Monday, February 9, 2015

What an Instructional Designer Can Learn from StudyBass

My wife bought me an electric bass for xmas. I have never played a musical instrument, so this represents a big new challenge.

When I wanted to figure out some of the basics of how to play, I wandered around checking out YouTube videos and sites with music to play, but eventually I found StudyBass.com. This works, and I think it's because it reflects pedagogy I have used and valued for years.

To be honest, many teachers and content developers could learn from StudyBass. Here is the StudyBass instructional model in a nutshell:
  1. Theory is presented, but is connected to skills and to well-known songs from various genres so you can do what the theory says and hear how it applies to familiar songs. Hearing the roots and fifths pattern in Under Pressure by Queen is a pretty powerful way to verify how the theory and practice can lead to something great.
  2. Each video of how to perform a skill is an animation that shows the finger positions very clearly. This is more helpful than watching someone do it in a live-action video because human instructors usually go too quickly and it's hard to see exactly what they are doing (their hands get in the way of seeing what their fingers are doing).
  3. Each practice exercise is supported by various modes. You can a) hear it, b) read it in standard sheet music notation, c) read it in bass tab (which is very simple), and d) see it in alpha tab (which is like a bridge between the over-simplified bass tab and the pure sheet music). All these different modes allow for multiple learning styles, but also allow a student to gradually decrease the scaffolding support. You can start with the alpha tab (using bass tab as a fall-back option when you're stuck), then move to only the sheet music or only the audio.
  4. Exercises progress in a logical order for each lesson. Just about every lesson has exercises, and they are great.
The only thing I would do differently is to start each lesson with a YouTube video of a great song that makes use of the upcoming concept. Motivating with the goal can be powerful.

What StudyBass has helped me appreciate even more than before:
  • Connecting theory, practice, and real-world applications is a great way to motivate and build deep understanding.
  • Students benefit from guided practice that includes scaffolding they can gradually reduce.
  • When it comes to visuals, sometimes less is more.
  • Small chunks of instruction can lead to larger chunks of guided practice and then unguided practice.
Now to get back to learning chord roots and how they connect to A Hard Days Night by The Beatles.

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