Devin Ulibarri, known by his many students as “Mr. Devin”, has over a decade and a half of experience teaching children the basics of music. He started his career at the Preparatory School at the University of New Mexico, and continued to teach at the Preparatory School at the New England Conservatory until very recently.
He has written his own method book for beginners, and has co-authored an article called “Thinking Beyond the Myths and Misconceptions of Talent” which argues the point that musical skills are, like language and math skills, important skills that everyone is, with normal effort, capable of learning and of which learning will benefit a person’s overall well-being and understanding of the world around them.
Mr. Devin works with every child to help them achieve their short-term and long-term goals in music, balancing “hard work” with “fun” with his own compassionate and creative approach to teaching and learning.
Guitar students play an arrangement of “Hush you bye” by Matthew Hinsley.
“Hush you bye” is a traditional Appalachian folk song. Matthew Hinsley is guitarist, educator, and leader of various arts organizations. There are numerous arrangements of this traditional tune, but Hinsley’s is specifically for guitar ensemble, and thus perfect for our guitar class.
The students did a great job. They have been playing guitar with their instructor Mr. Devin for a while, and have continued for a few years while staying persistent in their efforts. They are really starting to reap the rewards of their hard work. Please consider adding a comment below to tell them what you think of their performance. Cheers!
[NOTE: This article has been edited on 8/30 for minor corrections and improvements.]
At MAP Family Learning Center, we are always looking for new, innovative ways to explore musical concepts. The Kite Guitar, invented in 2019 by Kite Giedraitis, is a great way to explore Just Intonation (music) as well as fractions (math). This article tells how we worked with our intermediate students to figure out “Twinkle Twinkle” on the Kite Guitar and what we learned along the way.
What is the Kite Guitar?
The Kite Guitar is a microtonal guitar, meaning it has a different division of the octave than the prevailing “12 equal divisions of the octave”. Musicians and music educators reading this will recognize that microtonality is not something typically taught to young students. In fact, a musician could go through prep school, undergraduate studies, and graduate studies at a university or conservatory and never once be required to study–or even be exposed to–microtonality!!
What is Microtonality?
Microtonality is presumed to be “esoteric”, “niche”, and “advanced”. In fact, I had some of these same presumptions myself. However, the folks of the Kite Guitar have been generous with their knowledge and time and have shown me that microtonality can–and, arguably should–be simple and accessible!
How did the Kite Guitar and its Knowledge come to MAP?
A Simple Start — “Twinkle, Twinkle” on the Kite Guitar
“Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”, I thought, would be a great start for two of my guitar students at MAP. These two students are fairly advanced on a standard (i.e. non-microtonal) guitar and can play intermediate-level music. However, since the Kite Guitar is quite different conceptually than a standard guitar, I decided to start simple.
We chose “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” which is entirely diatonic (i.e. can be played without black keys on a keyboard), uses just 6 pitches in the melody, and has a simple ABBA form. Moreover, since the melody is so familiar students can be quick to error-detect and correct if and when they make a mistake. (We all make mistakes — That is how we learn!)
Below is a video of the first lesson of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” on the Kite Guitar. In many ways, it was a historic moment as Kite Guitar, only having been discovered a few years prior (one of which was during a global pandemic) is still a pioneering effort.
Video of Mr. Devin teaching a student how to play “Twinkle Twinkle” on the Kite Guitar.
First Lesson of "Twinkle Twinkle" on the Kite Guitar
Editorial Note: In the video, I say “third kite”, which would be way higher up on the neck. The correct term, consistent with the Kite Guitar terminology, would be “triple dot”.
Why Kite Guitar?
A melody like “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” can be played on a standard guitar, of course. However, by challenging oneself to figure out the same melody on the Kite Guitar we can begin a journey into learning about Just Intonation (music), of which is made accessible by the Kite Guitar, as well as acoustics (physics) and fractions (math).
The musical result of this challenge is a more in-tune, sonorous “Twinkle, Twinkle”. These concepts cannot be explored on a standard guitar. Also, a standard guitar will be more out-of-tune to Just Intonation.
In order to bring to surface some of these concepts, the students and I created lattices to determine which “D” (or “Re”, 2nd Scale Degree) to use. Below is an image of our work.
The Math and Music Behind the Lattice
An in-depth explanation of lattices is outside of the scope of this article. However, basically we had a choice between two different types of “D”. One of which is tuned by 3:2 perfect fifths from C ( C <–> G <–> D). This results in 3/2 * 3/2 = 9/4. The other is tuned by 5:4 to E from C, then down by 4:3 perfect fourths. This results in 5/4 * 4/3 * 4/3 = 80/36 = 20/9. The former results in 9/4 = 2.25 and the latter results in 20/9 = 2.2223. The difference seems small as a number, but is perceptible to the ear. Moreover, the Kite Guitar allows us to play either type of “D” to test the difference.
