arrive, and occasionally with pupils who participate in the after-school program to produce their own musical pieces.
McGaw says the program has been a hit.
Music teacher Jim McGaw works with third-grader Hannah Welch on a song.
Photo by Elwood Hamilton
"The reaction from students has been real positive," he said. "It's an outlet for them not only to create a song but it gives them some status. It's amazing how when the first CD goes out, to see what kind of reaction there is with scheduling."
"It's really cool," said third grader Hannah Welch, who's working on her song In Love with McGaw. "I can't wait to hear it on the CD."
McGaw says that he typically works with the language arts department to help emphasize lyric writing as part of a creative writing exercise.
"I got together with some of the teachers and I told them that if the kids came up with a poem we could it put to a melody that the child came up with," he said.
McGaw uses a mostly electronic setup, and the former professional musician says that, over time, digital gadgetry has become much more accessible.
"I simply take one of these songs (lyrical poems) that a child has written, sit down with them, develop a chord structure, and sequence it," he said. "In the beginning, the equipment I used made it sound a little like Mario Brothers."
"As I've gone along I've tried to upgrade to some better tone modules," he added. McGaw has taken advantage of new technology that allows him to program music that pupils can identify with, such as songs that they hear on the radio or on television.
"My aim here being the student should be able to understand how their music sounds in a contemporary context."
McGaw usually creates CDs, complete with a paper insert and a label, for the pupil to take home their finished product.
For now, McGaw controls most of the technical aspects of the songs, though pupils has the final say on what everything should sound like. With the current musical technology available, McGaw can create songs of all different genres - rock, pop, rap or country. "I try purposely not to steer them even though I have my own preferences where that's concerned," he said. "I tell them I like all kinds of music."
Before becoming a teacher, McGaw wrote and performed music for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which appeared on a number of documentaries and television ads. He credits the success of Discovery Composition to the support of his fellow teachers and administration.
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