On a standard guitar, there is only one type of “D” making the exercise impossible. The Kite Guitar makes such a study possible, as well as practical. (The fretboard layout for the Kite Guitar is surprisingly easy to learn.)
As I hope is evident by this article, what may seem like a simple lesson of a simple children’s song actually has many other things going on. Yes, we learned “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”. Yes, we used very simple fractions, which are presumably thoroughly taught in every school. However, we did many things that are unique to an integrated approach to music education. For example, we used math to calculate the expected outcome of the music, and then we tested our hypothesis (i.e. scientific method). We also tried something that most music schools for children wouldn’t even think of trying — we taught our students how to figure out a familiar melody on a new and novel instrument (i.e. breaking new ground, innovation, research, and problem solving).
Conclusions and Next Steps
The students who participated in learning music and theory on the Kite Guitar reacted very positively. They participated very well and were able to figure out a lot of the math on their own. They were also able to identify the differences of the various types of pitches by ear (e.g. which “D” sounds good within which context.) Therefore, we have continued the curriculum and plan to develop it further.
What I expect to come from such an exploration is that my students have a better awareness of the inherent issues that arise with tuning and temperament. Unfortunately (but please correct me in the comments below if I am wrong), there is not a lot of research into “microtonality pedagogy”. However, given the mathematical and musical basis for microtonality and the Kite Guitar, I expect that exposing young students early in their education would improve their understanding of tuning and temperament. This understanding should result in students who are better equipped to avoid the most common pitfalls of, for example, tuning a guitar (or other instrument) or leading a choir.
Moreover, at MAP, we expect our students to create, discover, and to explore ideas in more than one way. Bravo!
All courses are taught by professional artists and educator
NOTE: Classes taught in-person at our Malden MAP location at 10 Dexter St. Malden, MA 02148.
Interested in something fun, creative, and engaging for your young children? MAP Family Learning Center has put together a fun class for parents who want to really engage their kids, ages 3-5, in playful art, while building many important skills. Led by Georgenia Toussaint, who we have witnessed do magic with kids in this age group, each class has a distinct topic for kids (and their parents) to explore and learn. Read the description below and go to registration with the button below.
About Art, Learn, & Play
The Art, Learn, & Play art program is for children ranging from ages 3-5yrs old. This is a great art program to encourage children to explore art through play doing hands-on activities. Parent/s and their child will participate in these creative learning scheduled classes, supporting their child’s creative interest and use of materials and art supplies during class every Saturday morning from 9:30. a.m.
About the Instructor
Hello, my name is Georgenia Toussaint, I am the facilitator and instructor for the Art, Learn, & Play program for the summer. My objective for this art program is to support children and families within the local community. I curated these fun engaging, hands-on art classes for parent/guardian/s and their children, to discover art through play. As a preschool teacher I find children learn by their curiosity, helping children build their growth development skills. I am currently an undergrad at Lesley University majoring in Education and Art therapy. I have many years of experience both as a professional artist, arts administrator, and educator.
Week 1: SCRIBBLE… SCRIBBLE!
Graffiti art July 25th, 2021
Focus: Life-size paper murals so kids can get the full experience mixing paints to make new colors and pouring it into spray water bottles mixed with water to create a fun colorful masterpiece. Children also have the option to play with art individually using paint sticks, crayons, or marks on white or black stalk paper.
Week 2: SPARKLY SHINEY FUN!
Mosaic art July 31st, 2021
Focus: Colorful gems, paper squares and random plastic tiles placed in trays for children to choose from to place on sticky paper to create patterns and fun cool designs. Children also have the option to glue these colorful gems, paper squares and random plastic tiles on wood picture frames and or cardboard cutout letters.
Week 3: SAVE THE PLANET FUN!
Recycled art August 7th,2021
Focus: Cardboard, of any size for a background, to glue pre-cut different shapes of cardboard, such as circles, triangles, rectangles, and squares, to paint over with primary color tempera paints.
Week 4: MIX, CUT AND GLUE!
Collage art August 14th,2021
Focus: Pre-cut pieces of different color tissue paper for children, to glue on square pieces of foil paper, to create patterns and fun cool designs.
Week 5: WEAR YOUR ART FUN!
T-Shirt painting August 21st, 2021
Focus: All you need is a white T-shirt that your child can paint on with fun vibrant colors, so they can wear it after it is dry, to share and wear their fun creative design proudly.
Week 6: SQUISHY, SMOOSHY FUN!
Blob painting August 28th, 2021
Focus: Squirt different color paints on wax paper and fold it over in half, so your child can rub his or her hands across the surface, to smoosh and squish the paint around, to feel and see all the paint move in all directions and open the wax paper and see what you created.
Extra Option: Mystery fun Art Bags!
For an extra fee of just $5 per class, you can receive pre-made Mystery Fun Art Bags at the end of each class! This is great for continuing art at home with you and your child.
Jaedon came to his guitar lesson last Saturday with his very own composition. It sounded nice and I always like to encourage creative ventures such as this, so I worked with the student to finish and transcribe the snippet.
The student came in with the following musical idea, which we wrote down by hand together.
Composition: Implications for Learning
An exercise such as this is wonderful. In the process of composing music, students learn a lot about music theory. This musical example, for example, uses arpeggios, a sequence (i.e. repeating pattern), and oblique motion (i.e. the high e remains, while the other voices move down). More importantly, musical composition requires students to reach toward mastery in a way that just playing pieces does not.
Analogies to Language Learning
Analogous to writing music to learn music is writing to learn language. Reading, for example, requires a certain level of linguistic understanding in order to interpret the meaning of a given text. However, writing requires a student to utilize all of the linguistic tools that they have read.
A good education in music should encourage building literacy skills in this same way. It should encourage students to be able to both read and write music, to be able to both listen and perform with musical understanding.
Additional Skills Learned
Music education has many analogies to other disciplines such as described in the example above. However, music also helps students develop skills that are unique to music. For example, Jaedon’s piece has multiple voices, creating musical harmony. This requires understanding of both independence and dependence of the different musical voices. In life, there are many times when we need to work together–to complete a task, for example–which require everyone in the group to work with both independence as well as in harmony as a team (i.e. teamwork).
Independence is important because each person (or voice, for music) has its own unique role. Without independence, the voices become redundant and unnecessary. Teamwork is important because, in order to accomplish a big goal, people need to work together. In music, the various voices work together to create harmony, which can be heard and felt.
“Music is liquid architecture; Architecture is frozen music.”
Skills such as these could be learned via other disciplines, but with music we explore harmony and disharmony in a unique way, which powerfully supplements a student’s education. Many architects, for example, have cited music as playing an important role in their understanding of architecture. This makes sense, since architectural design requires its own understanding of harmony with regard to a building’s context, utility, and complex organization.
Music+Code: Integrating Coding
Here at MAP, we like to integrate the different disciplines of Music, Art, and Programming. We also insist to use free/libre software tools (think “free” as in “free speech”). We like to do the former because integrating various disciplines is an important skill, as well as being fun. We insist on the latter because the freedoms–freedom to share, study, remix, and (re)distribute–of free/libre software are critical to education. Lilypond software is one such tool that fits both criteria.
After the lesson, I took Jaedon’s music and transcribed it with Lilypond software, which is expressed as a kind of code. For example, a8 is pitch a (i.e. “la”) for an eighth note duration. Pitches are strung together to create melodies. See below for an image of the full Lilypond Code.
Polished Draft of Student Composition
Lilypond interprets the code and generates a PDF. This is similar to how a browser interprets HTML and generates a webpage. Below is the final output.
All in all, Jaedon is off to a great start. I have encouraged him to come up with a second half of this piece. When I get the second half, I will share it on this site.
What does it sound like?
I hope to share a video of Jaedon performing his piece soon. In the meantime, here is a video of me performing the piece.
Guitarist and composer Andrew York writes great music for both advanced players as well as intermediate players. The following video features a MAP guitar student performing Andrew York’s “Snowflight”, which is a beautiful piece that evokes a winter scene (much like we are experiencing right now in the greater Boston area).
MAP student performs “Promenade” by Robert Hamilton. This piece features a melody in the top voice, and an active bass line in the lower voice. Students use their thumb to play the bass notes and “i” and “m” fingers to play the top notes. The piece is in A minor.
This is one of our MAP students playing the guitar. He is playing an English traditional called “Early One Morning” as transcribed by Richard Summers and published in The Royal Conservatory Level 1 book. This piece features an upper voice with a very wide range as well as an AABA form.
At the end of the previous session, Malden MAP guitar students gathered online for their weekly “sharing session”. This time, however, the city’s mayor, Gary Christenson joined as well to hear the students.
Sharing sessions are an important part of the education at MAP Family Learning Center. By having students showcase what they have been working on on a regular basis, they are motivated as well as given another opportunity to reflect upon their progress.
We greatly appreciate the Malden mayor’s ongoing support of our students. He has heard some of these students since they first began guitar about five years ago. At the end of the session, Mr. Devin asked the mayor if he could say a few things to the kids. He encouraged the kids that they really inspire hope in the community, giving him a very positive answer to the question “What does the future hold?”